March 11, 2012

You've got it all wrong!

Zero Dark Thirty released in Dec 2012
Over the past couple of months I've watched several western TV shows. Three of them stuck to mind. The first is Sherlock, a British thriller TV series that reincarnates Sherlock in the 21st century. Modern, elegant, crisp and beautifully shot, this TV show has been a particular hit in the UK. The second show that stuck to my mind is Homeland, a US TV series based around the premise (spoiler alert) that two US marines taken captive in northern Iraq have turned on their country, become Muslim and are now sleeper assassins ready to bring down the mighty USA. And finally the third TV show is another US based series called Shameless which is about a dysfunctional family and their various problems. But why am I talking about western television shows you might be wondering? Well I'll tell you why. They've got something very wrong. And that something is the image of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

Now we as citizens of Pakistan know how cool and exciting Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad are. Unfortunately these westerners have absolutely no iota of an idea about their awesomeness and they have depicted them as terror havens with burqa clad women, turbaned mullahs, and terrorists roaming around as if they are on vacation. In Sherlock for example, Sherlock Holmes actually saves someone from getting beheaded in Karachi. In Homeland, Lahore is depicted as being a breeding ground for terrorists, and Islamabad is depicted as having safe houses of terrorists. And in Shameless, well they pretty much bulldoze the entire country in to the ground.

The problem is because the majority of the western population has no idea about Pakistan and its cities, they will more likely than not form negative, unjust and cruel opinions about these Pakistanis cities. They will never get to know about the calmness, serendipity and relaxing charm of Islamabad. They will never get to know about the unique Lahori hospitality, the colorful life, the amazing food (some say its the best food in the world and I agree wholeheartedly) that Lahore offers. And these same people will never get to know that Karachi never sleeps, has malls, parks and recreational places that rival Madrid's, has a diversified and multi ethnic community that happens to be the most educated amongst all of Pakistan's cities.

Homeland is instrumental in depicting Muslims in
bad light
And this is what alarms me most. An average Westerner who watches TV, goes to work, comes back, goes to his regular hang out place with his regular friends will grow old thinking Pakistan is the country where terrorists are born and bred. The whole image of Pakistan stands broken and shattered. It doesn't help our cause that the law and order situation in our cities isn't top notch, but Pakistan simply isn't the country that its made out to be. For example Karachi's problems are no different than Mumbai's so to speak, but while the Indians show the world how fun and classy Mumbai is, we are left with defending Karachi as not being the place where terrorists go to shop.

And this leads me on to my second point. It's all about the image perception. Even though India has some dramatic domestic problems, the world does not get to hear about them. What they do get to see and hear instead are the "Incredible India" ads that show what a classy, true to its roots eastern, modern, vibrant, happy and colorful country it is. Which makes me want to ask this question: Why can't we do the same? Where are our image managers? Oh that's right, we don't have any because nobody cares. What we do have however is a President who is tainted with corruption charges and who refuses to acknowledge those blemishes, we have a Prime Minister who goes to the Supreme Court for disobeying its orders, we have an army that is constantly berated for harboring ties with the militants, we have an administration that is repeatedly told to do more because inadvertently the majority of terrorists are found to have visited Pakistan and most importantly we are the country where Osama bin Laden was found.

We really need to pull our act together and fix our faults. Because even though all of the aforementioned things are true, we know what a great culture and a beautiful country we have. We can't let the world's idea of us ruin our heritage and our pride like this. This propaganda needs to be countered because these festering notions about Pakistan will lead to a greater scrutinization of Pakistan which considering how many problems we already have with the world, will hurt us even more. It's time to show the world what Pakistan really is. It's time to take this cause into our own hands because our elected leaders are incapable of projecting our image the right way.