It is important and necessary to critique foreign coverage of Pakistan. But this video isn’t it.

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There is a conviction amongst a certain class of Pakistanis that what Pakistan suffers from is an image problem. this is very much like a certain class of Israeli who feels the same. they are convinced that it is portrayals that are the problem, not the problems that are portrayed. for this class, what is demanded is simply a different portrayal. a desire frequently backed by the sponsoring – quite often through international corporate and development funds, cultural events of limited and specific scope and access. If we can only show the world ‘we’ – this class that seems to be most concerned about ‘portrayals’, are sophisticated, well read and urbane, perhaps we will not be so ashamed of the issues we know are real, but have no inclination, courage or imagination to face them and speak about them. 

The issue isn’t foreign press’ highlighting Pakistan’s problems. In fact, the video suggests that foreign press creates / manufactures the problems. The problem on both ends is one of extreme decontextualisation and dishonesty. The middle class dreamers and most foreign press are both involved in a project of extreme representation and for different interests. What is lost is complexity and connections that link the two extremes. What the foreign press and the middle class festival goers refuse to see are these connections which would reveal how both extremes (the bad and the CEO) are achieved: through choices, policies, interests, calculations, betrayals etc. In a nation as socially, economically and politically unjust as Pakistan. To say nothing about the rather extremely middle-class ideas of ‘what is good in Pakistan’ presented within this video – businessman’s management status, the possession of a bungalow and car etc, all markers of ‘success’ but as much markers of a certain ‘class’ and its ideas of what is wrong and right in the pursuit of life. A very narrow idea of a ‘good’ Pakistan indeed.This video is a parody. But parodies can soothe and close thought. Pakistan’s salvation or betterment isn’t a public relations problem. No amount of humour or pretty pictures will absolve its people and politics of the responsibility to the citizens – of life, health, education, security, justice, freedom, liberty, honor, and promise, that remains. In a nation where millions have been ejected from the concerns of politics and society, the foreign press and its obsessions need to be challenged, but by demanding and producing deeper intellectual complexity and connections, more actions and an honest set of choices and action for the larger citizenry. Fashion shows and book festivals will not salve our souls. All societies have issues. All societies are contested. We can’t avoid this or pretend pakistan’s realities and extremes don’t exist and that they do so to the benefit of a small minority of privileged and largely disconnected people.

The killjoy. Most often, videos such as this one, and people who complain about the ‘persistent focus on the negative’ are irritated at what they perceive to the be the killjoy. Sara Ahmed’s insights into the feminist as killjoy are very pertinent here. As Ahmed says, in her fantastic book The Promise Of Happiness

The figure of the female troublemaker… shares the same  horizon with the figure of the feminist killjoy. Both figures are intelligible if they are read through the lens of the history of happiness. Feminists might kill joy simply by not finding the objects that promise happiness to be quite so promising. The word feminism is this saturated with unhappiness. Feminists by declaring themselves as feminists are already read as destroying something that is thought of by others not only as being good but as the cause of happiness. The feminist killjoy ‘spoils’ the happiness of others; she is a spoilsport because she refuses to convene, to assemble, or to meet up over happiness. [pages 64-65]

I have never been asked by any one of the number of marginalised, violated, brutalised, exploited and dismissed communities in Pakistan – whether the landless, the displaced, the targeted for killing, the exploited for profit and gain, that I have worked with that should focus on good stories that offer Pakistan in a better light. Portrayal and public relations are not seen as the principal problem here. I have however, many times been asked by members of the upper class, and the intellectual class to do so. I have been confronted with scorn, annoyance and irritation, by any number of professors, professionals and journalists, when attempting to speak about interconnections and inter-relationship.

This video is simply a video version of the same complaint – though coloured by a misunderstanding of the very point it wants to make, and a bias of ideas of ‘good Pakistan’ that reveal its class bias.It’s these places in between where we must demand that we focus. these are the places both these ‘protagonists’ – the journalist, and the cheerleader, prefer to avoid.