Present day Pakistani generation is faced with a unique challenge. In order to follow the cherished ideal of peaceful and tolerant coexistence, it first has to set its own standards. This dual role of being simultaneously the trend setter and its adherent is unparalleled. In normal scheme of things, it is always the older generation which acts as the role model and lays down the rules of the game for the younger lot to follow whose main responsibility then is to preserve, practice and pass on this socio-ethical paradigm to the future generation.

Over a period of time, the capacity of the older generation to practice and pass on the twin principles of peace and tolerance has drastically diluted if not depleted altogether. These universal values are the building blocks of any civilization. With their disappearance from the social scene, our youth find themselves abandoned  on fast slipping sand rather than solid bedrock of tradition. Survival in this rapidly emerging pluralistic world order demands revival of peace and tolerance not so much due to any moral consideration as out of practical insight and worldly wisdom.  It is not merely the right approach but also the smart approach to take on the world.  With the erosion of tolerance from amongst us, peace has been the first casualty. Resultantly, Pakistan has become the breeding ground of extremism, terrorism and violence.

By arranging an essay writing competition, Centre for Civic Education Pakistan has provided youngsters a platform to explore the way forward. Their spontaneous ideas if put into practice have the potential to lead us towards that narrow streak of light still visible at the end of the tunnel. It is heartening to know that the younger lot has accepted the challenge. Creative ideas have started pouring in through mail and   e -mail reassuring us that today’s youth is very much alive to the situation , and is ready to apply its mind to devise an exit strategy. Another positive indication is that our participants, instead of talking in terms of pessimism and despair, have engaged us in discourse of optimism and hope. Moreover, response has been received from a cross section of students of diverse academic, economic and geographical backgrounds. Last but not least, students of both the gender have participated. We proudly claim that the selection of essays being presented to you is truly representative of Pakistani students.

Before I invite you to join us in reading these essays I would hurriedly preface a few issues. First and foremost is education, which has been mentioned by many of our participants. My intention here is just to remind you of the long forgotten concept of comprehensive education that touches our minds, bodies and souls alike. This view was once advocated by Greek masters like Plato and Aristotle, who considered education much more than 3R’s. For them education was a means to develop a harmonious personality through exposure to mathematics, music, morals, gymnastics, philosophy, drama and other allied disciplines. Here I must flag the role of liberal arts and humanities in liberating the individual from narrow prejudices and fixed ideas. In this scientific age, one must not forget that scientific outlook is far more significant than scientific knowledge. In this era of information surfeit, one must keep oneself reminding that data attains sanctity only when it is free from the biases of the data collector. Scientific outlook is possible only if we learn to perpetually question our assumptions. Skepticism is, ironically, the beginning of knowledge. Tolerance to listen to other’s point of view, courage to accept one’s mistakes, spirit of enquiry and research, stamina for sheer hard work, pursuit of excellence and keeping imagination alive are a few qualities youth must keep dear to their hearts. One of the participants has rightly pointed out that we learn many worthwhile things through family values, and that small things make big differences in life. Some essayists have highlighted the need to look for local solutions, go back to our communities and develop a participative perspective, search for best practices around us and try to replicate them. Others have analyzed the concept of tolerance in terms of society’s tendency to reduce ‘other’ to the status of scapegoat in order to externalize blame and escape responsibility. This existentialist analysis has been supplemented by the advice to nurture mutual differences in a positive way so as to discover ‘unity in diversity’. The role of dialogue and discussion can never be overestimated. When we listen to a different view, we are confronted with an anti-thesis to our own thesis. As the argument builds up, the tension of these two opposites resolves into a synthesis. With progress in this dialectic triad, we unearth new realities which would not have been possible through a monologue. Some of our young thinkers have rightly traced the lost threads of tolerance back to our religious and historical roots. This reminds me of a Grand Mufti of Al Azhar University, who on his visit to Paris is said to have exclaimed, ‘I see no Muslim in Paris and no Islam in Cairo’. This remark only reinforces our belief that without practicing the universal values of peace and tolerance enshrined in Islam we cannot claim to be called Muslims. With this I would like to juxtapose the sole role of youth as envisaged by the founding father of the nation: education. Equipped with the right kind of education, youth have the full potential to thwart the onslaught of extremist tendencies in this region. They just need to remember: Phoenix rises from its ashes!

Ambreen Raza