In Focus

Pakistan: A Sacred Land

Having worked in the UK and in Pakistan on teaching innovative peacebuilding subjects to students at various universities and in my travels for fieldwork from Swat to Karachi on the subject of the religions of Pakistan, I am stunned by the diversity of Pakistan and impressed by the humanity and hospitality of its people. Keep in mind its population of two hundred million people who are ethnically and religiously very diverse with Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Parsis, Bahá'ís, Buddhists, Sikhs, the Kalash, atheists and so many others. And I am one of many people who hold this perspective. Yet the global picture that the world media would have us believe is that Pakistan is a dangerous country with terrorists roaming about, ready to threaten the civilized world and put it into chaos; President Trump even threatened that the country harbours terrorists and must do more or face the mighty “civilized” world’s military wrath. Bush, in his time, too had told Pakistani leaders, “you are with us or if not we’ll bomb you into the stone age! So you have no two choices”. Both hold/held vast power but show little knowledge and understanding of this deeply historical and culturally rich region. There are other commendable Americans, of course, who are supporting peace projects and working towards peacebuilding.

Yet in this context of unfair hostility and scapegoating with which many people are not comfortable, I came across Matthew Vaughan who is a Christian Englishman–a graduate from the UK’s Oxford University–and with his English wife and four little adorable blonde children–three of whom were born in Pakistan–has voluntarily chosen to settle and live in Pakistan today, which he sees as his own nation–his “home”.1 And not just any ordinary nation, but a “sacred” one. In his book, Notes from a Sacred Land: Tales of Hope from Pakistan published in 2017 by Print Masters, he writes, comparing the beauty of northern Pakistan with its stunning green mountains and rivers to Switzerland and Canada, “Pakistan’s reputation seems undeserved”. He writes that since moving to Pakistan he realized that “it is one of the most unjustly maligned countries in the world. The mere mention of its name is sufficient to conjure up images of angry protests, of American flags being burned by mobs, of bombs…of mayhem and guns and destruction and suffering and chaos.”

I remember watching Homeland, the popular TV drama series in which Pakistan was constantly labeled and scapegoated and many people who had seen the country objected strongly to the image of chaotic streets which they showed as Islamabad. In reality Islamabad is an organized peaceful city and many felt this to be a mean and unfair portrayal. Matthew explains, “This bitter flood of tragedy, unrelenting and sour, is spewed forth by the world’s media until the entire world seems convinced of a few supposed ‘facts’ about Pakistan: that everyone is angry… and plotting the overthrow of the Western world.”2

Yet Matthew points out that although every country has its problems and so does Pakistan but the image of this beautiful and sacred land is an unfair one and needs to be corrected and the facts do not match up to its negative image. The image of Pakistan is “not representative, and it is not fair” he says.3 He adds that the “positive aspects of life in Pakistan are unknown by the people in the West”. And at his book launch Matthew told us that when he first wanted to publish his book all the publishers in the West said the book must be a negative book on Pakistan on the subject of terrorism or about the oppression of its women, if it is neither we are not interested as it won’t sell and it won’t make money. “Nobody, they [the publishers] said, wanted to read a positive book about Pakistan” even though this may be the reality.3 Matthew protests again, “This is simply not fair”.4 He writes, “The public image of Pakistan is negative but the hidden face of Pakistan, is far more often than not, beautiful, kind, welcoming, gentle and filled with hope…after living here for six years the description of Pakistan as ‘a sacred land’ seems less and less incongruous to me with every passing day”.3

He writes, “It is bitter to think that Pakistan stands condemned by people who have never experienced it. The images pumped out by the Western media…[are] not true. It does not even come close to being true…hospitality, kindness, and natural beauty are far more representative of this land. In over six years I have not once been insulted, have not once encountered criticism or anger from anyone in Pakistan, have not once been treated with anything but the utmost kindness, despite living in Pakistan during a time of unprecedented global violence and heightened suspicion of foreigners. And this kindness comes, let us not forget, from people who experienced two centuries of subjugation under British rule…Their grace and kindness is unparalleled. The people of Pakistan deserve far more respect than they receive. The problem is that only a small number of travellers are prepared to come to Pakistan to have their lazy assumptions confronted and shattered”.1

As Matthew rightly points out, “We live in an era of fear, of widening divisions between different segments of society: rich and poor, immigrants and indigenous, between people of different faiths. All of these divisions affect Pakistan–as a predominantly Muslim nation with key relationships with Western countries; as a nation with large diaspora populations around the world; as a nation containing extremes of poverty and affluence. It seems to me the height of irresponsibility to exacerbate these tensions by allowing a nation as globally significant as Pakistan to be misrepresented. If we want to have peace–and everyone I have met in Pakistan sincerely does–then attempting to understand one another seems like a prudent first step on the convoluted path towards peaceful co-existence. We spend so much time focusing on what makes us different–skin colour, religious affiliation, personal wealth, ethnicity–but when do we ever stop to think about what unites us, about what draws us together?”

In my own personal study of genocide: the Jews of Germany, the Bosniaks, the Rohingyas, the Kashmiris, and so many other peoples, we found that labeling an ethnic or religious group as ‘terrorists’ was the first step in a terribly careless and irresponsible phase which eventually led to perceiving the other as a threat, leading to genocide of innocent human beings. With Pakistan, there are tremendous internal pressures from certain groups but there are also external threats with countries labeling Pakistan and scapegoating it. This image is unjust and not fair given the vast majority of innocent civilians.

Matthew’s book is an important one that must be read as it is a call to peacebuilding and finally of course it is “a tribute to the people of one of the most fascinating countries I have had the pleasure of visiting.” Like Matthew I too am optimistic about ‘Pakistan’ which was named ‘The Land of the Pure’ by the great philosophers and visionaries of the region, because as Matthew and so many others have said to me, “it is a land that I have come to love”.2 In conclusion, he writes, “As a follower of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, I dearly long to see peace in the world, and for this to happen we need to begin by recognizing that we are all humans, not labels, and all of us deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”5

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge, UK. 

1 Vaughan, Matthew. (2017) Notes from a Sacred Land: Tales of Hope from Pakistan. p.20
2 Vaughan, Matthew. (2017) Notes from a Sacred Land: Tales of Hope from Pakistan. P.13
3 Vaughan, Matthew. (2017) Notes from a Sacred Land: Tales of Hope from Pakistan. p.14
4 Ibid.
5 Vaughan, Matthew (2017) Notes from a Sacred Land: Tales of Hope from Pakistan. P.162

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