Imran H. Khan
I was recently invited to a dinner by a doctor friend where I had the opportunity to meet Ethan Casey and Todd Shea. Ethan has written a book called “Alive and Well in Pakistan” which captures his interactions with Pakistanis in his stay there. Most of the people there were doctors of Pakistani descent living around the Boston area. They had organized a fund raiser a day earlier and the dinner was to get to meet these two gentlemen up close. I had met Todd Shea earlier a couple of years ago and was familiar with his work and admired how he had been able to connect with the people of Kashmir and had decided to settle amongst them. As we got talking it struck me that we in the US of Pakistani descent shared a lot in common the two guests. Todd mentioned that he deliberately travels in T shirt and western clothes without carrying any weapons and the people in Pakistan greatly appreciate it. A lady guest at the dinner,who works in a large retail store, commented that ever since 9/11 she makes it a point to let people know that she is a Pakistani Muslim and that vast majority of people that she interacts with appreciate it. Ethan and Todd in their efforts are trying to convey to the Americans that Pakistanis are like regular people that have been wrongfully demonized in the US press to suit the narrative concocted by the US policy makers to further their goals of hegemony and power projection.
Unlike Gregg Mortenson and Todd Shea who got engaged in Pakistan in the areas of social engagement, Ethan has engaged America with Pakistan on an intellectual level. The journey that he weaves in his book through the discourse with various elements of the Pakistani society is like looking into a pond, where you find insights into the Pakistani thinking as well as a reflection of an American mind set. Gregg and Todd by and large engage with the poorer and remote parts of Pakistan. Ethan on the other hand interacts with more well to do city dwellers. When Ethan talks in front of American audiences they react to him very differently and get quite confused for what he has to say runs contrary to the carefully controlled narrative that Americans have been fed by the main stream new media. Todd mentioned an interesting story about completely changing the impression of an American in a short elevator ride. He asked the questioned that which is the only country that the USSR threatened with nuclear annihilation and for what. Todd also highlighted his frustration with the like of Anderson Cooper and Geraldo when he tried to make them cover the nearly 200 physicians of Pakistani descent assisting him in responding to the earthquake in Haiti. That story was not covered at all as it did not agree with the overall Pakistani narrative in the US media.
As the conversation went back and forth between their experiences in Pakistan and our experiences in the US, it became clear that the story of our experiences here is equally untold as the story of Westerners in Pakistan. President of an Islamic Center outside Boston narrated the response by high school students to threats of protests by an extremist christian group that planned to protest outside the center. These high school kids not only came out in larger numbers, without being asked by the center, but also raised and donated money to the center. He also narrated his experience in front of the town building committee when they were trying to upgrade the center, that a neighbor waited late into the night. And when the turn came he stood up and told the committee that the center had been a good neighbor to the community and that even if there is some deficiency in their proposal they should overlook it. Another gentleman in the gathering who had been the president of the center after 9/11 narrated his story, that when he opened the doors of the center the day after 9/11 he was horrified to see a large gathering of white folks outside, as the center’s membership is of mostly mixed ethnicities. But then he realized that they were carrying flowers and had come over to make sure nothing untoward happened to the center and wanted to know how they could help.
Framingham Library did a month long activities around Gregg Mortenson’s book “Three Cups of Tea” which included talks about Pakistani history, cultural show of Pakistani dresses and cooking etc.. Local papers are getting into the act of lifting the veil of Muslim and Pakistani customs by writing articles about our faith and its practices. Last year Metro West carried an article called “Muslims celebrate Ramadan, battle misperceptions” about the fasting in Ramadan and how American Muslims go about practicing it. Part of it covered the breaking of the fast at our place.
Javed Jabbar who is conducting a book tour of his book “Pakistan-Unique Origins Unique Destiny?” paints a very different picture of Pakistan in the US. He was invited to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and his talk can be viewed here.
While the challenges in educating Americans about Pakistan are huge, I am encouraged by the presence of people like Ethan, Todd , Gregg and the young American generations who can see the goodness in others and not be swayed by the messages in the mainstream media. The coming years are going to be very trying in the relations between the two countries, but I believe that the truth about Pakistan cannot remain hidden from the American public for too long. At some point the decent among the Americans are going to demand that an end be put to the criminal drone attacks on a country whose leaders have abrogated their responsibilities to protect them. The destiny of the Planet Earth is intimately linked to the harmonious relationship between the people of these two great countries.Views: 3123Share