Pakistan Independence Day and Eid Celebrations in Sacramento
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan while addressing a gathering of over 1000 people in Sacramento, California during a combined Eid and a Pakistan Independence Day celebration on September 3 rd stressed the need for Pakistanis and Muslims to learn from the success of the Western world in the realm of implementing the rule of law, the sciences and technological innovation while continuing to disagree on some of its policies.
Starting off on a humorous note, he said that he realized that his standing between the audience and entertainer Arif Lohar certainly put him at a huge disadvantage. He added that he himself might get carried away and join in the stage magic of the performer by starting to sing and dance instead of delivering a speech. He said that as a leader of the opposition for several years in the Parliament and Senate in Pakistan he was quite used to walkouts, but he hoped that the same does not happen here (if the entertainment got too delayed).
But a speech he did deliver. One of the finest public intellectuals to grace the Pakistani political and literary scene (his book “The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan” is a must read), Ahsan covered a number of topics in his thought-provoking keynote delivered in fine Urdu. It is being highlighted here in an attempted translation in English and if any mistakes in conversion occur here, this reporter apologizes for the omission in advance.
He said that the British ruled almost the entire world for about 300 years and there were several reasons for that. They knew about how others lived and functioned and how to find appeal amongst the natives of the empire. One way was to make speeches short! But since the English saying “There is no free lunch” is applicable here and that the hosts had just treated him to a fine meal, he had to say something to earn it.
He said that he thought a great deal about what to say to Pakistanis who live overseas, especially those in America who live a comfortable life amongst the amenities available in this country. He asked what he could say to people who do not have to face hunger, deprivation and massive unemployment (in spite of recent difficulties with the economy here). What can one say to relatively affluent Pakistanis in America?
Briefly he said that he wanted to say two or three things. You are somewhat blessed because the situation in Pakistan is often dire. You are insulated from the problems there. But you still think, feel and are attached to Pakistan via your identity and your hearts. And what should you do? First, you should be good citizens of the place where you live (in this case America). If you are good citizens here you help to enhance Pakistan’s reputation here as its Ambassadors. People here will look at your character, the way you deal with your surroundings here and then judge Pakistan and Pakistanis as either good or bad. Second, please try your best to achieve economic success in this country.
Addressing the youth present he stressed the need to acquire knowledge (Ilm). He said he was not just talking about acquiring formal education (which is quite necessary). He said what he was referring to was that Pakistanis need to learn from the success of America and the work and business ethics of its people. He said that many around the world look at America as a country which conducts-makes unjust wars. We (Pakistanis) disagree with many of its policies (Iraq and Afghanistan for example). But America is a great power and we need to study the reasons for its success.
Let us look at the Western world led by America which has put man on the moon, studied the depths of the oceans, and has other achievements that have made them a success. He said from the microphone that he was using, from the watch that he was wearing, the light bulbs brightening the stage, the motor cars that you came to this venue in, airplanes, computer chips, X-ray machines, ball point pens (just to name a few), we have to admit that these innovations and inventions have all originated in America and the Western civilization. That is a reality and we have to admit it from these thousands of inventions that have improved our lives in the past few hundred years (since the Reformation); almost none can be credited to Muslims. What is the reason for this?
Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan posed the question: Why has the West succeeded? He attributed this to an environment where people have the freedom to disagree with standard norms and even rebel against them, creating an environment of increased creativity and innovation. He said that in our environment might is right and you are only allowed to operate within rigid parameters. And if you do not operate within these parameters you are sometimes declared a person who is eligible to be murdered (wajib-ul-qatl). He asked the younger generation to reject this thinking, be brave, ask questions and rebel against dogma and raise their thinking towards inquiry and ultimately innovation. He said unfortunately Pakistan and Muslims are not heading in that direction. The society has lost its tolerance. We need to learn tolerance from these people (in America and the West), he said.
The last thing stressed by Aitzaz was that Pakistanis need to learn the importance of implementing the rule of law from the Western world. He called for the implementation of one law for all citizens of Pakistan, from the President down to the ordinary citizen. He said that from his many visits to America he has had the opportunity to learn about implementing laws here. Giving one example, he said that he was running late to a meeting in Washington and his American driver could not find a place to park. He told the driver that there was a spot right there. It was a red zone with a fire hydrant. He was told by the driver that even the President of the United States could not park his car there. This is the kind of enforcement of the law and the law-abiding society needed in Pakistan. But how will we achieve this? But what do we do?
We fly into Lahore Airport. Get VIP treatment and are happy to break all the rules that other people without connections have to follow. We are seen fighting for boarding passes and other amenities there. But the moment we fly out of Pakistan and land at any airport like Dubai, we get in line; follow the rules no matter if we are generals, politicians, landlords or ordinary workers. We no longer complain and follow all the rules! If Pakistanis can be transformed to follow the rules within a three-hour flight to Dubai, then why can’t we transform within the country in several months? We can do it, but the system needs to change, he said.
Again he stressed the need for inquiry and innovation within the parameters of the law which can lead to both an economic and social renaissance. We have to give our children and future generations the ability to think outside the box, he said. He ended his speech with the hopeful words of poetry by Faiz Ahmad Faiz: “Let us too raise our hands, We who cannot remember the formalities of prayer.”
Earlier Deputy Chief of Mission Ms. Iffat Imran Gardezi from the Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC offered her own words to the gathering. She too spoke almost exclusively in Urdu. A woman representing Pakistani officialdom is not a rare sight. Pakistan has elected a woman leader (the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto) twice, a feat that even the US has yet to accomplish. Ms. Gardezi congratulated the organizers for putting together the Eid and Independence Day event and commended all the people present for their presence and show of affection for Pakistan. She also asked the gathering to pray for the well-being and prosperity of the home country. She later highlighted some serious issues, including those related to the relationship between Pakistan and the United states. She said that terrorism was the foremost grim reality facing Pakistan, the fallout of the wars in Afghanistan. She added that Pakistanis (both military and civilian) have paid a very heavy price while confronting this menace. Ms. Gardezi had many words of wisdom to share, reminding this reporter of our eminent sociologist Hassan N. Gardezi who has had quite a following amongst progressive Pakistanis during our more enlightened times.
To conclude, there was fine entertainment as well. The event had started off with a quiz conducted by Naeem Syed, tilawat by Faraaz Godil and a formal start with an absolutely wonderful singing of the American national anthem by Hawwa Munir plus the singing of the Pakistani anthem by a group of youth and a naat by Zainab. Words of welcome were presented by Dr. Aslam Godil as he wished “Eid Mubarak” to everyone. The entertainment segment started off with the very talented Jeffrey Iqbal, followed by Fozia from Faisalabad and last but not least Arif Lohar who really shook up the Shaz Restaurant parking lot venue with a performance which we will remember for quite some time.