Sunday, October 30, 2011

Shine on Imran Khan: Hats off to PTI supporters

I’ve always respected Imran Khan’s reputation as a cricketer, humanitarian and play boy. As a politician, I’ve always thought he was a bit of a fail. That changed tonight. 

Imran Khan has arrived – with a bang.

In a dramatic show of force, Imran Khan gathered more than 100,000 supporters at a rally in Lahore.  His show of strength was meant to send a clear message: “Those in Raiwind and Islamabad should know that it is not a flood that is coming, but a tsunami.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this rally wasn’t Imran Khan but his supporters.

Street power in Pakistan has been monopolized by chest thumping, bearded young men in the recent past. Imran Khan has managed to show a different side to Pakistan. Women thronged Imran Khan’s rally in colorful Shalwar Kameez, some even brought their young children along. There was no flag burning or violence at this rally; instead there was music. The traditionally unresponsive elite class came out in strong numbers to participate in this political rally.

This is a remarkable achievement for Imran Khan. 

To be fair, Imran still has a long way to go. His politicking is high on rhetoric and short on substance (he needs to unveil a specific policy agenda rather than campaign on sweeping promises). 

However, it’s very important to take a moment to give Imran Khan and his supporters credit where it’s due. 

Imran Khan may or may not win the 2013 elections but as a country, Pakistan will certainly win from the momentum and energy that his campaign will bring to the elections. 

This is good news for all Pakistanis regardless of our political affiliation. And PTI supporters deserve a pat on the back for making this happen, despite all the odds.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On falling off a cliff

There is something so beautiful about falling flat on your face. Its God’s way of reminding you who’s in charge.

Perhaps it’s not a good idea to get too personal on a blog. But then again, this is a subject that needs a plurality of individual voices to kick start a debate.

Pakistan’s national discourse is dominated by religion and yet there are many who struggle to define their relationship with God. 

For those who’ve had life experiences validating their belief in God, the expectations are clear. Individuals should submit their will to God. But what happens, when despite their best intentions, individuals fall short.

There are three traditional responses for this; fight, flight or attempted ignorance.

Ignorance is the easiest of the three options. “It’s only natural to have some weaknesses,” you can tell yourself, “just look around.” This enables us to go about our daily lives while incorporating some religious rituals to keep us grounded. The false promise of a mini Junaid Jamshed style born again conversion at the age of 40 makes it easier to forgive today’s transgressions. “Not thinking too much about it” totally works as long as the gulf between belief and action remains manageable.

Fighting can be fun too. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a complete religious make over? It’s an attractive offer: new friends, a renewed sense of purpose and the chance to give up some worldly responsibilities, in the name of God. Alas, the initial effort to kill old habits can be a downer and sometimes even a show stopper but it’s almost always worth the effort – until you decide you’ve had enough and want your old life back. (To be fair, some people do manage to fight their way out of the pull of “worldly desires” and achieve spiritual contentment & success, with some degree of permanence. Kudos to them.)

Flight gives you the rare opportunity to do what you want without having to justify things to your conscience. It can be incredibly liberating. The beauty of this is that you feel as if you can get away with it. But the party comes to an abrupt halt when the distance between belief and action becomes so large that you fall off the proverbial cliff and wake up one day not being able to recognize yourself. 

What should one do when they lose their center? What should one do when they lose themselves?

The answer is as simple as it is confusing. You pick up the pieces of your faith and re-build your center. It takes hard work, patience and will power. But why would anyone repeatedly climb a cliff only to end up falling off it again? Perhaps this is the point of life itself.

Fight, flight & ignorance are our most visceral reactions to failure. As individuals and as a society, we need to learn to balance these impulses better. 

From the ashes of failure, success always has a real potential to rise.