Visiting the Homeland – Our own White Saviour Complex

Lahore

Recently, I travelled to my country of origin; Pakistan.

The nation gets a lot of press. Stereotypes exist about most countries, but few exceed the capture of the public imagination that Pakistan has unwittingly managed to achieve. So I found myself consciously navigating some of the difficulties of interacting with ‘back home’ from the perspective of an ‘educated’, Western mind (not entirely Anglicized, mind you).

I was keen not to expect the country to conform to the headlines; constant explosions, acts of blatant misogyny and endemic corruption. As HONY put much better than I ever could recently, limited headline space lends itself to negative news; most countries in strife are depicted with disproportionate negativity in Western (and probably all) media outlets. So I wasn’t expecting chronic insecurity and societal meltdown – I understand people still get on with their lives, and that the idea Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a failed state is a horrendous mischaracterization of the nation.

Sure enough, the country pleasantly surprised me. I was not made to feel unsafe even once, in the mountainous regions or the cities, and if I was it was more due to the audacious traffic and winding mountain roads than any aspect of culture or social norms. The Kharokhorum highway is an incredible feat of engineering, and Lahore’s streets were remarkably clean and well-kept, and we encountered no obvious corruption or police misbehaviour. I don’t mean to say there aren’t great problems facing the country, but the idea it is an unliveable hell and filled with angry extremists is patently absurd.

Now, to my difficulty. How does an outsider, a Western, British-Pakistani Muslim, go about evaluating and discussing the faults and shortcomings of ‘back home’? It is no easy matter. Firstly, one needs the humility to accept people who live in the country know it far better than our reading of the headlines allows us to. Secondly, we also need to accept norms and cultures may very justifiably be different back home from Western society.

These don’t come naturally for one simple reason; the ‘White Saviour Complex’ that we criticize so unfailingly ourselves, is also something we have implicitly accepted and adopted into our own narratives of back home. This is evidenced by how many immigrant communities, a few generations down the line, almost instinctively cast disapproving proverbial glances back in the direction of their ancestral lands.

We enumerate the many ‘backward’ elements of the culture of our elders, and by extension our countries of origin. We also presume that, merely by virtue of our Western education, we know the solutions to most if not all the problems of our nations, implying that the people there are in their less-than-ideal situation simply due to their comparative lack of competence. Isn’t that arrogant?
We make sweeping generalisations only based on the headlines we read giving no thought to the possibility there may be more to the country than that; we essentialise entire nations with the bad, ignoring the mountains of good. And there is always good.

Sheltered ‘Brit-Paks’ lounging in leafy suburbs, radically divorced even from the reality of inner-city London, making broad pronouncements about the hopelessness of Pakistan and the backwardness of its culture, makes me want to do things I would rather not verbalise. It is horrendously naïve, arrogant and ultimately a product of the broader Western narrative, into which we have been rather successfully integrated. Responsibility for this cultural failure lies only on us, and nowhere else, even if the forces of influence that push us in this direction are fundamental to Western society.

This cannot mean that we refuse to discuss the situation of our countries of origin at all. Rather, we need to acknowledge our views can often spill into prejudice and ignorance, both of which can very easily occur in relation to one’s own people. Thereafter, it would hopefully be easier for diaspora communities from developing countries to have a meaningful engagement with said nations. This would benefit the latter, but also the former in allowing us to adopt a more balanced approach to fusing the cultures of Western society and that of our ancestral homelands.

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Definitely Not Confused – Pakistanis & ‘Brit-Paks’

BritPak

“So are you from Pakistan?” she asked. I proceeded, for not the first time since arriving at university, to explain that Pakistan was my country of origin, Britain my country of nationality and that I had grown up elsewhere.

“Ah, confused.” she stated, matter-of-factly, nodding her head in a part-sympathetic, part-patronizing manner, as if she knew all she needed to know to psycho-analyze my very existence. Well, I thought, I certainly didn’t come here for judgement to be passed on me by passer-byers, but since you are offering your self-evident wisdom to me for free, I suppose I ought to be grateful.

