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Letters From America: Pakistan

A new MONITOR series exploring how the world sees us, in the spirit of Alexis de Toquville's Democracy in America
Dear brother Zari Khan:

I am writing this to you after six months in the first among the First World -- the United States of America.

You know that I have travelled widely. You were there in the Persian Gulf during the Desert Storm days when I worked in Dubai, and know that I later visited Europe, as well as quite a few Asian destinations. It's nothing like the U.S.. People here are so genuinely wonderful and simple and open and friendly. Having travelled at least 20,000 miles in the U.S. by Amtrak and Greyhound bus, I am impressed 100 percent by the beauty of the land and 70 percent by the beauty of the people. (Why I have deducted 30 percent from that total I shall be explaining shortly.)

The flashy cars and the cute-looking homes dotting the American landscape are bewitching for any soul from the poor Third World, like myself. Behind the facade of affluence, there are heart-rending stories of how wretched the "system" may actually be, however. It's all too frightening to know how insecure the vast majority of people feel, although they live in the most powerful land.

Without doubt, I can vouchsafe that individual Americans are the most friendly people anywhere in the world. But collectively, they seem to have a penchant for war. From childhood they treat war as if it was were another game of Nintendo. Anti-war sentiments are largely on the fringe of society.

There is also a high degree of paranoia and skepticism. "Let's accept it. What we did in Iraq was for Arab money," one young American said with a devilish smile. I don't know what the omnipotent mainstream media have fed them, but I was told the wildest things by Americans. That the Chinese want to steal world leadership from the U.S., or that Canada may be planning to snatch away Alaska from the U.S. -- with support from Europe!

"They always ask me what brings you here? Where are you from?"
There is a strange kind of apartheid here. In Miami-Dade county, Florida, where I stayed for a week, I saw only one white face, and in Campbell County, where I stayed for six weeks, I saw only three blacks. "Don't go in that neighborhood. They do not like blacks and people of your color. Once a black man went that way and they fired in the air to scare him away. They might call the cops on you," a black war veteran warned. When I asked him if I could quote him for a write-up on what's amiss in the USA, he agreed, but then had an afterthought. "Please do not quote me by name -- they may come after me."

Even at nice, private schools, race distinction is encouraged. An Asian-American housewife told me, "The teacher at the school in Columbus where I sent my three-year-old son always used to ask him what language he speaks in 'your country.' She faced the same questions herself: "At the bank where I work, they always ask me what brings you here? Where are you from?" Both she and her son are USA-born Americans. She also was unwilling to be named in a newspaper.

It seems to me that working people and families become homeless at the drop of the hat. There is no doubt in my mind that the worst off are the offsprings of the former slaves, the African-Americans. My visit to a homeless shelter in downtown Cincinatti gave me a first hand account of the flipside of life in U.S. Inmates were sleeping on the floor, drunk and drugged. For the first time in my life, I hated the smell of beer -- the entire place was enveloped with the bad odor of rotten beer. At nights there could be 250 people sleeping "like husbands and wives," according to one of the supervisors. Over 99 percent of them were African-Americans.

Sex, Alcohol, and Drugs
Family and family values lie victim to fast-paced consumerism. One young Asian businessman told me that life in the United States could be summed up with three letters: S.A.D: Sex, Alcohol, and Drugs. At first I though this was all part of some Islamist propaganda, but the more I look into U.S. society and the more "embarassing" questions I ask of U.S.-born Americans, the more I tend to agree.

I had the chance to meet a guy -- a highly-paid construction worker -- who spent nearly one million dollars on crack, but is homeless today.

I met another man whose two-year-old daughter had been raped by the new love partner of his estranged wife.

I met another young man who had nowhere to go because his mother wanted him to be a practicing Christian -- and when he refused he was shown the door.

I came to know about a small-town judge who fined drunk drivers many hundreds of dollars and license confiscation, but himself drove his car dead drunk!

I mean this from the bottom of the heart: this is kind of a testing time for the Americans
I find the Americans the friendliest and most hospitable lot, overwhelming majority of whom are downright honest, nice people. Mostly straight-talking. Kindred souls. I discussed this with kindly manager of a motel in suburban Ohio. "Some of us are good," she said. I could not help but correct him: "Most of you are good."

The racial slurs I hear are mindboggling: nigger, white nigger, sand nigger, raghead, towelhead. A time-bomb is ticking away in the backdrop of the general euphoria with cultural diversity.

Just imagine this scene: there are snow flurries outside, I am enjoying my cold Budweiser beer in suburban U.S. in the midwest (I am in seventh heaven) when a fair guy, slim, tall, bearded, and with unwashed jeans -- much like what I used to see in the cowboy movies in my childhood -- approached me. "Are you the Iranian who owns the 'family dollar shop' in the mall?" he asked. I am quite flattered and reply, "No, but I wish I was."

I think he was too tipsy and believed I had said yes. He turned to his friend. "Didn't I tell you James? These fuckin' Iranians are buying out all the properties here." My heart almost sank as to what was in store for me. But James jumped to my defense, "This kind of talk makes me ashamed to call myself an American," and the cowboy-like man beat a hasty retreat, to my relief.

In another bar I strikeup a conversation with an American woman who had lived in the UK for four years. We were having a very pleasant discussion, but after a few more drinks she shows her true colors: "You see, we always come back home [to the U.S.]," she says. The message was very clear to me, and I felt terribly hurt. I was -- and always would be -- an outsider to her. I could visit the USA, but should not try to make it my home. The U.S. could not and should not be a home for anyone who was not born here.

Had I not gulped a few more glasses than necessary, I could have kept mum. But now I explain to her that if the U.S. dropped its imperial ambitions, people from all over the globe would stop coming here. She is upset by this. "What about all the good the U.S. does to people around the world?" What I gathered from this is that most Americans, bombarded by their non-stop media, fail to realize the magniftude of U.S. mistakes. The Americans seem brainwashed to belive in the greatness of their foreign policy. Only few them out here are willing to accept that Washington does not act out of altruism all the time but out of selfish state interests, which are really the corporate interests of the super-rich.

It's time perhaps for Americans to stop praising their achievements and unending tall talk of cultural diversity and racial harmony and personal freedoms. I can say this from my personal experience. Spotting two earrings on my right ear and none in my left ear, yet another redneck launched a verbal attack so strong I migt not give it in print. You know he was angry how I, a sand nigger, made his way here while his English girlfriend failed to do so. (But we have since become good friends, after my message of love stirred his heart.)

Some friends advise me to survive and thrive I must not put too many questions to the powers-that-be -- "the American people are really scared of the CIA and FBI," one wonderful American woman told me -- but rather find ways to best sell myself in corporate America.

Brother, I have some fears about the future.

I have a strong feeling that the younger generation is suffering from delusions of grandeur, and I hope the friendly Americans do not meet the same fate as the Brits, some of whom still believe the sun never sets on the Empire.

I mean this from the bottom of the heart: this is kind of a testing time for the Americans. They have to accept that the blacks were wronged historically and give as much compensation as possible, without complaining.

In the domain of foreign relations, the Yanks cannot continue with their Sino-phobia, frightened that the Chinese are going to dominate them one day, and launch a misadventure that might spell the disastrous twilight for the globe. I know the average Chinese person loves Americans, and I do not understand why the average American cannot reciprocate that feeling.

God bless America, in all its diversity.
Your loving brother,
'Tutu' Ahmar Khan

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Albion Monitor May 19, 2001 (

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