Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Birthday, Baba ji!

In a recent news story (here and here), the Foreign Office of Pakistan celebrated the Father of the Nation Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s birthday on December 20th, for the first time in country’s history, instead of the actual December 25 which also happens to be a public holiday in the national calendar. According to reports, electronic invitations were sent out to foreign missions and the event was projected as a ‘Holiday Season Event’ to deflect public criticism.

Proponents of the event have argued that this was a pragmatic move to facilitate foreign diplomats in attending Jinnah’s birthday celebrations because they were often unavailable since his birthday and the Christmas day coincided, and so the change did not matter as it was not a date given by the Almighty Allah.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Dec 25, 1876 - Sep 11, 1948)
However, such reasoning is myopic thinking and a demented logic of appeasement. It implies that significant dates in a ‘national calendar’ have rather little or no significance and can be switched at whim. By the same token, would it be judicious to switch the Independence Day celebrations from August 14 to August 15 (next switch?) or to July 4, or the Pakistan Day celebrations from March 23 to January 26, or the Defence of Pakistan Day memorial from September 6 to November 11 (Veterans/Remembrance Day)? Logically, a question arises, why did Jinnah have to choose August 14 as the Independence Day in the first place, instead of going with the given August 15 under the Indian Independence Act of 1947? It was not just to allow Lord Mountbatten the comfort of attending two ceremonies on different days. So, a logical thinking required that if the government had wished to introduce Jinnah’s birthday as a ‘floating holiday,’ like Martin Luther King Day or Victoria Day, then such a change should have come through an Act of Parliament for a specific day of the week.

Note that symbolism and semiotics are one of the principal vehicles through which today’s nation-states build their ‘nations,’ cultivate a sense of ‘nationalism’ amongst people, and keep their nations alive – in essence through the interaction of symbols and semiotics with festivals, arts, etc – and then jealously safeguard these symbols and semiotics. A national calendar is as much an integral symbol of a ‘nation’ as its flag, anthem, languages, festivals, arts, etc.

Furthermore, in today’s Information Age, when peoples are deluged with information, misinformation and disinformation, when new and social media are used for purposes beyond communication, when dark recesses of the Internet at times provide fodder for a suffocated and misguided youth, and when phenomenal advances in technology eclipse geographical and societal frontiers, the nation-states that are unable to preserve, protect and promote their national symbols, national values and national culture would be unable to retain their national identities and national interests. Lord Macaulay (1800-59) was right when he predicted in 1835, “a people that lose their self-esteem and native culture will become a truly dominated nation.”

So, here’s to the Great Leader and to the 25th of December – Happy Birthday! Thank you for all your labour and for the country you fought for, though it’s an utter shame that so many ungrateful people here have no regard for your dream, for your motto and for your message!!

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