Friday, 10 February 2012

Bizarre Peculiarity

Bizarre Peculiarity
By Max Masood

In my previous report from Sydney, I made a passing mention about one of the peculiarities of Pakistanis settled abroad. It was a brief reference to their almost absolute compliance of law, civic order and social code. There has to be some logical explanation for such binary fission in the  national character.

Watching Pakistanis live by law is reassuring as much as amazing. How do the stock of people who disregard, even abhor, law at home become so compliant in alien setting? What obliges Pakistanis to obey law abroad? Are they the only people who suffer from this embarrassing duality? Do migrants from other ethnic backgrounds behave differently? Is the attitude indicative of a deep-rooted desire to be ruled by foreign and impersonal authorities?

Finding an answer to this bizarre peculiarity of Pakistanis falls within the purview of social science, and whatever the conclusion it most certainly should provide a vital clue to address the malaise distressing  postcolonial societies of our time.

As mentioned previously, some seven million Pakistanis live abroad. Based on statistics and data available to the Overseas Pakistani  Foundation (OPF), this figure should be fairly accurate. Only recently, the overseas Pakistani contribution to economy back home was recorded to have hit the US$ eight billion mark in a single year.  Today the Overseas Pakistani Foundation is an elaborate organisation, running under its corporate command, among range of services, some 150 educational institutions in over 40 urban locations.

Historically, for quite a while after the creation of Pakistan, there was hardly the desire to migrate abroad. Pakistan itself was perceived as safe heaven to millions of its new citizens who had been forced to flee their ancestral lands for life and security.  Hardly anyone confronted the rush to migrate, all over again, in the decade following the establishment of Pakistan.

Later, in the 1960s, a limited number of people migrated to England from the Azad Kashmir; it was a sort  of economic migration by the unskilled working class. After the Arab-Israel wars of 1967 and 1973, when  export of petroleum was used as a weapon and petrodollar flourished, the trend picked up momentum. For the first time, semi-skilled labour found a market wide open for lucrative employment in the Middle East, Arabian peninsula and parts of North Africa. From the 1980s onward, the category of economic migrants graduated into its next stage when more skilled and professional migrants joined the race. Scientists, doctors, engineers, accountants and business people began deserting home. Unlike the earlier waves, the majority of those  professionals travelled to Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Driven by an ambition to excel professionally in more rewarding job markets, they also aimed at securing superior lifestyles. In many instances, migrants in this category are now well into second and third generations of their settlement in the west. 

Because of their birth and upbringing in relatively favourable environment, the overall regard of law by subsequent generations of Pakistanis settled abroad does not sound strange. On the other hand, a rather swift acclimatisation on the part of original migrants, who suffered from divided loyalties and split personalities, is a remarkable and, of course, pleasant surprise.

Recently, in response to a question raised in the Parliament of Pakistan, the number of Pakistanis charged and convicted for breaking the law abroad was reported to be somewhere in the range of 7000. Placed against the size of Pakistani diasporas abroad, the number of offenders is modest for sure, especially when the majority of them are stated to have been booked for violation of local immigration rules to petty crimes like driving offences in the countries of their incarceration. Only recently, few Pakistanis have hit headlines for their alleged or otherwise involvement in fashionable terrorism.

On the whole, Pakistanis settled abroad remain peace-loving and law-abiding citizens. Their preference for law is regardless of penalties under Shariah as perceived in Saudi Arabia or the criminal justice system as observed in western democracies.

While back home in Pakistan, people persecute each other, including those among their street neighbours, on grounds of religious dissimilarity. They do not encounter the slightest hesitation in delivering ecclesiastical proclamations upon each other, and are ever ready to embrace martyrdom in defence of their faith. Once the same lot of people find the opportunity to migrate abroad, especially to a western destination, they seem to undergo quick metamorphosis by starting to live in absolute harmony with other citizens. Miraculously, they find themselves at peace with their Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, pagan, non-believer, communist and atheist neighbours in the street and suburb as well as with their colleagues at work.  Overnight, religion is diverted to personal domains of life. 

