Celebrating Unity in Diversity
“Unity in Diversity” is a vintage German political and cultural experience and to some extent it is Pakistan’s experience too , as shared by His Excellency Bernhard Schlagheck, the Ambassador of Germany to Pakistan. “Both Pakistan and Germany are federal republics. Pakistan is of course a multiethnic state, a fact which is not sufficiently realized in Europe. Yes, it is a Muslim state, but we all know how religion is practiced in different ways under the big tent of ‘ummah’. Germany on the other hand is a homogenous nation, however, with a very strong history of regional and sub-regional identities. This diversity though perhaps different in types and nature, make not only federal constitutions necessary- both in Pakistan and in Germany – but also cultural differentiation, federalism, even unity in diversity.”
'Unity in Diversity' is a vintage German political and cultural experience and to some extent it is Pakistan’s experience too
His Excellency was talking to a select group of scholars, authors, artists and dignitaries at an Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom(FNF Pakistan) event on 25 February 2021. FNF Pakistan organized this open air cultural night event at Lok Virsa, Islamabad, especially to celebrate the rich cultural and intellectual diversity of Pakistan.
“We are all social beings, we cannot lock ourselves at home all the time, we need to socialize. For our personal well-being we also need culture, we need the beautiful things that art and creativity can give us” as shared by Ms. Birgit Lamm, head of Country office FNF Pakistan, during the welcome speech.
How can one talk about diversity and explain the concept of Federalism using arts? FNF Pakistan in 2020 rose to the challenge when due to COVID a number of planned workshops were converted into digital panel discussion on zoom or facebook. “As you know you cannot sit in a web workshop for a whole day. Those of us who have tried it, looking at the tiny little box, 2 by 2 inches, know it is really hard and draining” Ms. Lamm shared the story behind the Book “Cultural Federalism: Embracing Unity in Diversity in Pakistan” by Jami Chandio and how and why it included a number of hand drawn sketches alongside five academic research papers.
“If you talk about diversity, it calls for art, it calls for visualization. It was then that we decided to invite the cartoonist Akhtar Shah or Shahtoon to be part of this online program. Our key note speakers had only 07 minutes to make their point during the panel discussions, and these were exactly the seven minutes that Shahtoon sb had to draw a cartoon on the main message.” Ms. Lamm shared with the audience.
Sharing his experience as the moderator of the “Unity in Diversity” web panel series , Touseeq Haider exclaimed “‘oh my gosh!’ , this speaker is doing great but it is so difficult to sketch in seven minutes a cartoon or illustration out of whatever he or she is saying. So when the camera would cut to the room where Shahtoon was sitting, most of the times, let me be very honest, I thought maybe he has a blank page, but he never disappointed!”
Forever humble, Shahtoon said “It was something I would pick up out of whatever everyone was saying and I did the best I could. I think our guests here should be able to tell whether I have done a good job or not.”
But it was not about the sketches alone, they sketches told a story. A story told by more than 20 panelists over a series of 5 episodes titled “Unity in Diversity”. The papers presented by Jami Chandio , a scholar and champion of Federalism had many examples all pointing to the same conclusion “Diversity can work in both ways, it can divide society , it can be a source of conflict if it is denied, it can work as dynamic of unity if it is honored , secured and celebrated.”
The highlight of the cultural night was the stellar performance by distinguished classic dancer and social activist Sheema Kermani. At the end of the performance Sheema Kermani highlighted the difficult situation faced by performing artists due to COVID-19. After a hiatus of almost two years since her last live performance in Islamabad , her words and classical kathak dance moves enchanted the audience. FNF Pakistan arranged this cultural night for a limited audience of one hundred in open air venue and strictly following all COVID-19 safety protocols and social distancing.
The original article was published in the April Edition of the Diplomatic Star, Pakistan`s Leading Diplomatic Affairs Magazine