The apathy of a nation

A few years ago I decided to return to my motherland after studying and working abroad. While I was never a hyper-nationalist patriot, it was still my home and my family was here.

When I shared this idea with my friends there, I was told that my secular and liberal views would not be tolerated. I was not particularly worried because I had lived in Pakistan all my life and I thought it wasn't as bad as that. So I came back and discovered that I was wrong. Very wrong.

The state of this country is such that I cannot even relate to it now. All of us, liberal or conservative, blame our previous and current governments for corruption. Very few point the finger at the all-powerful establishment, which has controlled not only the political landscape of the country but also discourses about its history or culture, and even its future.

But most of all we do not ever self reflect. We never accept or admit the fact that we, the citizens, are equally responsible for all that ails us. This is easily observed, for example, in our sense of civic responsibility, which is non-existent. We do not obey traffic laws, we throw our garbage on the street, we even steal electricity and water (to name a few vices), and all the while we call ourselves patriotic Pakistanis and true Muslims. Our rage over the tiniest thing is barely contained and even the best of us do not shy away from racism and misogyny.

How is it that we have become so insular and entrenched in navel gazing that we cannot see the bigger picture? How do we not try to better ourselves instead of saying "everyone does it"?

Our only need seems to be to find messiahs who will take us out of the mess we have made in 67 years. When the politicians fail us - which they do very often - we turn towards our good old army to take over, forgetting that the establishment is partly why we are where we are.

Now - for some - there is a new messiah, who, they think, will solve all the problems that the land of the pure is afflicted with. I do not think that will happen. Mainly because I do not believe in looking to messiahs for salvation.  Having said that, I do feel that it is sad that a person like Imran Khan who could have been a dynamic and progressive leader, is selling the same snake oil in the same manner as those he criticizes. I also feel sad that very few of our women - even the ones in the public sphere - cannot get rid of the sanctioned traditional roles and be the leaders that can make us equal to men.

I think we need to work on ourselves first. For me, my morality and ethics come from my humanism and I do not need old wine in a new bottle to tell me how to make myself better. When we choose empathy, humanism and honesty over other things, only then will we be able to get the kind of leaders we want. This has happened in progressive, educated and developed states and it can happen here. I find the fact that we have not been able to do so very sad. And I wonder what I should do about it.

Saima Baig

Saima Baig is a Karachi-based environmental economist, climate change consultant and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt