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Talk to your children about tolerance
and spread this message to Pakistan

In the last two decades, the level of intolerance in Pakistan has reached dangerously high levels. Horrific news reports of Pakistanis killing each other on the basis of language or culture have surfaced, poisoning the atmosphere of tolerance in which Pakistan's myriad ethnic groups once lived together in.

As intolerance increases abroad, you can develop a tolerance program based on American ideas and implement it in your own family. Then you can "Pakistanize" it and work to implement it in Pakistan.

This may sound like a very abstract idea but it isn't. There are hundreds, if not thousands of programs across the United States that aim to teach school going children the need for being tolerant of all races and cultures. Employers in the US spent time and money implementing "cultural sensitivity training" to avoid practices like racism, prejudice and discrimination in the workplace. And there are formal organizations that individuals can complain to if they are victims of intolerance. Finally, virtually every major business in America has a complaints department where issues of intolerance can be dealt with.

So despite its history of racism (not to mention present problems with this issue), the US has and is taking steps to address intolerance. It offers a useful model for us to follow in eliminating intolerance within the Pakistani-American community as well as in Pakistan itself. Here's how you can start working on ridding the atmosphere of intolerance found amongst Pakistani-Americans and in Pakistan.

1. Observe your own behavior

Do you regularly stereotype other ethnic groups? Do you make "ethnic jokes" about all of Pakistan's ethnic groups, except your own? Do you generalize about an entire group of people based on one negative experience with an individual from that culture?

Any fundamental change starts from within. We can't be fighting intolerance if our own behavior shows otherwise. Become conscious of when you are making an ethnic joke, stereotyping or generalizing. Remind yourself when you engage in any of these behaviors that hurtful ethnic jokes are wrong, Tell yourself that all Pathans or Punjabis or Biharis or whoever are not all "like that". Remind yourself that the Memon guy who ripped you off at the carpet store is not an indication that all Memons are cheaters, etc.

As you take steps to rid yourself of your own behavior, it will become easier to identify and deal with the intolerance you find in your family, social circle, amongst relatives back home, etc.

2. Expand your social circle outside of "your own kind"

Are all of your friends Bihari, Pathan, Hyderabadi or Punjabi? When was the last time you invited someone from a different ethnicity over?

When you expand your social circle to include Pakistanis of all ethnic backgrounds, you not only broaden your own horizons and develop a warm relationship with others. You also teach your children to do the same. They will, after all, interact with the children of those you invite over, so they learn that it's "okay" to have friends who aren't of the same ethnic group.

3. Stand up to intolerance in your social circle

It's not uncommon for people to mock or ridicule another ethnic group in its absence at a party or get together. Although many people may feel uncomfortable about this, they often don't feel courageous enough to stop the person making the remark.

Next time you encounter an intolerant remark or joke in your social circle, swallow your fear and say something to indicate your disapproval. You don't have to lecture. You can simply not laugh when the offensive joke is told and the expression of disappointment on your face can do the job. Or if you feel more courageous, you could say something like, "I don't think it's fair to be making fun of other ethnic groups."

This will have two results: the person making the joke will feel embarrassed, maybe even angry, but at least he or she will not make ethnic jokes in front of you next time. Also, if your kids are present when this happens, they will have a positive example of standing up to intolerance and may be encouraged to do the same.

4. Look for opportunities to discuss intolerance with your kids

Don't wait until your son or daughter pops a question about intolerant behavior. Look for ways to discuss the issue even if they don't ask.

For example, you may be watching a television show together in which the theme of racism is brought up. Use this opportunity to open up a discussion about intolerance, why it's wrong and what it feels like to be the victim of intolerance.

5. Explain that intolerance is not something Muslims do

Discuss with your children how the Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him) vehemently opposed racism of any sort.

He was particularly concerned about Arab racism against non-Arabs which was common in his time. In addition, he emphasized through his teachings and practice, that what makes one person better than another is the consciousness of God, not skin color, culture or language. Also, share examples of how the Prophet interacted with his non-Arab companions, especially Bilal the African and Salman the Persian.

6. Explain that differences are not bad

It is very natural to seek what is familiar to us. That's why many people just "stick to their own kind", thus limiting themselves in their lives. It's important to remind children from the time they are very young and onwards that being different is not bad.

