For her first documentary, The Muslims I Know, Mara Ahmed asked a simple question amid the confusion and fear of post-9/11 life: Where are the moderate Muslims? Her exploration helped to dispel misconceptions about Islam. In 2009, Ahmed traveled to her native Pakistan to shoot a film about the 1947 partition of India. But she was so fascinated with media culture in Lahore – the capital city of Punjab province – that an additional project, Pakistan One on One, became her second film instead.
“I was in Pakistan for five days only. Considering it takes about 16 hours to travel to Pakistan from New York, that is an insane schedule. Since I was shooting interviews for another film, I shot Pakistan One on One in my spare time.”
“What better way to explore the lively political scene in Pakistan than to ask Pakistanis to comment on issues that Americans are interested in? This seemed like a perfect way to introduce Pakistanis to Americans – not the empty, government-to-government bureaucratic spiel we’re used to, but intimate conversations with average Pakistanis. I found that Pakistanis, at least those living in Lahore, are much better informed than most people in the world. Everyone has a political opinion and everyone is willing to articulate it.”
“I grabbed anyone I could get a hold of in the limited time I had. There was no time to plan scientifically. My mom went around with me, as she is more attuned to the culture. (I’ve been living in the U.S. for almost 19 years now.)”
“I was amazed by the lack of anger: I’m sure if we had shot in the northern areas – where people are under constant threat of being destroyed by drone attacks or Army operations – reactions to the ‘war on terror’ would have been much more intense. Still, I felt that Pakistanis would be outraged by American foreign policy. What I found was that people are still willing to work with the American government as long as the U.S. understands Pakistan’s concerns.”
“One misconception the film clears up is related to the level of intelligence of the Pakistani public and their rationality. The conversations we hear in the documentary contrast sharply with images/sound bites presented in American media: people burning flags and committing random violence, chaotic mobs rather than individuals who can articulate their ideas, generic hate rather than well-founded arguments and concerns. The film also talks about the history of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship – which started long before the war on terror – in all its complexity. This relationship helped foment much of the ugliness we see today, whether it be war, occupation, poverty, extremism or widespread suffering. It is not a one-sided narrative with a good guy and a bad guy. It’s much more incestuous than that.”
“Pakistan is being looked at solely through the prism of the post-9/11 war on terror. Yet Pakistan came into being long before that, in 1947, and prior to that it was a part of India. The people of Pakistan have a long and rich history that goes back way beyond the lifetime of what we call the West today. It’s a complex part of the world -a country that’s hard to understand on account of the striking diversity and multitude of subcultures that represent Pakistan.”
“In its own small way, my film, Pakistan One on One, tries to highlight some of that complexity and dynamism.”
Ahmed will lead a presentation about her work-in-progress film on the partition of India at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, at the Little Theatre. She’ll show clips from the film (now in post-production) and take part in a panel discussion with Victoria Farmer of SUNY Geneseo, Neeta Bhasin of Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Dr. Aitezaz Ahmed. The 1947 partitioning, as the British left India, created two states: Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India. The arbitrary borders led to large-scale violence, but Ahmed’s film looks back at a pre-partition era to explore how people once lived side by side but managed to get along.