Appreciate culturally, politically diverse countries
As part of the political events at Carnegie Mellon in the past few weeks, I had the opportunity to attend a video conference with Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last Monday. To my disappointment, Mullen failed to give insight into global politics and instead perpetuated nearsighted stereotypes, promoting fear while overlooking the diversity between the countries he addressed.
Mullen communicated his thoughts on leadership and decision-making, repeatedly discussing the United States’ presence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and — broadly — what he called the Middle East. As if Mullen’s use of a loose definition of the “Middle East” wasn’t bad enough, he also roped Pakistan, a country that shares its border with Afghanistan, into this umbrella term. He expressed the urgency on the part of the U.S. to liberate, unify, and advocate peace within the war-torn nations, as well as their devastated neighbors. Moreover, he referred to Pakistan and Afghanistan, countries that are South Asian and not Middle Eastern, as areas where hate and fundamentalism breed and reign. In Mullen’s words, these countries harbor a “culture of hate.”
Point noted — once again.
By lumping this diverse group of countries into one term of “Middle Eastern” and implying that they all harbor hatred, Mullen perpetuated already-existing (and incorrect) stereotypes, particularly in relation to Pakistan. The entire belt of nations stretching from southwestern Asia into the Middle East has been labeled by Western media as the hub of fundamentalists and terrorists, without once considering that these countries are historically, culturally, and politically very different from one another.
Instead of dismissing these countries for their potential relationships to fundamentalist and terrorist groups, we must focus on why such groups manage to sustain their positions.
In Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf has little control over the extremist groups along the North-West Frontier Province. Starting during former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s government and long into Musharraf’s, the groups established local madrasas (religious schools), pulled children out of the few English schools in the region, and supposedly launched several suicide bomb attacks across major cities of Pakistan like Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad.
However, Mullen and the rest of the current administration are wrong in insisting upon Musharraf as our staunch ally in the war on terror. Bush’s constant support of the dictator is by no means helping the current period of uncertainty in Pakistan.
The U.S. is also hindering peace by arming Musharraf, an illegitimate ruler who has suspended democracy at the moment, and tossing missiles on the northern areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Are such atrocities supposed to foster freedom, love, and peace among the region’s economically and politically suffering people? If so, such an attempt is in vain. If not, then such violence is breeding what I, as a Pakistani, would hate to see overpower the country: fear, violence, and hatred.
Terrorism isn’t a sudden phenomenon in Pakistan. Pakistanis have lived with terror even before 9/11, and there is an overwhelming desperation on their part to get rid of terrorists. Extremism, however, is a recent epidemic in Pakistan that is spreading into the weak immune systems of the masses that have been attacked with political deceit for decades. Pakistanis are Muslims — period. As such, in our hearts, we reject any extreme philosophy. It’s a matter of historical fact, and is recorded as such, that we’ve never voted for an overtly religious pedagogue — who assumes a fundamentalist Islamic stance — in any election since the creation of Pakistan. In fact, whenever forced to choose, Pakistanis have voted against the religious zealot and prevented him from playing with their lives.
In fact, it is Pakistan’s corrupt and self-serving leaders — not its people — who support extremists. If Islamic fundamentalism, extremism, jihad — whatever name one gives it — was embedded in the culture, why has it taken 60 years to manifest itself?
The spread of Islamic Fundamentalism is, unfortunately, a result of the hollow, bankrupt, and shortsighted domestic and foreign policies of Pakistan’s political leaders. If such leaders had forged relationships with more powerful nations on a foundation of mutual respect, instead of on an overwhelming desire to play the role of political courtesan, Pakistanis would not be looked upon with suspicion every time a bomb went off.
Pakistanis are not inherently fundamentalist. The history of suffering at the hands of leaders with neither a vision nor a mission to serve the people has taken its toll. In Pakistan at the moment, with no proper recourse to education, jobs, health care, and security, there is an unholy vacuum of trust. This vacuum is, unfortunately, subsequently filled by people on the extremist fringes of society.
Desperation has its own followers. The results are fundamentalism, extremism, and complete mayhem — the building blocks of how Mullen shaped our identity. By lumping together these historically, culturally, and politically divided nations as the “dangerous Middle East,” Mullen defeats the whole purpose of guiding students to the dome of leadership. That is, to be a successful leader, one must not only be aware of the differences between whom one is trying to lead, but also what will help those being led become leaders in their own right.