Tell your children that differences in language and colors are an example of God's creative power. They are not a reason to hate another person, to make fun of them or to intolerant of them.

7. Read stories and encourage learning about different cultures

Find a book that talks about Baluchistan and its geography, people and culture. Even if the book is in Urdu, you can use this as an opportunity to teach tolerance while developing your child's Urdu skills. Also, bookmark websites that share the beauty of Pakistan's cultures.

Also, when your child is a little older have him or her prepare their own presentation for the family about a specific ethnic group of Pakistan. This way, they're learning, while teaching others.

8. Gently reprimand and express your disapproval when you encounter intolerant behavior from your kids

While emphasizing the positive, it's important to be on the lookout for the negative and put it in its place. There may be times when your child may make an intolerant remark, after having learned it in the school playground from other kids, for instance. In this situation, sit your child down and explain the gravity of what they are saying and that it is wrong.

If the behavior is repeated, consider taking away some privilege or other form of discipline to get the message across that intolerant behavior will not be tolerated in this family or this home.

Now the part about "Pakistanizing" your tolerance program

Remember when adapting your tolerance program to Pakistan that people's prejudices run deep so you cannot expect rapid change. You can however, work with the young generation to stop the hatred. Young people are usually more open-minded and it will be easier to discuss tolerance with them than someone from the older generation who has no desire to let go of deep seated prejudices.

Here's how you can present your tolerance program to Pakistanis:

1. Emphasize the religious aspect.

Most Pakistanis do have prejudices of some sort, as do other groups. However, Islam elicits a certain respect and when a person says: "Allah says in the Quran…" or "The Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him) said…", most people will listen.

Use this to your advantage. As you earlier pointed out to your children, discuss how the Prophet vehemently opposed racism of any sort. He was particularly concerned about Arab racism against non-Arabs which was common in his time. In addition, he emphasized through his teachings and practice, that what makes one person better than another is the consciousness of God, not skin color, culture or language. Also, share examples of how the Prophet interacted with his non-Arab companions, especially Bilal the African and Salman the Persian.

2. Catch generalizations when they happen

If a relative has a negative experience with someone and begins insulting the person's ethnic group, wait until they cool off to point out the error of their ways. Also, if children were present there, gently explain that in anger, we say things that we don't mean and that are not always true.

3. Carefully criticize intolerant behavior

You have to be very careful with this, especially if the intolerant remark or joke is coming from someone older. You can perhaps simply express displeasure with your facial expression and not laugh at the joke.

In addition, you can counter the negative with the positive. If someone in your family makes fun of a particular ethnic group, tell the story of a positive experience you or a friend had with someone from that same group.

4. Show pictures of your family with other Pakistanis

Make a point of sharing the family photo album and using it as an opportunity to teach tolerance. Make a point of pointing out "this is a good friend of mine, she's Punjabi. She is a very generous person. She helped me out when I was having a hard time making ends meet"; "That's our really cool neighbor Arshad, who's from Peshawar. He was a great help when we were moving", etc.

Your behavior may raise some eyebrows, especially if putting down a specific ethnic group is common. But don't let that stop you.

5. Tell stories where the heroes are from much maligned ethnic groups

Telling stories is an art in virtually all cultures, including the Pakistani one. Tell stories to your nieces, nephews and younger relatives in Pakistan about heroic acts done by individuals of specific ethnic groups.

For instance, it is very common in Pakistan to consider Pathans of low intelligence. Tell your young relatives the story of a Pathan hero who, using his faith in God, intelligence and strength, helps save the Muslims of Pakistan from an attack by a foreign enemy.

By regularly telling positive stories about individuals from much maligned ethnic groups, you create a crack in an intolerant mentality.

6. Be on the lookout for intolerance in the Pakistani media

Pakistan's television shows, newspapers and magazines may have a role in fanning the flames of intolerance. Be on the lookout for this and write letters of complaint. Better yet, encourage the students of your Pakistani tolerance program to launch a letter writing campaign among family and friends.

7. Gently remind people when they slip up

It's almost inevitable that intolerant words and jokes will resurface, especially if a person has been intolerant for a long time. In this case, gently remind the person in private what they were taught in the tolerance program.

Date/Time Last Modified: 6/17/2002 3:49:05 PM

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