VOA (Voice of America), Pashto, Deewa Radio recently started a series on blogging among Pashtuns, discussing reasons for why we should blog, what kinds of challenges bloggers face, what we think they should write about, what they write about, etc. And so this blog post is both to thank VOA for starting such an important program, especially considering how wide their audience is, and to encourage other Pashtuns to start blogging if they do not already. In this part, I’ll only discuss some of the reasons why Pashtuns need to blog and why we need more Pashtun bloggers.
There are several important reasons why people, but especially Pashtuns, should blog.
1. Today, Pashtuns are one of the main centers of the world. The spotlight is often on us because we’re apparently (according to everyone!) backward, barbaric, violent, extremist people. One of the reasons why this is so widely accepted in the media and so believed is that, especially in the Western world, there’s currently an invisible call for self-hatred, presenting yourself as a victim of your religion/culture/society, sort of calling out for help to be saved–which typically means getting attention from the Media. The media will then present you to the world as a victim-turned-hero. We see this all over the world, with prime examples like Salman Rushdie and Ayan Hirsi Ali.
So the world currently likes narratives of self-hate and victims-of-ones-own-culture-turned-heroes. These are stories that reaffirm America’s and the West’s assumptions and expectation of the perceived barbarity of Muslims and everything Islam. And that’s one reason why it’s really easy for the media to both believe and highlight anything negative about Pashtuns, since we’re already in the news all the time anyway for one thing or another (presently because of America’s invasion of Afghanistan; Osama Bin Laden; the Taliban; drones; Malala gula).
2. And that’s precisely why we need Pashtuns to pain the reality for the world — we have to do something about the generalizations made about us, the many lies that are told about us (some things out there are true, but it’s still important to remind people not to generalize). What are our lives really like, regardless of where we are located? What are our views on religion and culture and society and women and men and other genders really like? What do we really think about the drones and the Pakistani army operation in Waziristan? What kinds of problems do we really face?
3. Pashtuns in the West (or just among the diaspora anywhere, really) are then even more privileged, in numerous ways: many of us are generally “stuck” in two cultures, sort of lying in-between cultures and generations and attitudes, often conflicting, because our parents/elders expect one of thing us and our peers expect something different. These peers don’t have to be actual peers, but they can represent the society as a whole, the society in which we are currently living. Many of us live two lives: we’re one way inside our homes and different outside of our homes. This may include the languages we speak–e.g., Pashto/Dari inside the home, English outside the home. We may also wear western clothing outside the home but Pashtun (Desi/Afghan) clothing inside. And/or perhaps we are less talkative or open with our family/parents/elders but completely opposite with non-family members outside the home.
This is very important. For many of us, as immigrants–whether first generation or fifth–many of our problems are not shared with us by fellow Pashtuns who are in Pashtunkhwa and Afghanistan. They might not even be shared by Pashtuns in Karachi, although they, too, have many issues that need to be acknowledged. But we’re all aware of ethnic conflicts in Karachi – yet, how many Pashtuns out there talk about this? All this stuff we hear from the media about what’s going on in Afghanistan, how do we know how accurate it is, if at all? What about the Pashtuns inside Afghanistan themselves? It certainly is untrue that “none” of them have access to the Interent and hence blogging, so that’s not the issue.
4. Having said the above, I can now point out that people “back home” tend to think that Pashtuns in the West are, I don’t know, in heaven or something. That we have no problems, money falls instead of water when it rains (i.e., that we’re all rich and that earning money doesn’t require hard work! And this is sooo untrue!), and so on. They also have a lot of misconceptions about us, especially us females–such as how “bad” we go if we’re raised in the West. One day soon, I’m going to fulfill my promise of writing about the misconceptions about Pashtun women raised in the West. But in the meantime, let’s finish talking about Pashtuns and blogging first. So let’s start talking about the problems we face as “Western” Pashtuns. Are we really as well off as folks think we are, or is that just a long-lost dream of theirs? Do they know what we go through as immigrants, at least our parents and grandparents who came here as immigrants, and what it feels like to be strangers and foreigners–or “aliens,” as America calls us–in a land where no one understands us, in a land where we become nothing when we were everything in our villages back home? Well, let’s talk about these issues. Maybe some of us really excellently off, but not all of us. Whatever the case, let’s start writing about these issues.
5. People tell meI must have so many stories to tell. And I do. And I think it’s only because I’m Pashtun (living in America, on top of that). Everything I think, do, believe, expect, want, dream of, hope for is different from the “norm” that we all think we’re all supposed to uphold. I assure you, people want to hear that kind of stuff, these kinds of stories. Academically, this is problematic because it just consistently marks us as an “other,” as “different,” as “exotic,” as “fascinating” – but having a different viewpoint, a different voice can also be very valuable: it challenges the normative, the popular, the possibly generalized and the possibly inaccurate narrative about us–about you, about me, about the Pashtuns you interact with, about the Pashtuns you dream we’d become one day.
So, fellow Pashtuns, let’s stop relying on news all the time and let’s start telling our own stories. Let’s be the writers of our own histories. Let’s tell it like it is and stop letting the media control narratives about us.
Let’s tell OUR history ourselves. Let’s stop relying on others to tell it for us, especially when a non-Pashtun version of our history is not going to consider our perspectives in the first place.
