This entry, which follows the first one, using the media more astutely, is second in the series of entries for my original essay, Crossing the Divide. I intend to write more for the series. Further entries will appear in due course.
Until very recently, the Pakistani and Indian people had extreme ill-will for each other. Internet chat rooms and forums with Pakistani and Indian participants were flooded with malicious comments and remarks. Traveling between the countries was limited. Media channels were banned. Cricket matches were characterized by extreme chauvinism, resulting in a couple of scuffles and quarrels between the fans as well as the players in almost every match. Textbooks were filled with unfavorable lessons. And, most important of all, the two countries fought three bloody wars in 59 years.
All this, however, changed very drastically when both countries started to normalize diplomatic relations. The people have now found that they have a lot in common culturally, historically and religiously. Tourist cricketers are now cheered for and glorified as opposed to being hurled at by empty mineral water bottles. Chat rooms give a more affable feel with Indian and Pakistani presence. Relatives on both sides of the borders have come much closer than simply being each other’s “uncles and aunts living on the other side of the border”.
So how did all this happen? Simple: First, they set up embassies in important cities of the “friendly country” and facilitated travel by opening a couple of bus links and a rail link. Then they allowed TV channels to operate and encouraged “People-to-People” contacts. Further, they held a number of cultural exchanges and “joint-venture” concerts at important cities. Also, they reviewed their textbooks. In short, they facilitated each other’s understanding.
What is in it for the international community? Why, a valuable lesson: furthering cross-cultural understanding between the peoples of the world as a basis for a harmonious relationship.
While we claim to be living in a “global village”, a “shrunken world”, etc, we still lack basic information about each other. I read somewhere that for most Americans, the East is only China and Vietnam; China because they know it from the reference of the Hollywood superstar Bruce Lee; and Vietnam because they lost 50,000 troops there. This demonstrates a very limited worldview in the wake of the ‘media revolution’.
Many Muslims believe that drinking wine—a religious taboo in Islam—is an inherent characteristic of a Christian; little knowing that this issue is hotly debated in Christian circles, with a good many theologians going against it.
Honor killing and forced circumcision in women is considered a rampant practice strictly characteristic of Islam by many in the West. However, they fail to understand that these practices, including blood-for-blood retributions, are not Islamic—they are cultural practices common in Muslim countries that have been construed as Islamic.
The Jihad is abhorred by many as it is considered to be of a radically militaristic nature. This has given a militaristic dimension to Islam and therefore, every terrorist attack is considered Islamic and a religious ordinance. However, it is not known that in actuality, there are many “types” of Jihad including Jihad with the Pen and Jihad with the Money, whereby the Mujahideen or holy warriors do jihad by writing to set right fallacious beliefs and contributing money to a noble cause in the society.
There are a great many other misconceptions within both the worlds, which lead to negative perceptions and subsequently, hostile actions. These misconceptions could either be attributed to a faulty knowledge or a total lack of knowledge about the other side.
We could make the world a better place to live in simply by getting to know more about each other. In other words, we could use cross-cultural understanding as a means of mutual harmony. Any foreign family living in Afghanistan—otherwise perceived as a hostile place—would describe Afghans as friendly and hospitable. Likewise, my own interactions with Christians and Hindus, and understanding of the two religions has led me to believe that Christianity and Hinduism are indeed not “bastions” of “social evils and wrongdoing”, but merely two schools of thought different from Islam but advocating the same basic principles of human amity.
I am confident that by a little more reciprocal understanding, terrorists would fight against the “evils of American Imperialism”, instead of fighting against every American civilian. Also, when talking about Islam, the people in the West wouldn’t think of beardy guys in their harems living voluptuously among beautiful sex slaves, planning their next attack against the West.