Some of My Best Friends Are Pakistanis

Published on CHOWK, by Ethan Casey, May 5, 2010.

SAN DIEGO, May 4 – As I write this, the news that the man arrested for trying to blow up Times Square is a U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin has only begun to sink in. What is this going to mean for other U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin – and for me, as their friend?

This article’s headline is an ironic allusion to something people used to say to disavow bigotry: “Some of my best friends are Jews.” It’s also a straight statement of fact: some of my best friends are Pakistanis. And I want the world to know that, especially in these times and at this moment, because I think it’s very important for us to remember that not all U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin blow stuff up … // 

… What needs to be done? Young Pakistanis need to be given hope and self-respect by way of education and jobs. This is already being done by The Citizens Foundation, by Developments in Literacy – at whose San Diego fundraiser I’ll be speaking this Saturday, May 8 – by the Human Development Foundation, by Pakistani pop star Shehzad Roy’s Zindagi Trust, and famously by Greg Mortenson.

But why is Greg Mortenson’s the only one of these efforts that’s well known? Part of the answer, of course, is that he’s white: church ladies and Oprah watchers can relate to him as a virtual nephew or brother-in-law. This is fine. But we need to get beyond the toxic supposition that America is primarily a “white” and/or Christian country. It’s not, anymore, and that’s a good thing.

So the other thing that needs to be done is that the Pakistani community needs to ratchet up both its involvement in American society and politics and its visibility. Call up your local schools and churches, invite your neighbors to your home, all that good stuff, and by all means enlist me, Todd Shea, and Greg Mortenson as envoys. But also support Pakistani-American and other Muslm candidates for public office; insist on meetings with existing officeholders, not only but especially those you consider hostile to Muslims or Pakistan; and support and expand the lobbying work of groups like the Pakistani American Leadership Center and the Council of Pakistan American Affairs COPAA. Get in the American public’s face, as fellow Americans, and help us all begin having a more honest conversation about Pakistan, America, terrorism, and where our countries and world are headed.

And I ask two things of my fellow non-Pakistani Americans: Go to the trouble of educating yourselves about Pakistan – my books and inviting me to speak are, indeed, good places to start. And, when you see pictures of Faisal Shahzad over the coming days, keep in mind that, except for the buzz cut, Tim McVeigh looked a lot like me. (full text).

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