Growing menace of western culture in Pakistan

Hajira Parviaz

Anthropologists define culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and other capabilities acquired by people as members of society. Culture is the cornerstone of a civilized society. It evolves over time from the values and norms embraced by a society, that are formed because of the political and economical philosophy, social structure, religion, language and education influences to which the society is exposed.
The culture of Pakistan is very diverse; with each ethnic group deriving its identity from its characteristic cultural values and norms which eventually makes it distinct from others. This stems from the fact that what is now Pakistan has in the past been invaded by many different countries or factions of people, the British being the most prominent one.
Increasing globalization has increased the influence of western culture in Pakistan, specifically to the affluent, who have easy access to television and other forms of electronic media, western products and food. “Western civilization, unfortunately, does not link knowledge and morality but rather, it connects knowledge and power and makes them equivalent.” There is a noticeable increase in the number of famous western food chain outlets in Pakistan; so much so that the major cities have three and sometimes even four outlets from the same western chain. Many Pakistanis settled abroad in countries like US, UK and other Scandinavian nations, affect the culture and economy of Pakistan.
The ouster of the British from the subcontinent, in no way, meant that the customs introduced by them would fade away. British during their reign not only influenced the Indians politically, economically and socially; but also influenced their minds to such an extent that even the next generation has not been able to overcome that influence.
The colonization of mind still exists among the people of Pakistan and is one of the root causes of the identity crisis faced by the youth of Pakistan today. This process, which began about 60 years ago, coupled with other factors like globalization, technological advancement and disillusionment of the youth among many others is gaining momentum at an alarming rate.
The globalization taking place has both positive and negative sides to it. The positive side being, that the globalization is helping Pakistan interact more with the western countries and establishing relations that will be helpful for Pakistan’s economy. On the other hand, the negative side being that the globalization is lifting the cultural barriers that were there in the Pakistani culture and subsequently people moving away from the teachings of Islam. “…This polarization of society has been matched step-for-step by the polarization of religion within the country…” In light of this ongoing debate and in order to decipher whether the positive effects of globalization outweigh the negative ones or vice versa; we need to analyze in depth, all aspects from both the view points.
The most prominent rights that every human being possesses are the rights of speech and action. The excessive western influence has almost reaffirmed these basic human rights. “This could be due to an indirect method; whereby western ideas influence curriculum in schools and universities, or even through the direct method; whereby readily accessible media in western countries has encouraged the people of Pakistan to expect and ask for the same right.” “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius- and a lot of courage- to move in the opposite direction.”
Drastically, the rights for women came with the arrival of westernization in Pakistan. Arguably, women in Pakistan enjoy more autonomy as compared to any other Muslim country; be it political rights, social rights or even religious rights. This influence has not only allowed women to take active part in politics and international sports; but also resulted in elevating status of women when it comes to getting high profile jobs, thus helping them stand on equal footing with men. For instance, women are at high posts in many renowned banks and multinational companies as well as ministerial posts. This liberty has given the right to women to enjoy life as other women do in the western countries.
“It is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps the justice alive.” The judicial system in Pakistan, a few years back was just found to be a mere formality only for the sake of its name. Now the judicial system has started taking note of the difficulties of people and is thus effectively trying to resolve them with sincerity and in the shortest time possible. The, much debated, human rights issues which were previously being ignored are now being given importance which is clearly evident from the recent passing of human rights bill. I believe that judicial system is the back bone of a country. “Judicial judgment must take deep account of the day before yesterday in order that yesterday may not paralyze today.”
The flip side of the coin gives a more detailed and menacing picture. This increasing trend of westernization has taken hostage our local culture in numerous aspects. Joint family system, a trademark of Pakistani social culture is losing its value and seems to be vanishing from the scene. It is being replaced by a culture of individuality.
The youth of today believes in independence and individuality and as a result we have seen a rise in the psychological disorders, divorces and crime rates (suicides and rapes).
The traditional concept of home-cooked food in our culture is being replaced by fast food meals from renowned restaurants like KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonalds. The Pakistani dishes which were famous for their taste, hardly seem to find acceptance amongst the youth. As of today, we see cold drinks being used to such an extent that they are part of almost every meal, even in formal dinners. The introduction of energy drinks also has played a part in diminishing the use of our traditional drinks.
The increased exposure to internet, television, movies and video games has increased the occurrences of drug abuse, violence and related vices. This explains the higher prevalence of these traits amongst the majority of the population. The youth, being the majority of the population, is fast getting influenced as they are the most vulnerable to such influences.
By far, the greatest impact that the westernization has had on our culture, is on the language. Our mother tongue Urdu is being replaced by English as the more common language used in the conversations. The reason, being increased number of English medium schools in our society and the excessive emailing and messaging amongst the youth. Surprisingly the influence is to such an extent that some part of the youth feels ashamed of speaking Urdu. We have started using English as a tool to distinguish between the classes; high and low class. Presently, there is a peculiar phenomenon, whereby people who are proficient in speaking English are considered to be belonging to the elite class. Although Urdu is the official language of Pakistan but that is only on paper, and few years’ back English was also added in the list of official language of Pakistan.
The influences mentioned above are in no way the only areas where westernization has had an impact. Westernization has influenced every aspect of daily life, ranging from cuisine to the basic human right;. To the extent, that even the minute details of daily life have been affected by westernization.
There are both positive and negative effects of westernization on the culture of Pakistan. Westernization has not only created amongst the public but it was a step-forward towards modernization and modernization in no sense can be regarded as harmful. But on the other hand too much indulgence of youth towards western influences can be regarded as a negative impact on the society which eventually leads to the disruption of cultural values and customs.