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March 23, 2020

Patriotism in the time of Corona

Opinion

March 23, 2020

Some of my readers have observed – or rather complained – that in these columns I have been focusing on just one school of thought that is left-wing, liberal, progressive, and rather secular. They have not found in my columns any appreciation for conservative and right-wing scholars or writers who have patriotic and religious leanings.

Fair enough. First, one writes what one feels and thinks like; and second, patriotism and religion I leave to those who are inclined towards them. To me, religion is a personal matter and nobody – including any non-state and state actors – have a right to impose their own creed on others. And for patriotism, I agree with Samuel Johnson who, according to his biographer and younger friend James Boswell, once remarked: ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’. You may or may not agree with this pithy description of a feeling that has triggered countless conflicts in human history.

Patriotism, if at all, should be about loving people, trying to address their concerns, and solving their problems. It should also be about fulfilling people’s basic needs and respecting their rights. It should be applied to all common people regardless of their caste, colour, creed, capacity, and even country. It should be about treating all people with dignity. It should not be about justifying all rights and wrongs that are committed under the guise of ideologies, including patriotism. Reading all schools of thought with a critical eye is imperative to develop an objective perspective, well as much as possible, given one’s own subjectivities.

Patriotism is not simply teaching our children how to read, it is also about guiding them to question what they read. If our students are able to answer our questions in the way we expect them to answer, we are not being patriotic, we are simply imposing our own thoughts on them. We need to learn that mediocre students try to answer questions, but good students try to question the answers. We need to teach our children how to learn not how to memorise certain eulogies, ideologies and slogans.

It is patriotic to teach our children about harmony and tolerance in society without which we have raised bigoted and prejudiced generations that gloat with self-righteousness and feed on false interpretations of patriotism and religion. Patriotism is controlling hate speech and taking to task those who have prospered due to hate mongering. If we constantly inject venomous ideas about other creeds and countries, we can hardly claim to be patriotic. In fact we are doing immeasurable disservice to this country and its people. To me, patriotism is to question the unquestionable.

It is not patriotic to not question why our people lack basic health facilities, why medicines are out of the reach of common people and what our state is doing about it. Why we have failed to educate our people in basic hygiene and civic manners, and how that has impacted our society negatively. Why have we nurtured a nation that refuses to listen to sensible advice even in the time of Covid-19, and who has been responsible for this? Asking why certain segments enjoy the best medical services and the rest are neglected is a patriotic question.

Patriotism is asking why in the case of an epidemic we lack ventilators. While we don’t lack killing machines, we face a shortage of medical supplies. Where are our resources going and why? Are there any better alternatives to use our precious resources? All those who raise such concerns are patriots. Loving your country means proper allocation of resources. Patriotism is protecting differing voices not curbing and sacking them. It is about appreciating our activists, intellectuals, students, and teachers such as Ammar Ali Jan, Ammar Rashid, Baba Jan, Rashid Rehman, Sabeen Mahmood, Parveen Rehman, and Zaigham Abbas and not killing or sacking them.

Patriotism is to provide water supply to every household and not to a selected few who can already afford to buy bottled water. It is about asking why waterlines that should serve the common people are diverted to gated communities which violate all rules to serve the elite. Establishing elitist housing societies on people’s land and then allotting them to the already privileged is not patriotism; questing this practice is. Why some people are safe and secure and others are not is a patriotic question. Asking why most people have to prove their patriotism and some don’t is patriotism.

If patriotism is loving your country, it should not be at the cost of hating other countries. Loving your country should mean loving its people and doing something to help them. It is not about siphoning off my own privileges, and then asking others to be patriotic. This kind of patriotism becomes a camouflage to hide my own interests. If you love your country you try to tear apart all camouflages in society that hide a selected few.

Patriotism is about protecting our climate and natural resources. It is not about reclaiming land in the sea and then polluting it with refuse. We can show our love to the country by protecting our beaches and making them accessible to common people, not by cordoning the beaches off for some powerful segments of our society. Our 1000km long coastline is people’s property and keeping it accessible, clean, and protected is patriotism. The same applies to other natural resources such as coal, copper, gold, and natural gas, which should not be squandered but benefit common people.

When you object to the plunder of natural resources, you are patriotic, and not the other way round. Patriotism is asking why Balochistan’s natural gas which was an asset for future generations has been burned in fertilizer companies and consumed in vehicles and who is responsible for it. When you love your country you love its people first, and ask why the areas richest in natural resources have ended up the poorest on human development indices. It is patriotic to first serve the people who own those natural resources, and unpatriotic to neglect them for decades.

Patriotism is about providing affordable and uninterrupted power supply to common people. If certain areas get it and others don’t you have a patriotic right to raise your voice, and those who curb your voice are not patriotic. It is unpatriotic to forgive arrears of power supply to mega defaulters and disconnect it to poor households. You have a right to ask why people are forced to pay exorbitant charges on fuel and food items while these are basic necessities.

It is patriotic to provide essential infrastructure across the country, and unpatriotic to deprive vast tracts of land of it. If I am patriotic I want to see paved roads even to villages in all corners of Pakistan. I also don’t want to see potholed roads in my cities irrespective of which political party they support. It is not patriotic to have good roads in certain areas and not in others. I don’t want to see roadblocks when I want to enter a certain housing area where I want to go as a common citizen. If it does not have military installations it should be accessible to all, irrespective of who lives there.

If it is a matter of security, the same level of security be provided to all the people in this country and not to a selected few. I am more interested in being safe and secure in my home and street and if my police do not have the necessary equipment, training, and wherewithal I have a patriotic right to ask why. Patriotism is about having a well-equipped and properly trained police force which handles the day-to-day matters of the public and it is every state’s responsibility to provide adequate resources to the police in all provinces.

Patriotism is providing job opportunities and livelihood venues to all – irrespective of their cast, creed, or capacity. If I deprive ethnic, religious and other minorities of their dignified living I am not patriotic. My patriotism is a farce if it does not involve loving all people, including the disabled, the transgender, and the other marginalized. If my patriotism is built on hating others, I need to review it.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]