WE all feel a sense of pride in different aspects of our identities. Culture, nationality, religion and ethnicity are often central to the way we define ourselves and find our place in a complex world. Naturally, we all feel a sense of injustice whenever a particular aspect of our identity is misunderstood, stereotyped or discriminated against. Injustice against a fellow citizen based on an identity that we ascribe to ourselves can often feel very personal. It feels truly tragic when the beauty of our identity is not celebrated.
We might differentially care about racism, religious discrimination and elitism based on our personal experiences and how we define ourselves. To some extent, that is natural because at a first pass, we can only tap into our own experiences. However, we should always pause to ask ourselves the extent to which we are exclusionary in caring about identities that we do not associate with. We should ask ourselves about the consistency of opinions through which we connect our feelings of belonging in this world.
Do we care about discrimination against other faiths?
A simple example can help explain what I mean about consistency and exclusion. It would be fair to assume that many Pakistanis feel deeply about Islamophobia which has become a massive challenge in the modern world. From being selected for ‘random security checks’ at airports to shocking examples of violence against Muslims, it all feels very personal and unjust to so many. Clearly, we all worry about religious discrimination when our sense of self is intertwined with a particular injustice in the world.
But if we all really do care about religious discrimination, a natural question to ask is whether we care about religious discrimination against other faiths? Or do we misunderstand, stereotype and discriminate against other communities the same way others might do to us?
The presence of different types of discrimination in Pakistan paints a picture of this inconsistency playing out in the real world. It represents a simultaneous feeling of unease against being stereotyped based on one’s identity while being part of the problem in perpetuating stereotypes against other communities.
Read: A vocation of bias
Here are stats that might give some broad context: according to the recent version of the World Values Survey, a whopping 45.8 per cent and 48.6pc of respondents in Pakistan said that they do not trust people of another religion and nationality “at all” respectively. Combine this overall lack of trust in “other communities” with the plethora of qualitative evidence and anecdotes of various forms of discrimination that we hear around us, and you could paint a picture of a collective schizophrenia where we deeply care about our various identities while we exclude other communities of the same empathy that we extend to ourselves.
We shouldn’t stop at this sombre note, and, instead, should immediately ask ourselves about ways in which we can move towards a more inclusive society. Here is what I think can be a constructive way forward at a personal level.
As a first step, it is important to recognise the scale of the problem and that the journey towards a more inclusive society would be long, incremental, non-linear and arduous. Without explicitly recognising the nature and extent of the challenge that we face today, we might be more likely to underestimate the effort and patience required to move the needle.
Once we recognise the challenge, we could simply start by looking within ourselves. A simple question for daily introspection is to ask what type of stereotypes about other communities we grew up with. If you have been told a particular negative narrative about a particular community from childhood, then it would be important to start questioning it. Building on this, we could try extending the same empathy that we extend to ourselves to other communities. Attempting to find our own blind spots and eventually addressing them is a crucial step to challenging the status quo.
The discrimination that we see around us has a significant structural component that we have little control over, and which requires separate articles to discuss it properly.
But first and foremost, it is important for us to realise our own agency and responsibility in the societal discrimination that we see around us before ascribing any blame to such structural factors. It is also important to remember that the larger structural factors are also a function of stereotypes and discrimination that are present in society at large today.
If we push ourselves to introspect and eventually extend empathy to others the same way we do to ourselves, that would be a good start.
The writer has a doctorate from the University of Oxford and is graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2021