Courtesy: The News
by: Haider Nizamani, Canada
The late Edward Said, the eloquent and incorrigible voice of Palestinians on the world stage, had fundamental disagreements with Yasser Arafat but I haven’t come across one sentence where he turned it into personal mud-slinging.
Cyber-swords are out of scabbards. Count yourself lucky if you haven’t been caught in the crossfire of the cyber war going on between self-appointed representatives of the Baloch and Sindhi people. Unbeknown to ordinary Sindhi and Balochi folks living in Pakistan, the views of keyboard crusaders vacillate between delusional self-importance, hate-speech and crass racism.
Here are some vignettes of this shouting match, followed by a brief analysis of the salient features of cyber-nationalism. The one I am referring to started around July 10, when a news item about a press conference held by some members of the Sindhi intelligentsia in Hyderabad calling for the revamping of the country’s constitutional edifice on the basis of the 1940 Lahore Resolution was forwarded to various Sindhi mailing lists. The forwarding of the report about this innocuous press conference caught more than an eye of some Sindhis and Balochis residing in North America.
One Sindhi suggested not to “waste time on these false resolutions” and asked Sindhis to join the Baloch struggle to get rid of Pakistan. To this, another Sindhi retorted “when was the last time the Baloch really…made a serious and sincere effort at taking Sindhis along with them?” Therefore, he argued, Sindhi leaders should not “blindly throw Sindhi people in the direction they deem fit.”
This view was echoed in another email which said: “all Sindhis including nationalists and pragmatists have been quite vocal in supporting Baloch demands, [but the] Baloch have largely ignored Sindhi struggle for their rights. Furthermore, Baloch attitude is that of arrogance towards Sindhi demands and it is about time that they must also realise that they need the support of Sindhis as much as Sindhis need their support.” So far so good!
Until now, a few web-versed Sindhis in North America were disagreeing with each other about the pros and cons of supporting the Baloch separatist movement. Then a salvo from a Baloch expatriate: “We [the Baloch] are having armed fighting with Pakistan while your [Sindhi] middle class is fighting for the jobs in Islamabad and Karachi.” And suggested that until Sindhis don’t give up the idea of staying in Pakistan there is little that Baloch can talk to them about. To which a Sindhi scribe replied by asserting that Balochistan has passed many social ills onto Sindh, including honour killings and drug trafficking.
The conversation became even more charged where one accused the other of being an ISI agent and the other responding by branding the accuser as an ‘intellectual prostitute’. A Baloch participant trying to be sarcastic carelessly used the term ‘final solution’ and asked those Sindhis who were not throwing their lot with the Baloch separatist struggle to start the movement of expelling all Balochs from Sindh.
The conversation then slid into exchange of invectives among Sindhi participants over the issue of whether to support the Baloch struggle ultimately culminating in personal attacks on each other.
This online exchange is neither the first of its kind nor unique to Sindhi-Balochi expatriates. It has some features of what Benedict Anderson, one of the leading scholars of nationalism, calls ‘long-distance nationalism’. The communication revolution of our time, according to Anderson, ‘has profoundly affected the subjective experience of migration’. A Sindhi living in Seattle can read Kawish, a Sindhi daily published from Hyderabad, on the net after supper as his counterpart in Sukkur browses the paper at breakfast. A Baloch student residing in Boston is likely to know about killings in Quetta before a Baloch living in a village in Khuzdar.
There are political consequences of this nomadism because ‘exile is the nursery of nationality’. In the destruction of Babri Masjid, the funds raised in North America by Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the World Hindu Council, played a significant role. Tamils living in Toronto did their part in keeping the separatist flame burning in Sri Lanka.
But the feature of ‘long-distance nationalism’ most relevant for this discussion is that ‘it creates a serious politics that is at the same time radically unaccountable.’ This is what I find quite rampant among the Sindhi and Balochi cyber-warriors. In this situation, ‘the participant rarely pays taxes in the country in which he does his politics; he is not answerable to its judicial system; he need not fear prison, torture, or death… safely positioned in the First World, he can send money and guns, circulate propaganda, and build intercontinental computer information circuits, all of which can have incalculable consequences in the zones of their ultimate destinations.’
Pretension of representation goes hand in hand with radical accountability in such instances of long-distance nationalism. Thanks to the internet, a Sindhi expatriate paying Canadian taxes and casting his vote in Vancouver has no qualms in claiming to be representing Sindhis as he casts the Baloch as harbingers of crime in Sindh. Likewise, a Baloch in Baltimore abiding by US laws can fire away an email condemning Sindhis for not waging war in Sindh to secede from Pakistan. These are the luxuries only long-distance nationalism can afford to its adherents.
This is not to suggest that all forms and all participants in ‘long-distance nationalism’ are dangerously irresponsible. I will conclude this unflattering synopsis of long-distance nationalism with a mention of two names who participated in the politics of their lands without falling in the trap of radical unaccountability. The late Edward Said, the eloquent and incorrigible voice of Palestinians on the world stage, had fundamental disagreements with Yasser Arafat but I haven’t come across one sentence where he turned it into personal mud-slinging. Closer to home, Faiz Ahmed Faiz was forced to stay away from his homeland and people for extended periods. During those days, he penned some of his best poems instead of using his pen to churn out poison against other individuals.
The writer is an academic based in Canada