Thursday, May 19, 2011

An Open Letter to My Fellow Pakistanis in the Post-Osama World

Link to Original Article at The Huffington Post.

"Only 3000 Americans died in that 9/11 drama. But they have killed many more in response."

Fair enough. The young, educated English-speaking Pakistani man who sent me these words may have thought 9/11 was a "drama," but at least he got his numbers right -- even if he missed the bigger point.

He was speaking out in response to popular Pakistani journalist and TV anchor Kamran Khan's recent fiery monologue stressing that we Pakistanis must accept the fact that our country now holds the status of the largest and most notorious terrorism haven in the world.

"Unless we recognize the disease, how are we going to cure it?" asked Khan, clearly frustrated.

"For the Pakistani people to be saved from this life-threatening illness, it is imperative that instead of feeding them the American/Indian/Israeli conspiracy lollipop, they should be told that in just the last three years, 3900 Pakistanis have been killed in 225 suicide attacks."

Reviewing some of the major Islamist terrorist attacks in the last 25 years, Khan went on to show how all of them revealed some kind of connection to Pakistan, whether at the planning stage, training stage, execution stage or as the place where the perpetrators were eventually caught or killed.

And on the attacks carried out within Pakistan, he emphatically noted that neither mosques, nor marketplaces, nor schools were spared.

That not a single Indian, American or Israeli was killed.

That every one of the victims was a Pakistani, the vast majority Muslim.

So, by pointing out that "only 3000" Americans died on 9/11, the young man angered by Khan's broadcast was playing the body count game that many Pakistanis often do at introspection-demanding times like these. While it isn't wholly insignificant to cite, say, the number of civilians that have died as a result of the legitimately irresponsible Iraq war, the intent behind citing these body count figures serves to deflect the blame elsewhere -- and it often works.

This time, however, things are a little different.

After decades of getting away with blaming "foreign hands" for virtually every minor inconvenience, Pakistan has reached a point -- following the wretched failure of our government, intelligence agency and military leaders in the wake of the bin Laden operation -- where for once, the rest of the world's fingers are also pointed squarely at us.

The situation is reminiscent of Kurt Cobain's tragic, pre-suicidal poetry from Territorial Pissings:

"Just because you're paranoid
Don't mean we're not after you."

And this is where my young friend missed the point.

Focusing all of our attention on the drone attacks, Raymond Davis and India -- while denying that the majority of Pakistani deaths have been the result of our very own, home-bred jihadis -- is not going to reduce the death count.

Continuing to burn more American flags, blow up more KFC restaurants (with Pakistanis inside!) and destroying more Pakistani property every time we're angry about a "foreign incursion" -- is not going to reduce the death count.

Elevating the assassin of the elected governor of the country's largest province to the status of a hero and cheering on the acquittal of Mukhtar Mai's rapists, while labeling a convicted terrorist the "daughter of the nation" -- is not going to reduce the death count.

And turning back to Allah yet again, considering all the affection He has shown us recently -- devastating floods, multiple earthquakes, terrorism, bombings, political violence, assassinations, floggings, victimization of minorities, a dismal economy and the unprecedented corruption that has earned us a spot among the top 10 failed states in the world -- is not going to reduce the death count.

Here's the thing: it's understandable if you suffer a few blows here and there, learn from your mistakes, fix them and move on. But when you've been a perpetual, whining victim for over thirty years, continuously deteriorating, it is more likely representative of an utter lack of introspection -- a collective malaise -- and you probably need to start sharing some of the blame.

So, for once, let's please forget about who is an "agent" of who. Let's not allow every conversation after an incident to devolve into random whodunit speculation. Let's stop trying to focus on who killed how many people and why.

That's not in our control. Let's work with what's in our control.

Fewer people die in America because the U.S. government looks out for its people and protects them around the world. They send former presidents like Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter to rescue captured Americans from places like North Korea. Israel often releases prisoners -- including convicted murderers -- in exchange for the dead bodies of its soldiers. That is how you respect the citizens of your country.

It is not America's job to ensure the safety of Pakistani lives -- they're just looking out for their interests like anyone else. It is the job of Pakistanis to do that.

Let's direct the jihad where it needs to be directed: against the bearded mullahs that have done more damage to the Pakistani and Muslim identity than any American or Jewish "conspiracy" could ever hope to.

Let's acknowledge that the reason that democracy has never properly taken off in Pakistan is because it has always been tainted with military influence and theocracy, against the wishes of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who supported a secular, democratic state. Let's move to separate religion from government.

And finally, let's not reflexively call everyone who does make an effort to be introspective and criticize the country an "agent" of India, the CIA or Mossad. Khan's point is well-taken: if a loved one had a terminal illness and was deteriorating, or had a bad drug addiction and was in denial, wouldn't you stage an intervention to help them? How do you treat a disease without a diagnosis?

Please -- let's stop with the conspiracy theories. I understand it's a difficult addiction to kick (considering Pakistan's president himself thinks that the U.S. was behind the Taliban attacks), but we have a clear choice:

We can do something like what Japan did after Hiroshima and Nagasaki [grow to become a leading global industrial power], what the Jews did after the Holocaust [pull themselves back up and go on to earn 36% of all American Nobel Prizes while making up less than 3% of the population] or what the Africans did after centuries of slavery and oppression [having one of their descendants go on to be elected to the White House].

Or -- we can continue to burn more flags and effigies, revere shoe-throwers and the assassins of our governors as our heroes, lay our lives down to protect ridiculous issues like the blasphemy law and keep shouting "Amreeka Murdabad!" (Death to America) slogans -- and see which country goes "murda" first.

It really is now or never. Kamran Khan has a very good point.