Pakistani Seeks 'Pluralism' for the World
By David Williard

From the moment Karim Baig came to William and Mary from the remote Humza Valley in northern Pakistan, he has been looking back — not from homesickness, although there is some of that, but due to his desire to help change life-circumstances in his own country.
“I want to act as a bridge between the East and the West as far as I can as a human being,” Baig explained. Part of his goal is to help eliminate stereotypes held by people in Pakistan and in the United States. “My large goal is to lend my skills to how we can bring economic reforms to raise the standard of life of my own people,” he said.
Baig hopes to move toward achievement of his goal through earning a degree in economics from the University of Lahore and by developing an understanding of diversity at William and Mary.
Baig is at the College under a one-semester scholarship through US Education Foundation in Pakistan, an organization that he described as promoting the elimination of misperceptions between citizens of Pakistan and those of the United States. Although he has excelled in the academic courses he has taken at the College, it is the social lessons that have made a lasting mark on him. He has been delighted to find an openness at the College toward discussing pluralism and its potential for transcending what he called “the pressing problems” of the world.
“Say you have two gardens,” Baig said as a means of defining pluralism. “One garden has different kinds of flowers, and one garden has only one kind of flower. Naturally the garden with the different flowers is the most beautiful. Pluralism in this world is like that second garden. Having different backgrounds, having different opinions, having different faiths and religions is not our weakness, it is our strength. It is our power.”
Before he arrived at the College, Baig, based on perceptions of American life gleaned from commercial media portrayals available in his homeland, expected to find students “self-absorbed in their own busy lives.” He has discovered the opposite to be true. In Williamsburg and on the campus, he has been greeted with smiles, a simple act that he believes “empowers” and that generates a “spirit of optimism.” A result has been that he has freely engaged other students and has discovered that many of them share his desire to understand the variety of worldviews held by people of differing backgrounds.
“I have found that people want to understand the cultures, and I can say that William and Mary is creating an environment for diversity and pluralism,” Baig said. “Here we have students from all over the world who are living, adjusting and learning a lot in this environment. This is a good sign for the coming generation.”
Baig is scheduled to return to Pakistan after classes at the College conclude in May. He will depart Williamsburg with credits toward his degree in economics and with a message for his own people. “Now I can act as an ambassador for Pakistan. I can show my country the personal experience about the environment of openness in America,” he said.
In Pakistan, such openness is not always apparent, he said. Many barriers between people are, he believes, the result of living in a developing country. “If you are not in a good environment, you cannot think positively,” he explained. “You cannot think positively if you are thinking about how to survive.” He hopes to address that condition by helping to bring about economic reforms to raise the standard of living.
As he prepares to leave the College, Baig’s experience has been overwhelmingly positive, but he already can taste a traditional Pakistani meal shared with members of his family — “that is what I miss the most,” he said. In fact, one concern he raises about American college students is their apparent desire to separate themselves from their families. “Here, when you’re a teen or 21, you become independent; the separation of families is very fast,” he observed. “I don’t know if that is a weak point or a strong point, but when you live with family, that is a strength.”
He will leave the College having made not only friends but admirers. Among them is Tamara Sonn, Kenan Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies at the College, who was in Pakistan and who directed Baig to consider attending William and Mary.
“I find it remarkable that he has fit right in brilliantly,” Sonn said. Although the literacy rate in Pakistan is under 50 percent and the percentage of residents who attend school is very low, she is amazed that he has been able to compete successfully with students at what she called “one of the best undergraduate universities in the United States.”
“It really strikes a blow at the stereotypes we have of Muslim kids and Pakistani kids,” she said. “We often talk about Pakistani schools as being a breeding ground for terrorism, but he is doing beautifully.”
Baig said he has not been confronted with anti-Muslim expressions on the College, and he staunchly denounces terrorism. “God has created us with a tongue, not a gun,” he said. However, he quickly steers such conversation toward the positive. “If we increased the pace of learning about the peoples of other societies, then we could solve these issues,” he said. “We can have this concept of pluralism all over the world.” (Courtesy W & M News)



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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