THE BLOG

What Are the Cultural Lessons?

06/16/2014 05:29 pm ET | Updated Aug 15, 2014

About a year and a half back, a very brave little girl of my country was shot in the face by the Taliban. Her name was Malala Yousaf Zai. She paid the penalty for standing up against patriarchy and misogyny prevalent in my society.

Luckily she survived and lived to tell her tale. She came to the USA and the entire country fell in love with her, with Jon Stewart even wanting to adopt her.

Why did Americans hug a little girl from Pakistan who did not share their nationality? She was from Pakistan, and what sympathy could ordinary U.S. citizens have for her? The answer is simple: certain tragedies entail universal outcry and therefore move us irrespective of our nationalities. Her ordeal also brought into focus the problems of my own country in the spotlight. It was inevitable because although the pain emanating from her tragedy had a universal appeal but the tragedy itself had occurred in Pakistan. I saw Pakistan getting a negative international spotlight and Pakistanis erupted. But it was natural for the rest of the world to notice Pakistan and criticize it. And it was well-deserved criticism.

Little children inspire us and if tragedies occur to them, we are moved. I was in the U.S. when the Newton school massacre occurred and in spite of the fact that I was not from the USA, it moved me. Those were little children whose lives had been robbed away from them. It was impossible for me not be affected in spite of the fact that they were U.S. children and I was from Pakistan.

It moved me again when the father of a slain young man broke down in front of the camera after the recent California shootings and I decided to write a blog. I am not saying that what I wrote in the article was completely right. This issue is complex, debatable and there are so many shades of grey. It was just a perspective and that perspective is shared by a considerable number of people. The only difference was that this time it was being expressed by a foreign student.

The response is in front of me. I have been told to go back, to look into shortcomings of my own country and also called a dumb person. Some people have even found my email and sent me hate mail. Many of the people are angrier at the fact that a foreign student (and that too from Pakistan) has written about gun control rather than on the contents of the article. I sincerely apologize to all of you if I have hurt your feelings. That was not my intention to do so. But I would like to emphasize on certain things here.

First, I have written extensively on the problems of my own country so this allegation that I do not look into the mirror is not correct. With respect to Pakistan, I have written on the treatment of minorities, rape and a lot on extremism. In fact, even the article in question explicitly admitted Pakistan's shortcomings. I used Pakistan as an example only to make a point that despite so much violence, guns are not that easy to obtain. But it inadvertently gave this impression that I was trying to glorify my own country. I was not trying to do that at all.

Second, if a foreign student expresses his opinion, he is not forcing you to give up your guns! He does not even have the power to do that. When a president could not even bring changes in gun laws, despite being so powerful, how could an opinion piece from a foreign student? And the article did not attack second amendment. It merely advocated Obama's proposals.

But most importantly, what is the cultural lesson to be drawn from all this? This is a question which perhaps needs further deliberation. Is someone who is living in the U.S. -- but not a citizen -- entitled to express his opinion on divisive domestic issues out of humanitarian concerns or not? If I had written in favor of further relaxation of the existing gun laws, then would I have received a similar response? Would people ask me to leave the USA if I had aired a contrary opinion to the one I expressed in the article?

One of the greatest gifts of the U.S. Constitution is freedom of speech. It allows free speech but balances it with certain checks. You cannot use it for inciting violence. From a cultural point of view apart from violence, U.S. society detests speech which is racist and sexist.

But what are the cultural limits (here I am not talking about constitutional limits but on what is culturally acceptable) to that free speech if you are not from America, but residing there? If I am not being racist and I do not incite violence, are there still other "No Go Areas"?

This is a question worth pondering upon. And I am merely seeking your guidance.