Bilawal Bhutto Calls for Uplifting Culture to Counter Violence and Extremism at Asia Peace Film Festival

The leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has spoken at the grand finale of the Asia Peace Film Festival in Karachi. Here, Bhutto joined the calls from politicians throughout the world in arguing for the creation and promotion of films that promote national values of cultural excellence, peace and creativity, in order to counter the narrative of corporate productions which glorify violence and feed extremism.

Recently, China announced a special programme to promote culturally uplifting films throughout chains of cinemas throughout the country, while Russian Presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia has called of strict limits on violent and perverse programming on Russian television and in the cinema.

The PPP leader who could become Pakistan’s Prime Minister after this year’s elections, suggested that uplifting cinema should not be the mere reserve of annual festivals, but should instead be a part of the daily cultural curriculum for people across the country. In particular, he stated that because the young are susceptible to the seduction of violence and extremism, it is especially important for such people to be exposed to media, including cinema that sends a message of hope and peace rather than one of violence and division.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s full remarks can be read below:

Ladies & Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be a part of the Grand Finale of Asia Peace Film Festival – Karachi Edition.

I welcome you all – filmmakers, directors, writers, actors, artists, academics, researchers and other distinguished members of this creative community to my beautiful, cosmopolitan city of Karachi, the cultural melting pot of my country Pakistan.

I want to thank the multi-country consortium of APFF for co-hosting the Karachi Edition of the Festival, and especially for dedicating this spectacular initiative to my mother Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

I believe that the interactions facilitated here between international delegates and our locally celebrated actors, filmmakers and students, will not only enrich our insights on the technical dimensions of filmmaking, but will also result in a mutual exchange and deeper understanding of each other’s cultures, art, craft and heritage.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, you are sitting in the lap of an ancient civilization, as Mohenjo-daro historically known as the hub of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. The world’s largest and earliest known urban civilization,
lies a mere 400 kilometres away.

The ruins of this once great ancient city were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, and we are proud to be its custodians.

Pakistan is a nation of diversity.

Our culture is an amalgamation of centuries of various ethnicities, religions and beliefs.

The people of Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhunkhwa, Balochistan, Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan – all come together to weave the fabric of our rich and intricate culture.

The land of Sindh is the land of the Sufis.

We have always believed in and spread the message of peace, tolerance and co-existence, not only within the country but also in other regions, through inter-cultural interactions and classical literature, based on unity in diversity and inclusiveness.

We are infused with the belief that we must accept diversity and respect diversity – and that this embodies the true spirit of our national character.

Finding unconditional acceptance, today Sindh is home to the majority of Pakistan’s minorities.

My mother – Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto completed her book “Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West” just a few days before her assassination in a terrorist attack a decade ago. In her book, she outlined the contours of ‘dialogue between civilizations’ by presenting an alternative to the ‘ongoing rhetoric on clash of civilizations’.

In her book, she did not only lay the onus of understanding on the Muslim world, but also suggested some critical thinking for the West – in an effort to create common grounds for inter-cultural and inter-civilizational dialogue.

She reiterated the spirit of peace, multiplicity, and the democratic traditions of consensus, along with a debate within Islam; dismissing the stereotypical image of Islam being a source of violence.

In her book, she quoted a number of verses from the Holy Quran, forbidding the very actions that extremists conveniently claim as necessary or even ‘justifiable’ acts of “jihad”.

Scholars may argue that reconciliation relies on building and rebuilding relationships that are not haunted by the conflicts of yesterday.

But I firmly stand by the belief that art and cultural activities serve as an avenue for coping with the past – no matter how tormented – and imagining alternate scenarios to the reality of conflict.

A Chinese artist once said:

“Creativity is the power to act.”

And I completely stand by that. Indeed, through creativity, one can reject the past, change the status quo, and seek new potential.

The Pakistan Peoples Party has always been the only progressive and enlightened force in this country.

Whenever in government, we have not only promoted the arts, but have actively encouraged artistic expression by providing avenues for the same.

In light of this approach, it is encouraging to note that our creative community present here, has come up with innovative ideas to promote cinema for peace.

Speaking as a citizen of Pakistan – a country that has lost so much to the ever increasing extremism in the World, it is in our best interests to promote cinema for peace, especially as this will engage our youth.

Youth is unfortunately at the forefront of violent conflicts today, as more and more young people are being conditioned to idealize the forces of death and terror, guised under the garb of sacrifice.

In this situation, the contribution of art can be instrumental in helping them see the truth – the truth about life and all its splendour;

the truth about the gravity of death;

the truth about humanity, compassion, justice and inclusion;

the truth about themselves.

I must confess that when I look around me today, I am sad to see that our traditional public spaces have been shrunk and cultural spaces eroded, by extremist and exclusivist ideologies.

I am determined to claim the vestiges of art and culture, and reignite the flame of creativity and cultural self expression.

I urge all segments of society to unite, so we can give our people a new direction, a space to celebrate diversity.

I am determined to successfully reclaim the cultural spaces ceded to extremist groups, not just in Pakistan, but across the world.

We need to strengthen our ideological positions on the question of extremism.

I believe, we need to look at and deal with extremism as a source of terrorism.

It is imperative that we, as a people, stop glorifying violence – in our lives and on our screens.

We must deepen the process of reconciliation and contribute to developing a united yet diverse culture.

This is all the more important because, diverse communities require spaces that provide opportunities for discussion, dialogue and active listening.

It is up to us to create these spaces to enable the celebration of diversity, to harness harmony and achieve lasting peace – which is the very objective of this Festival too.
I am confident that the Asia Peace Film Festival is a step in the right direction.

I suggest that the Sindh government take such film festivals to the grassroots level, creating spaces for people’s cinema, as an alternative amidst the noise of corporate and conflict-driven media.

There are numerous stories waiting to be heard. There are so many visuals waiting to be captured. And there are countless peripheries waiting to be explored.

I am sure that with this initiative, an alternative cinema would be able to mainstream the various perspectives and experiences of diverse communities and societies.

I congratulate all the artists whose exceptional work has been selected for screening at the Asia Peace Film Festival.

I also encourage those who submitted their films, to continue to raise their passionate voices through their exceptional art.

I am delighted to be a part of this initiative, and I wish you all the best in this exciting endeavour!

Thank you very much!”

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