Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|I told a Pakistani friend not to stand up in the plane|
|09/28/01 at 15:12:28|
I told a Pakistani friend not to stand up in the plane
Kamila Shamsie on the suspicions faced by her US Muslim friends
Thursday September 27, 2001
Mathematical equations don't seem to add up at a time like this. We have all heard: more than 6,000 dead in New York City, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands dead as a result of sanctions in Iraq and the hundreds of thousands facing starvation in Afghanistan if food and supplies do not get through. We know, or at least many of us do, that we must not forget these figures or think them unrelated. But although we may try in some abstract sense to grapple with these equations, the truth is that there are few among us who have felt a more visceral reaction to any suffering in the world than we did to the sight of those towers collapsing.
Some of that reaction has to do with the constant media coverage giving us the stories of survivors and the faces of victims. Some of it has to do with compression: the deaths of those 6,000 and more were compressed within an hour and a half - less time than it takes to watch most disaster movies. And some of it - for many of us, and certainly for me - has to do with New York being New York.
It is a city in which I have more friends than I do in any other city in the world. When I gave a reading there last year, while I was teaching at a college in upstate New York, more than 70 people turned up. I knew almost all of them - some were my closest friends, others little more than acquaintances. A few were American, but most were Karachiites; and most of those Karachiites were bankers, traders, consultants. People who worked in the financial world. People who could so easily have been in or near the World Trade Centre on September 11. That all of them (as far as I know, as far as I can hope) are OK seems something of a miracle.
I try not to think too much about the Pakistanis who did not make it out of the buildings. I don't know their names. I don't know how many they were. I do know that any time I have met a Karachiite who works around Wall Street it has only ever taken a couple of minutes to establish some kind of connection - a mutual friend or relative. So, yes, what happened in New York feels personal.
But in addition to being the American-educated girl with more friends in New York than in any other city, I am also Pakistani and Muslim. Those figures of death and starvation in the hundreds of thousands are close to home in more than just a geographic sense. Even before George Bush's talk of "a crusade" and the apparent unconcern of the US government to the probability of serious civil strife and violent division within Pakistan if my government were to turn on the Taliban, I - like the great mass of my compatriots - had no affection for the US government in its dealings with the world around us.
Afghanistan Part I, in the 80s, did not end with America and Pakistan walking hand-in-hand into a sunset as the credits rolled, but rather with the US helping to create the Taliban, and then turning its back on the region, leaving Pakistan with refugees, arms, drugs, extremism and little else to show for it. (The Pakistani government is not blameless in this but it is time to address the culpability of all parties involved.) The vast majority of Pakistanis are opposed to both the Taliban and to the prevailing mores of US foreign policy, yet the rhetoric of "either you're with us or you're with the terrorists" would have us believe that dual position is impossible.
Despite the peril in which it finds itself, Pakistan has declared itself America's ally. This could make it very difficult for my country, but it was the only sensible decision we could make. It would be nice to think that, at the very least, Pakistanis in America could be treated as people "on the right side". But I have been receiving many emails from American friends telling me how they fear for their Pakistani, Indian and Middle-Eastern friends in the US.
An 18-year-old relative of mine who was on an internal flight in the US on his way to university in the mid-west was interrogated for half an hour by the FBI simply because he had a Pakistani passport; a Pakistani friend leaving London for New York on business was told by lawyers to get to the airport hours early, armed with every conceivable kind of letter and documentation that might help him assure the authorities he is no terrorist.
I told him that if he is lucky enough to be allowed on to the flight, and if there is no revolt from the crew over his presence, he must stay seated through the entire journey. That might sound extreme, but I have heard that the pilot of a US plane made a speech before take-off, instructing the passengers that if there was a terrorist among them and if he should stand up during the flight they must all throw anything in the vicinity at him, and if any passengers were sitting next to children or the elderly, then those passengers should protect them by pushing them on to the ground and covering them with blankets and pillows. I have a vision of my friend standing up to stretch his legs, being spotted as a Muslim, and not only having in-flight magazines, wet wipes, and tawdry novels thrown at him but also seeing someone's grandmother being shoved on to the ground and smothered with blankets because of him.
At least it is still possible to laugh. I wonder what, if anything, the Afghans streaming towards the Pakistani border to escape annihilation find to laugh about these days. I wonder, also, if any of them have heard of the Roman historian, Tacitus. I would guess that most of them have not. But I am willing to bet that if you translated for them his most famous words, they would think he was a political commentator writing about what is to come in their land: "They make a desolation and call it peace.
Individual posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Jannah.org, Islam, or all Muslims. All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners. Comments are owned by the poster and may not be used without consent of the author.The rest © Jannah.Org