So marked the beginning of a prolonged background experience for me at university in dealing with my peers from my ancestral homeland; mostly rich Pakistani kids from a handful of elite schools and families. ‘Background’, because such views never bothered or distracted me for more than a moment in those 3 years, yet I always felt this sentiment lingering in my interactions with them.
I state the following with the caveat in mind that many of the Pakistanis I met on campus were agreeable and open-minded chaps, but this phenomena has occurred far too often for it to be anything less than a social trend.

For some reasons, many Pakistanis completely fail to understand the very concept of a comfortably British Pakistani community, with English as its mother tongue and Britain as its primary country of allegiance. It is either a conceptual shortcoming, or sheer ambivalence towards individuals who form part of this community (most of whom didn’t make the choice of migration themselves anyhow). Perhaps at the back of their minds they believe those who left Pakistan for greener pastures have somehow betrayed the nation, although as much is certainly never said. Perhaps they harbour some kind of rivalry or jealousy with Pakistanis who have become successful abroad. Perhaps their condescension stems from our inability to speak Urdu, or perceived ‘Anglicisation’. I admit I have yet to figure out the source of this misunderstanding, but it certainly baffles me given they are an otherwise intelligent and cultured group of students.

If it wasn’t so disappointing, their unintentional irony would be cause for some bemusement.

They are the same people who speak English in Pakistan as a sign of their class, and look down on the middle and lower classes who speak indigenous languages.

They are the same people who seem so uneasy with the culture, religion and traditions of the great mass of Pakistani people, instead opting for overt Westernisation and conformity with homogenised global norms. I don’t mean to reverse the condescension, but who are you to look down on my identity struggles?

And do we struggle with our identity? Sure. Being British, Pakistani, Muslim, 2nd and 3rd generation migrants in a country that is changing rapidly, hailing from a nation mired in crisis and global scrutiny – that’s not easy. Nor is it so difficult to be debilitating to us as a community. We do have issues, but we are dealing with those issues ourselves – we don’t need input from outsiders that haven’t the slightest appreciation of our circumstance.

So thank you for your concern, but really, no thanks.

And, as it happens, I’m not confused at all – but you are.

Corbymania & The Economist

Are we being Naive?

Corbymania

Seemingly like a whole swathe of the British population, I think Jeremy Corbyn is pretty great, and worth a shot. Call me and every other young and hip Corbyn supporter naïve, but we have passionately committed ourselves to his rise (Millifandom is already a distant memory in the past for our collectively political community). Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly to some, The Economist has taken a markedly strident tone against Jeremy Corbyn.

I really do like The Economist, and have been reading it for many years. Part of my respect for it stems from its relatively non-ideological approach. Sure, it has an economic slant, but it has what I see at views with integrity that don’t fit easily into one ‘box’, and often jar with established government policy for countries like Britain and America. They even makes criticisms in areas where level-headed commentary can be quite difficult, like on Israel-Palestine. It is not often overtly partisan, and I value that.

So when The Economist decides on such a strong stance as to write against Corbyn in several successive articles, it troubles me. Am I to simply dismiss this as the inevitable panic of the ‘Establishment’ at the rise of a relative ‘outsider’? No – that’s not going to work for me. That’s falling into the trap of being a ‘lefty’, beyond simply being ‘left-wing’. I feel like I have to read and give respect to the views portrayed in these articles, and subsequently put effort into debunking them in order to justify my support of Corbyn to myself. Surely, if I can’t argue effectively against the magazine’s critiques of his economics, my support would be more emotional than rational? It would be naïve, as some like to so often say.

So I will embark on this journey of rebutting one of the world’s greatest current affairs newspapers ever. I have no intention of being a part of a wave of naïve students supporting an impractical policy package unsuited to Britain today. Young people can be naïve; I don’t want my political views to be defined by this. To do so, I feel like I need to be able to intellectually withstand The Economist’s onslaught, and if I can’t, I might have to reconsider some of my stances.

Are there any other avid readers of The Economist having (forbidden) positive thoughts about Jeremy Corbyn? Do let me know if you manage to reconcile the two contradictory currents.