Again, back home in Pakistan, there is no dearth of people who hold viciously strong views about the status and place of women in society.  Going by popular perception, the half of country's population should not have much to do outside the confines of their homes and purdah. But as much as a male citizen of Pakistan is accustomed to the explicitly undignified spectacle of shuttle-cock burqa in Peshawar, he tends to behave in a totally different manner in the west. He does not waste much time in coming to terms with gender equality as practiced in his new home. At work, he would start seeing equal human beings in his female colleagues, delighted to treat them with mutual respect and dignity. None of the so-called cultural qualms would keep him from working under a female team leader, manager or boss. He would take orders without hesitation. He will not be bothered by the manner in which some of his female colleagues might wish to dress up. Rather ironically, the transition from tolerance of shuttle-cock burqa to that of low-neck shirts and thigh-high skirts seems to happen seamlessly. On occasions, when the air at work might become thick with gender-driven gossip, he will understand fully well and appreciate the boundaries of personal privacy in matters of sexual orientation.     

Nearly all of the first generation Pakistani migrants have witnessed the traffic mess in Karachi, Hyderabad, Multan, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and elsewhere back home. With a tinge of nostalgia, they might remember the miraculous dissolution of traffic clogs those shamelessly cheeky drivers of all kinds and categories of vehicles would contribute to build up on both sides of level-crossings. Still, they drive through the intricately complex maze of single lane, one way, no right turn, no left turn restrictions in the central business districts of Rome, Frankfurt, Bonn, Paris, London, Manchester, New York, Chicago, Sydney and other busy urban centre of the western world; without ever consciously attempting to break the rules. From the rush hour traffic jams to high speed expressways, they negotiate their way to work and home with patience and discipline, without posing threat to other drivers. 

Likewise, Pakistani migrants settled abroad pay local council rates, water and electricity bills, and other dues and costs of living, without the slightest hesitation. As decent citizens, they do not imagine exploring venues to bypass their civic responsibilities.  In social orderliness, on a comparative scale, they rate above average. Invariably, they pay their taxes and claims returns permissible under the system.  Even when there is the universal temptation to slip out, the impunity with which payment of taxes and rates was avoided back home seemed to have been dutifully washed out of their fresh civic memory.  

Contrary to their religious inhibition towards western banking system and practices, an overwhelming majority of Pakistani migrants take mortgage on property because they find it practical.

When members of Pakistani migrant communities, settled in western countries, apply for employment; they write strong expressions of interest and address the selection criteria as required in the job advertisement. When invited for interview they put up an impressive performance to win the position. If for one or another reason there is no success in getting through, they patiently try their luck with another suitable opening. This is contrary to what the same stock of people would do back home, where every possible effort is made to bypass selection on merit, and the shortest route to winning a position is perceived to pass through influential approach by relatives, friends and beneficial interplay of birathary strings.

In the same spirit of contesting on merit, one of the foremost priorities before Pakistani migrant families abroad is to educate their children. In doing so they seem to share the view held by the father of famous Canadian social commentator, David Suzuki. At an early stage of his education, David is reported to have received the firm advice from his father that his ethnic variation from the mainstream was a sort of disadvantage; and if son wished to take intellectual lead in the west he would be required to put in double amount of effort all along.   

Just as the list of contrast goes on, so does the mystery about duality of Pakistani character. How can Pakistanis be made to behave at home? Where do we find the answer to this apparently innocent question?

James Stuart Mill (1773-1836), the classical economist and political philosopher, who served London's India Office early in the 19th century, wrote his six-volume history of India without ever setting foot on the subcontinent. His knowledge of the land, its people and customs was impersonal; essentially based on despatches he received from the representatives of the East India Company. As if it is all well today, back in his day he advocated that the installation of 'good government' was the only way to fix problems India then faced. Unfortunately, the idealism behind this desire to fix problems abroad became the food for thought behind the rise of colonialism. Even then, the  duality of character was evident, only in reverse order, regional players being more or less the same.

Pakistanis better address the conflict within, themselves.

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