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A Curious State

As regular readers know, I’m teaching a class at Bard this semester on “The Public Intellectual and the Internet.” The course is a combination of writing workshops and exploring the way in which changes in the media affect the way writers and thinkers connect with public. A lot of our reading in the first half of the semester has been from what I think of as the era of the proto-bloggers: the political and cultural writers in the sixty years after the death of Oliver Cromwell. The end of press licensing in England, improvements in the post, and the rise of a middle class that was educated and interested in events and ideas created a new world for writers, and people like Jonathan Swift, John Dryden, Alexander Pope and many others created a new world of public discourse.

Getting heard and respected was a challenge for any writer in that age of pamphlets, and this is a problem for young writers (and all writers) today. The internet makes it possible for all of us to address the general public, but how can any of us be heard?

In the 17th and 18th century, one way many writers gained a hearing was by casting their political and religious essays into heroic couplets: rhymed lines of iambic pentameter lines that adapted the strategies and the elegance of French alexandrian verse to English rhythms and style. Students were asked to write compositions in heroic couplets as a way of encouraging them to think about language in new and fresh ways, and while nobody gave Alexander Pope a run for the money, the students reported that trying to write in this way challenged them and helped them become more aware of their use of words and of the importance of word choice and of rhythm.

One of the students, Saim Saeed, is from Karachi, Pakistan and is studying politics and philosophy. Saim has agreed to let us publish his piece on VM; he’s a very promising student who is laying the foundation for a career in journalism at a time when journalism is not exactly the safest profession a young Pakistani could choose. It’s a chance for VM readers to hear firsthand what I have so often heard in that country and from Pakistanis around the world: concern about the state of affairs there, cynicism about many of the leaders, but a mix of hope and determination that shows that with all its problems the idea of Pakistan continues to evoke real love and commitment.

Saim’s poem is below. For those who want to follow him on Twitter, he can be found at @saimsaeed847.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has a curious trait
Not a state with an army, but an army with a state
It is a modern nation in an ancient land
With plenty of nukes, but alcohol, banned
It perpetually seems to teeter on the brink of destruction,
Yet, occasional displays of bravery and gumption
From ordinary citizens, you or me,
Divert a likely near-future calamity
It’s a funny state, with a toothless civilian government

A broken economy coupled with rampant inflation
There is a broad consensus on the country’s damnation.
Cruelly, the “Islamic” in its official description
Now has been decoupled from any moral conviction
Quite the opposite in fact, to us Pakistanis and to others
No longer do we citizens see ourselves as brothers
Only passengers, stuck on a sinking ship
Throwing each other overboard, the pundits quip
But there’s hope for this country just yet
Contrary to everything that’s being said.

There’s plenty to make you think otherwise
Terrorism and corruption, marauding American spies
Drone attacks in Waziristan
An insurgency in Balochistan
A war in the West, and a war in the East
No wonder the army considers its increased
Presence to be of utmost importance
Who else to give the Indians their comeuppance?
It is for this very purpose the army hired
The services of individuals who conspired
To ‘bleed India with a thousand cuts’
And so we gave a bunch of crazies and nuts
The freedom to rape and kill without fear
They caused a lot of heartache in Kashmir

But they set their cross hairs on something more intimate
They bit the hand that fed them, we must admit
Soon they were blowing up girls’ schools, barbershops and ski resorts
In Pakistani mountains, Pakistani cities, Pakistani ports
Our best (and only) weapon against India
Backfired like the intervention did in Libya

So the army’s been taking a lot of flak lately
Attacks have made the state look less stately
First Bin Laden, then came military bases
Thousands of personnel, but eighteen terrorists up in their faces
They killed people, and blew up a plane
Threatening the legitimacy of the military’s reign
At another base, another attack
Vulnerable, the military had to change tack
Not a moment too soon, the relieved Americans said,
Who since 9/11, had been banging their heads
On a wall, because we just weren’t doing enough
All those promises for years, nothing but a bluff
So the military’s getting its act together, but that’s not the end of the story
Rest assured, dear friends, things are far, far, from being hunky-dory
Political parties are at each other’s throats
Minorities are being herded up and slaughtered like goats.

There are new riders on the political merry-go-round
A Supreme Court and news media that do propound
A self-professed incorruptibility, philosophy profound

I suppose you could call it a democracy
The more idiots there are, the greater the idiocracy
But I find solace in a few facts
Whatever the odds, the abominable acts
If it can get worse, it can get better
The country’s filled with the entrepreneur, the go-getter
The charitable, the generous, the resilient, the benevolent, the brave
The ones that tell the truth and stick it to the knave
That still go to school, despite the inherent danger
They, I believe, continue to be the game changers.

There’s not much else to do, but to hope
To be resilient, persevere and to cope
It’s a curious thing, this state
Whatever else its faults, it is impervious to fate.

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