Nov 17, 2011 - religion    25 Comments

The capacity to love ‘the other’

I heard the word Xenophobia for the first time when I attended my International Relations 101 class. My high school existence was pretty idyllic where acing Calculus was my biggest challenge. I had no idea that there existed a world where anyone can fear or hate the other for being just that – ‘the other’ – someone who looked different, spoke a different language or believed in a different God.

We Pakistanis hate ‘the other’ with unmitigated gusto. The capacity to hate ‘the other’ is not exclusive to us; there will always be some people everywhere who are more bigoted and dislike ‘the other’. What makes our hatred of ‘the other’ unique is that it has a constitutional sanction in shape of the Blasphemy laws and Article 295 and we feed that hatred through curricula demonizing ‘the other’.  These laws and others have created an atmosphere of violence and vigilantism that not only shatters the very fabric of society; it makes the whole country insecure – for everyone – the persecutors, the persecuted and everyone in between, but more so for the religious minorities, women and those who raise voice against that vigilantism.
As a person who is interested in minority rights, I have been following up on all the terrible things that go on in the name of vigilantism but it was all kinda abstract for me before I met Bee through a mutual friend. Bee is a smart, educated young woman from a well off family who looked fairly satisfied with her life. When I started cribbing about my lack of decent employment (for me anything that pays me less than a gazillion rupees is pure unadulterated crap which basically means all the things I have ever done), she too mentioned that she would like to do something more dynamic and challenging but she cannot leave her job. When I asked why, she told me that being an Ahmadi, she is afraid that she will be judged and/or hounded for her faith. She feels safe in her current employment because it has a relatively liberal and multicultural environment – something which is generally lacking in Pakistan. As someone who has resigned from a well paid job in protest because a colleague refused to furnish a written apology for bad behavior or because I did not feel like waking up at the crack of the dawn, I was deeply saddened to know that one could be forced to stick with a dead end boring job because the alternative could be harassment or persecution.

I may sound like an idealist (Which I most certainly am NOT) but I strongly believe that the key to overcoming the hatred is to start being friends with at least one of ‘the others’. Once you get to know one ‘other’, chances are that you would not jump too quickly to judge and persecute the rest of ‘the others’.
I want to salute everyone who goes out of his/her way to include ‘the other’, to make friends with ‘the other’, to extend a helping hand to ‘the other’ and to fall in love with ‘the other’. They certainly make this world a better place. On a personal note, I mourned the deaths of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer this year and learned about the fear that Bee has to face every day, but I also learned that people can come together in most incredible ways. I cherished the unions of the friends who dared to love ‘the other’ – a Greek friend from college married an Arab, another English class mate married a Bangladeshi, a Pakistani friend married a German and another Pakistani American virtual friend married a half Japanese half American and is now expecting a baby who is ¼ Japanese, ¼ American and ½ Pakistani. Three of my friends opened their hearts and homes and adopted babies from other countries. Anyone who has ever adopted a child would know how lengthy and at times heart breakingly tedious the process of International adoption is, but they persisted and they persisted because they had the capacity to love ‘the other’.

For once in my life, I want to be an optimist and believe that if my beautiful, wonderful and amazingly awesome friends can overcome the fear of ‘the other’ and grow to love ‘the other’ as partners, lovers, friends and children, the rest of the world can follow suit.

Thanks to my most amazing parents and my fantastic friends who taught me about compassion and understanding, I too have learned how to appreciate, respect, cherish and love ‘the other’, irrespective of the differences, at times perhaps because of those very differences. Here is to the human capacity to love ‘the other’.

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  • wow…. nyc thoughts 🙂
    Keep writing
    Stay Blessed 🙂

  • The Reluctant Mind just achieved absolution with this post – it’s An Evolved Mind. This is pure common sense – it’s tragic that it’s so uncommon in the world that we struggle so much to survive in. Brilliant post. I wish more and more people read it around the globe. It should be made mandatory for the believers of marriage to marry an OTHER! The world needs more of it.

  • Tazeen Terrific. Well done, yaar. I confess I totally did not love ‘The Others’. But on this, I am agree. Bohut pride.

  • Thanks Tazeen, very necessary. Thanks for articulating this and for sharing your journey. Interestingly, I recently saw a film subtitled ‘Loving the other’ (Meherjaan, the Bangladeshi film banned after initial screenings). Highly controversial. Check it out. 🙂

  • Very well written Tazeen. There should be more such people in Pakistan who spread love.
    However i must confess that although it’s always very easy for me to make friend’s with ‘the others’, but i feel uneasiness when i have to talk to a ‘maulvi’.

