Jibran Nasir: A Pakistani Who Is Asking the Right Questions
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Mohammad Jibran Nasir, a young man from Pakistan has recently completed a speaking tour of the United States (April through May, 2015) during which he was scheduled to appear at 26 venues, the majority of which happened to be college campuses. During this tour he was able to interact with many young Pakistani-Americans at world renowned centers of learning including Harvard, Yale and Princeton and Stanford and Berkeley where he spoke on the topic of “Citizens Reclaiming Pakistan”. He also took the opportunity to address many more people during private gatherings in major cities and some major organizations such as OPEN and the “iKolachi Policy Research Group”-“ Talk4Pak” (Talk4Pak.com) in the San Francisco Bay Area, which held a lunch gathering for Jibran on Saturday, May 16 th at Mehran Restaurant in Newark, California where this writer was present.
This report was purposely delayed till Jibran’s tour ended because one needed to ascertain his impact on our skeptical community. It now appears that overall the reviews have been positive, but not without the usual criticism of why he is pitching his ideas in America and not in Pakistan (which he is). Jibran’s tour duration here in America was also accompanied by tragedies in Karachi as social activist Sabeen Mahmud, whom he considered both a friend and a mentor, was murdered on April 24 th. And later a bus carrying members of the Ismaili sect was attacked and many of its passengers shot dead.
During the event at Mehran, lunch was served first as the hall started filling up and reached almost full capacity in a short time. This program was conducted entirely in Urdu, the Pakistani national language, and if the translation is not exact, please overlook this writer’s shortcomings here. Event Emcee Tuba Syed started on a somber note as slides were shown of the victims of terrorist attacks in Pakistan ranging from political figures (including Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto) to sectarian attacks (including the Hazaras in Baluchistan) plus attacks on other minorities. Tuba also reminded everyone that this was the five-month anniversary of the APS Peshawar School massacre. And before we move further along in this report it is important to mention that there were people present (without mentioning names) at this gathering who had lost close family members to extremist violence in Pakistan, including a lady whose father, a decorated Army officer, one who had fought two wars to defend our country of origin, and was killed because he belonged to a certain religious group.
The first presentation of the afternoon was a candlelight vigil, a tribute to victims of terror in Pakistan including the slain children of APS Peshawar by local community kids. They stood on stage, candles in hand, to Allama Iqbal’s “Lub Pe Aati Hai Dua Ban Ke Tamanna Meri” ( A prayer comes to my lips and becomes a wish) causing moist eyes in some present. The children then enacted a return-to-school scene with another song which has caught national attention since the Peshawar massacre of over 130 children (yes, children have become targets too). The song was “Bara Dushman Bana Phirta Hai, Jo Bacchon Se Larta Hai” ( Some powerful enemy he claims he is, he who shows his bravery by targeting children) with another line, “Main aisi qoum se hoon jis kay woh bachon se darta hai … Bara dushman bana phirta hai jo bachon se larta hai" ( I am from a nation whose children frighten him. Some enemy he is, he who shows his bravery by targeting children ). The kids did a fine job and need to be congratulated.
Two leading members of the Talk4Pak Team next took the opportunity to address the gathering. First, Faraz Darvesh in a passionate speech said that our presence here was evidence that Pakistani-Americans are a part of this continuing tragedy in their country of origin. He chronicled some of the killings in Pakistan and said that this was a long trail of blood and the people responsible need to be identified and dealt with. He said that it is not just Shias but even moderate Sunnis who have been targeted. He stressed that we need to raise our voice. May 16 th (today) he said was the five-month anniversary of the attack on the children in Peshawar and we should never forget it.
Next Riaz Haq also from the organizing team, started with a quote from the Urdu poet Ghalib, pointing to the fact that there is no easy way to solve this problem. He said that there are some hard core terrorists out there in Pakistan and that an even bigger problem was that some people actually sympathize with them. He added that the challenge was how to counter them. He also introduced the Talk4Pak think tank and iKolachi team which includes Faraz Darvesh, Sabahat Ashraf, Misbah Azam, Ali Hasan Cemendtaur and he himself. The core members also appear regularly on a weekly online discussion program “Viewpoint from Overseas” which is developing a growing viewership. He also said that the group could use some financial support from the community to enhance its effort.
