Is Pakistan really the most dangerous country in the world? Do Pakistanis fear returning from work to find a Voldemort-esque Dark Mark hanging over their houses? Does it take a police escort to get a bus full of students safely to school? These are stereotypes that have circulated for several years and intensified recently in light of President Pervez Musharraf’s strong-arming. These things are said so often that most Americans, having no other way of understanding Pakistan, take them to be true.
Much has been said on how the diversity that is so vital for the University’s academic atmosphere is to be preserved. But what use is that diversity if we let our misconceptions dictate our understandings instead of using the possibilities diversity offers? Limited portrayals of foreign countries, like those of Pakistan cited above, produce stereotypes that are very easy to believe, and many people blindly subscribe to them. Diversity offers the opportunity to question and dispel such unfair stereotypes.
The University is certainly the place to take advantage of that opportunity. Its admissions packet boasts of a diverse student body – members of which hail from 129 countries. That is an impressive statistic, prospectively opening up two-thirds of the world to a student entering the University.
In the two months that I have been at the University, I have seen some amusing assumptions on how I, as an international student from Pakistan, must have lived before coming to America. Common misconceptions include the belief that just about everything costs $2 in Pakistan and that the entire nation is an uninhabitable desert.
The more serious and potentially harmful assumptions are derived from news stories covering the recent suicide bombing in Karachi or rumors of extremists hiding in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s not surprising that most people don’t know how people in Pakistan, Cameroon or Egypt live ordinary lives. Routine, everyday life in foreign countries isn’t important enough to make headlines. It’s easy, in the absence of this information, to assume that the events earning front-page coverage are representative of everyday life in that particular country.
But contrary to what this coverage would have you believe, Pakistan really isn’t a place where everyone supports radical Islamists and holds anti-American beliefs, and there’s no covert civil war going on. One horrendous act of terrorism doesn’t make any country the most dangerous in the world, nor does it entail that every Pakistani is an extremist. What is assumed to be the general trend, according to many depictions, is actually the situation in a province that is home to just 3 percent of Pakistan’s total population. That’s like using the crime rate in Detroit’s Cass Corridor as representative of the crime rate for all of America.
The picture that most people don’t get to see is that the life of a student in Pakistan is, while not exactly the same, very similar to that of the average American student. Both occasionally eat out at Pizza Hut, listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, struggle with their SATs and ardently follow their favorite sports teams. Certainly, that’s only true of a limited number of people in Pakistan, because the country also has poverty issues, but no one lives in fear of being kidnapped or mugged, and no one has to dodge landmines to get to the mall.
The last thing anyone – not just Pakistanis or Turks or Germans – wants is to be stereotyped and misrepresented, and the only way to avoid doing so is by taking advantage of the opportunities that the University offers through its strong international community. So go to the next event the Indian American Students Association presents or the next concert sponsored by the Pakistani Students Association. Take a class about different cultures and attend lectures put on by the International Institute. You’ll find that Pakistani culture really isn’t all that extreme or scary.
-Emad Ansari is an LSA freshman and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.