Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

I want America back (by a Pakistani)

I was born in Pakistan in the early 1980s. That’s where I grew up, my first years under a repressive dictatorship.  When Zia-ul-Haq died I was six years old. One of my early memories is hearing that news on the television, the newscaster on the state run TV channel crying as he read it out. I also remember the odd air of elation around me on what seemed on the face of it, at six years of age, an unambiguously sad event. I remember the electricity in the air when Benazir Bhutto was elected Prime Minister and the slow return of cynicism as it became obvious things weren’t getting a whole lot better anytime soon.

After a few years of faltering democracy, the year I started university Musharraf took over. So there I was, a gay agnostic young man in a conservative Islamic society that frowns upon political expression. It was hard for me to find many heroes in the religion dominated discourse of Pakistani politics. So I found them elsewhere. I found them in Mario Savio of the Free Speech Movement, in Stonewall, in Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, in Ted Kennedy. I read accounts of people standing up for what was right and succeeding in winning change. Of course, as I had grown up, my objections to American foreign policy had became strong. I saw how military dictators had been enabled by American influence. I saw automatic weapons appear on the streets as a direct result of the adventures in Afghanistan. Then came George Bush. But I always retained faith in America being able to do the right thing.

A few years ago I moved to Scotland for graduate school. I’m interested in British politics. I know the issues. I vote, I protest (studiously avoiding getting into trouble with the law since it would be problematic given that I’m not a UK citizen). But there’s an emotional connection I feel with American politics that I don’t get here. In three days I go to New York for a four month research visit. I’m really excited about being there during the election. I’d love to help in whatever way I can.

Meanwhile, back in the country of my birth, the city I grew up in is falling apart. In the game of musical chairs that passes for electoral politics, the army has given way to the feudal lords, who will no doubt give way to the barons of industry. Any optimism that elections would actually shift some power away from the hands of the usual suspects has faded. Both the American and Pakistani militaries are bombing villages in the West, seemingly indiscriminately, and in turn revenge comes to Islamabad. A few months ago it was a restaurant that I had often eaten at, followed by the unnerving sight of suspicious eyes peering over machine guns behind sandbags on the streets of Islamabad. Then the Red Mosque fiasco, with a battle raging in the heart of the city. And now the bombing of a hotel in which I have seen many friends and family get married, and often chatted late into the night over coffee at the cafe on the ground floor. My grandmother, who has lived for thirty years about a mile from the bombing, couldn’t stop crying over the phone when I spoke to her last night. She is in her late 80s and can’t bear to see the city being brought down around her. I don’t know how this can be fixed. I don’t have any policy prescriptions to immediately put an end to it. What I do know is that my family, my friends and myself are directly affected by what America does. We don’t have a vote, but we have at least as much of a life or death stake in what direction your country takes.

Some of us are doing our bit in our parts of the world. I will write another diary about the challenges, the teargas, the welts from police batons. This one, however, is not about that. This one is about me begging you: Please, America, don’t break our hearts. I’m tenuously holding on to Bill Clinton’s words: “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”  Please, make it better for everyone.


  1. A good friend who grew up in Karachi and I spent much of 2006 and 2007 discussing the situation in Pakistan, the situation in the US and the situation in the world, as they all relate to each other.  It is often true that those outside the US are the ones who can provide the clarity that those who have always lived here need, and your words here are a living example.

    I want America back, too.  I was born here and grew up loving it and hating it, leaving it and coming back.  At this point in my life I think I fully understand what it was, what it is, and what it can be, and I too am willing to do whatever I can to see it become that again.  Barack Obama is, in my opinion, an amazing opportunity for us to begin to regain what made this country what it has been, but it is much more than simply electing a President that needs to be done.  For a long time I have been pushing for a restoration of the positive aspects of American culture and leadership and Obama has come along at a time when we need someone like him in the White House, but what has made America worth admiring has never been about a President, and November fifth does not end the work we all need to do.

    Drop me a line if you like, I’ll see if I can hook you up with some good folks in NYC. (  Enjoy your time here and thanks for everything you do.



  2. I’m not alone in asking for MORE.

    It would be really interesting to all of us if we had a sense of what’s happening now in Pakistan since the elections, and how that could play out in regional stability. Musharraf was a key Bush ally, but the North West territories are increasingly unstable. What do McCain and Obama’s policies, especially in regard to cross border pursuit, mean for the future of the country?

    It would also be great to get a take on the feelings of the Pakistani diaspora. I know the Bethnal Green area pretty well. In fact I’m thinking of getting Rushanara Ali, the Labour candidate for Bethnal Green, to write a piece for us. Be good to have your thoughts on this too

  3. thank you for contributing to our modest efforts.

    In any discourse, it is important to have as many viewpoints as possible. Hence the motley, in Motley Moose. We welcome you to our motley group.  

  4. KLRinLA

    I just finished a book, “3 Cups of Tea” written by Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin about a friendly andrezzi climber who started building secular schools for the poor Balti villagers in the Karakoram Range, and then expanded his program, the Central Asia Institute, to other Pakistani regions outside of the citites, and including going into Afghanistan after 9/11 to build more schools.  This has been credited as part of the solution to combat against Wahhabi madrassas that don’t teach math and science but teach extremism that translates into breeding grounds for terrorists.  It also seems to be the more effective way to combat terrorsim as opposed to military might that seems to acheive the opposite of the desired effect (civilians and families killed as part of collateral damage that end up inspiring anti-American sentiment, which is logical).

    I am curious as to whether you have heard of Greg Mortensen or his work and whether you have any opinions of it.  The book is very engaging and enlightening read.

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