Wednesday, 10 June 2009

“Identity is such a crucial affair that one shouldn't rush into it.”

Every experience one goes through moulds ones character. Every challenge reveals and moulds one's character. But what of identity? Is that also tied to one's character? There is one's national, religious, ethnic identity. And these are very potent. 

Since I embarked on this masters, I have grappled with both. I do not want to delve into all the personal trials and tribulations but let's say on the intellectual, academic and professional front, I have had to think again about my identity. The lectures, the readings and the interactions with one's fellow students has prompted me to bring forth my sense of identity as someone from a developing country, from a Muslim country, and from a country that is experiencing a lot of violence. These realities all merge and diverge. It has also made me think about my career and my motivations for working in development, with the UN. It has made me think about my experience in Africa and how much I have come to identify and relate to Africa, how personal Africa has become for me. 

The question that I have to think about as I go along is why do I want to continue to work for the UN given all its dysfunctions, flaws and serious short comings? How do I justify earning the kind of money that one earns in the UN? 

How does one achieve an objective view of things? If you've read my blog, you will know I have spent a great deal of time ranting about the lack of the Other view. How important is it, after all? Or, should I not spend more time in coming up with a coherent, original view of my own? 

Some of the observations on my rants so far have been that I seem to be making an 'Us versus Them' kind of dichotomy. Well, to be honest, I have been making this dichotomy for some time. I started to become aware of the general Westerner's attitude towards the Other in Liberia in professional and private spheres and, to be honest, it really took me by surprise and shocked me in the worst cases. Mind you, I have been brought up in a very international space all my life, have been schooled in American international schools in the capitals of the world, been to the UK for my undergrad, had an international UN career. Perhaps I was still very sheltered. It was only really recently where I was struck by this social, political, psychological construction of the Other by the Western world. And lo and behold, I was the Other. Moreover, I realised this while working in Development. 

Hence, I brought along some of this baggage with me to the masters and, continued to see it around me. 

There's a lot of things I have to muddle through and come up with temporary conclusions. For the time being, I am fine where I am. I think my motivations vis a vis my career are still sound - I would like to see how far I can go in the UN, make some kind of a valuable contribution as a Pakistani and as myself. At some point I do also have to decide how I can make more of a contribution to Pakistan itself by living and working there. As far as 'Us' and 'Them' is concerned, it still holds for me. We come from entirely different points of view as far as development is concerned. I don't have a self-righteous, saving the world sense of duty and not that all Westerners do but by the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn, it is embarassing how many do, so many of my older colleagues and so many kids. 

I do perfectly realise I am objectifying, stereotyping The Westerner. Why not?

In the end, I shall say that I have had to think about my identity, how strongly should I assert it, does it blur my vision, how important is it, can I divorce it from these academic adventures, and so on. I guess it is good to go back inwards and explore who one really is. 


  1. " .. why do i want to continue to work for the UN ..?" because the UN is the best thing the world has got right now to prevent it from crashing and burning.

    "how do i justify earning UN money?" ... simple. if u don't take the money, some one else will.

    u've been on both boats ... given that you are ethnically from a developing nation. and that you have lived in developed countries. you should not have a problem switching back and forth. that's your identity ... you are a nowherian. ;)

  2. the pic is very nice too. so smiley!