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.