At the start of the year, during the International Conference on Language, Literature and Society–attended by poets and writers from Turkey, Iran, Spain, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Singapore, Oman, Maldives, Lebanon, China and Germany– calls for the promotion of national history and literary heritage as means to exterminate terror– were announced.
When all else becomes dust; art, writings and run down architectures stand behind for newer generations to re-create in their own perception- of what the age past may have looked like.
Though, the farther we look back in history– the more the idea of ‘nation’ – appears evident back then, just as it does today.
However, at the same time- the building block each ‘nation’ has served as– to the other, unifies our culture’s, origins, and roots in a unique manner. Making us all outcomes of a common core.
Babylon’s supremacy, passed on to the Phoenicians then to the Achaemenids, to the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Franks and other such Europeans, Arabs, and back to everyone.
Different chapters of time, brought with them new names to fulfill the innate desire to find Gods: from Anu, Ishtar, Ahura Mazda, Ra, Zeus, Yahweh- and various other.
In our own region, starting from the vague roots of the Soan people, to the Indus people – who are believed to have carried, highly interactive relations, with Mesopotamians, Phoenicians, and other such ‘business savvy’ traders– also identified as Dravidian in origin.
With the arrival of the Aryans– which too find elaborate definitions of their roots (with Persians, Turkic people of central Asian regions, etc) , Then, the Arabs owing to their own multi interactions, brought with them their own diversities, so did the Central Asians.
If perhaps, today everyone were to discover their true roots, we would probably still remain where we are- but with ‘global’ loyalties rather than ‘national’ loyalties, because the world within and the world outside would not be so different.
Unfortunately, the modern world too stands divided, historical national narratives -for the masses- are usually created to inculcate nationalism and less for thought provoking purposes.
Just a few months prior to this initiative, difficulties in translating what ‘hate speech’ as per the NAP really means, Pakistan electronic cyber crime bill was criticised for failing to properly define what ‘spreading vulgarity’ means. The censorship laws though uniquely giving ample space for criticism can at times also be selective.
And just like the dissensions surrounding the translation of several such terms and legal texts,
National history has witnessed its own set of disputes. As, varied versions exist- and often sharing certain versions come with a backlash.
Despite, the tensions or the bitter contemporary past- one perhaps cannot accept that the region, which is now divided, carries absolutely no common heritage– and given the tensions, such narratives also stand on the tip of blasphemy or other anti-state views- which is not just a Pakistani issue, but a regional issue.
For an artist or a poet– a source of inspiration is essential prior to expressing a view– which is usually drawn from their personal experiences or observations. In current times, this inspiration could come from either: the apparent grim situations or from the serenity hidden in the rich cultures of this region… both of these expressions- carry the tendency to fall into gray areas.
So how then is an artist or a poet delegated with the responsibility of defining national narratives when he/she might be subjected to certain backlashes.
What is this Pandora’s box backed by a Rs. 500 million cheque trying to achieve? Are we just saying things because they sound right?
It appears that clearly defining lines and objectives has often led to mismanagement of funds or inefficient use of various such initiatives.
There is no doubt , that a Zarb-e-Qalam is much needed.
But, its initiation does not start from asking the art community to take charge of consolidating national history views – as they often carry views above worldly contentions, and are often unfortunately punished for their sense of idealism, may it be anywhere in the world.
But instead, their protection is needed, their enhanced interaction with the global community is needed- for Pakistan’s soft power projection.
Protection of historical sites- which on its own are a powerful expression of national history, need to be maintained and protected.
Balancing out / eliminating any extreme views from national narrative and consolidating an agreeable notion of history is the state’s responsibility, which requires more focus on monitoring school curricula issued by federal and provincial education ministries, check and balances on madrassas needs to be worked out– and possibly aiming to produce the next generation, which is tolerant enough to appreciate various artistic expressions.