Fulfilling our physiological needs helps us to survive. Finding and living with an identity makes life worth living. Human beings want patterns and trends that connect them to their past, give a sense of purpose to their present, and help them leave behind a legacy of their own. Therefore, the direction of human conduct is determined by their identity, both individually and collectively.
That’s how nations come into existence. The “common identity” works as a glue that holds a nation together, fosters mutual trust, forms national interest, helps build a collective perception, and determines state policies. It is also very important to preserve this identity in the long run. In this ever-evolving world, paths and courses are subject to change in compliance with contemporary predicaments. But tampering with the fundamentals of national identity in the name of “necessity” leads to chaos and confusion.
Pakistan, since its inception, has struggled to find its true identity. The state’s national identity has been defined and redefined so many times that seventy-two years on, the very reasons for its existence are under a cloud of doubt. It seems as if, between its colonial heritage and independence, it was “lost in translation”. Throughout its history, the country has suffered heavily from political instability, economic crisis, proxy wars, international isolation, and sectarianism. Almost all of its problems are rooted in the absence of a collective identity. But perhaps its biggest casualty has been the education system. A system that is fueled by jingoism and political correctness rather than owning up to its history. The result is a polarized society that is confused, frustrated, and insecure.
Modern technology has empowered individuals unprecedentedly. One such tool of empowerment is social media platforms. Anyone with a smartphone and access to the internet can voice their opinion on anything they want to. There is nothing wrong with it if taken with a pinch of salt. The real problem begins when social media activity is taken seriously. That is when it becomes a source of misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information.
Looking at the social media trends in Pakistan, it is quite obvious that a majority suffers from “it’s on the internet, it must be true” syndrome. That, coupled with our national identity crisis, leads to needless polarized debates on non-issues that, now and then, open a can of worms. The identity crisis has, over the decades, translated into other aspects of life where we are in constant need of validation. Thus, there is a plethora of pseudo scientists, commentators, and intellectuals active on social media. With no one watching over, the facts are twisted, interpreted, and often created out of thin air to advance a certain agenda.
For instance, we, as a nation, are yet to determine whether we carved a country out of the subcontinent or are an extension of the Middle East. A hotly debated issue on social media these days is whether Muhammad Bin Qasim was an invader or a savior? Was Raja Dahir a tyrant or a hero who died protecting his motherland? Again, there is nothing wrong with the discussion. But it’s our confused identity and intolerance that leads to ad hominem arguments.
Another example is that of ex-cricketers and their social media channels. While the cricket fraternities in other countries are busy reliving its glorious moments, our heroes are digging up bones to generate viewership using their fan following. The fans, however, are hurling abuses at whoever disagrees just because they dare to disagree with their favorite cricketer.
It goes without saying that we are a nation with tremendous potential. But as the saying goes “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”. We need to revisit the roots of our existence and rethink our identity. Owning up to the past, accepting the present, and deriving policies to sail in a set direction is the way forward.
*Muhammad Yasir Ali is an independent researcher and public administration scholar, specializing in social policy studies. He can be reached at [email protected]