“Uncommon tongue: Pakistan’s confusing move to Urdu” By M Ilyas Khan

NOTE: “A interesting article to think about.  Language is communication, culture & perception at one of the most highest levels. How we construct our language allows us to construct our art, our communities.  The relationship between language, art and culture are a symbolic presentation of Nations and cannot be ignored. Languages give us a passage into how diverse culture really is.”  B.Sherburn, Director of SWD

Article written by M Ilyas Khan, BBC News, Islamabad

While many nations are adopting English, Pakistan is going the opposite way, with the Supreme Court ruling for it to be replaced with Urdu as the official language.

Urdu is beautiful, vastly expressive, and the medium of some of the most powerful literature generated in the Indian sub-continent over the last two or three centuries.
It is spoken by many in Pakistan, especially in the main urban centres.  But there is no region in Pakistan which can be categorized as originally Urdu-speaking.  And Urdu has also been a victim of the early rulers’ controversial desire to thrust administrative, political and linguistic uniformity over the country’s local cultures, causing political alienation.

Many believe the seeds of secession in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) were sown when Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah announced in 1948 that Urdu alone would be the state language of Pakistan, though East Pakistan could use Bengali as its provincial language.  East Pakistan, which was home to a majority of the Pakistani population who had hoped Bengali would become the second state language after Urdu, seceded in 1971.

Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah caused divisions when he picked Urdu as the state language.
Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah caused divisions when he picked Urdu as the state language. (Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, pictured in 1947Image copyrightAP)
Newspapers in multiple languages can be found at stands in Pakistan.
Newspapers in multiple languages can be found at stands in Pakistan.(Pakistani men read newspapers at a stand in PeshawarImage copyrightAP)

Some in Pakistan view the current Supreme Court judgement as the continuation of that policy.

An ethnic Pashtun tweeter calling himself Durandline (the name for the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan) recently tweeted that “Urdu is not the language of majority, still it is the national language of Pakistan. Even in linguistics, minority is imposed on majority.”

The red-and-blue sign in Urdu at this checkpoint spells "stop" instead of the Urdu word "ruko", suggesting that "stop" is part of the local vocabulary.
The red-and-blue sign in Urdu at this checkpoint spells “stop” instead of the Urdu word “ruko”, suggesting that “stop” is part of the local vocabulary.

Naina Baloch tweeted: “Urdu is the language of Mohajirs (refugees from India) and this does not make sense that a country adopts the language of refugees as its national language.”

A milestone in the remote Kohistan region
English is used even in Pakistan’s remote northern regions.


Pakistan’s Many Languages

English and Urdu are not even the most common first languages in Pakistan, despite their official adoption.

48% speak Punjabi, mainly in eastern Punjab province
12% speak Sindhi, mainly in south eastern Sindh province
10% speak Saraiki, a variant of Punjabi
8% speak Pashto, in west and north western Pakistan
8% speak Urdu
3% speak Balochi, mainly in Balochistan
English is the most popular among government ministries

There are numerous other languages spoken by minorities in the population, including Brahui, Burushaski and Hindko.

Source: CIA Factbook

Many others see the move as likely to undermine major investment in English medium education during the last few decades.
“It’s not like the 1960s or ’70s when knowledge of English language used to be the preserve of a small class of political and business elite,” says Wasim Ahmad Shah, the Peshawar-based legal affairs correspondent of Dawn newspaper.
“Nearly every village in Pakistan has at least one privately run English medium school these days, and there is a proliferation of English language material in print and on electronic media.”
Professor Ijaz Khan, who heads Peshawar University’s International Relations department, says over-emphasis on Urdu may erode this progress and take the country in a direction “180 degrees opposite to that of the rest of the world”, which is increasingly using English as their lingua franca.

