Whispers of ‘the other’ - Ahmed Javed - Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A pair of hands sweep down, and in one motion he picks up the giggling two-year-old, placing her on his shoulders. The mother is walking beside them, smiling. This family of three could be in a mall in America, in the midst of a tribe in Africa, in the Middle East, Pakistan or Malaysia. But if we watch the scene through ethnic, religious or racial prisms, we add a few more bricks to the wall beyond which “the other” is supposed to live.

Some of us lay greater claim to humanity than others, and “the other” either worships a false god or isn’t loved by ours. When will we realise that this ugliness spares no one? Where does arrogance end and dialogue begin?

“We” constantly wish for ourselves what we are not willing to grant “the others”: dignity, self-respect, justice, the right to be masters of our own destiny and, yes, the right to choose “our way of life”. The phrase brings to mind the arrogance of the Bush era. Most people in the US do not realise how damaging his policies have been and how they have left the world in an endless spiral of hate and violence.

If you are a Pakistani living, working or studying in the US, there is the constant realisation of the senselessness of the media blitz portraying one in every four human beings on the planet as a “terrorist,” or a “security risk.” This is matched by the equally alienating chants of “down with America” in street demonstrations in the Middle East, Pakistan, and other parts of the Third World. Just as the former is guilty of generalising that the actions of some speak for 1.5 billion, the latter group is lumping more than 300 million Americans in the same category.

Each day we see the gulf between humanity widening, and being a Muslim Pakistani in the US can be painful. Opinion-makers, more so the global media dominated by the West, are the ultimate determinants of truth with the average American. Whether he or she chooses to tune in to CNN or to Fox, and most of the channels in-between, the impression is strengthened that “the other” is the epitome of evil. The dehumanisation of “the other,” along with a sense of entitlement for “us,” is what has unleashed this endless violence in the world.

Forever etched in our minds are images of that fateful day of Sept 11, 2001, when planes slammed into the Twin Towers. I watched with horror in Pakistan as some people jumped from the unimaginable heights, choosing death on the street below to the inferno they were in. Around 3,000 human lives were lost to senseless hate that day.

I remember the tears rolling down my mother’s cheeks on 9/11. Her tears would flow again when Iraq was invaded in March 2003. The same dictator who had been propped for years by the US had by then become a danger to humanity. The way the war was being sold by Western media was instructive; it told of the widening gulf between the West and Islam.

Perhaps Republican Congressman Peter King, advocating the persecution of a religious minority, the Muslims, because he doesn’t like their “radicalisation,” should start by pondering over what is increasingly dividing humanity into “us” and “them.” He stands for monitoring “radicalisation” among Muslims in the US – almost as if there exists a device that can accurately measure such tendencies.

Yet, there is more to the events that have unfolded in the last decade. The Western media have established a makeshift moral basis that is applicable to the global “other,” but only rarely to the United States’ foreign policy, and its excesses.

A case in point is the Raymond Davis saga. On Jan 27, the CIA contractor gunned down two young motorcyclists in broad daylight on the streets of Lahore. The crime was intensified by occupants of a backup vehicle of the US consulate general who came to his rescue. The speeding Land Cruiser entered incoming traffic and crushed to death a third Pakistani motorcyclist. The widow of one of the victims poisoned herself and on her deathbed told the country’s news channels that she wanted “justice” for her husband’s murderer. Her disillusionment with the country’s corrupt leadership forced her to kill herself. She knew she would not get justice in Pakistan.

The Davis case offers many opportunities for people to understand each other better. This murderer was declared a “diplomat.” His belongings included a GPS and firearms as well as photographs of sensitive military installations. The US embassy used both carrots and sticks over the ensuing week. So involved in Pakistani politics is the US embassy, that it is virtually the new East India Company.

The resentment that an ordinary Pakistani feels against the US has nothing to do with religion but is conveniently labelled as such by the Western media. Reverse this with the hypothetical situation of a Pakistani spy committing the same crimes in the US and then claiming diplomatic immunity, although it is proved beyond doubt that he is not a diplomat.

Additionally, the Pakistani government was scolded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for obstructing the release of this “diplomat.” The level of outrage this evoked in Pakistan is barely imaginable. There is widespread shock at how this man was whisked away by dubious tactics including invocation of the Sharia. All of Pakistan feels robbed of its dignity.

No rational person would ascribe the reason for this indignation as being rooted in religious hatred. Yet, this is exactly how the story is told to Americans, with the demonstrations in Pakistan labelled as “protests by Islamic hardliners.”

The four deaths in Lahore are mere statistics now, as far as American media are concerned. There is no doubt that America is blessed with wonderful people who have achieved great things and have often opened their hearts to people in need around the world.

The more time I spend in the US, the more I realise that the genuine kindness and warmth of its people are constantly undone by their government’s tyrannical foreign policy. One cannot help but wonder why the same people who empty their pockets to help flood and earthquake victims around the world, also hate “the other”.

I hope that educated Muslims will speak for themselves before there are no longer any means of getting our voices heard across this wall being built by a handful of hate-mongers.

Those who treat war as a profitable business, could conceivably support even the KKK, if that meant being voted into office.

I will let the image of the family of three play out in my mind walking through a church, finding them sitting in a synagogue the next moment, kneeling in a temple and, yes, praying in a mosque five times a day.

Ahmed Javed is a resident physician training in the US

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=40092&Cat=9

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