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My Problem with Pakistan: From Sesame Street to Twitter


Dear Pakistan,

Can you stop being so f-ing dramatic?

Ack – what? That’s an inappropriate way to start a conversation? I apologize. I’m sorry. Allow me to (re)introduce myself – my name is Khan. Samia Khan. Digital Media personality. And half (some would argue “full”) Pakistani-American.

Why the harsh words, you ask? Um. Because I’m tired of all the headlines you’re making. You know that old adage that says “all press is good press?” Well. That’s for celebrities. It doesn’t apply to countries.

Yep. The headlines outta Pakistan make it seem like a terrible place (which it’s not. Just media makes it out that way.) There are bombings and explosions on a day-to-day basis – 19 just died in a bomb explosion on a bus on Friday (thank you Fox News for that one.) There are kidnappings and forced conversions/marriages of adolescent girls who aren’t Muslim. And relations with the US are at an all-time low – in fact, I just read something out of Kansas with the headline: “Pakistan a Friend? More like Fiend” (then again, I shouldn’t take that too personally. It is Kansas, after all.)

 I mean really, you’ve even managed to tarnish an institution as beloved as Sesame Street. Yes…SESAME STREET! (alleged corruption by a production company led to the US terminating it’s $20-million in funding of Pakistan’s Sesame Street, meaning there’s a chance that Elmo and his Pakistani puppet friends will no longer be teaching kids how to count their ek, do, teens and say their alif, be, pes.)

So aside from the production company behind Pakistan’s Sesame Street allegedly using the US-appropriated funds towards paying debts and hiring relatives at high salaries, pissing off the US, and in turn threatening the education of millions of young children in a nation with a rather high illiteracy rate, another issue from a few weeks back that still has me reeling is the Pakistani government’s temporary ban of…Twitter. TWITTER!

Yes, Pakistan, you blocked access to Twitter for around 10 hours. Your “reasoning?” Twitter not removing tweets that promoted a Facebook contest featuring drawings of Islam’s revered prophet Muhammad, something considered totally blasphemous (and honestly, isn’t any drawing a figment of one’s imagination since he lived 1400+ years ago? Real talk – I could draw a stick-figure and give him the common-Muslim name of ‘Muhammad’ and people would be in uproar.)

Anyway. This is where I need to interfere and call Pakistan on its BS. It’s controversy like this that contributes to the stigma attached to this developing nation. Let’s be real. A majority of the country is impoverished and doesn’t have access to the internet. The privileged, the educated, the ones more likely to be more open-minded and liberal, those are the ones you targeted with this Twitter ban (i.e. the ones that could threaten your power.)

You banned Twitter because you wanted to exercise control and censorship. This wasn’t a religious issue. If you were really concerned about how the Internet can corrupt one’s religion, take a look at an interesting fact: Internet studies have shown that Pakistan tops the list when it comes to countries searching for sex-related material. You want to talk about something that conflicts with religion, focus on getting your citizens less addicted to porn searches and more in touch with the true teachings of Islam (highly certain that God would be more upset with the porn watching than the tweet about the Muhammad drawings.)

What Twitter does is gives people without a traditional means of exposure, a voice to speak their thoughts, their truths and get their story out into the world (what’s that? Osama bin Laden hiding in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad? Don’t mind if I live-tweet that raid, Twitter!)

It’s a necessary tool for the future of communication, and any government that tries to ban it is a nation that’s heading in the wrong direction. If you want to be taken seriously as a nation, Pakistan, if you want to be considered an ally, don’t do things that fringe on basic human rights. You want to talk terrorists? Terrorism is taking away my right to tweet.

Phew. OK. Done with my rant. My mother might be mad at me for writing this, so I’ll end on a positive note. There is a lot of good in Pakistan. Parts of the country are beautiful (both in scenery and in people. Let’s be real, I’ve seen you Indian guys hollering at the Paki chicks.) Food is tasty (naan, kheer, chai in heavy rotation in the Karachi Khan household.) People are nice, family-oriented (so family-oriented that cousins-marrying-cousins is totally okay. Kidding! Sort of.)  Zayn Malik of the boy band One Direction is half-Pakistani (and half-gorgeous.) And as an American, the dollar goes far. So thank you, Pakistan, for allowing me to for once feel wealthy when I visit.


P.S. Please work on stopping the bombings and kidnappings and corruption, try to save Sesame Street, and leave social media alone.

P.P.S.  I highly recommend Suroosh Alvi’s new 42-minute documentary, The VICE Guide to Karachi, which details everything from corrupt police officers to the city’s heroine problem, in case you haven’t seen it.




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(10) Comments

  1. george says:

    pakistan sucks my problem is you suck you dumb bitch you call yourself pakistani whores like you dont represent pakistanis and should be banned visiting pakistan. how the fuck is pakistan no1 most watched porn in world. how is it possible, that a country of just 8-12 Million computer users has the largest porn watchers in the world? It does not make sense. certainly there are a lot more westerners and americans who would outnumber most countries of the world in porn, especially pakistan. countries like usa uk india australia germany netherlands slovakia spain russia romania

    1. Samia says:

      George -I’m sorry that you feel that way. I’m not trying to start a riot, simply spark dialogue. I really like Pakistan, I think it’s a great place, love the culture (more importantly the religion), but my problem is with all the negative attention the country gets. It’s very frustrating as a Pakistani living in America to constantly be bombarded with bad headlines.