"God bless you", written in Urdu - the language is a favourite among poets. (Image copyrightAP)
“God bless you”, written in Urdu – the language is a favourite among poets. (Image copyrightAP)

“It will curtail the motivation to learn English, and in the long-run cause disconnect between us and the rest of the world, both politically and economically,” he says.
There are also questions over whether an efficient switch-over would be possible.
“There are millions of pages of laws and statutes, court rulings, legal commentaries and digests which lawyers use to formulate their cases,” says Mohammad Haroon, a senior lawyer who practices at the Nowshera district courts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

“I don’t see any administrative capacity to build suitable Urdu vocabulary, translate all material and knock new jargon into our heads all in a generation’s time,” he says.

‘Prostitute’ pun

Since the 1990s, successive governments have set up institutions to research and create technical Urdu terms for use in the five main fields, namely government, administration, judiciary, military and education.
In 2005, the head of the National Language Promotion Department (NLPD), Prof Fateh Mohammad Malik, “reported that there was enough vocabulary to shift all government from English to Urdu if desired,” writes Dr Tariq Rehman, a Lahore-based linguist and academic, in a recent newspaper column.

There are fears that the move to Urdu could affect teaching practices.
There are fears that the move to Urdu could affect teaching practices.  Pakistani boys study a comic bookImage copyrightAP

The problem is that since most Pakistanis are not Urdu speakers, many Urdu terms that meant one thing in northern India, the home of Urdu language, would mean quite another in Pakistan.

When a religious alliance, Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), came to power in KP in 2002, they decided to draw on NLPD’s diction to Urduise, and thereby Islamise, the provincial administration.

They were “in power for five years, but Urdu went nowhere further than causing a lot of confusion in office work, and turning terminologies into jokes,” says Ismail Khan, resident editor of Dawn newspaper in Peshawar.

For example, the term “office circular” is known to all and sundry, but its rendition in Urdu, gashti marasala, not only sounded strange, it created room for ridicule.  “The word ‘gashti’, which literally means ‘on the move’, or roaming about, is often taken to mean a prostitute in these parts,” he explains.
Likewise, an official from Kabul, where office work is conducted in Pashto and Persian, used the term “Star Munshi” for a Pakistani chief secretary.  The chief secretary, whose designation means he is the top bureaucrat of a province, was furious, recalls Ismail Khan.
The reason: while Munshi in India or Kabul may mean a respectable official, in Pakistan it is mostly understood to mean a lowly cashier or clerk of a ration depot or a brick kiln.

A security checkpoint in Dir, Northern Pakistan.
A security checkpoint in Dir, Northern Pakistan.

The red-and-blue sign in Urdu at this checkpoint spells “stop” instead of the Urdu word “ruko”, suggesting that “stop” is part of the local vocabulary KP dropped Urdu as the official language towards the end of MMA rule.

Professor Ijaz Khan points out that national language mattered in the world of the 1960s and 1970s because nation states were asserting their individuality at that time, which is not the case now.

“English is not a colonial language any more, it is the lingua franca of the world.”
But the urge for cultural uniformity can still find takers, and so can dissent.
A tweeter, Wajahat, fended off trollers by asserting: “Suggesting that English should remain the (official) language instead of Urdu doesn’t mean I’m a traitor or I suck up to the West.”


Historical Preservation & the Humpty Dumpty World of ISIS

There is something quite profound and humbling looking at an ancient artifact. This is also true with an architectural site that was constructed eons ago. Exploring these ancient places and relics is what I call mind-travel. It provides a spacial context for a temporal understanding of our past.

One of the functions of art is to provide a context for interpreting our world. Sometimes that interpretation is immediate. Sometimes the context develops over a long period of time. Art, at best, can do both by being responsive to time itself.

Another function of art is meaning. By using our intelligence and intuition to integrate the details of our experiences we can find meaning in art. All art is abstract no matter how realistic it may appear. What is real and not real is established from an interpretation we invent to simplify our lives. I believe, this process of simplification is how we find happiness. It can create a feeling of being completely satisfied in the moment where time escapes us.

We also cannot separate context from meaning. Context is always changing because of time and cultural tradition. The mosquito net of culture creates a buffer zone shielding us from things we are not ready to understand. If we can not create a context or if that thing has no meaning in any of our traditions, the object becomes inessential, an impostor to what we know to be true.

