Osama’s Death, a Devastated Homeland, and Pakistani-American Confusion
SAN FRANCISCO— Osama bin Laden is dead, and among those cheering in the United States are some Pakistani-Americans. They are at the forefront of the festivities, hip-hip-hooraying for the brave Navy Seals, while making their anger toward the Pakistan government and security agencies clear.
The bizarre cross-section of American patriotism and vitriol against Pakistan would be more troubling were it not for the fact that lost in the mélange of diasporic identities, these young and old Pakistani Americans have no idea whose side they are really on.
The younger ones were born in the USA and struggled through a childhood and adolescence where their names, religion and looks set them apart from the mainstream American. Despondent about not fitting in, many of these young Pakistani Americans became even more gung-ho about disastrous U.S. foreign policies and puritanical “family values” than generations of established Americans were.
It doesn’t hurt that there has been a dubious narrative of support for Muslims in America ever since George W. Bush’s first inglorious double-talk on how America respects Muslims, even as the “war on terror” was launched against several Muslim countries.
You can be Muslim and American, the narrative says, as long as whatever you are supports U.S. foreign policy.
The older generation of Pakistani Americans is settled into the United States. They left primarily for economic reasons and have made a life for themselves abroad. They too experienced great discrimination and self-doubt, having endured years of explaining to Americans that they are not Indians, and not extremists. Every time something horrible happens in Pakistan, they cringe at what the mainstream American news will say, and how their white-picket-fenced neighbors will react. Their insecurities about who they are have made them ill equipped to deal with disaster.
Sure, there are Pakistani-Americans who have retained an affection for their homeland or their parents’ homeland–who have compassion for the people in Pakistan living through the terrors of the drone attacks, the corruption and the crossfire of the so-called War on Terror day after day.
They sincerely understand the on-the-ground repercussions for Pakistanis when decisions are made in Washington. And they are not quick to praise U.S. military operations — small or large — as patriotic victories for their new landlords.
Perhaps those Pakistani-Americans are even in the majority. But the voices of the confused are still apparent in the American media. They think that to be accepted by Americans they should denounce Pakistan. Maybe some of them have political careers in mind. Rest assured they will go far in the U.S. government — there are enough examples of that kind of “success” to withhold any doubt about that.
Others, still, think that U.S. flag-waving will distract the world from the fact of their Pakistani-ness. It’s a painful self-denial–troubling for those who have to witness it, chafing for those who actually live it.
But I ask them, if you are so angry at the Pakistani government and security agencies for being involved in, or failing to be involved in (whichever it is that bothers you so) the death of bin Laden, why would you praise the U.S. government, whose billions of dollars in aid have been lining the pockets you disdain?
It’s not the people of Peshawar or Multan, who are receiving this aid. Over 30,000 Pakistanis have died in the War on Terror, the vast majority of them civilians. They were the kind of people who suffer the backlash of U.S. military operations, not reap its benefits.
The sad irony is that these Pakistani Americans are celebrating a military victory by their adopted country, but “won” on their ancestral homeland—a nation whose economy has been devasted and whose masses have been radicalized by this war.
Those are exactly the opposite goals of what were stated when the War on Terror began. In a land far away from the troubles of Pakistan, some Pakistani Americans have lost touch with the real repercussions of this “war.” They’ve also lost touch with themselves.
Shirin Sadeghi is a Pakistan expert who writes a weekly column for Pakistan’s national daily newspaper, Pakistan Today. Follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/ShirinSadeghi