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August 24, 2016

Our culture, history to cough off terror trends


August 24, 2016

Terrorism doesn’t fit the historical and cultural fabric of Pakistan, asserted Prof Dr Sajid Mahmood Awan, former director of National Institute of Heritage and Cultural Research (NIHCR), Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.

In an interview with ‘The News’, Dr Awan said that Pakistan has been misrepresented the world over. There is a need to find a true narrative for the country which must be rooted in history and culture of this region.

He said, “We are the custodians of oldest Gandhara and Indus Valley civilisations, which gave the world some of the major religions like Hinduism, Janism, Budhism, and Sikhism. All these religions preached peace and tranquillity. Born here, these religions were accepted by Gangatic civilization.”

He said, “Our national narrative should take into consideration the fact that we founded the first ever university in the world. Now Taxila, it was then called Tak Shalla. Among many other wonders its scholar Panini introduced grammar with the formulation of 3959 rules for morphology, syntax and symantics, which is no less important development.”

Asked about the narrative that textbooks are feeding the youth, Prof Awan said it can be narrative of exotic and aliens but not of the sons of this soil. “A certain sort of people who come to Pakistan after 1947 from the parts that now form India eulogised invaders and marauders. Since, they were lacking in roots and native affinity with this land, so they hatched a hybrid of xenocentric worldview. They took up a significant number of key posts immediately after formation of the country; they managed to get their views into textbooks. Such enticement for the foreign at the cost of the native narrative is the major challenge before the historians of Pakistan today. Instead of borrowing foreign models and toeing their lines, we need to develop our inborn narrative of history,” he said.

“They did so fired up by an urge to carve out for themselves a new identity at the cost of identities of indigenous populations of this region. It was a temporal arrangement. Their efforts to cobble together a new identity have ended up in making a heady brew for new generations, who are now confused about identifying themselves with those that they are taught as their heroes,” he explained.

“Ours is an egalitarian culture and Pakistan has rich historical values of being pluralist and forward-looking people. Clergy is incompatible with this culture, but mysticism can still find its place here. You will see that dimensions of nationalism will soon change as the artificial patriotism created by an ideology of hate and narcissism will get carried away by the natural flow of culture of this region,” he said.

He said religious extremism is an urban product. It is always big cities where pressure groups are formed and moves to topple civilian governments initiated. In contrast, rural areas give stability to democracy and set sustainable trends. Terrorism, religious or otherwise, is one such force as is needed to upset the social order. “Since our rural areas remain power hubs, there remains hope that violent ideologies will be muffled down in this region,” he said.

Prof Awan has a keen observation about the players of change in society. He said, “You can witness that rural populations migrate to big urban centres and make their mark there. They change urban lifestyle. But you will not see that an urban figure moves to rural areas and makes a change there. Dynamics of rural lifestyle are different, long lasting and stable. It seems to me that stability of our rural lifestyle will counter the forces of instability like extremism and terrorism and this is the new narrative I want to develop.”

Prof Awan has been founder of the Multan Area Study Centre at Bahauddin Zakariya University; presently editor to the Pakistan Journal of History and Culture (PJHC); President of the International Association of Historians of Asia (IAHA). He has led a UNDP project on federalism in Pakistan. He has supervised many M Phil and PhD theses and presented the case of Pakistan at national and international fora.

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