I am sorry Atif Mian. We didn’t deserve you. Just like we didn’t deserve Abdus Salam, our only Nobel Prize winner in the sciences. It is true our flag is white and green, because some men some time ago thought that the white would represent all minorities just as much as the green meant liberation of a majority which too was once a minority, in a different time and different place — before partition. But clearly, history has proved those men wrong. The white on our flag is a lie we’ve been telling ourselves these past seventy –one years. Truth is, there is no white, or at least not much left of it anyway. Whatever little remains, we’ll make sure we erase that as well. Excuse us, for we were never a morally consistent lot. When the tables are turned, and bigots in the West put travel bans on us, or prattle on about clandestine efforts of a Muslim take over, we are legitimately disturbed. But at home, we exercise the same bigotry, with similar imputations of clandestine takeovers and vile actions against our persecuted classes. In an ideal universe, the white on our flag shouldn’t even matter, because humans are complex creatures, they can’t dichromatically be lumped into green/white, majority/minority categories; there are shades of green and shades of white, and everything in between. But we never learned this lesson, despite all the hard knocks we’ve been delivered by this way of thinking. Because at heart, we’re an insecure people, grasping at straws, not quite sure what we’re holding on to, and what we’ve already let go. We’re insecure because our identity was never forged with any clear conception of who we are as a people. There were never any first principles or a coherent foundation to stand on, only a flaky sense of ‘self’ conceived in opposition to another group of people. Identities created in toxic opposition seldom hold together. Reading this, some might push back, reminding us this country was created in the name of Islam, but who’s Islam? No one knows. The Islam which has actually existed as a lived tradition through history carries within it multiple sects, and multiple theologies — canonized by jurists through the ages; it’s a religion which through the epochs has had adherents ranging from Sufi mystics who believe all is one and one is all, to rationalists who’ve long viewed scripture through the lens of metaphor — decoupling principle from precept, to literalists who’ve viewed the written word as the final adjudication on all matters till the end of time. Islam, in other words, is not a monolith, it never has been. Yet, saying even this much in this country is a contentious non-starter. To make matters more complicated, we never had a strong national identity either, courtesy of leaders who failed to inspire, and governments which failed to deliver, and a nebulous pan-Islamic ideal — a fuzzy stand-in for a national identity — which never quite transpired To make matters more complicated, we never had a strong national identity either, courtesy leaders who failed to inspire, and governments which failed to deliver, and a nebulous pan-Islamic ideal — a fuzzy stand-in for a national identity- which never quite transpired. Not surprising then that decade after decade, we’ve produced citizens who don’t have the slightest grip on a coherent identity. In this vacuum, an alternative history which goes by the name of ‘Pakistan Studies’ was taught at schools, a history so divergent from actual events, it could compete with great works of fiction. But when fiction starts passing for elementary and high school education, that critical stage when minds are still forming, it is purely criminal. Because there is no greater disservice to children than feeding them lies masked as pedagogic wisdom. As a consequence, what we have today are a bunch of struggling adults who have grown up shielding their bubbled realities from bursting at the slightest exposure to the world of facts — and that’s left many of them confused, resentful, or some toxic combination of both. Yet, our text books continue to glorify plundering warlords, extolled as saints, and celebrate triumphalist victories that never occurred. Young, suggestible students, by the millions, are still required to take in copious amounts of distorted information, memorise it by rote, and then reproduce it — verbatim — on exam day. Critical thinking is not allowed, mistaken eagerly for dissent, and we know the punishment for dissenters — who can forget the image of the young Mashal Khan, murdered brutally by a stick wielding mob in a college campus, for the ‘crime’ of free-thinking. We forget, at our own peril, people are not factory produced, being spit out by assembly lines in large industrial units. You can’t package them to your liking, and stamp them with eternal identities. That’s not how humans work, especially in the 21st Century. Yet that’s exactly what we’ve done to our people, and continue to do so with malign disregard for what this will do to generations of people who will grow up disoriented, confused, and vulnerable, in a ruthless world where facts and information will find them sooner or later, and shatter their fickle worldviews. Today, the violent spasms in our society, the angry mobs, the triumphalist chants of ‘Labaik Labaik!’ is the sound of our society (whatever little we have of it) coming apart and being torn asunder. Not that there is any informed, intellectual resistance from the more educated, ‘enlightened’ classes. Our great irony is that our educated elite would rather tweet about the Kardashians, when they’re not bashing religion — anything to stretch themselves as far apart from their culture or its ‘unsavoury’ remnants, as possible. One hopes, someday, some people in the halls of power, or formerly so, will look back and hang their heads in shame for what they’ve done to this society. When they’ll look at young kids around them, some of them physically stunted by lack of nutrition and others simply confused and broken, then perhaps they will feel the glare of their own failures staring back at them. One also hopes, someday these men will realize that good schooling is not about producing mere workers, or ideological zombies, but thinking and feeling humans, equipped as much with human empathy as solid intellect. But then one realizes hope is dangerous in this country of ours. Every time it has come alive, settling briefly in our out-stretched arms, it has left us quickly, leaving behind only despair. Sorry Atif Mian, we didn’t deserve you. The writer a freelance columnist and can be reached at email@example.com Published in Daily Times, September 17th 2018.