I know we’re a “private” people, but remember that blogging doesn’t mean you talk about your personal business in your blogs. That’s a personal choice, but it’s not a requirement. You can talk about what you think needs to be talk about, such as what’s wrong with the world according to you, what is missing in your society or country or the world according to you and how that problem can be fixed, or just your comments on a certain article or viewpoint or political figure–or politics, economics, society, religion, whatever you want. If you need ideas, there are plenty out there. But just start blogging, and see how far you go with it.
We Pashtuns have been silent enough for a while now. But today’s circumstances are such that we can no longer afford to be silent. We all have stories to tell us, all of us are.
In the previous section, we’ve discussed why Pashtuns need to blog more, and we came up with at lest 5 major reasons (besides the more common reasons like: it’s fun, it feels great to write down your feelings and thoughts and all, writing/blogging is a great medicine for the soul, etc.). So, here, we’ll talk about what kinds of challenges are faced by Pashtuns during their blogging experience. I am not aware of all of them, so feel free to add more.
1. Language and Audience
The list I’ve compiled so far of Pashtun bloggers suggests that a good majority of Pashtun bloggers are located in the West, although many of them blog about Pashtuns, Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc. Although they may be fluent in Pashto, they, like me, tend to write in English, and Pashtun bloggers in Pashto don’t across easily. (If you know of Pashtuns who blog in Pashto, whether partially or completely, please feel free to bring them to my attention.) When we write in English, our audience possibly narrows significantly: most of our people in Pakistan and Afghanistan don’t know English too well, and so it may be difficult for them to read and understand us enough to interact with us in discussions generated by and in our blogs. Yet, they are a significant audience to have particularly because they are located inside the region that is the focus of some of our blogs. Essentially, in conversations we have about our folks “back home,” readers from “back home” are the actual insiders while us writers may be mere outsiders, although both our perspectives may be equally valuable.
So that’s perhaps one of the top-most challenges for those Pashtuns who blog about Pashtun issues inside Afghanistan and Pakistan and need a Pashtun audience from said countries to participate in discussions about them.
Many Pashtuns inside Afghanistan and Pakistan seem to feel uncomfortable blogging, from what they tell me in emails and messages, because they believe their English is too weak for them to write. In response, I’d like to remind these potential bloggers that you don’t have to blog in English only; you can also blog in Pashto or Urdu or Arabic or whatever other language you’d like to write in. Don’t let your possibly incorrect thinking that your English skills are not competent to hinder you from pursuing a blog.
Generally, Pashtuns are a “private” people. We don’t like too much attention, we like to keep our problems and concerns to ourselves, we don’t feel the need to tell the world what’s up–we like our anonymity. So we don’t want to blog, and we’re not expected to blog. So from what I understand on some Facebook interactions among Pashtuns who don’t get the point of blogging, “Why are you wasting your time blogging?” Some see it as purposeless, not realizing that it can be very meaningful to those who do value blogging.
4. Pressure to stay within the status-quo
We’re always burdened with representing an entire ethnicity of people, over 60 million (Pashtuns) who are far more diverse than people often realize–than even some Pashtuns realize. We’re also expected to represent an entire religion (Islam) and an entire religious group (Muslims), who number more than a billion people around the world and who are as diverse as there are Muslims. Despite the diversity among Pashtuns and Muslims, writers are often expected to represent every single person in their religion, nation, race, gender, and when they don’t, they are accused of being too simplistic or too biased, or of generalizing or of not taking into considering a certain issue that’s important to someone else out there. So it’s very possible–and in fact, this happens frequently–that voices of dissent are deliberately ignored or overlooked, being dismissed as unacceptable just because they do not “accurately represent” the race or the religion or the nation of the person who’s writing.
5. For women: inappropriate contact
Pashtun female bloggers and I talk about this problem all the time, sharing our experiences as bloggers who have a wide range of readers of each gender. Undoubtedly, there are many females out there who believe that any female who interacts with men as basically a slut and should be treated as one–and that she “wants” to be treated as one–but importantly, also, Pashtun males often interact with us differently than they would interact with other Pashtun females. For instance, it’s not uncommon for a Pashtun male to address a female Pashtun who’s “known” in the Internet Pashtun communities, such as Twitter or Facebook or discussion forums, as a “dear” or “sweetheart” or “darling” or even “baby” (yes, all in English). When you ask these men (boys): “How would you react if my brother addressed your sister or your wife this way?” they go crazy. They start to insult you and remind you that “this is why you deserve to be treated like a slut” (the word for slut is often used by them in Pashto, not in English). A few of them, however, the ones who are slightly more respectful, tend to say something like: “But you’re a public person online. Everyone knows you. Pashtuns know you. You interact with men ALL the time on your blog, on Facebook, on forums, on Twitter. My wife/sister/daughter doesn’t, so why should any male talk to them that way?” Note the distinction made between the female blogger or the active female participant in forums/FB/Twitter/etc. and the quiet, innocent girl who doesn’t interact with men other than her family members. Somehow, unfairly, the former must learn to accept disrespect from Pashtun men she interacts with frequently, while the latter one obviously doesn’t deserve such disrespect.
These are all the challenges I can think of right now. I’ll add more as they come to mind.