Effects of Westernization on the Culture of Pakistan

Updated on February 9, 2015

Introduction

Anthropologists define culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and other capabilities acquired by people as members of society" (Hill, 2005). Another definition describes culture as "the system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning."

Culture is the cornerstone of a civilized society and evolves over time with its values and norms. It is not a fixed concept, however, and can change for many reasons. One force that can cause a culture to change is the exposure to other cultures' political and economical philosophies, social structures, religions, languages, and styles of education (Hofstede, 2003).

The culture of Pakistan is very diverse, with many ethnic groups that have distinct cultural values and norms. Part of the reason for this is that, in the past, the area now known as Pakistan was invaded by many different countries or factions of people, the British being the most prominent and recent one.

Colonial India
Colonial India

Causes of Westernization in Pakistan

British colonialism and colonization of the mind

The British ousting from the Indian subcontinent in no way meant that the customs they introduced would fade away. During their reign, the British not only influenced the Indians politically, economically, and socially, but they also influenced their minds and culture to such an extent that even subsequent generations have absorbed the influence as well. In many instances, Western culture and its symbols are still valued over native customs, leading to a kind of colonization of the mind.

This colonization of the mind is one of the root causes of the identity crisis we—and especially the youth— face today. This cultural circumstance began after independence, though it was fostered long before by British powers. It coupled with other factors, like globalization, technological advancement, and youth disillusionment with native powers and has led to an increasing influence from Western culture.

GLOBALIZATION

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, globalization is the development of an increasingly integrated global economy marked especially by free trade, free flow of capital, and the tapping of cheaper foreign labor markets. Since today's economy is dominated by Western countries and culture, increased globalization in Pakistan has led to the West's growing influence even though colonization has ended. This is especially true among the affluent, who have easy access to television and other forms of electronic media, Western products, and food.

There has been a noticeable increase in the number of famous Western food chain outlets in Pakistan. Major cities sometimes have three or even four outlets of the same chain. Furthermore, many Pakistanis have settled abroad in countries like the US, the UK, Scandinavian nations, and other European countries. Their continued relationships with those who remain in the country affect Pakistan's culture and economy.

The globalization has both positive and negative sides to it. On the one hand, globalization is helping Pakistan interact more with the Western countries and establishing relations that will be helpful for Pakistan’s economy. On the other, globalization has lifted cultural barriers and provided exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking. Economically, it has dramatically increased the wealth of some people and led to a more urban country. This has polarized our culture as more people are moving away from the teachings of Islam and from traditional customs in general. As noted by Shaukat and Chadhary, “…This polarization of society has been matched step-for-step by the polarization of religion within the country…”

In light of this ongoing debate, and in order to determine if the positive effects of globalization outweigh the negative ones or vice versa, we need to examine the issue from both points of view.

Positive Impact of Globalization on the Justice System

The most basic rights that every human being possesses are the rights of speech and action, which Western influence has reaffirmed.

Human Rights

Western influence on human rights in Pakistan is a complicated issue and came from many sources. According to Shaukat an Chaudhary, it “could be due to an indirect method; whereby western ideas influence curriculum in schools and universities, or even through the direct method; whereby readily accessible media in western countries has encouraged the people of Pakistan to expect and ask for the same right” (Shaukat and Chaudhary).

WOMEN'S RIGHTS

Most notably, the rights for women came with the arrival of westernization in Pakistan. Now, women in Pakistan arguably enjoy more autonomy as compared to any other Muslim country, be it political, social, or even religious rights.

This influence has not only allowed women to take an active part in politics and international sports; but has also resulted in elevating the status of women when it comes to getting high profile jobs, helping them stand on equal footing with men. For instance, women are now at high posts in many renowned banks and multinational companies and hold ministerial posts in the government as well. This liberty has given women the right and ability to enjoy life as other women do in the western countries.

A MODERN JUSTICE SYSTEM

In the early 2010s, the judicial system in Pakistan was just found to be a mere formality and was a system for justice in name only. Now, the judicial system has started taking note of the difficulties of people and is making an effort to resolve them with sincerity and in the shortest time possible. The much debated human rights issues which were previously ignored are now being attended to, which is clearly evident from the recent passing of a human rights bill. I believe that judicial system is the backbone of a country, and Western influence has encourage Pakistan to develop a more robust judicial system.

In this respect, westernization has had some positive effects in Pakistan.

Negative Impact of Westernization on Pakistani Culture: Food, Family, and Language

I'd like to start out this section with a quote from an American scholar, Vine Deloria, on what he believes is a key aspect of Western civilization: “Western civilization, unfortunately, does not link knowledge and morality but rather, it connects knowledge and power and makes them equivalent.”

For this reason, the flip side of the coin shows a more menacing picture. The increasing trend of westernization has taken our local culture hostage in numerous aspects.

