A bouncer from Afridi

Updated on: Apr 05, 2011
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For someone who has spent more time on the playing fields of cricket than mastering the intricacies of language, Shahid Afridi, captain of the Pakistani cricket team, has demonstrated a rare sophistication in the artful juxtaposition of two collective nouns to produce a narrow sectarian view point, and yet remain politically correct in his assertion.

Answering a question by a TV correspondent as to what it felt to be playing in India and in front of a throng of Indian audience, he replied, “In my opinion, if I have to tell the truth, they (Indians) will never have hearts like Muslims and Pakistanis. I don't think they have the large and clean hearts that Allah has given us”

Nuanced response

Note the expressions ‘Muslims' and ‘Pakistanis'. It is easy to see how the words ‘Muslims' or ‘Pakistani' used in isolation would not have sufficed. Saying that Pakistanis possessed larger and purer hearts would have offended his sense of a pan-national collective identity built around the principles of Islamic brotherhood, especially with the Muslims of India.

I suppose he must also have been acutely alive to the fact that while Pakistan has made rapid strides since Independence, to impose a monolithic identity built around an allegiance to Islam among its citizens, it cannot still claim 100 per cent success in its efforts. A minority of the population still steadfastly holds on to a belief in the religious dogmas of Christianity or Hinduism or Sikhism. On the other hand, structuring a response around a claim that Muslim heart beats to a different rhythm must have appeared as politically incorrect, if not downright obnoxious. Hence the juxtaposition of the two collective nouns which while professing to assert a belief in a sense of national superiority, yet leaves no one doubt as to what he actually had in mind.

No ranting chauvinist

Now, Shahid Afridi's comments cannot be dismissed as the ranting of a rabid chauvinist. While he is not quite the member of the rich, anglicised, Pakistani elite, he is no country bumpkin herding cattle in the rural heartland of Pakistan either. He is as mainstream as they come. What is more, as a member of the Pakistani national cricket team he has seen something of the world. If such a person entertains a stridently anti-Indian sentiment, what chance does a ‘no mandate to change borders, but can make borders irrelevant' brand of external diplomacy that the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, lays so much emphasis on?

Such is the daunting nature of the challenge of shaping a South Asian identity and inculcating a sense of shared identity among Pakistanis that the Prime Minister has resolved to achieve that it would need many terms of office than the little over three years that is left of his current term.

Published on May 09, 2012

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