Without invoking religion Ghazi Salahuddin Sunday, April 03, 2011

There is, of course, life after Mohali. A bagful of it, in fact. Gradually, after the onset of a gloomy mood late Wednesday evening, the grim realities of our daily existence have resurfaced with a fresh dose of a massive increase in fuel prizes. Two suicide bombings in Swabi and Charsadda almost overlapped our World Cup excitement. And the Supreme Court is continuing its hearing on politically critical cases.

But we do need to pause to try and understand the overwhelming involvement of our people in a cricket match against our seemingly perennial rival, India. Also significant is the fact that this time, it was the semi-final of the Cricket World Cup. The great frenzy it generated in both countries was riding on the high tide of the broadcast media and the internet. It became some kind of a collective intoxication. The build-up to the match was totally surreal. The international media seemed rather amused by this craze. Its interest was further amplified by ‘cricket diplomacy’.

Now that it is over, one feels a bit uneasy about the national hysteria it had generated. Backed by an advertising blizzard, it touched the frontiers of a psychosis. In both countries, it was seen as almost a life-and-death issue. However, this was also a welcome incentive to come together as a nation, irrespective of our otherwise abrasive divisions. Because we lost the game, an emphasis on this silver lining also has some therapeutic value.

Incidentally, an arousal of strong patriotic feelings in such sports encounters is quite natural. That is how the entire business of spectator sport has developed in modern times, a kind of renewal of the Roman prescription of serving the people with “bread and circus”. It becomes easier to govern societies that are kept entertained. Our problem is that we are generally not passionate about sports and have no proper infrastructure to groom our teeming youth for competitive sports. For the time being, only cricket touches us with such intensity. It has become the sport of our national pride.

The point I am making is that sports events have the power to transform the national mood and promote patriotic emotions. For us, it was the sense of being a Pakistani that was important. Another important element of the Mohali match, in my view, was this opportunity for the people to have parties and congregations to celebrate the occasion, at least, until the final moments of the contest. Arrangements were made at cinema houses, marriage halls, clubs and public spaces to make it a communal event.

Unfortunately, a World Cup semi-final with India can only be a rare occasion. Nor would we be able to afford it, emotionally as well as commercially, on any regular basis. Yet any opportunity to foster patriotic fervour and allow the people to join others in a participatory manner should be welcome. This is what culture is all about. Our society, afflicted with religious militancy and intolerance, has deprived the people of any meaningful access to social and cultural activities.

It should be interesting to probe the basic instincts of our people in the light of this passion for cricket when it is played between India and Pakistan. As I am trying to emphasise, we all became devoted Pakistanis during this affair. There was a sense of joy in our patriotic assertions. One even wonders if this was the same society that had been so severely intimidated by the radical Islamists in the wake of the assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti just a few weeks ago.

So, what was the Islamists’ take on the World Cup semi-final? Apparently, the radical religious elements either retreated into the shadows or were themselves affected by the frenzy generated by the media. Perhaps, the prospect of defeating India, considered an infidel, momentarily tickled their fancy. Individually, though, we all draw some strength from our faith and our beliefs and pray for an outcome of our choice. It would be the same for people in other societies, irrespective of their religious identity. Still, sports and athletic competitions have to be secular in nature.

In this context, I would like to refer to the collective prayers Afridi and his boys offered on the playing field of Mohali on the eve of the match. They presented a delightful sight, offering their Maghreb prayers in a somewhat magical landscape at sundown. As for the message conveyed by this simple act of devotion at a tense moment, one published comment made out that this was, for the whole world, a true image of Muslims.

But India and Pakistan are not neatly divided by lines drawn by religion. About as many Muslims live in India as do in Pakistan. Looking at South Asia, we have to be aware of the fact that Muslims in the sub-continent are almost equally divided in three separate countries, owing allegiance to three separate nationalities and three separate flags.

Pakistan’s identification with Islam is not to be seen as an exclusive right. We have, in the Arab world, more than 20 countries the people of which profess the same religion. They also have the same national language and close affinities in culture and tradition. Yet, they have different nationalities.

At the same time that we aspire to become good Muslims and good human beings, it is our identity as Pakistanis that we must truly honour and celebrate. This is not the occasion to go into a discussion of the ideology of Pakistan and of two-nation theory. The World Cup was majestically inaugurated in Bangladesh that was once East Pakistan. The paths traversed by the two Muslim countries - Pakistan and Bangladesh - in recent decades are quite instructive, if we also remember how Bangladesh was once considered a ‘basket case’.

In an opinion piece titled ‘Success and failure’, published on Friday in an English daily, political economist Akbar Zaidi has reviewed the progress made by Bangladesh. The highlighted excerpt: “Ironically, it is Bangladesh which has become Jinnah’s Pakistan - democratic, liberal, secular - while Pakistan has become his worst nightmare - authoritarian, illiberal and fundamentalist.” Makes you think, doesn’t it?

An irony it would be if our Mohali experience is invested in a re-thinking on what we have made of our freedom and what we want Pakistan to become as a nation. One Islamist comment on our defeat has argued that our prayers were not answered because we do not deserve a victory, being so corrupt and immoral. There is ample food for thought in this observation. But do we have sufficient capacity for sane and logical thinking on these matters?

Playing good cricket has only a peripheral importance in the business of establishing a tolerant, knowledge-based, liberal society that is not held hostage by extremist and obscurantist elements.

The writer is a staff member Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=39660&Cat=9

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