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Saturday, August 14, 2004

A Nation of Heroes

Today we have been blessed with the 58th Independence Day of Pakistan. In 1930, Allama Iqbal could exactly name the areas that 17 years later came to be collectively known as Pakistan. The great poet and visionary not only identified these areas well ahead of time, he knew that only a man as strong of his will as Muhammad Ali Jinnah could help to materialize this dream. Thus, Allama Iqbal was the person who convinced Jinnah to come back when the latter was disappointed with the pathetic condition of Muslims and had gone to England for good. In one of his letters to the Quaid, Iqbal stated:

I know you are a busy man but I do hope you won't mind my writing to you often, as you are the only Muslim in India today to whom the community has right to look up for safe guidance through the storm which is coming to North-West India, and perhaps to the whole of India.

Our first prime minister was assassinated and the incident has always been a mystery. The demise of the founder is also controversial. We aren't even sure whether the founder wanted it to be a secular or an Islamic state. Over the years we have fought amongst ourselves over hundreds of issues, most notably in relation with politics. However, our people have made extra-ordinary contributions to many disciplines of life, despite our political instability. We have made world records in fields as diverse as sports (cricket, hockey, snooker, squash, etc), human surgery and the art of war.

In the category of lesser known records, let me tell you that in 1965, Sq Ldr M. M. Alam shot down 5 enemy Hunter aircrafts in less than a minute which is a record even today. In the field of computer software, pick any book on computer viruses and it will mention that "Brain Virus" was the first wide-spread/ known PC virus written by two Pakistani brothers in 1986 - the duo put self-replicating code to practical (albeit destructive) use. It was also the first stealth virus.

There have been unsung heroes like Allama Mashriqi; there have been people so strong of their characters that the mind baffles; read, for example, Shahab Nama by Qudrut ullah Shahab. Amongst many others, we didn't give due respect to another national hero: Dr. Abdus Salam. He, being an Ahmedi, wasn't received well when he won the Nobel Prize. I am not very sure what exactly would have been my opinion of the person if I were in his era, but I am sure that I wouldn't have gone to this extent in pre-judice - in fact, nobody should. No good book on Theoretical Physics fails to mention Dr Abdus Salam's contribution.

But the reason behind this post is not only to discuss our heroes, but also lack of another very significant pillar - the institutions. The word institution shouldn't be restricted to educational context - everything from an NGO or a government office to something as simple as a coffee shop should be considered. Have we even wondered who has been teaching/ training these extra-ordinary people? In contrast with our heroes, there are only a few places like Pak Tea House and Govt. College Lahore that can nurture learning.

A classical example of this imbalance in institutions and individuals is the sport of Squash. With heroes like Roshan, Jahangir and Jansher, there is no place that guarantees or at least favors that the trend would continue. It's just those individuals whose efforts brought fame to the country. As soon as these heroes are gone, we stand where we were before them.

Though debatable and I don't have strong arguments in favor of this claim, I am inclined towards suggesting that Islam strives to improve the "median" rather than "extreme points." The real test of heroism is to make yourself redundant. I would close by urging the heroes of today to put in mechanisms that ensure successful operations even when they will no more be with us!

You're a shooting star amongst ordinary stars... A shooting star passes quickly, but, while it's here, it's the most beautiful thing you'll ever want to see
(from the movie, Jack)

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