“What’s inside the box?” the Pakistani customs officer at Karachi Airport asked the exhausted passenger who had just arrived from abroad.
“It contains dishes and glasses, nothing special” the passenger replied. “You can x-ray it but you can’t open it because you are going to mess it up and then I won’t be able to carry it home.”
“It won’t fit in the x-ray machine so we will have to bring a dog to sniff it,” the customs officer commented.
“You bring a dog or an elephant or do whatever you have to do to satisfy yourself that there is nothing illegal in there,” the passenger answered. “Just please don’t waste my time.”
“The thing is, the dog is in the other terminal,” the customs officer murmured. “And to bring it will cost 200 rupees…”
The irate passenger stopped the customs officer right there and told him that he was not going to pay him a bribe under any circumstances. He was left alone.
Now there are some who might say that this story never really happened, that it is one of many such stories invented by “the Jews”, or India, to discredit Pakistan – because, they argue, there is no corruption in Pakistan.
That is certainly a possibility.
Perhaps this Pakistani customs officer was secretly taken to Israel or India for one year and trained by their intelligence services to ask for 200 rupee (£1.50 or $2) bribes from 75-year old passengers as a means to spread “false” rumours that there was corruption in Pakistan?
Or maybe there is another explanation? Maybe there is corruption in Pakistan which is not the fault of Israel or India or anyone else, but the fault of Pakistanis themselves?
For me, the only problem with blaming the Jews, or Indians, for inventing this story is that the passenger in question happened to be my father. Such experiences are quite common for visitors to Pakistan.
Some people might get upset why I am criticising Pakistan, my country and the country of my parents. Pakistan is a great country but I believe that Pakistanis blaming all their problems on outsiders is holding Pakistan back from advancing in the world.
When I was in prison in the UK in 2010 I read in the newspaper that in the space of a few weeks, several foreign tourists were attacked by sharks in the Red Sea resorts along the Egyptian coast.
One German tourist was killed and four others were injured, some seriously. The shark attacks had begun to scare panicked tourists away from visiting Egypt.
“It’s the Jews,” was the common perception among local Egyptians.
Even the local governor said that the Israeli intelligence service Mossad might have “planted” the sharks along the coast to hit Egypt’s tourist industry. Perhaps Mossad officers were throwing raw meat into the sea near the Egyptian resorts to attract sharks?
By blaming others why they are behind in the world, third-world countries seek to absolve themselves of any responsibility before their people.
Now Israel is certainly responsible for crimes against Palestinians. There is no doubt about that. And those crimes are not “perceived injustices.” They are real. Real Palestinians are abused, tortured, shot and murdered by Israelis every day.
We, collectively, are responsible for allowing this to happen. Not anyone else.
So to blame every single problem in the Muslim world, big and small, on “the Jews”, is not only far-fetched, it is stopping the Muslim world from advancing.
We human beings are weak creatures. Whenever we mess up, we try to find someone to blame. It is always easier to blame someone or something else when we mess up instead of ourselves. That way we don’t have to accept responsibility that our own actions could have somehow contributed to what went wrong.
So, according to some people…
Immigrants are the reasons locals cannot find jobs.
The Government is the reason why ordinary people struggle to survive in life.
Women are responsible for getting raped and abused by men.
Muslims (all of them terrorists) are the reason why there is no peace in the world.
Americans are the reason why there is poverty everywhere.
India is behind every single problem in Pakistan.
And the Jews are responsible for everything else that is wrong with the world.
The other problem with blaming others for our problems is that if it is someone else’s fault, we don’t need to improve or change ourselves.
Sami Shah is a Pakistani Australian standup comedian who goes round reminding Australians why it is wrong to blame refugees for unemployment in Australia. He articulates the point very well:
“If a guy who has been on a boat for the last month, has lost half his family on the trip, can’t speak the language and spent two years in a detention centre can take your job from you, it might be time to update your Linked-In profile.”
During the three years I spent in American prisons I spoke to many African-American prisoners serving time for drugs offences.
“Drugs were introduced into black communities in the 1970s as part of a conspiracy by the US Government to stop black people from getting ahead,” was a frequent line that was said to me.
“Oh yeah?” I replied to one of them. “So what you are telling me is that it is not your fault that you are in prison for selling drugs, that someone held a gun to your head and said, ‘If you don’t sell drugs I am going to kill you,’?”
“Well, no, I don’t mean that,” he had to reply.
“What about all those black people in America who don’t sell drugs, who have come out of the same broken homes and housing estate projects as you, and gone on to establish legal businesses that have turned them into multi-millionaires?” I asked him.
I told him that in my opinion those elements of the African-American community that were still wallowing in their victimhood was preventing them from getting forward in America.
The boxer Muhammad Ali was also an African-American. The wrongs being done to blacks in America at that time did not stop him from becoming one of the most successful people in modern times.
“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out,” Muhammad Ali used to say. “It’s the pebble in your shoe.”
So next time we suffer a setback in life, or we find it difficult to climb the mountains of life that lie ahead of us, before seeking to blame others, let us first ask ourselves whether a pebble in our own shoes is the reason why we failed.
Others may sometimes put pebbles in our shoes. But it is only when we realise that we ourselves can remove those very pebbles that we will be able to conquer any mountain that lies ahead of us.
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