Ethnocentrism, Xenophobia, and Xenocentrism are not words that are a part of the everyday vernacular in Pakistan. Yet, Pakistani society, as it stands today, is struggling to find the balancing line between the three. All three concepts relate to attitudes and beliefs about cultural differences, of which we have plenty in Pakistan.

Ethnocentrism and Xenophobia go hand in hand. The former refers to the tendency to see one’s culture as superior to others, whereas the latter denotes a fear of other cultures taking over one’s own. An acute ethnocentric mindset can lead to a lack of understanding and empathy for other cultures and may result in strong prejudices and discriminatory behaviors. Likewise, xenophobic beliefs are also discriminatory towards other cultures because they fear being overtaken by a belief system and way of life that one does not consider their own.

While ethnocentrism and xenophobia are often intermingled, xenocentrism, in contrast, indicates a tendency to place more value on the practices and beliefs of other cultures over one’s own.

Xenocentrism can often lead to cultural assimilation and loss of traditionally held cultural values and practices.

All three interconnected attitudes can lead to negative outcomes, such as prejudice, discrimination, and cultural conflicts. What happens when a society is struggling to identify with all three at different moments and different levels? The chaos that would ensue in such a scenario aptly describes the Pakistani society of today.

We are a country of over 238 million individuals, and each soul is searching for space within the society. As a geographically vertical country, Pakistan’s cultural values and practices change every so often as one travels from north to south. The people from the KPK region have little in common, culture-wise, with those living in interior Sindh. A person from Punjab is not likely to relate to a person living in interior Balochistan.

The first level of ethnocentrism and xenophobia one experiences in Pakistan is within its borders. Individuals who are native to a specific region often place great importance on preserving their cultural values while also exhibiting a degree of hatred towards the cultural practices of others.

Another layer of ethnocentrism and xenophobia in Pakistan is apparent over the religious divide, with the minorities facing massive levels of hostility for practicing their religion. While Pakistan was formed primarily for the freedom of Muslims of the sub-continent, however, the historic Aug 11, 1947 speech by Quaid-Azam entitles religious minorities to go to their temples and places of worship without any restrictions or prejudice. However, the same has not always been practiced. Intolerance of others’ religious views is increasing daily, with more people displaying extreme xenophobic tendencies for perceived and sometimes imagined religious slights.

While all these are dividing factors along the ethnocentric-xenophobic lines, one issue, that can make even the most culturally diverse Pakistanis come together, is the danger associated with the assimilation of Western culture into our society, especially in the urban centers.

In the last decade, significant advancements in internet technology and globalization have led Pakistani society to embrace the Western world more openly. The urban centers in Pakistan are assimilating not only with the technological advancements but also with the Western way of life, which is fast-paced and less interpersonal. On the other hand, life in the less urban, more rural areas continues much slower with the traditional cultural values held close to heart. There is a clear discrepancy within Pakistani society as it moves forward in the world and the ways in which people are willing to accept changes in the name of modernity.

The conundrum facing Pakistan is thus: On one hand, a subset of the Pakistani population is fiercely proud of their culture and traditions, and they want to protect them at all costs, including violence if necessary.

Ethnocentric attitude is reflected in many aspects of Pakistani society, from how people dress to the food they eat and the clear hostility many showcase towards any apparent Western values on display within Pakistan.

At the same time, another subset of the Pakistani population is increasingly assimilating with the Western culture in terms of not only their foods, and clothes but also other cultural practices. Renaming of traditional Pakistani foods is one such example of xenocentrism. For example, a Pakistan daily shared a picture of ‘Jalebis,’ a traditional Pakistani dessert, on X, formerly Twitter. However, instead of writing its traditional name, they opted to call it a ‘funnel cake,’ which is a Western fried dessert vaguely similar to the traditional ‘Jalebi’. This is a clear example of Western cultural assimilation akin to xenocentrism.

However, by far the most dangerous xenocentric assimilation is the adoption of English as an everyday language by the self-proclaimed modern society of Pakistan. Urdu has almost completely vanished from the everyday vernacular of people in urban centers due to the ever-increasing number of English medium schools and the excessive use of email and messaging services. According to a survey, 45% of students in Pakistan cannot read a single sentence in Urdu and prefer conversing in English with their peers. Such xenocentric trends are not only alarming but also dangerous for the future of any society.

The influence of xenocentrism in Pakistan extends beyond language, affecting other aspects of daily life as well. As with speaking Urdu, the youth are also oftentimes reluctant to wear traditional Pakistani clothes in their day-to-day life, much preferring to wear Western clothing. The Pakistani clothing brands are following the xenocentric trend by calling traditional Pakistani clothes ‘Eastern Wear or Ethnic Wear.’

These xenocentric trends are driven partly by the forces of globalization, which has made it easier for people around the world to connect, and in part by the shunning of traditional values by the Westernized urban population of Pakistan.

Thus, Pakistan as a country, is struggling with the tensions that arise when a traditional society is rapidly exposed to the forces of modernity and globalization without allowing it the time needed to adjust. The divide between the ethnocentric/xenophobic traditionalists and the Westernized xenocentric modernists is creating a rift within the society with both forces trying to outdo the other.

The challenge for Pakistan, therefore, is to strike a balance between traditionalism and modernity. Pakistani society has to find a way to protect its cultural heritage, without resorting to ethnocentric violence, all the while embracing the forces of modernity and globalization while avoiding xenocentrism. This will require a willingness to be open to new ideas and embrace change, while also remaining grounded in traditional cultural values and practices. Striking this balance is easier said than done however, consistent effort to this end is a must to avoid an implosion from within.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email