THE decision of the New Zealand cricket team — and subsequently the England cricket team — to cancel their tours of Pakistan is naturally very disappointing for the country. While we surmise the reasons behind the cancellation, however, it is important to look beyond the simple narrative of geopolitics and instead scrutinise how a discourse of ‘danger’ and ‘threat levels’ has been central to the existence and identity of post-colonial and Third World nations.
For years, Pakistan remained a theatre of terrorism and violence. Since the first decade of the 2000s, however, Pakistan made significant strides to overcome this menace. Despite our success in curbing terrorism, the decisions by the New Zealand and England cricket boards reveal how Pakistan continues to be viewed as unsafe.
This view of Pakistan does not stem solely from the perceived ground realities — in fact, the security assessment prior to the tours revealed it was safe to visit — but is instead the product of a thought process that labels the colonised or the ‘other’ — the brown person in this case — as dangerous to the person and property of the white person.
The tenets of colonialism and orientalism are in fact predicated on viewing the Third World or the formerly colonised nations through this lens of security and fear. For the colonisers — predominantly white — the locals represented individuals who were to be feared, mistrusted and controlled. This fear did not stem merely from the fact that the coloniser occupied the land and resources of the colonised. It was in fact, as Edward Said argues in Orientalism, a product of an orientalist mindset that viewed the non-white individual as irrational, primitive and hence more prone to violence. Hence, the extensive security apparatus colonisers set up and the remnants of which we continue to view in post-colonised states today.
The colonial mindset continues to percolate.
Frantz Fanon further traced the origins of this phenomenon in his fantastic book The Wretched of the Earth. For Fanon, the edifice of colonialism rests on what he calls a ‘Manichean’ world — a world physically and ideologically divided between the organised, safe world of the coloniser, and the anomic, dangerous world of the colonised. For Fanon, much like Said, the coloniser holds a perennial fear of the colonised on account of the latter’s skin colour and penchant for violence. All interactions between the coloniser and the colonised, therefore, are tainted by this myopic lens.
This mindset continues to percolate today as well. The increased surveillance of Muslim men in the West, racial profiling in airports and the ‘random security checks’ for bearded brown men along with constant police killings of black men in America are all products of this mindset which views these individuals as more prone to violence and hence a mortal threat to the world order of the more powerful race. All this stems from the fact that oriental and colonial thinking view the spaces occupied by these individuals as dangerous, unsafe, and hence spaces that need to be heavily regulated. Thus the decision to cancel the tours on very tenuous grounds.
It becomes absolutely essential then that we dissect the discourse on security and danger in the Third World, while analysing incidents such as the cancellation of these tours. While we cannot altogether dismiss geopolitical realities and the machinations of entities that would hurt us, it remains equally true that notions of security in the Third World carry substantial historical and colonial baggage. This discourse becomes all the more dangerous when we appreciate that the dangers that lurk in countries like Pakistan, and the increased crime rates amongst African American men in the US are products of colonial structures, interference by global powers and economic marginalisation and ghettoisation.
A slight departure can raise the example of India and highlight how countries remain eager to tour our neighbour. Here, it becomes important to understand the significance of capital in today’s world, with the money platforms such as the Indian Premier League (IPL) offer and the financial clout India’s cricket board enjoys in the ICC significantly mitigating the fear of these areas. Hence, once again, we cannot adopt a singular understanding of the world, and must instead appreciate how capital, orientalism, race and gender all act together to shape the realities we live.
Cricket fans in Pakistan will once again be disappointed in the wake of the cancelled tours. However, while we regain our spirits and look forward to brighter days, let us remain cognisant of the forces in play around us, and let us aim to move towards a brighter world that is more inclusive and is one that jettisons stereotypes and overcomes prejudice.
The writer is a civil servant and studied at Cornell University and at the University of Oxford.
Published in Dawn, September 27th, 2021