Recently one of my daughters sang a song with lots of other little girls at Parent’s Day to celebrate Women’s Day. It was very sweet—they dressed up, they made a big group, remembered the words as they warbled along with the music teacher. The only trouble was the song: a popular enough little tarana about how the izzat of our nation was in the hands of its mothers, sisters and daughters. It was meant to be a semi-surprise, and the school was very nice about explaining how they meant it to be a reaffirmation of how integral women are to all aspects of life, but my heart sank into my shoes. Dismayed, I had a little chat with my daughter later and tried to explain how izzat had nothing to do with mothers, sisters and daughters. How a country’s izzat should be based upon how well it takes care of its citizens, how many schools there are, how many hospitals there are for sick people and how well the police works to keep everyone safe. How izzat has nothing to do with how good a mother I am, or how dutiful a daughter she is, but everything to do with all of us, trying to be good citizens every single day, wherever we are. Yes, I mean the people who queue politely and say thank you to waiters when they are on holiday abroad but act like complete yahoos once they hit the immigration desk at the airport. They are the people who park their cars right behind yours outside school, ignoring the guard trying to stop them and then dawdle, talking on their phone, while you fume and wait for their royal highness to move their car so you can take your hungry, tired children home. I’d like to see how that father would zip right out of the drop lane at any school in America lest the white person behind him have to wait for an extra second for their turn. Instead of saving our inconsiderate impulses for passive-aggressive post-colonial revenge while on holiday, we insist on being Homer Simpson at home and Prince William when abroad. But we do like to sing about how nice it is that our mummies, sisters and daughters are the real keepers of our national pride.

The rhetoric we use to define our patriotism is one we should all be very aware—and wary—of. The ongoing debate surrounding the aftermath of the attack on Hamid Mir has got me thinking again about how we frame our nationalistic narratives. Several parents I polled post tarana-gate didn’t think the choice of song was problematic. What’s wrong with being proud of our women? Nothing, if that was in fact what the song, and the idea behind it, was doing. It is very, very dangerous to foist the maintenance of national izzat onto any particular head, and we are surrounded by the benevolent mother, daughter and sister wherever we go. Poor Fatima Jinnah, forever branded as a frumpy, head-covered spinster maadr-e-millat. We never hear of her as anything or anyone else other than her brother’s loyal aide and housekeeper.  She is sometimes, briefly, the woman who was set to give Ayub Khan a run for his money, but our imaginations conjure her up as peripheral, plain, dependable. She is the ‘mother of our nation’. Ruttie Jinnah, that feisty, beautiful and independent wife of Mr Jinnah, is not. There are of course many reasons for that, but what I want to point out here is the way a very particular kind of woman is held up not only as an admired ideal, but the moral compass of our patriotic identity. Nobody seems to revere Mohmmad Iqbal as a great icon of izzat; calling him Allama seems to suffice.

Maybe it is a trick of the language. Maybe it is a sentimentality surrounding the founders of a nation—in America the first lot are referred to as the ‘founding fathers’ of the country, so perhaps ‘mother of the nation’ isn’t so far off the mark. The trouble though is that nobody in America will ever point to Benjamin Franklin or George Washington as the epitome of the ideal American man. Our biggest challenge as Pakistanis is finding a middle path to describe ourselves patriotically. We cannot afford to let this conversation include our children when the language is one that is becoming increasingly binary. “Good Pakistani” is beginning to sound a lot like “Good Muslim”; minorities need not apply or consider themselves part of the club. Patriotism is turning into conformity; we forget to ask more questions, and in doing so sell our country short. If we are the true paasban, if we are truly the shaheen we pride Iqbal for calling us then we must step up. There is nobody else but us: we cling to Quaid e Azam because we cannot bear to think of him as just M.A Jinnah, advocate. We cling to anyone who we can call a hero, but we need to be our own heroes. And that means being brave enough to say no, even if it is something as small as a song a group of girls sang on Parent’s Day.

  For me, “Good Pakistani” will most certainly never equate with “Good Little Woman”, nor am I willing to allow that standard to be applied to any of the women and girls that are otherwise fiercely proud of being Pakistani. It is a slippery slope, one that we have already been hurtling down. Being a good citizen and a proud Pakistani has nothing to do with how many days you fasted in Ramzan or whether you fast at all. It has nothing to do with how conservative or liberal you are. If we really want to ‘bleed green’ like many people do when cricket is on, then put your subz hilali parchum on your sleeve. It’s all very well to sing the songs and do the wheelies on 14 August, but it’s time to buckle down. We are living in dark times, and none of us are safe any more. But we are here. Some of us have moved back to be here, some of us have no plans to leave and some of us come and go but make it count. In that respect I think many people in my generation show the gumption our grandparents did when they decided they were going to go to Pakistan. We know it is terrible and uncertain and we struggle every day, but we’re in it. This Pakistan is nothing like the Pakistan of our childhood and we still choose to stay. I think that is what makes all of us patriotic. Not supporting the army or being apologists for religious extremists or thinking all Indians are daal-eating Hindus, but the fact that in spite of the disillusionment, the terrible match-fixing and the bombs we have got this benighted chaand-taara under our skin and we just can’t let go. Apni izzat apnay haath, as anyone’s mother will tell you, and I for one am not letting anyone else decide mine for me.

The writer runs The Sirajuddin Foundation and the lives of her  three daughters, which is why she  has no Twitter account and a long-defunct blog.