One of the great and most important reasons all Pakistanis should travel is exposure; particularly to places that are known for their multiculturalism, operating inside democratic governments that are socially inclined. Once one is there, one must then open eyes very wide and leave the doors in one’s mind quite open, and observe: how buses might have a Ramadan Kareem sign on them. How people wait for others to get off a bus before they climb on. How you can drive down a road without having to honk your horn in warning to the car in the side lane or even while driving through a green light, because people follow the rules. Nobody drives like their father owns the street because everyone respects the rules, and the basic premise of civilisation lies in this social contract: rules are only worth having if everyone obeys them. Otherwise it’s a free-for-all that frustrates the few poor observant sods and the general melee of everyone else who doesn’t give a hoot as they maniacally jump queues and hurtle through red lights. But most importantly, traveling allows Pakistanis to see how other people are able to live with Other, Different People without self-combusting.
This is one of our really vital general problems. Cutting queues is one thing, irritating as it is, but it’s quite another to be so unused to anyone different that the minute one encounters someone who doesn’t conform, one is struck down, aghast. We are possibly the most un-politically correct people on earth largely because we haven’t got much reason to ever mind our Ps and Qs and casual racism—particularly if you’re a Punjabi. But it’s small-minded, really, to not be aware of it. It is rude, and hurtful. But it’s so easy to be whatever you like when you’re in the majority that it’s also just as easy to forget that, because you haven’t got any Hindu or Christian friends, maybe one or two who are by now so used to the casual ‘choora’ or ‘Hindus are smelly and weak vegetarians’ they grit their teeth and bear it. Nowadays it’s dangerous to even wince, because we’re hurtling towards a suffocating, frightening homogeneity popularly favoured by fascists: you’re with us, or you’re out.
We crush different. We cannot bear it if someone worships differently, believes differently, wears their clothes differently. We are also now keyboard warriors, so where before you didn’t know so much about other people’s clothes and food choices, now you know too much and therefore also have ripe, wide grounds to take your prejudice for a walk in. You also have the anonymity of social media, so issuing a death threat on Twitter is like farting: nasty, swift and hard to pin on anyone. And where does all this rancour, this intense hatred all spring from? Frustration, and longing. I find that the most judgmental people are the ones who have been trapped by their own lives and lack of choices, and all that longing and its attendant anger comes pouring out on the heads of those that they perceive as having it all. Poor Qandeel Baloch didn’t have much, but she was free in ways that precious few women or men in our society are. That’s why everyone hated her. She was making money, she was famous and she seemed to be above all the vitriol hurled at her. She must have seemed invincible, really.
But difference is so uncomfortable for us that it ends up becoming a warped and twisted thing. Our horror of difference, of standing out, has mutated us into suppressed, self-conscious people. Our spontaneity or basic human instinct to kindness or humour gets trampled out of us, particularly so if you’re a woman. When our natural responses to our lives are so monitored, we lose that basic ease with ourselves. It’s no wonder we don’t smile at each other in public, or randomly say hello the way they do in other places in the world; for us even meeting someone’s eyes is an act fraught with the danger of being misunderstood. We are terrified of difference because it forces us to recognise the other person, to meet their eyes, to connect. When everyone is the same, there is no problem: everyone is a known quantity, neatly boxed in, no questions need to be asked so you don’t have to deal with anything that makes you uncomfortable.
And that’s why we’re angry. Because we weren’t meant to be the same, and we aren’t, and that doesn’t mean a disloyalty to our patriotism or identity. The real disloyalty is to ourselves, and the schism we create inside ourselves when we fall into the trap of believing that homogenous means safety. Look at England, for example. Anywhere, in a park, in a shop, on a street, there are people from all over the world who are British too. The multiculturalism of the country, or Canada’s, are such effective examples of how coexistence is good for everyone, how exposure to difference makes us all better: more empathetic, more engaged people. At the end of the day, we are all bound by that one connection: that of our humanity. And in world of increasing violence and alienation from each other, embracing our difference as a celebration of our shared humanity is the only thing that can save us.