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Opinion

January 10, 2015

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Stand up and be heard

Pakistanis across all spheres and social classes suffer from indifference cloaked as helplessness, and victim mentality

The difference in tone and audiences of the Urdu and English language press in Pakistan is often commented on. In everything, from reporting of crime to comments upon the political situation, terrorism and assorted national issues, the English language (EL) press is thought to represent the views of a tiny minority: the liberals or pseudo-liberals of Pakistan. The Urdu press meanwhile is said to have its finger firmly on the pulse of the nation, both representing and shaping the views of ‘the common man’.
So when discussing the extremism that has an iron grip on the country, both the EL press and its readers are bound to comment on the futility of holding views different from the majority. As long as the Urdu press does not change its tone, it is said, the views of the average Pakistani will not change. The EL press has a small voice, it is said, and it gets lost in the din of half-baked conspiracy theories and ultra-conservatism.
This opinion doesn’t stop EL papers and blogs from being published and read by thousands every day. It just gives us, the EL press and its consumers, a reason to feel slightly apart and slightly better than the rest of the country. In effect, we get to feel morally superior while absolving ourselves of the responsibility of bringing about any change. We get to shake our heads sadly at the simpletons quoting Urdu columnists because our favourite blogger has a much better take on the matter. But we refuse to engage in debate with the simpletons because, well, there are too many of them and the possibility of lynching is not as remote as it used to be.
So English, as sure a sign as any of class distinction in this country, has relegated those who regularly make use of it into a sidelined and impotent minority. Or so it is believed. If the axiom that English is necessary for success in Pakistan holds

true, and by all accounts it does, then it follows that the people consuming what the EL press churns out are at least marginally successful. They probably have more education and more money than the average Pakistani. They certainly have more influence than the vast number of illiterate Pakistanis who are not the target audience of either the Urdu or the English press.
The responsibility for exerting change cannot therefore be so easily shifted. It is easy to stay in the safe little bubble of liberalism. Reposting and sharing our favourite tidbits with only like-minded individuals who are not likely to disagree with or challenge our beliefs. And then complaining that the sphere of people who think like us is so tiny that there is no hope for us having any influence in changing public sentiments with regards to extremism.
But every voice has an impact, no matter how small and it is never alright to simply give up or retreat to one’s comfort zone. Pakistan is at war against extremism not only on the ground but also in people’s hearts and minds. So stand up and be heard and make any contribution you can. Share your views not only with those who will agree with you but also with those who won’t. Present an alternate narrative to those looking for it.
If you cannot do this then do not complain about the lack of influence since it is actually a lack of trying. It is indifference cloaked as helplessness and simply another iteration of the victim mentality that Pakistanis across all spheres and social classes suffer from.
The writer is a businessstudies graduate from southern Punjab.
Email: [email protected] gmail.com

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