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January 12, 2011

Our Facebook generation


January 12, 2011

When delivering speeches to Muslim audiences in pre-Partition India our leaders would have seen eyes full of hope. But they would have also realised that, with the limited resources available to the new country, bringing the Pakistani masses to the point at which they were equal to the task of taking the reins of their own destiny in their hands would be an enormous challenge. They would have hoped that those few who were wealthy and educated would carry forward the task of nation-building, and with a sense of duty.
It seems to me that 62 years after the death of our Founding Father, there has not been a greater stem in the realisation of that sense of duty among the privileged lot as there is today, particularly the young. This trend makes itself most obvious in the discussions of the Facebook Generation of Pakistanis, each with his or her own take on the latest political happenings in the country. The views exchanged, at least among those on my “friends” list, included wave upon wave of comments on the assassination of Governor Salmaan Taseer.
Much like a scrapbook, Facebook provides the opportunity to its users to create their own electronic versions of the same. Classmates or colleagues can add to this “scrapbook” online filling it up with details, hobbies, latest gossip, photos, etc. With time, the number of online friends grows, and so does the amount of social activity on the online scrapbook. The owner of the scrapbook, or Facebook page, can appraise Facebook friends about the latest happenings in his or her life. The information can range from the most banal: “...burnt my chicken karhai today,” to the flaunting: “ Wimbledon, watching Federer destroy Roddick...,” to more serious matters which would include statements made up of a combination of the following phrases: “...Govn Taseer gunned down...toleration...our society...mullahs...liberals,” etc.
These “wall posts,” as they are called, also provide the opportunity

for friends to comment on them. The karhai message would see messages of mock sympathy, the Wimbledon message would be acknowledged by comments sharing similar experiences matching the original with yet greater ostentation or complete indifference. But the discussions on Salmaan Taseer’s assassination reveal the huge disparity and dangerous disconnect from one segment of an entire generation of Pakistanis to that of another.
And while the thoughts of this Facebook Generation will be increasingly reflected by their comments on these social networks, they will undoubtedly become the trendsetters of the types of advertisements we see on TV, content of discussions on the talk shows, influencing all other types of media bombardment on the print, radio and TV audience of Pakistan. This, obviously, because of the concentration of wealth in this segment and for its revenue generating potential from advertising.
But the Facebook Generation of Pakistan is only a certain segment of the present population of 180 million Pakistanis. First and foremost, these Facebook users have a computer in their homes. Out of the 180 million, and according to, as of June 2009, Pakistan had 18,500,000 active internet users. A few million of these will be the Facebook Generation, and assuming all of them actively participated in the discussions on the assassination, we find that 10 per cent of the population were discussing the the act’s merits (and lack thereof), intention, motivation and consequence of a person – the perpetrator – who is obviously from the remaining 90 per cent of the population.
It is sometimes amusing to read the contents of these discussions which expect, from the likes of Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the same level of tolerance, moderation, goodwill, liberal spirit, good manners, civic sense, decency and the “true” spirit and teachings of Islam, when so many of these qualities are left wanting in themselves. And they hold such expectations of the majority, not realising the extreme difference in the quality of education, access to sources of knowledge, and access to the basic amenities of life. Having been schooled with kids from roughly similar standards of living for all their academic lives, in Pakistan and abroad, they tend to think that life is all honky dory for the majority of Pakistanis.
I carry the burden of being from this 10 per cent of the Pakistani population. And, if there exists a Day of Judgement, then to be from this 10 per cent surrounded by a sea of poverty is truly a burden that a believing person must recognise. And, sure, a lot of good is also coming from this minority: I, for one, came back to Pakistan solely for the purpose of serving my country in my humble capacity.
But please hold your applause. Frankly, the good work and patriotic intentions of people coming back to this country, and especially their philanthropic work, is severely overrated. If one has come back to serve this country, one has merely done one’s duty the same way a soldier would do his duty during a war. That such acts by the privileged have become a celebration is a sad reflection of our times where hard work, effort and minimal sacrifice for our country, without the expectation of a financial reward or a promotion or acknowledgement through fame, has become an odd commodity.
There are more and a lot more Pakistanis from the less privileged majority helping the poor than people from the privileged minority. Unfortunately, the patriotic or public-minded circles within the 10 per cent tend to end up seeing themselves and their charity work as the “be all and end all” of our country. There is no doubt about the role this minority can play in steering its destiny, but it must first begin with a recognition of the extreme difference that exists in the standards of living between its inhabitants; and our luck being one of those who were discussing Britney Spears during lunchtime at school, or playing “Counterstrike” in gaming dens while others our age were laying bricks or recycling trash to make a living for their family.
From this realisation should stem our sense of duty to the masses. Philanthropy and works of charity should not be the primary consequence of this realisation. From the 10 per cent should come the new political ideas and activities, business risks and courageous entrepreneurship, scientific and social research work, civil and judicial administration; all within the framework and context of the issues that confront Pakistan today, and in years to come.
Rather than solely criticising the acts emanating from the 90 per cent, the Facebook segment of the Pakistani generation must live up to their Quaid’s expectations. This burden falls directly on our shoulders. And if the Quaid-e-Azam, with his few men of talent gave us a new country, imagine, then, what the present lot can do for the masses and for ourselves if we simply get going. Surely, only then will we have less to criticise about.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: [email protected]

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