  • I love this post. I’ve been talking about “loving the other” for a while now, and it’s always great to see affirmation of this! I was “the other” in Pakistan, and always remember the love those outside my community gave me. It is in part what helped develop my personal ethos. Cheers!

  • Trying to teach a nation created out of religious hate for others. Tolerance to others in society is zero.

    Very difficult unless you start from basic and stop teaching kids in school hate towards other religions.

  • Beautifully put!
    The general atmosphere of hate and insecurity would not be easy to exorcise. It requires persistence And tolerance on “Both” fronts. What I see is a bigotry laced social spectrum, from the far right to the far left. Decreases in the middle though!

  • Beutifully put!

    The general atmosphere of hate and bigotry would not be easy n “painless” to exorcise! Lets hope those of us who do take pains are really making waves!

    (I dunno if this is Blogger or something else but my comments don’t Ever make it the first time! poora comment gayab ho gya!! :@)

  • Beutifully put!

    The general atmosphere of hate and bigotry would not be easy n “painless” to exorcise! Lets hope those of us who do take pains are really making waves!

    (I dunno if this is Blogger or something else but my comments don’t Ever make it the first time! poora comment gayab ho gya!! :@)

  • Excellento… 🙂

    moonis bilal

  • I like your writing especially you mentioned about your friends who got marry to foreigners it reveals that there are some people who love unconditionally irrespective of caste,creed etc. here i would like to share about my friends who also belong to other religion and i guess am one of them who had capacity to love ‘others’

  • Parabéns pela coragem e ousadia que você tem. O mundo precisa de pessoas assim, com capacidade para amar e aceitar as diferenças “do outro”. Precisamos ter amor em nossos corações, independente de crenças, religiões, culturas, etc. Se semearmos o Amor e o perdão, estamos contribuindo com a mudança, não apenas do país em que vivemos, mas do mundo, no geral. Beijos !!

  • I second SuperTramp. I sense somewhat of a softening, a little bit of mellowness, roundness of the edges. I am not sure if you would feel it Tazeen because you are with yourself throughout the slow transition (that comes with age and experience), but as a fairly longer term reader, it made me feel like I am seeing a new side of you.

  • *1/4 Pakistani, 1/4 Japanese, 1/2 American.

  • whenever i see anyone talking or blogging stuff that i like, i instantly make an effort to communicate.

    I also want to adopt a baby! but im just 17 so i ll do that once i grow up 🙂 but i wonder why is this process such complicated? and even if it is, it is not encouraged much in a pakistani society! and i admire all the people who adopt children n raise them well.
    Visit my blog-i hope u like it! and im following u now! follow me back! please ! 😀

  • Bonjour Tazeen,

    Not everybody has the capacity to love the other. Fortunately, this is not necessary. What should be achieved is to tolerate the other and let him be as he is/she is. That’s generally sufficient and is anyway a way of life in a functioning democracy.

    There is however an important point to remember. It is not sufficient to be tolerant to the “other”. The “other” must be tolerant, too.


  • This needs to go viral. I so agree 🙂 Even if you can’t marry other because personally it would be difficult but at least acknowledging that the one on our side can only be similar and not the same would help.

  • ery well said, exactly my thoughts

  • Super tramp and empowermentengg,

    No mellowing here, I have always believe in it. Here is the proof.

  • Great post, but I think that perhaps xenophobia is inherent to pretty much all of mankind. I figure racism might be a part of our genetic make-up. There’ll always be something that binds a group of similar people together, and that same characteristic will make them fear and hate those who eschew, or perhaps never had, it. The human animal is a base, base creature. All we can do is wait for our alien overlords to arrive in their chariots of fire and steeds of brimstone. I, for one, intend to turn coat pretty darn quickly. 😀

  • This has got me thinking. 🙂

  • @ Tazeen. Your article is just based on one view point, the picture is big, stop focusing on mona lisa’s smile, she has a face too.

    Redesign your equation and take in to account other variables. Your off by a mile.

  • Hi,
    Nice writing on The capacity to love ‘the other’.

  • I am sorry I wasn’t clear in my earlier comment. When I said that I sensed a mellowing, I wasn’t referring to your stand we should love/marry/become friends with at least one of the “other.” Rather, I was thinking that in earlier posts, after describing an incident like your friend Bee’s, you would get more upset and angry with the world around you. Instead now you came up with a social engineering solution. That’s a new you, no? 🙂

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