I jumped out of bed at 4 a.m to go stand in line to vote on the morning of the day Americans—and the rest of the world—had been waiting for in a state of high anxiety and excitement ever since the 2008 election campaign kicked off in right earnest—but more particularly since Barack Hussein Obama won the Democratic Party nomination early this summer. Maureen Dowd, writing her daily Op-Ed column this past weekend for the New York Times, in her characteristic witty style observed, “The McCain campaign specializes in erratica, while the Obama campaign continues to avoid any dramatica.” While McCain has certainly run a most erratic and bizarre campaign, and the full ugliness of the Republican right has reared its head often and vilely enough against Senator Obama—the race to the finish and beyond has, for us Obama-ites—been nothing if not dramatic.
I mean, who would have ‘thunk’ it: an African-American man—a “nigger” as they would have called him here not so long ago, with all the negative, stereotypes of Black manhood that that word implied—and a man with a Muslim middle name—talk about a double-whammy!!—should have won the American presidency! To enter the White House and make it colored! Wow!
That such a possibility has become a reality speaks volumes about America’s recent political history, and gives us insight into the American psyche in ways that are very important to understand and appreciate for the rest of the world—especially for my Pakistani compatriots. In recent years—post 9/11 to be precise—I have, for good reason, observed the anger against the U.S mount in the hearts and minds of most Pakistanis I know, which would include the friends I know from the days back when they and I studied here in the U.S in the late seventies and early eighties. This is the liberal intelligentsia of Pakistan, and while their anger has been justified against recent American foreign policy under the Republican-led government of George ‘Dubya’ Bush—I also think it has been far too sweeping in its condemnation of the American people whom they have wrongly seen as supporting Bush and his Rovian policies. In many a conversation with these friends over the past several years, I have tried to argue a different position—one which is now crucial to recognize as we all, citizens of this precious and benighted planet—seek to move beyond the stalemate of a war-scarred period in our collective, shared history.
My position has always been that President G.W. Bush never had the mandate of the American people. His was a stolen election in 2000, in which after massive electoral bungling and fraud in Texas and Florida—he was handed the presidency by the US Supreme court. In the next election, in 2004, again there were reports of all kinds of election shenanigans from Ohio and other states, and while ofcourse there were—and remain many diehard Republicans who voted for him and his party—these did not represent the overwhelming majority of decent, fair-minded Americans. Indeed, on the eve of the 2008 election, Nicholas Kristof, a conservative Op-Ed columnist for the NYT, informed us that according to an unscientific poll of 109 professional historians conducted this past year, 61 percent rated President Bush as the worst president in American history—and more than 98% of those polled (the poll was conducted through the History News network)—viewed Mr. Bush’s presidency as a failure. While the poll reports the opinions of historians, I would venture to extrapolate from it that the American people feel much the same way—and have been feeling it for quite some time now, as their huge turnout over these past several years in massive rallies against the Iraq war and against torture of prisoners in Guantanamo and against the erosion of civil liberties etc –all over this beautiful country bear witness to. And now, having closed in on the moment of truth—which, despite widespread fears amongst the electorate that there would be massive efforts by the Republican machinery to doctor the results of the election—Barack Obama won, in nothing short of a landslide (I had predicted this to my students, friends and family and promised I would eat one of my hats if proved wrong—so am grateful I wasn’t called to the test on that one!).
Seriously though, what the results—and I would venture to add—the momentum and attitudes of the average American leading up to this election, show—is the need for Pakistanis to shelve their anger at “all Americans” and hence at America as the bastion of evil hell-bent on destroying the Other within and without its borders. Even a conservative commentator like Kristof recognizes that two terms of Bush’s government has led to a foreign-policy mess which has alienated so much of the world and created headaches for this country but also for the rest of the world. He writes with black humor:
“Our Afghanistan and Pakistan policy is a mess in part because Osama Bin Laden’s approval rating in Pakistan (34 percent) is almost double America’s (19 percent). You know we need a new approach when we lose a public relations competition to a fugitive mass murderer” (NYT Nov 2 2008, 12).
Clearly, Kristof represents the opinions and feelings of most Americans at this point in time, who have finally, with the power of the ballot, made themselves heard resoundingly. But my question now is to my Pakistani brethren: are you going to wake up out of your self-righteous anger and stop your confused thinking? Are you going to reverse these poll numbers so that the world doesn’t see you approving of Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda and Taliban bombings against your own people, just because you are peeved at a US foreign policy that has also been shoved down the throat of most empathetic, fair-minded American citizens?? These Americans have risen up against the man and the government that has done them wrong and ruined their reputation with people like you. They deserve not just to be applauded for this—but joined in their struggle to right the wrongs against the people of the world committed by BOTH Christian and Islamic leaders who hear an insane, vengeful God speaking in their ears. This goes for the Jewish extremists in Israel too.
It is high time Pakistani citizens also examine their misguided emotions and assumptions regarding the USA and its policies toward Pakistan and the region as a whole. As the Daily Times editorial notes in yesterday’s post-US-election edition:
But there is still something wrong with the assessment of many Pakistanis regarding the change of government in the United States. The main flaw is that we want the outside world to adjust to our feelings without first examining the validity of the way we feel and think. If we protest “sovereignty” and “territorial integrity” against the ISAF-NATO raids, why don’t we protest the terrorists who have violated our territory much more palpably and have shown to the world that our state is not capable of controlling its own territory?
I think the editorial got the question exactly right: why don’t Pakistanis—especially the “silent majority”—who are NOT pro-Taliban or pro-Al Qaeda or pro-“terrorist”—speak out against the crazies who are holding the rest of the country hostage with their suicide bombings and extremist actions against women’s and minorities rights? Can they not condemn the US predator drone strikes in Pakistan’s northern areas without simultaneously—and wrongly—endorsing the local terrorists as freedom-fighters against US imperialism? Clearly, it is high time for such confused, nay, dangerous thinking to stop! It is high time for Pakistan and Pakistanis to assert their democratic right to speak out against the forces of obscurantism in their midst, as they adjust to a New World Order under a new American president who will hopefully usher in a saner, more rational era of peace and cooperation across this one world we all share.
And now, time for me to go pick up several boxes of donuts for my students at Montclair State University. They voted overwhelmingly Democratic this year.
FAWZIA AFZAL-KHAN is a Professor in the Department of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org