Looking through a single lens Kamila Hyat Thursday, March 31, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=39053&Cat=9

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

In today’s world, events in one place almost always influence those in others. The age of instant news means details of developments of every kind reach people flicking through TV channels quite literally the moment they occur.

And more than any other time in human history, we now live in a massive global village where everything that happens is connected to the other in a long chain. A tug at one end instantly sets off motion at the other. It is hard to stay disconnected.

Small amounts of radiation released by the crippled nuclear power at Fukushima in Japan are reported to have drifted across to China, triggering mass panic. The drift, in terms of other events, may not be so literal or so easily discernible through the use of scientific equipment, but the same kind of influences make their way across the globe from one country to the other, from one region to the next.

We saw this happen in the 1990s as countries in Eastern Europe changed forever one after the other. Happenings in one place had an almost instant effect on those in others.

We see the same phenomenon today in the Middle East where an unruly storm rages across the region with, even islands where the breeze hardly moved, such as Bahrain, getting caught up in the gusts.

The desperation of leaders is demonstrated by actions in Libya and also Yemen where there is an attempt to hold onto power and resist the changes that people are determined to usher in.

What is curious is that even gales that blow quite close to our borders, creating the events we see today in North Africa and surrounding areas, caused little more than a ripple at least as far as the electronic media goes in Pakistan.

The events taking place in these nations have received only passing mention in terms of talk shows and other programmes that dominate the dozens of TV channels competing with each other to win over viewers and attract maximum attention.

The channels, of course, have a right to decide their own policies and priorities. But the demonstration of the increasingly insular view we take of the world, is somewhat alarming.

Like the prima donna in a ballet performance, we seem to have become obsessed with ourselves, constantly peering into the mirror to see how we look, rather than gazing out the window at the world outside. The problem with this is that it gives us only a very narrow vision of the world and all that is out there.

Even the events that gain the attention of news anchors in the country are becoming more and more limited. There is an unchanging focus on political wrangles and the ongoing power-play in various places.

Matters that deserve far greater attention, such as the issue of food security, are hardly ever taken up. The warning by a senior UN official that many people could no longer afford to buy food to eat because of the high prices attracted some newspaper headlines but little further discussion.

There are some dangers inherent in this. We need to see ourselves as part of the global community rather than as a single, isolated country that stands and acts alone. This is, in many ways, tied in with the need to develop a broader vision that can enable us to take in more of the world and occupy a place within it.

This reluctance to draw up the blinds and look outside at the wider spaces – rather like a person who has developed a bad case of agoraphobia – is one reason why we have become so unhealthily obsessed with issues such as blasphemy or why even the most trivial political discord draws instant attention.

It is time we recognised the dangers of living within a virtual reality created by the few who set the agenda and moving outside into what is actually taking place.

The events in the Middle East, to the extent that they take up issues such as inflation, poor governance and general disorder, certainly hold relevance. But we should also be looking beyond the obvious and ignoring the depictions of a western media – which like our own, offers only what it chooses to put out before viewers.

It is worth noting that, in Egypt for example, while a dictatorship has gone, fundamentalist groups attempted to prevent women in that country from celebrating International Women’s Day or gathering at Tahrir Square to do so.

Change can lead to events that are both positive and negative. This too is worth remembering.

A single line of focus is a dangerous thing. We seem, at this time, to have donned a set of big, thick blinkers. They prevent us from even looking back into our own past, at a time when we were not so occupied with ideas of religion, morality and the bigotry that is now fed to children almost from the time they are born.

The result is the creation of a kind of disabling hatred that leads people to consider those who follow other religions to be enemies, worthy of nothing other than death. The extent to which such views are expanding is in more ways than one, quite terrifying.

It is no longer easy to dam a river that flows forward fast and furiously. Yet, if we are to save ourselves, this is something we will have to learn to do.

The question to be asked is how this will happen. There are, of course, no instant answers. None are available given the complexity of the issues we face.

But the undoubted fact is, we need to keep pace with the world and continue the process of moving forward. We must look towards others – both to our east and to our west – and learn from what they are doing.

If we are not able to do so, there is a risk that we will be left behind while the rest of the world moves forward at an accelerating pace that prevents us from catching up.

Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

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