A Brazilian Experience
By Dr Shireen M Mazari

Visiting Brazil last week was a most wonderful awakening in terms not only of another world which we have chosen not to interact with -- to our state's cost and our civil society's loss. Here is the fifth largest country in the world with a highly developed industrial and educational base and until last year, we were missing out on what can be a most fulfilling interaction. But even more important, Brazil is an all-encompassing experience like no other -- both at the human and intellectual levels.
Brazilians are truly free from the biases and prejudices that confront Pakistanis in the West. There is a warmth and acceptance of diversity because Brazilians are themselves an amalgam of global society. There are of course the Brazilians of European descent and the indigenous folk; but there are also Brazilians of Japanese origin and there are more Brazilians of Lebanese origin than the Lebanese in Lebanon! So, on the streets of Sao Paulo or Rio, it is impossible to tell the locals from the visitors. And the people are all-embracing right from the time you step off the plane. There is a welcoming smile, which I have not witnessed at any immigration desk anywhere.
Even more exciting is the intellectual depth one confronts. After all, it was Latin America that provided the bulk of the intellectual meat for movements of Third Worldism and underdevelopment. Today, one can find the same intellectual excitement in Brazil. Sao Paulo University was amazing in its development. It produces 2200 PhDs every year and these are quality PhDs not simply churned out, as we in Pakistan, seem to be moving towards presently, for the sake of number crunching.
Incidentally, their government has reduced funding their students for overseas higher education now that the Brazilian universities are competent of offering quality education. That also stops the brain drain and encourages locals to move into what is a highly valued field -- that of education. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned here for us since we seem to continue to ignore our domestic product for foreign faculty hiring (regardless of the quality or relevance) and overseas scholarships so that the local system continues to degenerate unchecked.
Meeting two leading female artists of Brazil was also exciting because they are showing all over the world from the Middle East to Singapore to Taiwan. Their art is innovative but it was sad to see a total lack of information about our equally exciting artists because we have limited our world to the US and Europe. The art galleries showing Brazilian art were striking not only for the variety of art forms but also for the presence of large groups of students of all ages who had been brought there for field trips. Apparently, the local government provides the transport facilities to bring children to the galleries so that they can grow up with this critical cultural exposure.
And that is another remarkable feature of Brazil: The richness of their living culture is such that the all-pervading McDonald culture is not overtly felt -- even though American fast food is very much there. But a Brazilian-ness absorbs you and insulates you from the intrusiveness of Americanisation. It is one of the few places that do not reflect this intrusiveness even though it may be there covertly!
With such richness and a welcoming approach, it is unfortunate that Pakistan has only now begun to wake up to the opportunities Brazil has to offer. As usual, we followed India, which had developed interaction with Brazil decades earlier and which finally was reflected formally in the Brazil-India-South Africa relationship. That has created hurdles for Pakistan especially in terms of accessing the highly developed arms industry of Brazil but inroads have been made and there is a tremendous potential because the Brazilian arms industry, especially in terms of airpower, is highly developed. Brazil also makes civil airplanes and PIA is apparently looking to Brazil for the replacement of its rather old Fokker fleet. Let us hope that lures from the West do not undermine the Brazilian option.
Even in terms of other trade opportunities, there are so many areas, which we can tap, once we can see beyond the EU and Washington. For instance, the Brazilians eat rice as a staple and the way they cook it does not require the short grained or sticky variety. In fact, our Basmati rice would find a big market in Brazil once we can get our producers to move in that direction. The Brazilian market, with a fast paced developing economy, is enormous and still offers Pakistan a good entry point. If Shanghai is a pulsating city in Asia, Sao Paulo is no less pulsating in Latin America.
Basically, Latin America is a major part of the world, which we will continue to neglect at our cost. Moreover, it is a hospitable and friendly world with no colonial attitude or big power excess baggage. On many issues, our worldviews coincide, but where they don't, there is an acceptance of diversity. We can learn a lot also from the Brazilian experience, especially in terms of tolerance, education and development. Brazilian nationalism is also all-pervasive and the green, yellow and blue of the flag are everywhere. But the combination is mellow and soothing and the Brazilians do not vary their green. Unfortunately, Pakistan's original green has long been abused so that one is not exactly sure which is our green anymore -- especially since our national carrier has made the Pakistani green almost black (could it be a funeral green?) on its planes.
We actually have a lot in common with the Brazilians but what they have converted into assets, we have failed to do so. Their passion for sports is as ingrained as ours and presently the focus is on the soccer world cup. But the Brazilian footballers have an international following. A sense of nationalism can be felt everywhere in Brazil but their nationalism is not aggressive -- it adds to their warmth and beauty. And beauty is what Brazil is all about -- both of the human variety and of nature.
In fact, Brazil made me wish we could enjoy and project the beauty that is Pakistan. From the mountains to the sea and all that is in-between is so exquisite in Pakistan but, after 58 years, still awaits development. Nationalism has been reduced to a most damaging chauvinism and a positive national pride is diminishing at breakneck speed.
The humane-ness of the ordinary Pakistani has been lost in the bureaucratic machinations and political dialectics of the state. As for the richness of our culture, it has been butchered by cultural mafias and bigots. What we could be and are still not is frustrating and infuriating. To see and experience Brazil was to be chastened and saddened by our self-created inadequacies and our blinkered view of the world. When will our awakening come?
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)

 


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