That the conservative and often skin-deep Economist published the story – “The world’s most dangerous place” – was not surprising. The publication sings an imperial tune, praises occupations and invasions in the name of free markets and democracy; and sells the commodification of the poor. And, above all, it can be shamelessly biased when it comes to countries such as Pakistan.
However, what truly surprised me was a letter to the editor that appeared a few weeks later. By chance I read it and was amazed by its sheer empathy and directness. The writer was one Dr. Shreekant Gupta, a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in Singapore.
SIR — The title of your leader on Pakistan (“The world’s most dangerous place”, January 5th) confirms the old adage in journalism: when it bleeds it leads. Yes, Pakistan is going through trying times, but it is far from being the world’s most dangerous country. Having just returned from Pakistan, which I traversed without let or hindrance with my Indian passport and Hindu name, I can say emphatically that its people are warm and friendly and passionate about democracy and the forthcoming elections.
Parts of my own country (and Nepal and Sri Lanka) are racked by Maoist guerrilla warfare and violent separatist movements. I do not recall you designating India as the world’s most dangerous place when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated during electioneering, or Indira Gandhi for that matter. The latter’s killing was followed by a brutal and murderous pogrom against Sikhs and Delhi burned for days. The truth always contains shades of grey.
I made a note of it but never remembered to follow up. And, what a delight it was when I found out that Dr Gupta had visited Jahane Rumi and left a comment. We corresponded and developed the cyber-friendship that now constitutes regular communication and exchange of ideas, stories and anecdotes.
It is such a pleasure to have met Dr Gupta through the cyberspace and with little effort. My email to him, after he sent the above letter, stated: “What a small world … I had read your letter in the Economist. And, wanted to write to you how impressed I was not just as a Pakistani but as a South Asian. That was a proud challenge to the Western media and a testament to your intellectual honesty… strange are the ways of this world… My stars are well-aligned these days!!”
Dr Gupta has sent the full text of the letter (reproduced below) that he had mailed to the Economist. For a change, the cynical, vulnerable to the soft brainwashing of the international media, should read it. This is what a genuine scholarly mindset is: an application of logic, reason and knowledge without pre-conceived notions and personal biases.
In Dr Gupta, I have found a friend but more importantly my country has another well wisher in the neighbourhood.
By Shreekant Gupta,
The perils of generalizing
SIR — The sensational title of your leader (“The world’s most dangerous place”, January 3rd) confirms the old adage in journalism “when it bleeds it leads”. While this may make for good copy, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, the articles on Pakistan inside the newspaper are measured and offer a reasoned and nuanced view. Why then the need to caption the situation so starkly tabloid style, and to generalize thus about a vibrant country of 160 million? Yes, Pakistan is going through trying times but so are many other countries, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan to name a few. What then qualifies Pakistan to be vilified as the most dangerous place in the world? Having just returned from there after three weeks and having traversed the country without let or hindrance (I have a Hindu name and carry an Indian passport) I can say emphatically the people of Pakistan are warm and friendly and passionate about democracy and the forthcoming elections. The institutions of civil society, lawyers, judiciary, press and human rights groups have and will acquit themselves honorably, facts that you do not mention. Pakistan has been unlucky to have been thrust into the role of a frontline state by Western powers for decades and its hapless people are paying the price for that but heroically, and with stoicism and hope.
Parts of my own country (and Sri Lanka and Nepal) are wracked by violent separatist movements and Maoist guerilla warfare. I do not recall your newspaper dubbing India as the world’s most dangerous place when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated during electioneering or Indira Gandhi for that matter. The latter’s killing was followed by a brutal and murderous pogrom against Sikhs and the capital city Delhi burnt for days. Thousands of Muslims were slaughtered in “progressive” Gujarat, the rioters aided and abetted by state machinery. In neither instance were the perpetrators ever brought to justice. The truth always has shades of gray and I would have hoped for a more restrained title from a reputed newspaper in describing our beleaguered neighbor.