Another function of art is that of memory. There are many ways people form memories but culturally & historically our memories seem to be very short and exclusive. Art can be a story. Art can take us back in time. Art adds color, beauty and inspirational thought to our lives.

The last and most important function of art is play. It is vital to find the ability to play to create art. Art also encourages us to play to enjoy, understand and fully appreciate it. We sing and dance to music. We solve problems and discover new ideas by allowing ourselves to explore our curiosity. Something extraordinary can be created, invented or learned just through our ability to play. I believe it is one of the essential ingredient that allows culture to grow and change.

Recently we have seen historic art be brutally destroyed. I was told by an old friend, “…almost anything can be justified by history, it is so varied, not all of the same cloth. Even what ISIS is doing has its historical precedent in both the East and in the West.” And there are substantial examples throughout history of people disgusted with any iconic use of an image or object. But something else is going on here, I think. We do not live in a humpty dumpty world anymore. We honor our civilization by remembering history. We respect our past, our heritage. We can and will put the pieces back together again. In fact, we do it all the time. With our modern technology we fabricate copies of historical artifacts in every detail. It is hard to tell which one is the copy and which one is the so called “real” one. So what’s the point ISIS? I am sure ISIS is aware of this. So it is pretty clear that these theatrical events that ISIS is so proud of are just an idle worship of destruction itself.

What ISIS doesn’t seem to understand is that the purpose of historical preservation is not for idle worship and never has been. Civilization has come a long way but history has also showed that people have short memories. We still haven’t got it right yet. Throughout human history we repeat the same atrocities over and over again. But violence is never a solution for anything. Through written documents, old ruins and artifacts we can get a glimpse of history. We want to learn from our mistakes, grow from our accomplishments and be a kinder, wiser and more compassionate civilization.

Objects in particular take on an identity of their own separate from any intentional iconic meaning they might of had in the past. These artifacts in many ways are nothing more than a hollow shell wiped clean of most of the secrets they once contained. We pull these hand-made objects into our existing culture. Give them a new frame, context and some kind of meaning according to our impressions of something we really never knew. We treat them as an artistic object admiring scale, the sense of detail, the material and craftsmanship. We look for any clues that might of been missed that could reveal its purpose. Who made this? we ask. Yes, many of these artifacts do come with a story but it is foreign to us, always incomplete and outside of our cultural buffer zone.

Precariously, time is on arts side. ISIS is only destroying shadows from the old humpy, dumpy world that we keep re-assembling and will continue to do so no matter what. The truth is there are many cultures in this world and many roads on our journey. No one group has a cornerstone on anyone’s path.

Place not thy heart on what passes away; for the Tigris
Will flow after the Khalifs have passed away in Baghdad.
If thou are able, be liberal like the date tree,
And if thy hand cannot afford it, be liberal like the cypress.

                                                                                                                Saadi Shirazi (ch 08, maxim 81)


Destroying Art, The Perfect War Crime

There are countless precedents for acts of cultural vandalism like ISIS perpetrated against the Mosul museum. A society’s art and cultural history may be its very embodiement of power.

by Juan David Torres Duarte 

BOGOTA — Art has been one of the chief targets, and victims, of political upheavals and war. Pillaging monuments may have picked up pace in the 19th century and become “respectable” to satisfy the yearnings of Western collectors. It was a time when European states had turned fallen empires into colonies. But art vandalism clearly did not begin or end then. Think of the Vandals. And who can be sure how much patrimony was destroyed in the Reformation or the Thirty Years’ War, or by the Iconoclasts in eighth and ninth century Byzantium?

And more recently, at the hands of the bloodthirsty iconoclasts of our time, ISIS nihilists destroyed ancient sculptures at Iraq’s Mosul Museum. It appears that some of the statues ISIS ravaged in Mosul were replicas, though not the Assyrian winged bull shown being drilled in video footage.

