Monday, September 27, 2010

View from US: America in a flux By Anjum Niaz

“Oh yeah”! Many of you back home will see the headline above and say. With a yawn, you’ll add “Who cares? So, what else is new?” Well I have something new for you:

Today, one in every seven Americans is poor. Yes, poor. A family of four earning $21,954 annually comes under the poverty line. Some more news: An upstart: the Tea Party, led by the likes of TV celebrity Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin threatens to upstage the Democrats and the Republicans in coming years.

Dinesh D’Souza, is adding all the fuel he can collect against the current White House incumbent. The Indian-born Catholic is Obama’s latest bogey man. In his cover article for Forbes magazine called “How Obama thinks” D’Souza disingenuously tries tying him to Pakistan: “…we have been blinded to his (Obama’s) real agenda because, across the political spectrum, we all seek to fit him into some version of American history. In the process, we ignore Obama’s own history. Here is a man who spent his formative years—the first 17 years of his life—off the American mainland, in Hawaii, Indonesia and Pakistan, with multiple subsequent journeys to Africa.”

Wrong! Other than just visiting Pakistan once as a student, Obama never lived here. Forbes, don’t you check your facts?

So, I reach out to my Lucknow-born Indian friend whom we’ll call AK (he’s shy of seeing his name in print) to get his worldview on Pakistan, India and of course, America. He lives in Philadelphia; has a doctorate in business; was once a journalist. Is sophisticated.

Q: Your take on Pakistani-Americans? Be frank...?

A: Friendly, sociable and fun loving. A lot like my Indian Muslim friends.

Q: Room for improvement?

A: My suggestion — Muslim or not — don’t wear your religion on your sleeve as a badge of honour and try to fit in. Religion is private. Try to meld in. The Chinese and Japanese play the assimilation game. As soon as they arrive they pick Anglo names.

Q: What about Indians?

A: The less refined have no appreciation for American/western culture (unlike the educated ones) and may not even speak the language fluently. The one aspect of some Indians that I detest is their loud criticism of everything American.

Q: What’s the reason for an underlying bias/ distrust/ prejudice between Indians and Pakistanis in the US?

A: Perhaps our history or the Internet. Sure, we have a few chauvinistic bigots just as there are ‘Muslim’ bigots in Pakistan. At work, there is little of this. Perhaps in social life there’s more. My step mom says not all Pakistani doctors where she lives reciprocate her friendship; they are not rude but merely diffident. I have noticed that among some of my Indian friends, Mumbai 26/11 had a negative effect on their attitudes. But I like Muslims. I’d wait for my Muslim pals in college to return with all kinds of goodies from Pakistan. Oh, yeah, I am forgetting cricket matches.

Kashmir is cited in Pakistan — politicians and the press — as the main underlying cause of Indo-Pakistan tensions.

To Indians, everything was hunky dory until 1988-89 when Pakistanis started sending in Jihadis. In my opinion, the insistence by Pakistan to act on Kashmir will keep alive the religious basis for Pakistan’s existence and the extremist ferment within it.

Q: Why are some Indians so biased? I get ugly emails from them whenever I praise Pakistanis or mention Indo-Pak hostility?
A: I consider myself American now, though I do maintain good friendships with American-Indian friends and relatives. Perhaps those you mention are less confident of themselves. Or, they feel somehow “superior” as their country is now more in the news because of “positive” things instead of poverty and train accidents. My contention is that the Partition thing fractured the fragile normality among Muslims and Hindus that had started to gel in after Aurangzeb. The gentler Sufi tradition was quite similar to the more ancient meditative and spiritual traditions of India in sharp contrast to the alien and militant version that came with the initial Arab invasion 1,300 years ago.

Q: Indians are better entrenched in the American system than Pakistanis here...?

A: Indians are more organised politically as a group. There is already one governor and probably a second one in Nikki Haley. There are some large contributors (businessmen and doctors) who’ve been donating to both Republicans and Democrats. Pakistanis, because of a confluence of events — 9/11, wars in the Middle East, war on terror — are perhaps not as bold. Since I am in the tech business, most of our IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) graduates ended up in top American institutions where they got their masters and PhDs and then were hired by American companies. IBM’s Thomas Watson Labs head was an Indian. This “ brain drain” to the U.S. — their undergraduate education heavily subsidised by the Indian Government — within 20 years paid big dividends in the presence of a large engineering and business contingent in the US, especially in Silicon Valley. These guys also helped fuel the economy in India and helped contribute to the American technology economy. Eventually the economic ties with the US have been built on this.

Perhaps reflective of their population sizes, Chinese and Indian students are among the top in many countries, besides the US. This also reflects the value Chinese and Indian cultures place on quality education.

No comments: