National Identity Through Shared Values

Written By: Malik Ahmed Jalal

For a healthy cohesive nation, strong horizontal people-to-people linkages are needed in addition to vertical authority-to-people relationship by developing shared values and purpose. This will ensure that maintaining social harmony and unity is not only the responsibility of the state or an authority figure, but the civic society can also galvanize to respond to the multi-faceted and multi-dimensional challenges. Fused by common values and principles – all segments of a nation state can work in unison and more effectively play their respective roles – to steer the country to its objectives.

Significance of the Question –Who Am I?
Path to self-actualization begins with the central questions – ‘Who am I and what do I stand for?’. Taking stock of one’s life path, and role within the unfolding world, a man or a woman discovers the underlying values and principles that fuel life’s direction and purpose.


In the absence of this journey of evolution, life becomes meaningless and directionless. It is then defined by imitating others or living per external expectations. The same principle applies to the individuals, organizations as well as nations. We can either be defined by events and external factors or seek own shared values (principles) that keep us united and on-path towards our collective goal. These shared values act as a nation’s ‘North Star’, guiding principles, and reminders of “What is our purpose”, amidst crises that may deflect us from our destiny. In the words of Viktor Frankl: “Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'”.


The Case of Singapore: Identifying Shared Values
In October 1988, Singapore’s First Deputy Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong mooted “shared values”, termed the “National Ideology” at the time. The rationale was to identify what the Singaporean nation stood for or wanted to achieve as a collective. In a globalized world, how could they progress by maintaining their distinct Asian identity? It was the leadership’s understanding that in times of dissent and disruption, these values would be the cohesive glue that would cement national identity and direct collective action.

natioidenty.jpgPrime Minister Goh noted the influence of Western culture in nudging the Singaporean society towards individualism. He shared the fear that this would compromise social cohesion and ultimately undermine national security and economic progress.


This led to the formation of a committee tasked to identify values shared by all Singaporeans, regardless of ethnicity or religion. There were three guiding principles to this process:


• Identify inclusive values, so the underlying values were equally shared by all.
• Ensure that the values reflected a balance between the interests of the individual and those of the society.
• Avoid political agenda in order to ensure purity of the process and social cohesion.
The proposed values were intensely debated by the Parliament, which approved a series of shared-value statements for all citizens. Some of these shared values relevant to Pakistan are:
• Nation before community and society before self.
• Family as the basic unit of society.
• Racial and religious harmony.


The real challenge was to create ownership and inculcate these values among the citizens. While there were propositions to enforce these by law; it was ultimately decided that the most effective way to instil these values would be through education. As a result,the Ministry of Education introduced ‘Civic and Moral Education’ (CME) as part of the curriculum to promote these values.


The CME syllabus focused on respect, responsibility, care and harmony. Upholding these values is seen as intrinsic to being a Singaporean and recognized as ingredients that will prepare the youth to become able citizens, equipped to fully participate in modern life.


The Case for Shared Values of Pakistan
In a nation comprising multiple ethnic and religious groups, ideologies and priorities, it is critical to define an understanding of what we collectively stand for. This creates ownership for an inclusive future and drives collective action. This collective action was evident in the freedom movement for Pakistan when varying sectarian, ethnic, and political differences were set aside by a common value and goal of political and economic autonomy under the green and white flag.


It is our national misfortune that these values only guided till the creation of Pakistan. Losing the leadership that achieved Pakistan’s independence in the country’s infancy, and the firefighting that accompanied the new state’s creation, fostered a vacuum that prevented us from identifying and cementing our shared values as an independent nation.

 

The success of Pakistan in the world depends on its people living in harmony, unity and a sense of direction defined by their shared values. A population that enjoys upward socio-economic mobility on merit and inclusive security; not fragmentation across economic and social groups. Strong and positive people-to-people linkages as well as respect and trust in authority will propel us towards realizing the immense potential of our country. And it all begins with a serious inquiry into answering ’Who are we and what do we stand for?’.

It may be rightfully argued that ‘Unity, Faith and Discipline’ characterizes the shared value for the Pakistani state and all Pakistanis. However, these values exist in no more than empty slogans as there is limited reflection or implementation of these in our work ethic, the academic curriculum or even in our politics. Thus for all practical purposes, Pakistan is yet to take this first step towards an ideological unity and camaraderie of all its people. A prime example of our forgotten value is our national flag; green reflecting our dominant Islamic heritage, yet white that strongly advocates inclusiveness; respect and protection for the minorities – a value that is often neglected.


