Sunday, November 15, 2009

The ‘It-is-not-us’ syndrome: Dawn

The ‘It-is-not-us’ syndrome By Hajrah Mumtaz

Dawn, 15 Nov, 2009
A couple of months ago, I wrote a column in praise of certain Pakistani pop stars and bands, arguing that there are a fair number of songs that display political consciousness and a related sense of responsibility. I referred to such songs as Junoon’s ‘Talaash’, Shahzad Roy’s ‘Lagay Raho’ and ‘Kismet Apnay Haath Main’, Noori’s ‘Merey Log’ and Laal’s rendition of Habib Jalib’s ‘Main Nay Uss Say Yeh Kaha.’

I find now that that argument was all very well – as far as it went. Such is the manner in which we are bound by our long-cherished prejudices and mental chains that it took a report by the New York Times’ Adam B. Ellick to show me what I had completely failed to notice: the music acts’ total refusal to either touch upon the topic of the Taliban, or to even acknowledge them as a concern.

In a video report shot in Lahore, Ellick asks a few of Pakistan’s top musicians why they have spoken out against corruption, political wheeling-dealings, poverty and the manner in which the country has been done in by everyone from the politicians to the West to India – but never against the Taliban, who currently constitute the clearest and most present of dangers.

Here, verbatim, is what Ali Noor of Noori has to say:

‘We are not going to get up and say that we want to talk against the Taliban – simply because they are probably one of the smallest problems this country has. [...] It’s the West. It’s the West that is against the Taliban, because they are very heavily affected by it. We’re not.’

And here is what Ali Azmat – the man who once sang about ‘zehni ghulami’ – has to say: ‘We know for a fact that all this turbulence in Pakistan ... it’s not us. It’s the outside hands.’

What, really, can one say? The Taliban are one of the smallest problems this country has? When we’re having a bombing virtually every day, when parts of the south-west of the country were until very recently in serious danger of falling to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and its associated gang of goons?

Ellick comments, dryly, that this view – it’s not us, it’s ‘foreign hands’ – persists despite a spate of bombings in the country with the targets ranging from civilians and security forces’ installations to an Islamic university for women. ‘They’re [Pakistan’s pop musicians] angry about one fact: that the United States has interfered in Pakistan’s politics for decades.’

Of course Ellick focuses in his report on the anti-American angle apparent in many Pakistani pop songs, using stills from the ‘Klashinfolk’, ‘Kismet Apnay Haath Main Lay Li Hai’ and a CoVen video to press his point home. And he ignores other work such as that by Laal. Nevertheless, his point is made well enough to make me cringe: amongst the people interviewed in his report, there seems to be an utter refusal to acknowledge that the Taliban are in any way a threat, or that this is a local, home-grown problem that affects Pakistan first and most deeply.

For complete article, click here
To watch the New York Times video under discussion in the article, click here

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