From the Editor: Akhtar Mahmud Faruqui

October 19, 2007

Pakistan Americans: Formidable Challenges, Poor Response

Writing in these columns this week Mr. Riaz Haq, President NED Alumni Association of Silicon Valley, makes a candid observation: “As the Indians take a leaf from the Jewish playbook, so should we as Pakistani-Americans. So far Pakistanis’ focus has been on building only mosques. We should continue building mosques but we need to expand our focus to include building Pakistani-American community centers and participating in the political process as Pakistani-Americans…” His argument reminds us of a similar plea we made in these columns sometime back. The editorial note is very much relevant today:
The formation of PANA - Pakistan American National Alliance - is an event that has been welcomed by Pakistanis of all shades and opinions. And rightly so. The objective of forging a common front to espouse the cause of Pakistan and its people, both within and without, is a laudable one. Yet it is the nature of the task, truly elephantine and Herculean, that warrants a few suggestions.
First, the complexion of the Pakistan community in the United States. There are those who make it to the new world in search of a better life - those who work in dingy factories or corporate ventures at a low rung and are content with sputtering a few incoherent words of American English, a sub-standard, pedestrian form of language in such workplaces with funny usages, and worse, funnier accents and pronunciations, to qualify for a vehicle of scholarship of higher learning. One must unreservedly thank the US academic and high-tech advances and their corporate spin-offs that make up for the misplaced stress on syllables which is jarring and more than a trifling annoyance on one’s ears. Such Pakistanis, or Pakistani Americans as they pride on being called, have two obsessions: to loathe everything that is Pakistani and to praise anything that is American. The razzle-dazzle of posh American malls impresses them, rather than the inspirational vision of America’s founding fathers that find a vivid manifestation in the dynamic of Cornell, Yale, Princeton, Pennsylvania, Brown, Dartmouth, Woodworth, Columbia and Harvard. They miss the finer values and essential features of this great country, features that accord the United States of America the enviable status of being the world’s only super power and deserving the best superlatives for its strivings in challenging fields.
Then there are those Pakistani Americans who have obtained higher education and struck gold in an entrepreneurial undertaking - wealth quite disproportionate to their academic or personal attainments - and who have generously and laudably contributed to community causes. Yet their corporate-tinged outlook lacks the perspicacity of the visionaries of Aligarh where the two-nation theory was enunciated and led to the creation of Pakistan, or the bright minds of Hyderabad where Urdu, a cultural entity of pre- and post-independence Muslims, was religiously accorded the status of medium of instruction to strengthen the Muslim identity. English did not suffer in that great seat of culture and learning, where the quintessence of both, testifies to the richness of the past and a commitment to the future.
And if individual vision is to be cited, the name of Dr. I H. Usmani spontaneously comes to mind who as early as the 1960s drew the blueprints of a nuclear power program for Pakistan. Thanks to his foresight and the establishment of centers of excellence like the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH) - described as ‘best of both the worlds’ by TIME magazine - Pakistan succeeded in joining the exclusive nuclear club, and, more recently, in warding off Indian military adventurism.
Another visionary who deserves to be mentioned here is Professor Abdus Salam who not only won the coveted Nobel Prize but, more importantly, set up the UN International Center of Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. Salam acted as a one-man multinational corporation busily transferring intellectual technology to the less developed countries of the world. “Salam’s strength is that he believes that miracles are possible provided one goes out and helps them on their way,” Nigel Calder said of the late eminent Pakistani in 1967. It is a pity we don’t have someone quite like him in the community of Pakistani Americans though there are many who are many times richer than him. The inference is obvious: richness of imagination and vision impacts the social scene rather than the opulence of money.
And that explains why the singular obligation of the affluent business class of Pakistani Americans to the community is restricted to the construction of buildings. But do bricks and mortar create institutes pulsating with the creative impulse? And can schools established by the rich for the children of the rich be anything other than a self-defeating exercise? How many Pakistanis can afford to send their children to the Islamic schools set up by the community’s philanthropists?
One may ponder the serious question: Are the more affluent among us conscious of the obligation thrust upon the community in the post-9/11 period? The Muslims took, and continue to take, a terrible bashing at the hands of the media because their own press was too fragile, nay, almost non-existent. Has anyone - any one - done anything to support the fledgling Pakistani and Muslim media? Barring exceptions, our papers continue to be mere rags and TV programs a theatrical portrayal of our strivings. A sorry spectacle resulting from the indifference of the community’s well-to-do ignoramuses.
Finally, there is the younger generation - the ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis) aping the Amisha Patel-Hirthik Roshan duo and merrily humming “Dil mera milnae ko beqarar hae, Kaho na piyar hae, Kaho na …” as they dash on the criss-crossing freeways to and fro schools. The more extrovert among them dote on Jennifer Lopez and Jay Leno or fancy the characters of Practice and Charm. Earning grades and counting units, they seem to drift listlessly while yearning for an intellectually stimulating environment that could lend meaning to the newly found Pakistani-American identity with a wholesome Pakistani imprint.
Pakistan organizations have to be much more than political associations of Pakistani-Americans. They have to attend to the social and cultural issues touching on the lives of the Pakistanis in the United States. They should make an earnest effort to blend values which could be truly representative of the best of both the worlds. Arriving in the US is not an achievement; successful survival is. And in the process the ‘melting pot’ experience does not have to be a wholly one-sided affair. -


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.