When I mention to people that I am Pakistani, I’m often asked, “Oh, do you speak Arabic?” Other times I’m told “Oh yeah, soccer must be huge there.” But I don’t speak Arabic — I speak English and Urdu. I won’t lie though, I love football, or soccer, depending on where you are in the world, but it’s not actually huge in Pakistan. Cricket is what’s huge there. The fact that I’ve stayed up until 3 a.m. to watch Pakistan play South Africa in a cricket match, that will likely last 5 days and might end in a draw, serves as a testament to how important cricket is in Pakistan. But that it’s assumed that I speak Arabic and watch soccer is a result of grouping Pakistan with Arab Muslim states and considering Pakistan a part of the Middle East — not just geographically but culturally, too.
I don’t mean for this to be a long rant about America. In fact, I appreciate such questions — it’s honest curiosity. However, the generalized grouping of people can be dangerous. Linguistically, historically, culturally and politically, Pakistan has nothing in common with Arab states. Brown skin and Muslim doesn’t equal Arab, just as white skin and Christian doesn’t equal American.
Making generalizations about other countries isn’t limited to students. I’ve seen it in the spheres of journalism, academia and even in classes here. Many articles published in renowned political magazines and journals refer to the Muslim world as if it were one monolithic bloc. At times, the observations made by these academics and journalists about the wider Muslim world may be accurate, but it does a disservice to their audience who look to them as a resource on these different regions.
It can be hard to understand that these groupings made by academics and journalists aren’t holistic. There are stark differences between most Muslim majority countries. While there may be some similarities in values and political systems in middle-eastern countries or “the West,” it’s even more important to understand how each member of these groups is unique.
Go to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Indonesia and Pakistan and you’ll notice how different these countries are. The people don’t speak the same language, they don’t have the same culture and the political scenes are completely different. In this one big Muslim bloc that people create, there are some countries bitterly opposed to each other. The only thing that is similar is the majority religion, Islam, but there are different sects that divide even there.
In order to talk about issues facing us today, we must try to understand the intricacies of each separate state. A principle criticism of the U.S. operation in Iraq was that the Bush administration had not done their homework on the nation. They didn’t consider the socio-political climate of the country, and, as a result, political rifts were triggered after the invasion. Once former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime was overthrown, absolute political and administrative chaos ensued. Such mistakes are bound to repeat if we remain aloof to the particulars of different countries and societies that exist.
I’ve seen my country being tossed around in different broadly defined religious or geographical categories — categories that it doesn’t belong in. Our unique South Asian heritage and culture isn’t given its due recognition. And it’s not just Pakistan — many regions are simplified to the point of nonrecognition. Going forward, we must educate ourselves about the world. Or, at least understand what distinguishes Pakistan from Saudi Arabia. That would be a start.
Sharik Bashir is an LSA sophomore.