BY INDIRA PRAHST
DR. Muhammad Tariq, Pakistani Consul General in Vancouver, told The VOICE that Pakistan Day that falls on August 14 “is an opportunity to highlight positive aspects of Pakistan and to convey to the world that Pakistan is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.”
And the Pakistani Canadian community of the Lower Mainland has planned to celebrate it in a big way this Sunday (August 16) at Surrey’s Holland Park with a host of fun activities including musical performances where the star will be singer Shehzad Roy, who has performed with Guns N’ Roses and who as a social worker and humanitarian is considered to be an outstanding role model for youth.
Dr. Tariq in his interview with me spoke on a range of topics. I also spoke with Laila Rana of the Pakistani Youth Council, one of the organizers of the Pakistan Day Celebration, about the event.
Here is the interview with Dr. Tariq:
PRAHST: There is a lot of work being put into the Pakistan Day event. What are Pakistani Canadians celebrating?
DR. TARIQ: Although a young nation [Pakistan became independent on August 14, 1947], Pakistan is known to have one of the oldest civilizations. Here in Canada, Pakistanis and those of Pakistani origin are also very proud of their origin and their country. So part of the celebration of Independence Day is an opportunity to highlight positive aspects of Pakistan and to convey to the world that Pakistan is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The people are progressive and they should not be viewed from the prism of a handful of extremists. The Pakistan Day Celebration in Surrey will create a positive image not only for their own community, but for Canadians of different ethnic backgrounds, too.
Prahst: It seems that the Consulate General of Pakistan is playing a really active role this year. Is this new or ongoing?
DR. TARIQ: The Consulate General of Pakistan since its establishment in 2007 has been quite active. The first Consul General of Pakistan initiated this process to introduce Pakistan and to make it positive. … So far we have had three festivals and so this is the fourth one. It is an ongoing process and we continue to improve on the efforts made by the first Consul General.
Prahst: There has been quite a movement by youth, scholars and others to illuminate Pakistan’s beautiful art, nature and poetry.
DR. TARIQ: I think when you look at the cultural heritage of Pakistan, you have to think of great poets and writers. You might be aware of Abdur Rahman Baba, a Pashtun poet from Peshawar … all have conveyed peace and humanity to the world. If you just look at our rich and positive cultural heritage, it is very unfair to look at Pakistan from the perspective of the few people (negative media portrayals). We have a long tradition of peace, a long tradition of creating understanding between diverse people, and we are proud of that. One of the aims of this festival is to convey the positive aspects of Pakistan, and one way to bridge the differences is through celebrations.
Prahst: Do you have any future projects that will involve Pakistani culture and the community here?
DR. TARIQ: Definitely. … My personal endeavor would be to engage with scholars, artists and others to let people know about Pakistan’s cultural heritage. We are also thinking about having a competition of Pakistani art … to create awareness about art and artists from Pakistan. We also have some other activities on which we have to work.
The interview with Laila Rana:
Prahst: What has been your involvement in this event?
RANA: I have been involved since its inception (four years ago). I am involved in the volunteer sector, and every year we engage youth for the Pakistan Day event because it is such a large scale event. Some 50 volunteers help make this event a success and it is a big part of getting the youth involved.
Prahst: What about Pakistan identity and Pakistani youth in Canada? What are some of the trajectories?
RANA: There are two trajectories. I grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan. I was very involved in the community at a mosaic event there, even though (Pakistani Canadians were) such a small community there. I used to go to Pakistan every year. So, for me, Pakistani identity and expressing it and balancing it with the Canadian identity was always a part of my day-to-day life. The other trajectory is that there are a lot of youth who are shaken into the position of having to take a greater interest in their identity religiously and culturally. Also, to deal with racism, Islamophobia and other things that have come out of political situations internationally.
Prahst: Any challenges?
RANA: When I was an undergrad at Simon Fraser University, a lot of the people I grew up with also ended up taking Middle Eastern studies and international politics. I took a lot of courses also in religion … because people would often be asking ‘Why is this happening in Pakistan? What does it mean to be Pakistani? Why are you Muslim?’ So I feel that there is a lot of pressure on youth to come forward and be able to have answers which I do not think is fair for those youth. It is not fair to have to speak for a culture or a religion, but it is a situation youth are confronted with living in Canada now. With all the racism, discrimination and Islamophobia, a lot of youth have taken it upon themselves to counter misperceptions and obviously the Pakistan Day festival is a way to counter these myths and engage people in a different way in our culture and our faith and how we are as a community.
Prahst: What is a highlight about the event this year?
RANA: This event is a positive celebration with music, food and different kinds of entertainment. I am excited about Shehzad Roy being the main performer because he is a really positive role model for our youth. He is a famous singer who started singing in 1995 and his first album was in 2008. His album was quite famous being a social-political album. This was a way to get youth to start asking questions about issues in our country. He is a social worker and a humanitarian worker. He also has an organization that focuses on education in Pakistan, and has received two of the most prestigious awards in Pakistan for his work…..He also did relief work with Guns N’ Roses and Bryan Adams for the earthquake in Kashmir. So you can see why he is so respected and why he is a positive role model.
INDEED, there are many reasons why Pakistan Day will be celebrated with much pride and joy and on that note, I asked Dr. Tariq for his message to the community.
He said: “Pakistan Day is one we should be proud of and I encourage all Pakistanis to continue to contribute to Canada. Canada is such a beautiful country. It is like a rainbow – you have different colours and these colours reflect the different ethnicities and people of different origins who have been contributing to the development of Canada. On that note, I would like to wish everyone a Happy Independence Day.”