Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, Getting on the Way to Peacemaking, Politics of Empire | Tags: anti American, counter insurgency
The guest is the editor of an Urdu Newspaper and a writer of fiction known in Pakistan and India. His life in Pakistan began in 1947 when he moved with his parents here from India to find a safe home in this newly established Muslim state. We are almost the same age. From separate viewing platforms we have travelled from the 20th century into the 21st. His leathery wrinkled face betrays little emotion. But his words are firm. You give billions to this government of traitors who use it for themselves and stupid schemes that bring false security. I know he is right but can’t figure out what to say to make things better. He continues. I listen. I ask about his life, about meeting the daily deadline of a newspaper, about books. I see the excitement in his eye when he speaks of his love of writing. One of his books is about to be made into a movie by an Indian group. Occasionally he returns to more talk of traitors and the stupid international people who support them, his words. He looks at me long enough for me to know he is really thinking of the Americans.
He and his wife delivered a lovely gift of sweets in honour of the new baby that arrived six weeks earlier in the home where some of us are staying. After tea, he leaves and another guest arrives with more gifts to honour the baby. I was introduced and tried in my clumsy Midwestern way to put my best manners forward. No sooner was this second guest introduced to the visiting American and I was greeted by an even stronger barrage of anger about America. I listened. I am now into week two of my Pakistan pilgrimage and I have come to expect this list of grievances as a kind reminder of the world where I travel. Here is the list, – you want to use Pakistan when you need us, you supported the military which brought us the Taliban, 10 billion dollars over the last 8 years, you supported the Taliban against the Russians and now we are terrorized, now you support our military which destroys our democracy, and you support Israel, you make us corrupt, you just send weapons and now they are killing us. The list is completed for the moment and then the guest and I talk about life here in Islamabad.
I know and she knows that this is one of the voices of deep frustration laced with fear that is part of daily conversations here. I stumble to find threads of common perception and curiosity in the present situation. I know that identifying myself with a peace delegation will not overcome the deep feelings of betrayal, and the suspicion that I am part of the American program. Every day there are new threats of bombs, new worries for children now completing their end of year exams. And the children are angry too. I am told not to go on the streets, not to look like an American.
These moments of testing of my national citizenship are not new. I am no longer interested in being the nice American so people can like us. Polite interruptions won’t fix a pattern of barren relationships based on exploitation. International relations based on aid programs and harsh actions of military interventions have been the standard of the meandering configurations of American big power relations for so long that even the potentially useful aid is not trusted. The pattern leads to fundamental distrust that cannot be fixed with a single speech or short term policies that fix things until the next election cycle.
These tough conversations awaken me to the fears unleashed when I first viewed the falling trade towers. The American response was laced with vicious condemnations of Muslims by people from whom I expected more balance. I have heard anger before in Palestine, Iraq, Jordan and from a chorus of lips. I remember the mothers and fathers clutching their children as they pour out their soul. I know this raw emotion of anger may continue for generations. I wish it wasn’t needed. I remember my own contorted responses when 9/11 came into our American lives. The towers came down and blood flowed because of the same anger, betrayal, hatred and disappointment that I am hearing here. But I am not hearing it from Taliban. No! It is too insecure to go into the Taliban controlled territories. I will be stopped by check points. The people I talk to are afraid of the Taliban. Beheadings, car bombs and road side explosions are part of their lives. And they blame a long list of perpetrators including Americans. Anger is not always coherent. Anger just is.
At the time I hoped 9/11 would be a wake up call for a generation of fairness. Naively I thought it could mark the end of CIA and military schemes of force that too often kill other people’s children. I thought the better American lurking underneath in the shadow of bravado and star wars would be jolted and awakened. Instead we have witnessed new faceless weapons of interdiction and picture taking from the sky. And anger in the Us increases as factories that might have provided economic life fade into bankruptcy. Is this our own Taliban in the shadow?
Today I will continue my listening and I know I will hear more puffs of anger, some bold and hardened over time, others muted and leavened by the culture’s surface harmony. As I leave my quarters I will pass near the site of a projected $736 million dollar US embassy complex. Another Green Zone like Baghdad? I want to turn those thoughts off. Maybe they will give the embassy a new name. I have a suggestion – Fortress of Anger Management
Today I can still burrow my way through the suspicions of most persons I meet here. I wonder if future generations of peacemakers will find people with whom honest conversation is a still a safe possibility. Or will the political culture be the completion of a Taliban revolution?
I learn of the pain in so many people’s hearts here over a national educational curriculum put in place by an impatient military dictator anxious to build a myopic vision of Muslim society. I hear the words of regret and a testimony to the fruits of a confined educational policy in this generation of university students. Their stories of delayed protest remind me of my own delays. When have I challenged the school teachers in my family, my city or community to tell the harsh truth of America’s blundering missteps of enemy making, horror, and terror. We teach about Taliban honour killings but we don’t teach about our own honour killings. Can we tell the truth in our schools and universities?
The children here are not protected from the naked truth of terror. There are real answers, albeit painful, to the question that rippled across America in the days after 9/11 – Why do they hate us? They hate us because we are dangerous to have around.
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