Finding insight, inspiration and interconnection in Pakistan and the US
When I met Faisal Edhi last week, he said that my ancestors were the ones who built America. I didn’t have to tell him the stories my dad tells us of my grandparents picking cotton in Alabama in the 40s, Faisal Edhi immediately connected them to the working poor in Pakistan, the people that his father, the beloved Edhi sb, worked his entire life to liberate.
For some reason, I don’t think I had made this explicit connection before, but talking with Faisal Edhi, many similarities became quite clear: the oppression, the dependency of society (especially upper society) on the oppressed, the struggles for reform, and even similarities of the hereos that emerged.
The complexities of the oppression in Pakistan and the US
Faisal Edhi said that one of Edhi sb’s inspirations was the Pakistan poet Habib Jalib, who wrote about the oppressed, the injustices, the corruption. After meeting Faisal, I also picked up poems from the Black community’s beloved Langston Hughes, who paints pictures of the US which are disturbingly still very relevant today — nearly 100 years later — and which also have many overlaps with the complexities and contradictions of Pakistan:
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)…
O, let America be America again —
The land that never has been yet —
And yet must be — the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine — the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME —
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath —
America will be!
A revolution in Pakistan and the US
Talking with Faisal Edhi about Pakistan in context of US history also helped me better understand the complexities of a way forward: specifically, that nothing short of a revolution might course correct the deep seeded and institutionalized injustices. And also how profoundly misaligned this revolution is with the interests of the rich and political and even religious extremists. Again, Langston Hughes helps paint the picture:
Good morning, Revolution:
You are the best friend
I ever had.
We gonna pal around together from now on.
The boss got all his needs, certainly,
Owns a lotta houses,
Runs politics, bribes police
Pays off congress
And struts all over earth –
But me, I ain’t never had enough to eat.
Me, I ain’t never been warm in winter.
Me, I ain’t never known security –
All my life, been livin’ hand to mouth
Hand to mouth.
We’re buddies, see –
We can take everything:
Sign it with my one name: Worker
On that day when no one will be hungry, cold oppressed,
Anywhere in the world again.
That’s our job!
I been starvin’ too long
Let’s go, Revolution!
Sustaining the struggle through role models in Pakistan and the US
I used to think that Edhi sb was the most beloved person in Pakistan, a Sufi saint, a near prophet, a North Star. I still do. But as this poem suggests, a revolution is not a revolution without resistance, without opposition. And as Faisal Edhi told me, Edhi sb faced deep opposition (which Faisal Edhi is now facing).
When I asked him how does he manage — without getting overwhelmed or depressed or simply worn down — Faisal said he gets inspiration from people like Martin Luther King Jr. (another hero to Black America), and MLK’s re-dedication to the long and bitter but beautiful struggle to create a new world.
Faisal Edhi says that we have to remember that problems come immediately and in a harsh way (but reduce over time), while good things take time to come, but that they last a long time once they manifest.
And most importantly, he says that despite all the opposition, his father never lost hope. Just 10 days before he passed away, while he was still conscious, Edhi sb’s core beliefs and philosophies did not waver. When Faisal Edhi asked if he still believed in God, Edhi sb said yes. And when asked if he believed in the hereafter, Edhi sb said: Through our actions we are responsible to create heaven or hell here on earth.
Back in Lahore, I get overwhelmed with how much progress we still have to make, at Amal, in Pakistan, in the US, as a society, as a world. It seems like the odds and opposition are indeed swift and extremely harsh.
And yet, the hope and interconnection from Faisal Edhi also started to sink in: That the son of my role model in Pakistan gets inspiration from the father of so many sons/daughters in the US. And the reminder from both Edhi sb’s and MLK’s lives, that progress comes slowly — indeed, we are already in the middle of it — but that it can also last a long time once it manifests.