Ok, enough with the cheesy “i-am-trying-to-be-so-funny” taglines.
Last summer I braced myself for an even hotter summer than the one I am currently being subjugated to here in Williamsburg. I went to Pakistan! So for a second…leave behind the images of bombings and terrorism. Leave behind the preconceived notions of injustice, intolerance, and ignorance and let me introduce you to a side of Pakistan that lies beneath the popular media images.
It started with a conversation between Dr. Tamara Sonn, one of the most influential, inspiring and genuine people in my life and me. One day, after her Intro to Islam class I followed her as usual to her office, trying to come up with some smart question to ask her just so that I would have another chance to hear her speak. It was then that I brought up my newly found fascination with civil liberties in Islamic nations. I have grown up knowing that Islam is not a religion of intolerance and violence; that it teaches its followers to live a life guided by social justice. Dr. Sonn’s class had only cemented this within me. I, therefore, found it extremely troublesome and confusing how so many Muslims lived under governments that suppressed their basic civil rights. In particular, I had been reading up on literature regarding sexual minorities in Pakistan. I brought this up with Dr. Sonn and she immediately became very excited about the idea and encouraged me to apply for a research grant from the William and Mary Charles Center to go and find out for myself.
So I wrote up my proposal, solidified some on-the-ground contacts and hopped on a plane to Lahore, Pakistan on May 25, 2009. I have been to Pakistan before on numerous occasions since my family migrated from Pakistan to the United States years back, but never had I visited Pakistan by myself or with a mission other than to just visit my extended family. As soon as I landed on the ground in Pakistan, I was hit by the realization that everything that I had read, everything that I had thought [prior to landing] no longer applied. What mattered now was my experience in these 3 months and the experiences I was dying to have.
My research was based on one-to-one interviews with politicians, religious leaders, scholars, activists, and most importantly homosexual Pakistanis themselves. I went in with the hopes of finding out a little bit more about the condition of homosexuals in Pakistan. What I got out of the experience, though, was a summer of unforgettable encounters and an understanding of Pakistan that I would not trade for the world.