A video on Jibran Nasir and his social media-based movement was presented next just before he took his place on stage. He had earlier been introduced by Tuba Syed as “The Next Prime Minister of Pakistan”. This young man has certainly shaken up the online political scene in Pakistan by continually highlighting and opposing attacks on civil society and minorities. And he refuses to give up trying to bring about some kind of change in spite of the odds stacked against him. Jibran started his speech by saying that throughout his US tour, he has been speaking in English but this time he has been requested to speak in Urdu. He asked for permission to speak in Pakistan’s national language from one individual present whose wife was Chinese, and proceeded to speak in Urdu only after he got that approval.
Jibran said that he was not interested in becoming the PM of Pakistan, nor was he interested in running for election. He said that it is not going to be one individual who will change there, not unless the 180 plus million people of that country don’t pitch in and choose between being a country of helpless sheep or a nation of people who are aware and alert, and willing to bring about change. He said that he will be critical of both the military and the democratic process (the four major political parties) in Pakistan during his speech and the reason is not just to criticize or put them down but because they are Pakistan’s state institutions and that we have to work with them, and in the end they should be answerable to the Awam (people) of the country. He said that we should support all parliamentarians in Pakistan who understand that extremism is a growing problem there and it does not matter if they are from the PML, PTI, MQM or the PPP. He added that he was not interested in forming a 5 th major party in Pakistan, because there are already over 196 political parties in the country. He also presented some relevant verses from poet Josh Malihabadi (Politics and Urdu poetry somehow always connect). He also took the opportunity to promote his website JibranNasir.com through which those interested in interacting with him can connect and also his twitter handle. As mentioned earlier, Jibran uses the social media widely to reach out to Pakistan’s younger generation.
Nasir said that he alone does not have an answer for Pakistan’s problems and welcomed other individuals and organizations like Talk4Pak to also engage in finding solutions. He detailed the work of activist Sabeen Mahmud who lost her life struggling for justice in the country and for giving a voice to people even if she disagreed with them in the true democratic tradition. He said that we all don’t need to always agree, but we do need to relate to each other as human beings. Jibran elaborated on the word “secular” and explained that it does not mean that one does not believe in God or refuses to accept religious beliefs of others. He said that in a secular society your God is your God and my God is mine and we all should have the right to live together in harmony. He said that Sabeen Mahmud was both a mentor and a guide and that he would probably not have been an activist today had she not encouraged him.
Jibran said that some people say that he has come to America to defame Pakistan. On the contrary he said that he has come here to talk to his own people-Pakistanis (and Pakistani-Americans). He said that he was certain that Pakistan was not a country of apologists of extremism and added that there was a Pakistan in him and that there was a Pakistan in all of us and that we are a peace-loving people. “There is a lot of beauty in my country,” he said, but there is also a small and growing segment of people who are sympathetic to the extremists. He said that he was talking about all the groups who use religious extremism to further their aims (the 34 banned groups practicing violence according to the Pakistani government) and not just the Taliban. He especially centered his attention on one such terror group.
Jibran pointed out that the major problem in Pakistan today is growing apathy and the acceptance of violence after over 50,000 people have been killed in violence by extremists. He said that there was an alarming dehumanization process emerging (even Christians have lynched people there) and that the state appears to be failing. Using pictures he gave an example of a sectarian terrorist leader of a banned organization who seems to somehow surprisingly appear in pictures with leaders of many political parties who actually seek his support! Why are they being placated? Is it not illegal to associate with them? He said that people who practice violence there now do so openly and seem to be unafraid (and are proud to get their picture taken after committing the act). That also needs to be questioned. Where do they get this mindset and support? He hinted that parts of the state apparatus might be “ignoring” some of these people.
There is a lot more that Mohammad Jibran Nasir described and detailed at this event, but due to space constraints we cannot report it all in one article. As Pakistani-Americans we are frequently both puzzled and alarmed by the state of affairs there. But when one listens to and meets people like this young man who actually lives there and has to face the daily reality of Pakistani life, one feels that there is some emerging hope for at least some change in the right direction.