Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Talking about violence at home

As part of the second youth media blog-a-thon ...

I was hesitant to write this post because talking about international violence (physically located outside the US but very much related) and how it affects me personally, my city (Karachi) and my country (Pakistan), particularly within a post-9/11 US context is … hard work to say the least. It is a lot easier to comment on how NOT to talk about international violence. On how talking about an entire nation of close to $200 million people as the Most Dangerous Place in the World and a Failed State from a cozy conference room in Washington DC is not only simplistic and unproductive but also downright [insert adjective here: racist, orientalist, Islamo-phobic, being a bitch]. I have lived in the US for almost four years and almost everyday of it seen all talk about violence in my country being reduced to statistics about militant attacks, images of bearded, angry, brown, Muslim fanatics and rhetoric about “bombing them back to the stone ages” (Mr. Obama is no exception here, but that is a post for some other time).

Like I said, the harder question for me is how do I, a Pakistani Muslim female temporarily residing in the US, talk about violence in its various forms and how it affects me and the people and places I love. The need to try and figure this out has never been as urgent as it was this winter and after. A little context: I have spent my entire life in Karachi, Pakistan sans the last about four years in which I have been studying in California. I went home to see my family this winter after two years (that shit is expensive) and within 12 hours of my landing former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. As my city descended into four days of rioting, violence and a complete shutdown, emails and facebook messages from my friends here in the US inquiring about my safety and the “state” of affairs in Pakistan flooded my in box. Other than the “I am safe” part, I was really unsure about what more to communicate and how to communicate it. Should I tell them stories about how horrible it is to be stuck in the house for four days? About how I drove around empty, dark streets littered with broken glass late at night when the rioters had gone to bed, shocked to see so much of what was cherished and familiar destroyed? Or should I tell them how it really is not as bad as it seems? How there were times when I was frustrated about not being able to leave the house because I was more bored than scared? How Karachi as a city has learnt to get up the next morning, brush the dust off and keep going?

I do not want to become a native informant of sorts, reaffirming the portrayal in Western media of life in Pakistan as “violent” (I know someone from Pakistan and dude, she was scared shitless. That place is messed up.) But the reality is that there are times when I have been and continue to be scared. And upset. For the people I love, my city and my country. And the fact that a lot of times I get on with life after that has a lot to do with my privilege. I am middle-class at home. I know that for another year I have a visa that allows me to come back to the US, in theory at least (had to get in my jibe at Homeland Security). I will have a science degree from an elite institution in the US in a couple of months. All of that allows me to deal. But the assumption that Pakistani’s or Karachites without these class and education privileges are all victims caught up in an endless cycle of violence and Islamic fundamentalism is as unfounded as the rationale for attacking Iraq. When I say Karachi as a city moves on the next day, I mean it. Given Karachi’s history of violence (not just physical but political, economical, environmental, emotional) it might seem surprising that it continues to breathe and thrive the way it does. But there it is.

If you thought this would end with a clever conclusion about how I figured out how to talk about violence at home without it becoming problematic … sorry to disappoint (let me know if you have an answer though). I guess this post is more trying to get at the issue of being perceived as a victim. About how that perception alters and affects the way I talk (or don’t talk) about my experiences with violence. It is probably why I have not even touched upon gendered violence. Soon. Maybe.

1 comment:

Jay said...

First, I'm so happy you're on board!

Thanks for writing with such honesty. I feel where you're coming from. I mean, not exactly, but I feel how conflicting it can be to love your community despite and because of its (perceived) flaws.

I'm sure C-town makes the shit damn near unbearable sometimes, but yo, even that can be a haven (as much as we like to hate on it...)