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Thinking of Pakistan

August 12, 2010

Pakistan is not a happy nation. Devastated by earthquake in 2005, now overwhelmed by flooding. Ill-served by successive governments. Divided within itself, vilified by the West for its alleged double dealing over Afghanistan. Its sons and daughters have emigrated by the hundreds of thousands to the Middle East and the UK, where their remittances prop up an ailing economy.

In the Middle East, those with education hold down a huge number of white and blue collar jobs, and the uneducated work on the roads and construction sites for as little as $200 a month. They come here to make a better life from themselves and for their families back home. Consider the implication. If $200 a month represents a better option than staying at home, what does that say about home? What’s more, many get into debt to come here, and are the first to be left waiting for their wages if things go bad for their employers.

In the UK, the word “Paki” has become the standard weapon of insult used by the bigoted, ignorant underclass for anyone with a brown skin, be they Indian, Sri Lankan or even Arab. And not just insult. “Paki-bashing” was a favourite occupation of young white racists from the 70s onwards. And we wonder why the victims turn in on themselves, stay with the customs of their parents’ homeland, or turn to violence themselves?

I’ve never been to Pakistan, and I don’t plan to any time soon, despite the undoubted beauty of many parts of the country, and the energy and vitality of its people. I’m not a habitual seeker of dangerous places, and Pakistan for me seems too violent, too full of hate.

Yet in my time in the UK and the Middle East I’ve encountered and worked with hundreds of Pakistanis – taxi drivers from Peshawar, librarians from Islamabad, clerks from Lahore and Karachi. In the UK, bankers, doctors, corner shop owners, even golfers. And not a single one of those I have met could I imagine rioting in the streets, burning effigies, bombing mosques and rampaging through Indian railway stations. But I guess that what I was talking about in The Thin Veneer – that we’re all a crisis away from inhumanity and inhumane behavior.

Two of the guys who look after my apartment block are from Pakistan. They’re always smiling and friendly. When I show up with a car-load of shopping, without any prompting they come out to the car and help me carry my stuff to the apartment. Three days ago, I learned that both of them have lost their houses in the flood. Thankfully their families are OK, but while you and I would melt with worry, and probably take the next plane home to deal with the crisis, they don’t have that option. Yet I come down in the morning to the same smiling faces, showing not a trace of the concern they must feel.

The people of Pakistan have been dealt a bad hand. They’re not bad people, and I don’t believe in divine punishment. Like the rest of us, they’re human beings who want only shelter, food and a decent life for their families and loved ones. Millions in the country don’t have anything right now. So I urge anyone who reads this to think seriously about making a donation to one of the relief funds set up to ease the plight of those caught up in the floods.

Here are some places where you can donate:

There are many other funds, so take your choice. Just do it.

From → Middle East, Social, UK

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