Family

The extended or joint family system, a trademark of Pakistani social culture, is losing its value and seems to be vanishing altogether, replaced by a culture of individuality. The youth of today believe in independence and individuality. As a result, we have seen a rise in the psychological disorders, divorces, suicides, and crime.

FOOD

The traditional concept of home-cooked food in our culture is being replaced by fast food meals from restaurants like KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonalds and others inspired by the fast food model.

Pakistani dishes, which were famous for their flavor, are hardly acceptable to today's youth. As of today, we see cold drinks being used to such an extent that they are part of almost every meal, even in formal dinners. The introduction of energy drinks and sodas also has played a part in diminishing the consumption of traditional drinks.

Increased exposure to internet, television, movies, and video games has increased drug abuse, violence, and related vices. The Pakistani youth, which forms the majority of the population, are quickly being influenced as they are the most vulnerable.

LANGUAGE

By far, the greatest impact that westernization has had on our culture is on the language. Our mother tongue Urdu is being replaced by English as a more common language used in conversations. This is happening because of the number of English medium schools in our society and the excessive use of email and messaging amongst the youth, which is usually in English or in a combination of English and a native language. It frequently, however, is communicated in Roman characters, diminishing the importance of Urdu script.

The influence of English is so great that some youth feel ashamed speaking Urdu. In fact, we have started using English as a tool to distinguish between high and low class. Those who speak English proficiently are considered among the elite class, despite the fact that Urdu was the official language of Pakistan until English was added only a few years back.

Conclusion

The influences mentioned above are in no way the only areas where westernization has had an impact. Westernization has influenced every aspect of daily life, ranging from cuisine to basic human rights.

To that extent, even the minute details of daily life have been affected by westernization with both positive and negative effects on Pakistan's culture. Westernization has been part of the modernization process, which in no sense can be regarded as harmful. On the other hand, it is important to examine the West's impact since if we are not careful, it could have a negative influence on our society, and lead to the disruption of cultural values and customs.

Unanswered or Unanswerable Questions Regarding Westernization in Pakistan

The question of westernization and modernization in Pakistan is a very complex topic. There are many questions that I could not answer in this article, and some questions that might not even have an answer.

Please continue thinking about these issues as they are relevant to this topic and shape its discourse.

  • What is westernization and how is it different from modernization?
  • What are all of the factors that are leading to change in Pakistani society? This could include governmental, economical, religious, and societal changes (e.g. where and how people live).
  • What is globalization? What are the forces of globalization? Are they economical, cultural, or something else?
  • Many countries and groups of people are struggling with similar issues, having also emerged from a colonial past. How does one form identity in a post-colonial world? How do you treat the colonial history? How can you preserve cultural traditions, and which ones are better left behind (if any)?
  • How are the current cultural changes in Pakistan different or similar to ones that have happened in the past? Or ones that are happening in other countries.
  • How do different groups in Pakistan view westernization or modernization and why do differences of opinion exist?

Works Cited

Hill, C.W.L (2007), “International business – Competing in the global marketplace”. McGraw-Hill, New York

Wikipedia. “Culture” retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/culture; retrieved on 2 December 2008.

Hofstede, G. (2003), “What is culture? A reply to Baskerville”, Accounting, Organizations and Society, Vol. 28, No. 7-8, pp. 811-813

Vine Deloria, Jr, retrieved from http://thinkexist.com/quotes/vine_deloria,_jr./

Mahlaqa Shaukat and Mutahir Chaudhary retrieved from http://pylc.co.uk/documents/committee/YouthAffairs-PYLC2010.pdf

Mahlaqa Shaukat and Mutahir Chaudhary retrieved from http://pylc.co.uk/documents/committee/YouthAffairs-PYLC2010.pdf

Albert Einstein, BMJ: The British Medical Journal, volume 319, 23 October 1999, p. 1102

Earl Warren, The Law and the Future" in Fortune magazine (November 1955)

Felix Frankfurter, National Observer (Silver Spring, Maryland, March 1, 1965)

Additional Resource: SlideShare

For those who are interested, here is a link to a PowerPoint presentation done on this very topic from slideshare.com:

Impact of Western Culture in Pakistan

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    • profile image

      Zahir 

      7 months ago

      Since when did Urdu become the mother tongue of Pakistan's population it is a national language only spoken by people then 10 percent of the population Pakistan has more then one mother tongue

    • profile image

      Truth 

      2 years ago

      Just to clarify, the language you state as our mother tongue is not our mother tongue. It is just as foreign as English. Our mother tongues or native languages are Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Pashto and Kashmiri, amongst many others. Until less than one hundred years ago, our lingua franca and inter-regional language was Farsi or Persian as it had been for over a thousand years in the Indus Valley before being systematically replaced by the British and subsequently by our foreign bureaucracy.

    • profile image

      Nauman 

      3 years ago

      very useful trove of information regarding the westernization in Pakistan

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