My name is Shamil Shams and I work at Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s Urdu and Asia-English services in Bonn. I have done MSc at London School of Economics (LSE) in Media and Communications in 2010, and an MA in English Literature at Karachi University in 2000. Originally from Karachi, Pakistan, I have worked with various Pakistani newspapers and human rights organisations.
What brought you to Germany?
Work, primarily. I was working in Islamabad for a human rights organization. Deutsche Welle was looking for interns, and I applied.
Do you feel integrated?
I don’t know what integration means. I did not feel ‘integrated’ in Pakistan because of my unorthodox views and ideas. You feel integrated where you have like-minded people around you.
Have you found the like-minded people here in Germany?
Yes. I see that people here follow the rules, are open to debates, new ideas. You can do whatever you want to do; you can say whatever you want to say; you can drink whatever you want to drink; you can wear whatever you want to wear.
You have to explain to me what you mean by “integrated in the German society”?
I mean do you speak the language? Do you have German friends? Do you eat German food? Do you feel part of the society?
I do. I hear this quote often that “only if you are fluent in the German language, you will be fully integrated”. I disagree with that. I know a lot of Pakistanis and Indians, and people from other countries, who have been living in Germany for decades. They speak fluent German but are not integrated in the German society. They are still stuck to their past, to their national identities, traditions, are not open to change and do not interact with Germans. They detest liberalism and democracy. They live in a bubble, yet they speak fluent German. So what does this mean? I don’t speak German fluently, but I can still feel ‘integrated’ in the German society because I share similar values and ideas.
How does it feel to be a Pakistani in Germany?
I don’t believe in national identities. In fact, I don’t believe in a monolithic identity. I don’t carry the ‘Pakistani identity’ with me. In my every day life it never occurs to me that I am a Pakistani. I am Shamil and that’s probably my only identity.
Pakistan is a 65-year-old country. It used to be India before. Culturally, I call myself an Indian because it is a larger identity. When I say India, I do not mean the state, but a civilization. We should not have one single identity. We should have multiple identities. Yes, I belong to Pakistan because I lived most of my life there, but it’s not my sole identity.
But when you introduce yourself and say that you come from Pakistan, do you think people’s perception of you changes?
Yes and no. Most Europeans are not judgmental. Quite a lot are, but quite a lot of people are not. A lot of things that people read in newspapers or watch on TV about Pakistan are true, but there are things which they need to know more about that country. Pakistan is not just about the Taliban, yet it is about the Taliban as well. Pakistanis are religious, but quite a lot of them are not. Quite a lot of people are Westernized and well-educated. Quite many hate western countries. It is a complex society like any other. It is true that Pakistan is in a huge mess. It is a very scary situation back home, and I am constantly worried about my friends and family. As I said before, I don’t think people are judgmental in Germany. Educated people understand that it’s important not to be judgmental about everything. For example, if an educated person reacts to homosexuals in a bad way, I would like to think that that person is not educated.
Are there many people like you in Pakistan?
Yes, there are. I know a lot of emancipated, progressive and liberal people. Ironically, these progressive people live in Pakistan’s small towns and rural areas. The so-called city-based educated people are the ones are myopic and hate liberalism more.
Do you see yourself in Bonn in five years?
I don’t know about that. I studied in London. Sometimes I feel that the US is my place. But I am happy in Germany at the moment. Bonn is a nice, small city and I am in love with it.