Pakistan is a wonderful example of the joint family system. No matter how old you are, what station you have attained in life, you are most likely to be living with your parents in some capacity. Thats an understanding that is passed down from generation to generation as part of the sub-continents own culture. While you live in your parentshome, there are certain obligations that you must fulfill and specific rules that you must follow. Thats the simple truth of the matter.

So let’s understand that our freedoms are restricted at home by the rules that our parents set. If they dont like certain friends or acquaintances of ours, we are not allowed to bring them to the house. If they dont appreciate certain behaviors, we are not able to behave that way in the home. If they dont accept certain standards of dress, we dont do it as to not offend them. If they dont speak in a certain manner, we are not allowed to speak in that manner or tone in the home. Pretty simple, right?

Now, if you dont like the rules and obligations of the home, do you curse your parents and rebel against them? Well, sure you can do that, but dont expect them to hand you the keys to their car when you want it or bail you out of trouble when you get into it. Those are choices that you made and you alone must suffer the consequences. Your parents, however, suffer the embarrassment for your actions.

You have the choice to move out of your parentshome and rent/buy your own home and live by your own rules. You would do that with the understanding that you have a limited source of income to pay your rent, pay your bills, buy a car, purchase groceries, entertain yourself and your friends, and afford the luxuries of life. You can associate with whoever you wish, do whatever you wish and live by whatever rules you deem acceptable for yourself, but the second you step out the door of your home, the rules are set by the society that you live in, not you.

The problem that we have in Pakistan is that we have never followed the rules of a civil society so we have no understanding of what rules and consequences actually mean. We break traffic rules at will and insult those who dare to correct us for our wrongdoing. We take pride in the rolodexes of government officials and influential people that we can call to get us out of trouble so that we never have to face the punishment that society has deemed acceptable for violating the rules of a civilized nations. We are quick to take out our wallets to pay government officials to get work done quicker than others, understanding that we are supporting the same problems that we privately complain about. We cavalierly say “Yeh Pakistan hai, sub chalta hai,” as we flout the basic rules of society.

If everyone didnt break the laws, how much harder would it be for others to do it?

Then we gather as a “civil society” to protest against corruption, police highhandedness, violence and other things that are admirable for a society to stand against. But do you ever ask yourself, when you are doing the exact same things, what right do you have to protest against others doing it?

See, you complain when someone more powerful and influential takes your perceived rights away from you, yet you spend your life doing the exact same thing to others. That is called hypocrisy and it is the reason that Pakistan doesnt change, no matter who is in power.

Yes, yes, I know… you want to say that this is a garrison state with the army in control of everything. Thats the fallback for you when things dont go your way. “Its the Army’s fault,” “the deep state stopped us,” “the ISI is against Pakistanis,” are all wonderful phrases but lets look at those bastions of freedom that you idolize.

In the United States and Europe, after 9/11, the government entered a state of hyper-vigilance to protect against any other terrorist attacks on their soil. They passed the Patriot Act, which allowed the government to listen to private phone calls, read private emails and detain without reason anyone who was suspected of being a threat to national security. Just traveling to the United States means following a cumbersome set of rules that are demeaning and dehumanizing, which continue to expand without any real justification. You subject yourself to them without hesitation just to breathe the air over there. The United States Patriot Act includes a section that addresses the provision of material support to designated terrorist organizations, which criminalizes the distribution of literature, engaging in political advocacy, participating in peace conferences, training in human rights advocacy and donating cash and humanitarian assistance, even when the support is intended only to promote lawful and non-violent activities. The United States lost 4,000 souls on 9/11 and has not suffered another major terrorist incident since.

In England, post 9/11 and 7/7, the governments drafted strict rules of how people from certain countries would be treated. They passed laws to control the rights and privileges of those who practiced or associated with those believed to be anti-state. These included general surveillance of suspected collaborators, and the arrest and detention of anyone who was considered to be involved in anti-state activities. The government cooperated with the United States in intelligence gathering, allowing calls and emails to be monitored by their intelligence services. Pakistanis are still rushing to get British visas knowing that it is one of the most monitored countries in the world, because the air there is so much better than in Pakistan. Brits dont care because they are doing nothing wrong and it protects them from potential threats.

In Pakistan, where we are a frontline state in our own war on terror, the citizens believe that they should have the freedom to do whatever they wish because they say so. The same citizens that are willing to subject themselves to constant monitoring in other countries, degrading and dehumanizing actions just to enter those countries and constantly live under the fear of someone knocking on their door because they are from Pakistan, cant seem to stomach the protection of society in return for the sacrifice of freedoms you have not earned. We have lost 80,000 innocent souls since 9/11, to acts of terror that continue to happen each day because we are unwilling to sacrifice our perceived freedoms for the safety of the nation.

Freedom is a wonderful word that is tossed around in Pakistan. We should have freedom of speech, the freedom to print and watch what we wish, when we wish, and the freedom to associate with whomever, wherever and whenever we wish. Why? Because these are the values of a democratic society and we say so.

Freedom comes with significant responsibilities that we, as citizens, are nowhere near willing to accept. Freedom requires that you behave as a productive, law-abiding member of society.

A look at any street in Pakistan will show that we are not ready for those freedoms. We cant be trusted to park our cars properly, but we want the freedom to do what we want. A look at any television program in Pakistan will show that we are not ready for those freedoms. Politicians go on current affairs programs making wild accusations against other members of society without anyone stepping into question or demand proof. When the government steps in to punish the channel for violating the rules, “civil society” stands up against the punishment, screaming journalistic freedom and freedom of speech. Thats not freedom of speech in a civil society, thats libel and slander.

Freedom requires sacrifice. Freedom, as the United States and Europe have shown the world, requires that citizens follow rules that are put in place for their protection.

Freedom is not being able to do whatever you choose to do because you want to do it. That applies to all bounds of society. There are things that are not done as a civilized society. Freedom means that you have the right to behave responsibly within the guidelines the society affords you. There are certain freedoms that exist in parts of Europe that dont exist in other countries of the world. There are certain freedoms that are restricted because of national security issues by governments and state organizations for the protection of the society. There are certain freedoms that dont exist outside your own home because they are not acceptable in society. You still have the freedom to exercise those activities, but only within an environment where you have specific and complete control.

So when you talk about freedom, make sure that you have best utilized the freedoms that you have been given. Because when I look around Pakistan today, all I see is people taking other people’s freedoms and rights while complaining that someone took theirs away.