      The reference to the Google study about “sex-related searches” can be found here.

      Once again, I wrote this just to voice my concern…mainly, Twitter shouldn’t be the focus of what’s wrong with the internet, when obviously there are worse things out there.

  2. Arshad says:

    I think it’s been about 10 to 15 years since I last went to Pakistan, even though my parents were from there. I’d be too scared to go there with all the stuff I see in the news. The sad state of affairs that Pakistan is in, is because of the people themselves not standing up to evil and injustice. Quran 13:11 “…Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. …” Bribery, corruption, alcohol parties, kidnappings, murder, etc have all led to this. We need to command what is right and forbid what is wrong, and not turn a blind eye to these things. Ramadan is about a month away, it’s a great time to start working on ourselves to be better Muslims.

    1. Samia says:

      Dear Arshad – you make very good and very valid points. I really enjoyed your quote from the Quran. Thank you for your insight. I hope I didn’t go too far in addressing my frustration, but it’s definitely saddening to see how things have become. Did you watch the “VICE Guide to Karachi” documentary? It was really well done, I recommend you take 42 minutes and watch online.

  3. Brian Mcfayden via Facebook says:

    “It is Kansas, after all. Unless you’re part of the OKC Thunder, Middle America is irrelevant to society.” that not only hurt my feelings, but crushed my Grandpa Bud’s feelings and he’s been dead for 20 plus years.

  4. laila says:

    1. Its paakistan not puhkistan. 2 mohammad is just not a name but it was given to our prophet p.b.u.h and should be given upmost respect. there may be a lot of people in the world with that name but making a drawing of him that you show others is unislamic. not only cause its a picture but a false representation of a very highly revered religious figure. its almost like giving God a figure thru making an idol… if you get where im coming from. The country was built on a basis of religion and therefore if they take a measure to conceal something, it isn’t that big of a deal, its TWITTER, cmon.
    Lastly, we are fortunate to be born in a very safe and stable environment. Even tho you are a proud American, America itself is one of the reasons the region is unstable. You cant antagonize an entire country for their state. The country that we live in today, is somewhat responsible for much of the reasons instability. They’ve take advantage of this state and many countries, by supporting their governmental officials financially in order for them to make decisions that will be in their favor in the long run and not the countries’ at stake. Therefore creating a circle of dependence and no change for the better.

    1. Samia says:

      I understand the importance of Muhammad (pbuh) – and I understand why images are forbidden. It’s because some people take revered people so seriously that they begin worshipping the person instead of God (which is unfortunate.) I was never arguing that images were okay or should be allowed.

      Anyway. This wasn’t supposed to be discussion about that. I was just upset that they were targeting Twitter as opposed to issues that are more pressing in the country (poverty, violence, drugs, etc.)

      You say the country was built on religion – that was indeed it’s intention back in ’47. Which is why it’s unfortunate when things that happen in the country don’t reflect it. It happens everywhere in the world, which is the sad part…not just Pakistan. I just notice the Pakistan headlines more because of my background.

      Haha, I wouldnt say I’m a “proud” American either. I think nationalism and pride are bs, whether American or Pakistani or any other country – it’s the allegiance to arbitrary lines that sadly causes rifts between people (ex: India/Pakistan).

      Anyway. I appreciate your insight and taking the time to share your thoughts. Everyone is definitely entitled to their opinion, and I’m glad that we could at least create dialogue. I’m sorry if I offended you in anyway, God knows that wasn’t my intention, I just had to vocalize my frustrations because it’s upsetting seeing the negative headlines in the news all the time.

  5. yo, don’t apologize for shit.. well articulated, samia. i don’t think she needed to touch on the fact that the existence of america and our subverted neo-colonialism is the reason why there is a such thing as a “developing nation.” everyone is emulating and appeasing the hegemonic forces that have a stranglehold on the world through its institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and the scope of our media influences. Pakistan, just like every other nation in a shitty situation most definitely is experiencing the ripples of America and other core nations economic policies and imperialism.. but i totally feel you in the fact that the media plays a large role in the formation of a representation of pakistan people mistake for the identity of pakistan.. identity is self determined as well as prescribed.. a dialectic between the two. the media representations of pakistan are reminscent of orientalism and western ‘othering.’ but anyway, good read.

  6. Samia,

    Here’s my take.

    Muslims don’t actually insist that non-Muslims refrain from drawing Muhammad (pbuh). Have you ever been to the Supreme Court building in DC? It has a giant frieze depicting Muhammad (pbuh). See:

    And yet Muslims don’t complain about that. In fact, several famous pieces of Islamic art well known in the Arab world depict Muhammad (pbuh). A simple depiction is not the issue.

    What is the issue is when people use depictions of Muhammad (pbuh) as a way of insulting Muslims. Stick figures don’t do that. Pictures of Muhammad (pbuh) as a terrorist do. That’s what triggered riots.

    But hey! By all means, put a stupid drawing on a website. That’ll change the world! Muslims who see it will just assume that person is an ignorant bigot who hates Muslims, but I’m sure they’ll feel better, and isn’t that what this is all about? Having an excuse for self-righteous moral preening? Feeling smug and superior without actually doing anything to improve the world?

    Just my two rupees.


    1. Samia says:

      Thx for your insight, Saad! As for my take – This isn’t a drawing the Prophet (pbuh) issue for me. It was more the issue of the Pakistani government choosing the wrong battles to fight.

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