Our ideologues, philosophers and leaders have not actively forged shared values that can unite us. We are left with defining ourselves by what we oppose – “shadow of the other” – rather than what we stand for; actions driven by fear rather than passion for a positive identity and vision for Pakistan. The drawback of this is apparent each time there is a national crisis. Instead of collective purpose and vision guiding us, we turn insular to seek protection within our sectarian groups, ethnic tribes, and biraderi system. We may survive the crises, but not assuredly as a nation that has its destiny in its own hands. In today’s globalized world, we the people, cannot leverage our strengths externally, if there is no internal social cohesion.


A study of the particular phenomenon of fragmentation of nations shows causality with weak “horizontal linkages” between communities, which results in low social capital and trust across community boundaries and people-to-people relationship. The weakness in horizontal linkages is compensated by an over-reliance on the “vertical linkage” between citizens and the country’s prevailing authority for orienting, maintaining unity and directing collective action.


An example of strong vertical linkages to authority without shared values or horizontal linkages amongst the populace was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). As long as the Communist Party ruled with diktat and force, the system seemed stable and united. However, when the authority of the Communist Party was undermined, the entire system collapsed and USSR broke down along national, religious and linguistic lines. On the other hand, Tunisia had been ruled by two strong men since its independence in 1957. When the second ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali abdicated as a result of the Jasmine Revolution, there was a period of turmoil. The civic society collaborated to avoid disintegration in the absence of strong central authority. This required maturity by the leaders – particularly by the Al Nahda party that gave up government even after winning elections – driven by population’s adherence to shared values and purpose that overcame political self-interest. By comparison, its neighbour Libya split along tribal lines after the fall of the Qaddafi regime and to-date has not been able to coalesce as a united body politic.


Therefore, for a healthy cohesive nation, strong horizontal people-to-people linkages are needed in addition to vertical authority-to-people relationship by developing shared values and purpose. This will ensure that maintaining social harmony and unity is not only the responsibility of the state or an authority figure, but the civic society can also galvanize to respond to the multi-faceted and multi-dimensional challenges. Fused by common values and principles, all segments of a nation state can work in unison and more effectively play their respective roles to steer the country to its objectives.


When a nation is on the move, individual members may disagree on what the best route or method is, but as long as they agree on their shared values, principles and vision, they can overcome their differences on methods. However, in the absence of a clear identification, any group can be undermined or is mission thwarted by individual differences.


In the context of Pakistan, this is highly pertinent and has led to emergence of perceived fault lines: inter-provincial, civil-military and liberal-religious – rather than each group determining what they can contribute to achieving our shared values purpose.


Pakistan’s Path to Self-Actualization
What values do we collectively aspire to? What are the dreams of our Founding Fathers and our children for the kind of Pakistan we want to live in? What values live at our core; as family units, as a community and country? Without answering these existential questions, our dream and potential of actualization as a nation will remain an unfulfilled promise.


Pakistan’s current paradigm is marked by heavy government involvement, donor dependence and lack of support for social inclusion. Undertaking this journey of discovery of shared values and reinforcing them will lead to policy cohesion at all levels of the government and across the society.


The success of Pakistan in the world depends on its people living in harmony, unity and a sense of direction defined by their shared values. A population that enjoys upward socio-economic mobility on merit and inclusive security; not fragmentation across economic and social groups. Strong and positive people-to-people linkages as well as respect and trust in authority will propel us towards realizing the immense potential of our country. And it all begins with a serious inquiry into answering ’Who are we and what do we stand for?’.

 

The author is a former investment banker and an economic development expert.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Twitter: @ahmadjalal_1

 
The great ideals of human progress, of social justice, of equality and of fraternity..., constitute the basic causes of the birth of Pakistan and also... [provide] limitless possibilities of evolving and ideal social structure in our State. I reiterate most emphatically that Pakistan was made possible because of the danger of complete annihilation of human soul in a society based on caste. Now that the soul is free to exist and to aspire it must assert itself galvanizing not only the State but also the Nation.

(Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Address, Public Meeeting, Chittagong, 26 March 1948)

 
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