Scoring 51 runs from 34 balls and taking two important wickets, Shahid Afridi (pictured above) led Pakistan into their second-consecutive Twenty20 World Cup final after a marvelous all-around performance against the favored South Africa team on Thursday, June 18th. Cricket commentators and analysts are calling this a “fairy tale” story for Pakistan, a country that has been facing immense adversity from the Taliban invasion, U.S. drone attacks, and negative media coverage. The stunning performance and incredible display of teamwork from the Pakistani cricket team has shone a positive light in the hearts of millions of Pakistanis worldwide, showing the world that there is more to their country than just politics and turmoil.
After the victory, former test captain Moin Khan told Reuters, “Cricket has always been a big binding force in our country and the team’s success in the World Cup has helped lift the spirits of the people. The last few months have been very hard for the people and many of us carry psychological scars of the innocent lives lost in these terrorist attacks. But for now we have something to celebrate and look forward to.”
Indeed, the last few months have been very difficult for Pakistan, and many Pakistanis who live outside of the country, like myself, feel heartbroken not only because of the Taliban invasion or the bombings in Lahore and Peshawar, but also because there are so many stereotypes and misconceptions about Pakistan and its people. It’s wonderful when people are able to share and celebrate their culture, but lately, it’s been difficult to speak about my culture without having to deal with questions about terrorism, the Taliban, or even Osama bin Laden. Being Muslim, the “Islam and terrorism” association is something I’ve been dealing with since 9/11, but now, since I feel more connected with Pakistan, the negative perceptions have worsened.
Unfortunately, most non-Pakistanis, especially in the west, have a very vague and limited understanding of what the country is actually going through. The general impression seems to be that Pakistan is unstable and that a war is brewing between radical militants (like the Taliban) and the Pakistani government. The Pakistani public, however, are left out of the picture. Rather than pointing out that the majority of Pakistanis are very anti-Taliban, most of mainstream media is filled with Islamophobic rhetoric and a lot of misinformation, especially regarding whether or not the Pakistani government has been cooperating militarily with the United States (the fact that Pakistan has lost more civilians and soldiers than the United States in fighting insurgents doesn’t ever seem to be mentioned by the mainstream media or even the Obama administration). Neglecting the voice that represents the majority of Pakistan is really irresponsible journalism and it’s one of the reasons why so many western stereotypes and misconceptions persist about Pakistanis.
The reason why the latest news about Pakistan’s cricket team is so significant is because cricket receives a lot of media attention in Europe, Africa, South Asia, and Australia, and the fact that Pakistan has reached the final during a time when its country is enduring so many struggles is remarkable alone. It not only breaks stereotypes, but also helps restore some dignity and respect to Pakistan’s tarnished image. It’s unfortunate that cricket hardly receives any media attention in the United States (since it doesn’t have a team), but perhaps a victory for Pakistan in the final would inspire (at least some) media coverage of it, considering that the Pakistani athletes have promised to donate their earnings to displaced people in the North West Frontier Province.
As many Pakistanis know, cricket is not just another sport. It’s almost like the country’s second religion. When I watched Pakistan defeat South Africa yesterday, I saw Pakistanis rejoicing in the crowd, young boys and girls with Pakistani flags painted on their cheeks and waving their green banners, people of all ages dancing and cheering into video cameras more jubilantly than I’ve probably ever seen them before — these are the images of Pakistanis that I am familiar with. Although most of the Pakistanis in the crowd were British citizens, I believe that all Pakistanis, no matter where in the world, knew exactly why they were cheering. It wasn’t just about cricket. It was about something more than that. It was about inspiring hope, answering to the critics who said Pakistan’s reputation was destroyed after the attacks on the Sri Lanka cricket team, and showing the world that Pakistan has a place in the world where the majority of its citizens want stability and peace in their country.
I don’t think I’ve ever been this emotional while watching a cricket game. Whether it’s Shahid Afridi’s gritty and competitive attitude on the pitch, or Pakistanis marching in the streets to reinstate the chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, or even large demonstrations against the Taliban, it all reveals that despite the problems that confront the country, the Pakistani people have heart and are not the “enemies” as western media often depicts them. It is something they deserve appreciation and respect for. May Allah keep Pakistan safe from both internal and external forces that only want to destroy it. Ameen.
Good luck on Sunday, Pakistan! In the meantime, enjoy the clip below from Pakistan’s recent victory over South Africa: