Our soldiers are men who willingly lay down their lives, men who often return maimed or paralysed to their families. In other countries, such men would enjoy heroic statures. And yet, here in Pakistan , when they turn on their television sets at night, they see their nation scoffing at them
Many years ago, as a student in New York , I was invited to my roommate’s house for the weekend. Her parents lived a couple of hours away from the city in a quiet little town where she had grown up. As for myself, I must admit, I was looking forward to leaving the concrete jungle of Manhattan behind for a few days.
As we drove over the Willis Avenue Bridge towards the Taconic Parkway , leaving the grey high-rises behind, I saw more than just the landscape change. And I realised that Manhattan was an island in more ways than one.
Besides being physically set apart from the land around it, it stood alone in its liberalism. The left-wing writers whom I loved, my professors who freely criticised their government, even the people rallying in front of the United Nations in protest of Bush Sr’s invasion of Iraq, had no place in small town America. This was a place where everyone was a “patriot”.
As we drove through the cluster of little streets that led to her house, I noticed that all the houses in her neighbourhood had either an American flag or a giant yellow ribbon pasted on the front door. The flag, I understood — the country was at war. But the yellow ribbon? “It’s our way of saying we support our troops,” said my roommate.
“But you said you didn’t feel that the invasion of Iraq was justified,” I said.
“I don’t,” she replied. “But I still support our troops — our soldiers who are willing to die for us.”
That weekend, I admit, I got into many a debate about the yellow ribbons. Not only were they on the houses, they were pinned onto people’s clothes! They irked me. If you didn’t agree with your government, how could you support your troops? They were, after all, carrying the government’s agenda. I returned to the city on Sunday night quite irritated, convinced that everyone in suburbia was brainwashed.
It has been more than 17 years since that day. Much has happened in the world since then. But today, as Pakistan stands on the verge of anarchy, at war with an enemy that has seeped into the very fabric of our society, I long for an expression of unity. And I find myself thinking more and more of that yellow ribbon.
What is so wrong with being a patriot? And why are we afraid to rally behind our armed forces, to send out positive, supportive signs as these men lay down their lives for us?
Since 9/11, the Pakistani army has suffered more than any other army in the world in terms of casualties. And yet we get nothing but negative reports about its performance in the media. One can be angry with Zardari, think that Musharraf sold out and believe that the ISI is a “sinister” organisation with its own agenda without losing compassion for our soldiers, the young men who are being killed every day.
These are men who willingly lay down their lives, men who often return maimed or paralysed to their families. In other countries, such men would enjoy heroic statures. And yet, here in Pakistan , when they turn on their television sets at night, they see their nation scoffing at them.
So fond of flinging mud on all in sight, our media moguls seem to have lost sight of the larger picture. And so used to being cynical, we have stopped empathising with those willing to die for us.
Seventeen years ago, I met a group of people in a small suburb of New York who were neither sophisticated nor educated. And yet they were able to recognise the shades of grey, the fact that it is possible to support your troops without blindly supporting your government.
Here in Pakistan today, we are too busy either being Taliban apologists or posing as intellectuals who feel it is our duty to run down everything in sight, without thinking of the national interest.
As we stand on the eve of a massive crackdown on the Taliban, we need to realise that in the weeks and months ahead, there will be blood — dead soldiers and dead civilians. And yet there has never been a greater time to stand behind our troops, to show solidarity as a nation if we want to defeat the single greatest threat to our way of life.
Our intellectuals will have to learn that it is possible to be analytical without being negative, to be patriotic without being brainless. And our media moguls and talk show hosts will have to learn to stop catering to the lowest common denominator by sympathising with a group of murderers.
When Jinnah created Pakistan , he envisioned us as a nation that adhered to the principles of “Unity”, “Faith” and “Discipline”. For me there can be no greater show of unity than for a nation to support its troops. Maybe a yellow ribbon is not the answer. But I, for one, am putting a Pakistani flag outside my house today to show my solidarity with my nation — the one created by Jinnah, not the Taliban.
Ayeda Naqvi is a journalist who lives and works in Lahore . She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org