In a Pakistan beset by conflict, the arts see nascent revival
Pakistan's music, letters, and visual arts blossom in a nation reeling from floods, conflict, and uncertainty.
For folk musician Arieb Azhar, the ongoing conflict between religious extremism and the arts in Pakistan hit home when a bomb exploded during his performance at the famous World Performing Arts Festival in Lahore two years ago.Skip to next paragraph
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The explosion forced the organizers to order an evacuation, but not before the popular singer told the audience: "We will not let this dissuade us, ever," a warning to the religious vigilantes later blamed by police for planting small devices around the festival's amphitheater.
According to the austere interpretation of Islam by such religious extremists, instruments and public gatherings where men and women can mix are forbidden.
Fast-forward to 2010, and the arts seem to be undergoing something of a slow revival as a nation beset by flooding, terrorism, and instability looks for inspiration.
"Terrorism and violence is a form of communication," notes Mr. Azhar. "If someone shoots or slaps you, it's also communication. But music by its very nature goes against the concept of extremism of any form. Music is an outlet for someone to express what they want to say aesthetically; not to be violent, but to say it beautifully. It's the most sublime form of communication."
That peaceful form of communication is gaining recognition outside Pakistan's borders.
The venerable British literary magazine Granta devoted its autumn issue to a new crop of Pakistani writers, including former Air Force officer Mohammed Hanif, whose 2008 novel, "A Case of Exploding Mangoes," weaves a dark comedic narrative around the death of former dictator Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, and Mohsin Hamid's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," the fictional story of a disaffected Pakistani-American's journey toward extremism. That tale has invited comparisons to the life of Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber.
"I find the arts scene ... very exciting right now.… Instability does make for fertile artistic ground in Pakistan," says Mr. Hamid, an internationally bestselling author. "The arts are likely to show how diverse Pakistan is, and in that sense, they are likely to give a richer, more complicated view of what Pakistan is. Pakistan is 170 million different people."