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DAWN The Review, 2001

"Abuse of History in Pakistan

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, or so we study at the school. Seeing things in this light we can see that the early Europeans writing about the Muslim India presented a negative image, and in reaction our ancestors sat down to write positive accounts of our great-grand-ancestors. This could have been a simple case of action and reaction with no consequence on the unsuspecting generations like us, having born safely a century after the whole confusion took place. Sadly, Newton’s theory that holds true in physics seems defeated by the mainstream Pakistani historian. The reaction was not equal in amount by any means. Today, the Europeans and the rest of the “others” have disappeared from the scene but our reaction hasn’t stopped.

There may or may not have been a need to write pleasant accounts of the past when Pakistan was a newborn state or when it was still an idea yet to be materialized. Today, there is certainly no need for looking at the past through tainted glasses. Today, we are a country that is very much there on the map of the world. The existence of Pakistan in the Twenty-First Century is a geographical fact that needs little support from history. If Pakistan has to progress, and protect its sovereignty, that goal can better be achieved through looking forward to the future rather than by looking back at the past. If the Two-Nations Theory was proposed to secure a separate homeland for the Muslims of the Sub-Continent, that homeland was achieved more than half a century ago, and patriotism today shouldn’t mean finding more proofs for any theories about the past, but rather coming up with practical ideas about how to eradicate poverty, conserve resources, curtail population and develop healthy foreign relations.

The past, as they say, is another country. Why can’t we treat it like another country? If some great Muslim king made a shameful mistake, is there anything we can do about it now? The simple answer is, “No.” Sadly, this answer is too complex for our mainstream historian, who leaves no stone unturned (and throws a big one at the mirror too) to cover up anything unseemly that might have happened a thousand years ago. A Time Machine may help, but until that ingenious device is invented, we should sit back and stop feeling ashamed or proud for things that happened long before we came into this world. If only we let our defenses down, we can enjoy the stories of the past and in the process may end up learning something from them.

But in order to learn, one must accept that one is imperfect. We, the final outcome of three generations brainwashed on fabricated history, assume that we know everything. Rightly so, if we are to believe those who wrote our textbooks. If all of “our” folks were good guys, and all of “theirs” were bad, then what else remains there to learn about the varieties of human character? Only if we accept that there were no good guys in history, not any bad ones, and that they were all humans with their own unique mixes of good and bad, then we can see that God’s power of creation knows no limit. God alone could create a paradox like Jehangir, who could flay one of his servants alive without blinking an eye and yet die of a heart stroke upon seeing an innocent boy fall off a cliff. Or a physician like Avecena (Bu Ali Sina) who wrote authentic cures for possibly every single disease known in his days and yet died of a common disease whose true nature may not be revealed in this magazine in the interest of public decorum. Alas, our historians only tell us that Alberuni and Avecena seldom spent a night in their lives without reading a book, and forget to mention the fact both these notorious friends seldom passed an evening without alcohol either. And the colors in Jehangir’s personality lose their bright contrast when our historian successfully let him pass as a just and peace-loving king (in this later effort our historian is helped to an extant by the screen presence of Dilip Kumar, not to mention the coy smiles of Madhubala and the enchanting voice of Madame Lata Mangeshkar). And yet, eccentricities, such as those displayed by Alberuni and Avicenna form the heart of an intellectual and give them the power to acquire the knowledge of literally everything under the sky, which still seems like an understatement for the achievements of these geniuses. The uninhibited overthrow of reason, guided by the deepest passions of the soul, brings out the romantic in a human being and transforms an incompetent king into a legend that could survive the downfall of an empire. We all have these tendencies within us because human being, for one thing, is an eccentric creature, whatever other sort of animal it might be. Some of us keep our tendencies under check, like you and me. Some let them go, according to their ability and resources (yes, like those rotten dirty neighbors whom you and me envy, right?). But history tells us of those who faced opportunities where they could magnify the eccentricities of their human souls on a scale that may sound like pure fairytale to us. Once in a while, we need to be reminded of those lager-than-life characters in order to jolt us up from the drudgery of our routines. It is our much-needed catharsis. When the narrow-minded historians look up at the heaven of the past through their funnel, the first thing that they fail to observe is this fairytale element of history, which is not a fairytale at all but hard and cold truth. Feed your children on a history written in terms of black and white and they will grow color-blind. Color-blind is what we have become, as you can clearly observe from the kind of speeches delivered by our politicians. A history of self-glorification has done us no good, because it has reduced our level of tolerance, blurred out our vision of the world, and turned us into a nation of professional escapists.

Today, the world insists on being defined as a global village. The entire human race is coming together as one family. Secrets don’t hold out in a family, and everybody knows about everyone else in a village. Hence we have our own global “chopal,” the Internet: the thoroughfare of grapevine. Our children have learnt how to use it, and the adults will also follow them soon (we hope!). On one hand, it will become “virtually” impossible to restrict our vision to our own slice of half-truths. On the other hand, the rewards for integrating the whole truth are enormous: if we could agree to learn something from every soul that has lived on this planet, no matter which religion or nationality they belonged to, then just how much more do we get to learn about ourselves as individuals, as human souls.

...patriotism today shouldn’t mean finding more proofs for any theories about the past, but rather coming up with practical ideas about how to eradicate poverty, conserve resources, curtail population and develop healthy foreign relations...

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