Dawn News

The urgent importance of mutual respect

As I begin writing this it's 2 am where I am and 3 am in New York and Washington, where exuberant crowds have gathered at Ground Zero and the White House, belligerently chanting "USA! USA!" and singing the national anthem and an ugly country-western song called "God Bless the USA." By the time you read this, you surely will have seen and heard some of that on television. It bodes ill.

The fact that Osama bin Laden was killed well inside Pakistan by US Navy SEALs, is dangerously embarrassing to the Pakistani state and military. "He was right under the noses of the Pakistani military there," said Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin, who noted that Abbottabad is a "well-known military town." Lt-Gen Thomas McInerney, also on Fox, was even more ominously to the point: "We've got enough problems with Pakistan that if we had talked to anybody in that government, Osama would have gotten away. We have a problem with Pakistan. Everybody's talking about it. This will highlight it."

Equally worrying is the attitude Americans are expressing toward the US military. It's one thing to be respectful, another to be worshipful, and Americans seem frighteningly oblivious to the cost to our society of its reverence toward the youngsters glibly known here as "our men and women in uniform." Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot whose plane hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, said: "Thanks again to our wonderful military; a big hats-off to the CIA." A US Marine in uniform told the buffoonish Fox correspondent Geraldo Rivera, "I know for the military, we're motivated as hell right now." A Republican former Congressman called the US military "the most important profession that anyone can be in" and said, "I think that this is one for the team."

That phrase calls to mind the in-your-face symbolism of American football as a metaphor for war, and Noam Chomsky's apt description of sports as "training in irrational jingoism." Rivera gushed about the "patriotism worn on their sleeves" of the shockingly young crowd hooting it up outside the White House, but it's more than ever important to reclaim that word from the right wing and to highlight the distinction that George Orwell insisted on way back in 1945: "Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By 'patriotism' I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. … Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power."

By Orwell's definition, I'm happy to call myself a patriotic American. And such a sentiment is consistent with the Holy Quran, "O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another." Patriotism implies respect for others who are differently patriotic, and that should be fine with everyone. But the young Americans that Geraldo Rivera is celebrating, the children of 9/11, have spent the past decade being trained in irrational jingoism and are blithely unaware of the impression our country has left on the rest of the world. I recall something a thoughtful American friend said to me in Haiti in 2004, a year when that country was more than usually brutalised by American power, "When you see other people waving their countries' flags you think, 'That's nice, they love their country.' When you see the American flag, you know people are going to die."

"Too many people still believe in the state, and war is the health of the state," wrote Ernest Hemingway in 1934. Sixty-four years after its founding, and for explicable reasons, Pakistan is still in state-building mode, and the military is an effective and patriotic national institution. I visited Swat in March, and since then I've been praising what I perceive as its restraint and benevolence there to audiences around the US. But the fact that bin Laden was killed, by US forces, just down the road from a Pakistani military school in Abbottabad is a severe black eye to the Pakistani state. Pakistani citizens and media will be doing their country a patriotic service if, far from excusing it, they continue to hold the state's feet to the fire for what clearly was either its incompetence or its complicity with bin Laden. Such assertion of Pakistani society's independence from the Pakistani state will count for a lot in coming days and weeks as friends of Pakistan like myself, and others of goodwill, do our best to resist another surge of militaristic American nationalism.

As I watch over and over the mobs in New York and Washington, I fear two things. One is that too many Pakistanis are too traumatised to lay aside their anger and frustration. "WE HATE AMERICANS!!!" a Pakistani I don't know personally told me on Facebook, just as I was finishing this piece. When I pointed out that I'm American and asked if he hated me, he replied, "I hate all of u!!"

The other thing I fear is that too few Americans appreciate the difference between global war and a giant football game. Football players have no more individuality than cogs in a machine, and the role of the crowd in a football stadium is to channel the emotions of vindictive triumphalism and hatred. That's what I'm seeing on US television as I write this. The legendary populist politician Huey Long is reputed to have said, prophetically, "When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the American flag." Or, as CNN quoted someone as asking pithily if pathetically on Twitter, "If Osama bin Laden is dead, can we please have our rights back?"

 

The writer is the author of Alive and Well in Pakistan and Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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Comments (25) Closed