Since December 2014, several of the city’s cultural buildings, including the main library, have been ransacked and had treasures stolen or destroyed. Close to 8,000 books and manuscripts have reportedly been burned, including some dated at more than 5,000 years old.

At their word

Watching footage of the Mosul art being destroyed is painful. The statues seem to acquire a human quality for a moment, which may be why ISIS ordered them wrecked — for being idols and distractions from the warped worship of their God.

ISIS Militants Destroy Priceless ancient artifacts in Mosul.

The religious argument is not invalid per se. We may suppose ISIS really does wish to remove anything harmful to Islam, or its version of Islam. Since taking Mosul in 2014, ISIS has made Sharia law — again, its reading of it — the law of Mosul, implementing other “smashing” — of social measures such as dismissing women from government and teaching positions.

Yet religion can also be a convenient facade for another, more ambitious objective: power. ISIS sees in these social forms (religion, personal conduct, morality and art) areas where power is wielded, and rightly so.

Art in this case is a repository of a society’s representations and history, so destroying it is one simple way to negate that reigning society and its history, or at least make a mark on them. “When I hear the word culture, I reach for my pistol,” Hitler’s “art” and propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels infamously declared.

Why this contempt for cultural forms, though, when power has so many facets? The answer may seem simple, but is more ambiguous than meets the eye. Regimes, and not just those with radical religious or political tendencies, have resorted to destruction because culture expresses a type of power, and perhaps power itself.

Nazi taste

The destruction in Mosul sought to “erase memory,” as Iraqi Haifa Zangana wrote in The Guardian. She sees the culprits here as “war criminals.” Culture is the first enemy targeted by those who wish to impose a single point of view, because at its best art is an expression of diversity. And diversity is sickening to dictators, however they dress or think or speak.

You can impose your power on culture through destruction — like ISIS or the Taliban, which bombed the Afghan Buddhas in 2001 — or through various forms of “appropriation.”

Some of the artworks the Nazis termed “degenerate” were destroyed in May 1933, but others entered the private collections of various Gauleiters and goons. One of them, Hermann Göring, was fond of paintings by Picasso, Matisse and Maurice Vlaminck, all deemed degenerate, of course. Yet he valued the status art bestowed, and that may well be one reason why he built a collection of 1,800 pieces.

Colombian drug traffickers also liked to collect art — even fake art — in the 1980s, thinking it would help them scale the social ladder.

The Soviet Union banned Expressionist painting after taking power, instead promoting Realism, seen as fit for the workers. It was an appropriation of art and creativity, of a part of the human mind. Appropriation and theft are two other ways of imposing yourself on culture, leaving a people without its cultural references, or scattering them abroad and “smashing” the national spirit in pieces.

The ideology behind the acts is of little importance. The blows have come from all sides: Left and Right, Christians and Muslims, conservative and liberal empires. Spain ransacked the gold of the Americas and knocked down native temples, monuments and idols. The Great Temple of Tenochtitlán and Moctezuma’s palaces provided bricks to build the first Christian cathedral of Mexico and residences for the Spanish conquerors.

In the 19th century, Great Britain destroyed a part of Benin’s heritage, while sending numerous artefacts to be auctioned or placed in its museums. Yet such actions, which in some cases turn out to be “rescues,” are also a form of historical creation or cultural construction. They have allowed us today to view artefacts and even entire segments of buildings that may have otherwise disappeared, like the Pergamon Altar in Berlin or Parthenon Frieze in the British Museum.

The Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei may well recognize the constructive value of such processes. Some of his interventions (like dropping an ancient vase) remind viewers of the relentless destruction of China’s heritage, for commercial reasons.

Culture is cyclical and mobile, and for some, intimidating. Hence their need to impose themselves through destruction, appropriation or banishment. That destructive act should perhaps also be considered a part of mankind’s cultural heritage.

From Juan David Torres Duarte (2015-03-08) essay posted in the oldest newspaper in Colombia, El Espectador. We are proud to carry it here. Read the full article: Destroying Art, The Perfect War Crime
Many thanks to 
Juan David Torres Duarte