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The best way to destroy an enemy

Published May 20, 2011 07:20am


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The evil that evil men do casts a long shadow, as a German court's recent conviction of former Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk brings home. The sight of a 91-year-old working-class immigrant (Demjanjuk hid in plain sight for many years as an autoworker in the US state of Ohio) being sent to prison for five years is pathetic but makes a point. The point is that there is, and should be, no escape from accountability.

So I guess Osama bin Laden has been held accountable, and – notwithstanding the ramifications – that in itself surely is a good thing. Daring though the raid was, the day-after images of clueless neighbours rubbernecking and milling around, and of the man himself on home video wrapped in a chador and watching himself on television, expose a tawdry reality that belies the mystique that bin Laden and his movement thrived on. I'm reminded of journalist Nate Thayer's dramatic scoop in 1997 when he interviewed the dying Pol Pot, who turned out to be living comfortably with a young wife in the Thai jungle, two decades after having presided over the Cambodian genocide.

The smallness and furtiveness of such creatures, together with the unavoidable fact that they are as fully human as any of us, make them pitiable, and pity is the response that will most fully preserve our own humanity. But that's difficult to achieve for a species long in the bad habit of self-justification. If only we had the courage to acknowledge our own involvement and culpability, the world would be a better place.

By "us" I mean all of us. Thirty years after the Vietnamese invasion drove the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh, Cambodia's society and landscape remain severely damaged, and the ongoing but halfhearted trials of a few of Pol Pot's aging colleagues show up the complicity of Cambodian and Thai "authorities" – a euphemism for criminals who hold power and wear uniforms – not to mention the United States, which supported the Khmer Rouge materially and diplomatically throughout the 1980s against Vietnam and its protector, the Soviet Union.

I dwell on the Cambodian aftermath because it's all too instructive. Replace "Pol Pot" with "Osama bin Laden" and "Khmer Rouge" with "Taliban" and the resulting picture doesn't flatter anyone, which is why I find the dueling American and Pakistani recriminations that are currently flying around the Internet so depressing. Part of what's depressing is that everyone's anger is understandable. But there's a third faction that I hope most of us belong to: those whose first loyalty is not to Pakistan or to America, but to each other. This is the group I try always to remember and write for and encourage.

The day the news broke of bin Laden's death, I wrote in about how disturbed and disgusted I was by the crowds I was watching on US television, partying in New York and in front of the White House in Washington. I felt those young crowds and their chants of "USA! USA!" to be ominous. Two weeks later, it's both possible and necessary to make a more measured judgment. It's important to note that most Americans were not on television that day, nor were we celebrating. Most Americans I've spoken to since then say they felt relieved but not triumphant, and many expressed distaste and embarrassment at the TV crowds. The Americans crowds that cheered bin Laden's death as if it were a touchdown in a football game are no more representative than the Pakistani crowds that celebrated the death of Salmaan Taseer in January.

I hope that Pakistanis who are understandably offended by US violation of Pakistan's sovereignty will keep in mind that individual Americans don't represent, nor are we necessarily well represented by, the American government. Just as Pakistanis feel – because they are – effectively disenfranchised, so do most Americans. And, like Pakistanis, Americans suffer from myriad distractions both public and personal. Yet another high-stakes presidential election is already starting to loom; the price of gasoline is creeping up toward the historic threshold of $5 per gallon, with large implications for the long-cherished "American way of life" that we're only beginning to appreciate; and the Mississippi River is flooding at levels not seen since 1927. Pakistanis who experienced or witnessed last summer's severe flooding of the Indus know the human suffering such a disaster entails.

Something else both Americans and Pakistanis need to keep in mind, and find ways to come to terms with, is the sheer youth of the crowds in both countries. If it's true that 40 percent of Pakistanis are below the age of 15, then surely Pakistan's most urgent national tasks are to provide them with education and meaningful employment. Those young people are in great need and, although some of them are misguided, they were innocent toddlers the day bin Laden's minions killed 3000 Americans. Similarly, the American children of 9/11 came of age, through no fault of their own, in a time of terror and paranoia. They need to be led gently and compassionately away from the fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims that they've been raised to feel. And I know, from my own direct experience interacting with them at speaking engagements on college campuses all around America, that many of them are already leading themselves and each other in the right direction.

"The best way to destroy an enemy," said Abraham Lincoln, "is to make him a friend." Let's be friends.