Jonesy
May 02, 2011 06:02pm
The US dollar is tanking, the birth certificate is an obvious fraud, but wait! Watch Soetoro pull a rabbit out of his hat and bin Laden is dead, killed in an American secret operation, and the body is buried at sea like a goldfish flushed down the drain. All this on the anniversary of Adolph Hitler being killed! How can anyone be so stupid to buy into this psyop?
Rita
May 02, 2011 06:13pm
the most wanted man in the world just ceremoniously dumped like garbage at sea. FALSE FLAG ANYONE?
Butwait
May 02, 2011 06:18pm
But wait! who will America use as the boogieman now?
vj
May 02, 2011 06:28pm
I knew it he (osama) was living under patronage of ISI and he was their money making machine for almost 10 years now I hope it is now Dawod Ibrahim time , sooner or later Dawood will catch some where near karachi or islamabad. One advise for policy maker : Dont support any evil man hiow much fruitful they are at end they will be hitting on you Pakistan will now see consequence for all this as more terror group will turn against you
NS
May 02, 2011 06:45pm
Great Work !
bendintheriver
May 02, 2011 06:58pm
this must have hurt Pakistan's emotions a trillion times more than the loss to India in semi-finals.
crabbkakes
May 02, 2011 07:13pm
..."respectful, not worshipful"...Well said. Thank you for well phrased and intelligent writing!
GKrishnan
May 02, 2011 07:19pm
This article needs to be read and reread, for the good of our own small planet of today. It's utterly imbecile to have crowds cheering at the death of one man, as if it is just retribution for the death of about 3000, on a fateful day in September about ten years ago. Americans need to remember that today, more than ever, to borrow the phrase from Thomas Friedman, the world is flat. How come Americans are so unpopular across a wide swath of countries, in spite of being the most generous of aid-givers worldwide ? Your patriotism has to encompass things like music, food and beverages, culture, life-style, appreciation for heritage, and so on, rather than build up of military hardware. Would you like to guess which country has more Weapons of Mass Destruction, than all the others put together ? The US had better rework its PR building exercise.
krishnan
May 02, 2011 08:28pm
American must understand that to have crowds cheering at a dead does no good for its PR in Pakistan or in other Arab world. This is a big concern for all peace loving citizens of this world. Hope US takes note of it.
Vincent Duffy
May 02, 2011 11:36pm
VJ, if you 'knew' it, why did you not tell the Americans for 10 years,. who have killed tens of thousands of human beings who had done no harm to the Americans. More than a million Muslims have lost their lives, perhaps 99.9% of them having done no harm to the Americans. So, how do you decide to label people as "evil".
manbearpig
May 02, 2011 11:48pm
To Jonesy at 6:02 pm If this had happened during the Bush presidency, would you have had the same comment?
Suvhasis Mukhopadhya
May 03, 2011 03:52am
Ethan, I read your article with interest, and admit that it is well written, and well meant. I however, have a couple of questions: (1) Considering the magnitude of the 9/11 trauma, is it that out of place (or surprising) that there was expression of glee at the exit of it's principal architect? (2) You call yourself a friend of Pakistan - which is great - but how about advising your friend to be a little less duplicitous for a change, otherwise, sooner or later, those 'too clever by half' strategies will boomerang.... And I guess that is what we are seeing. I completely agree with your definition of patriotism... it certainly isn't jingoism. Regards
Samar
May 03, 2011 07:01am
Read quite a few articles today, but this one's the best! Though I completely don't buy this deus ex machina to Bil Laden's fairytale! It's just so half-baked! If they had to stigmatize Pakistan, they could've been a bit more imaginative. But the way US dumped the load in the 'Sea' (which happens to be on the other end of Pakistan), this becomes impossible to believe!
Susan Koshy
May 03, 2011 11:56am
Ethan, a lovely article. Than you. Bless you for a different perspective. Yes Bin Laden has been killed but this is not about losing and winning matches. It was horrible to see a young generation cheering as if they had just won a match........I was very sad to see those pictures on the TV. Your article gives me hope that there are other voices among us...........we have so much more to learn about real change and that our struggles for a different world is not over and we are all a part of the problem and the solution........not one man called Bin Laden. Americans like many of us in this world have such a narrow view of life and experiences from across the world
Shafiq
May 03, 2011 12:44pm
You are right Sir. There is only one country who does not go begging when a disaster strikes its population. More theatres ,cultural and scientific organisations, more athletics medals and anything else. For that matter they have as many weaknesses as any human organisations. That is the zenith of the human society. come on, you got to applaud. Shafiq
arias
May 03, 2011 01:20pm
Yup ... and the moon landing was faked. Get over yourself and join the rest of us in the real world.
SIMPLIFY
May 03, 2011 04:01pm
I completely agree with Jonesy. There are several major holes in the story. The most important one is the mysterious burial at sea. He was buried at sea even though the americans were were 1000 miles inland and were in helicopters which would have taken about 5 hours to reach the sea. Also the take of Hamid Gul is an interesting perspective: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xC7C322MRc&fe... It is not the first time - remember Iraq was supposed to have WMDs!
GKrishnan
May 05, 2011 11:54am
In a knee-jerk reaction to your comment, I wanted to clap, but stopped short. Might is right, is fine for the law of the jungle; not appropriate for how world affairs are to be conducted.
marc
May 06, 2011 12:11am
Guys- we killed our #1 enemy, Another Hitler. Would you not have cheered if Hitler was killed? Very simple; US- GOOD TERRORIST: Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad. VERY Bad. Ill cheer like crazy every day we kill someone trying to kill my family. Call me crazy.
Sean Quigley
May 07, 2011 07:30pm
Frankly this confirms that the West can never be real friends with any Islamic nation, the cultural divide is simply too great. We can peaceful, meaningful relations and cooperate in many areas but never expect to be tried and true allies. Pakistan's behavior is shameful to the extreme, and is not merely a failed state but a rogue state. We need to end relations as soon as possible with your country.
Amin Hussain
May 09, 2011 12:25pm
if only you would...
Gerrit
May 11, 2011 02:01am
This is a perfect example of the kind of simplistic reasoning that is so worrying.
noor
May 11, 2011 11:05am
Please do so at your earliest; we would survive better, we suffered everytime we came near US.
noor
May 11, 2011 11:15am
God help u who blindly believe whatever ur govt tells u, do u believe such a backward person living in Afghanistan carried out 9/11; and u also think a man living without any technology has an organisation namely al-qaeda, and also gives statements on internet! u think, the world's most wanted person was living in Abbotabad; and without any security, amidst 4 ladies and 12 children. then u accuse Pakistan's agencies; do you think US could get a person out if Pakistan Army was hiding him? this army has already defeated a super power, fine ur financing, but brains and guts to face was its own, watch out! u r sadly mistaken, rather living in a fool's paradise. its better to wake up from illussions!
Irfan
May 12, 2011 06:41pm
Ethan, Susan, GKrishnan, Vincent, thank you for the sanity, amid the madness