5 QUESTIONS: ‘Let the silent majority be heard above bomb blasts’

Published: July 6, 2011 - 14:02 Updated: July 11, 2011 - 14:57
Based in Karachi, Niilofur Farrukh has had a long career in visual arts, art criticism, art history and activism. She is the author of Pioneering Perspectives (1996), and Founding Editor of  NuktaArt, Pakistan’s contemporary art magazine (www.nuktaartmag.com)
How will you describe the current crisis in Pakistan. Is it an artificial crisis, a pseudo-western construct? Or is it an authentic, deeper, existential, political, identity crisis?
I don’t like to think of it as a crisis because it would then isolate it from the historical process that creates as well as solves problematic periods in the life of a nation. Pakistan took some wrong State-level decisions, had irresponsible and myopic leaders, and fell into the trap of ‘beggar bowl development’. All this has created a moment in history when its past and present day conflicts (global, geographical and political) are aligned together like planets in an eclipse. It needs all our resilience and wisdom from lessons learned from the past to come out of this troubled period as a strong and cohesive nation.         
 What is the divide between the fundamentalist and secular/liberal/moderate paradigms in civil society? Are the moderates losing ground? 
I think the divide is exaggerated as a recent Gallup poll shows: joblessness and law and order are the highest national concerns. People are looking for answers, some in religion, others in the Constitution. Incompetent politicians and power-driven extremists have deepened the fault lines. The true moderates are the followers of Sufi saints, who have always assimilated diverse beliefs to strengthen harmony in such a culturally heterogeneous land. The question is, how can we let the voice of the silent majority be heard above the bomb blasts?  
Is it true that the educated elite in Pakistan has betrayed the country?             
I think many of the educated elite have fought tooth and nail against the establishment. Faiz, Faraz, Akhtar Hameed Khan, Pervaz Hoodbhoy, Hamza Alavi, Fehmida Riaz, Asma Jehangir, Hina Jilani, among others, have led the way. With labour and students unions banned, democracy scuttled, media under heavy censorship since the early years (until recently), the intelligentsia was robbed of forums and platforms. Against great odds, a small but inspiring group has persisted.       
Do you, personally, feel trapped? Do you see windows of hope, resilience, resistance? Can  you give examples… 
Being an activist I don’t feel trapped. I just find the challenges getting bigger. I also see more and more people abandoning their apathy. In the last two years, I was part of an anti-honour-killing art exhibition and dialogue that travelled to five small and big towns. My meetings with grassroots activists, students and community-based workers were truly inspiring. More and more young people are joining protest marches and developing a political consciousness, which is the first step towards change. 
The young in Pakistan are experimenting with new music, prose, poetry, theatre, cultural expressions. Do they signify a flight of imaginative liberation? 
The young in Pakistan, like in other places, have always pushed boundaries. We, as art students during the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto era, thought we were at the cutting edge with the innovative art, music and writings of our peers. Nazia and Zohaib Hasan, among others, were the icons of the day. In the 1980s, women and youth led the anti-Hudood-ordinance human rights movement in Lahore and Sindh. 
I think the exposure of the youth to the diversity around the world and the opportunities, via the media, has definitely increased the number of young people in the arts. Greater global connectivity makes it possible for contemporary cultural expressions to reach a wider audience.   

This story is from print issue of HardNews