Ethan Casey is the author of Alive and Well in Pakistan and Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip. He can be reached at and

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.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (18) Closed

Zafari Syed May 20, 2011 02:35pm
A very well written article that also elaborates Pakistanis' point of view much better than its own journalists or politicians do. Hope he would keep informing us as well as the American public of the ground realities.
Bazgha May 20, 2011 03:44pm
This is how we need to think, there is a need for global tolerant community more than ever. Thanks for such an insight!
irtiqa May 20, 2011 03:57pm
well I guess the only way to discourage spending on arms is to have space race among south asian countries.... it worked between the US and the USSR before and I think it can work again..that way our government will spend less on weapons and more on research and race means more job creation in government level.. the technology and research will not benefit single body like military but will benefit EVRYONE in the nation... plus there will be more emphasis on education and this will also attract foreign investment...
Zulfiqar Haider May 20, 2011 05:14pm
the best way to solve mutual issues is to develop a platform where youth of both these countries can interact
Somu May 20, 2011 06:59pm
Bravo! "But there’s a third faction that I hope most of us belong to: those whose first loyalty is not to Pakistan or to America, but to each other." This is what we are. Not patriots, not nationalists, not jingoists, not religions, not ideology. A simple caring for each other.
Junaid May 20, 2011 10:12pm
a positive thinking, should be adopted by both countries, peace peace peace
Ajay May 20, 2011 10:44pm
While I do not believe that every pakistani man is a bad man, you guys need to first figure out who is running your country. PM, president or army? What is the agenda vis a vis India. Right now India is definitely aggrieved that terrorists like zaki ur rehman lakhvi, hafeez saeed have found a sanctuary, would attack innocents in India again and then your calls of talks would smell insincere and hypocritical. Clean your house first before you ask others not to throw trash at your doorstep.
Ning May 21, 2011 10:09am
Great and true piece by Ethan. Will China, and it's proxies in Pakistan, permit Pakistan to make friends with India?
khalid May 21, 2011 11:32am
“The best way to destroy an enemy,” said Abraham Lincoln, “is to make him a friend.” Let’s be friends. I think this quote must be shown to the Americans first once violating some countries space and becoming the international police of the whole earth.
Parag May 21, 2011 11:45am
"The Americans crowds that cheered bin Laden’s death as if it were a touchdown in a football game are no more representative than the Pakistani crowds that celebrated the death of Salmaan Taseer in January.." Wow..what a case of misplaced moral equivalence ! First was a crowd celebrating the delivery of justice to a known mass murderer... another celebrating the killing of a person just because he talked of secular values and against bigotry....get real please...
Azeem May 21, 2011 01:49pm
Very Precise and Well Written Indeed!...
Matt May 21, 2011 01:53pm
Excellent article, though there are some real challenging realities that need to be confronted to be able to fold the thinking into an executable foreign policy. Here's hoping the people at the top can get it together. Good will and fortune to the people of Pakistan from Los Angeles.
SS May 21, 2011 04:50pm
Thanks for writing so compassionately for people on both sides of the divide.
Trainspotter May 21, 2011 08:21pm
Your intentions may be good but your analogies are way off. Pakistanis cheering Salman Taseer's were standing up for bigotry while Americans cheering OBL's death were celebrating the end of the bigot-in-chief. Big difference. Friends don't let friends live in self-delusion with false moral equivalence.
Umair May 22, 2011 06:14am
Exquisite piece of writing. I wish we as human kind learn from our mistakes and replace "Us versus Them" with "We"
S.Murthy May 22, 2011 10:09am
I agree with Ethan. But the problem is that countries though led by individuals take gigantic proportions for the sake of the so called political/economic exigencies. So countries have faces larger and more cruel than humans'. Is there any solution to this problem?
Syed Abbas May 31, 2011 07:21am
Despite the vast differences in material development, no two people on earth, not US-Canada, not US-UK, not US-Israel, share similar values as US and Pakistan. Both have: 1. Same National Symbol - Eagle soaring free above the clouds 2. Individualists freedom loving government hating 3. Manifest Destiny - America leading Free world and Pakistan the Muslims 4. Love armaments and guns and violence and drugs 5. Profoundly religious 6. Extremely mobile 7. Hospitable and generous 8. Can survive without trade - feed population with borders shut Both are living beyond their means for far too long. However, somehow they manage. In both countries the conspiracy theories abound. They together conspired to eliminate the Soviet Union and did so. The love-hate relationship, like a difficult but productive marriage, will continue. They are cut from the same cloth. Birds of the same feather flock together. Montreal Canada
Syed Abbas May 31, 2011 07:27am
To the above list let me add 9. Positive popular attitude towards business. A recent worldwide poll (can someone pls provide the reference) put USA at no 1. Pakistan came at close No. 2.