Daniel Pipes, the great American scholar and expert on the Middle East, Islam, and more recently said in a Times of India interview that, “there’s a tendency in west Asia to blame western powers for whatever happens – be it as large as Islamic State or as small as a traffic jam.” Having spent years in west Asia’s great cities and remote villages, I can confirm his observation. Conspiracy theories abound. They come from street vendors and auto drivers, educators and officials. Take this exchange between an Urdu journalist (UJ) and me (RB) in Northern India:
(UJ): Every Muslim child knows that seven Jews control the entire world’s media.
(RB): Really? I must have missed that meeting of the ‘world Jewish conspiracy.’ Who are they?
(UJ): Rupert Murdoch.
(RB): Not Jewish. A good man; friend of Israel; but not Jewish. [This is a well-established fact, challenged only by openly anti-Jewish sites like “Jewwatch.com.” Murdoch attends church and holds an honor with the Catholic Church.] Who else?
(UJ): Ted Turner.
(RB): Ted Turner? I don’t think he even likes Jews! [He is virulently and openly anti-Israel, has run afoul of the Jewish community many times, and in 1996 had to issue a public apology to the Jewish community for comparing Rupert Murdoch to Adolf Hitler, which is another fact making an alleged conspiracy involving the two of them nonsensical.] It’s really shocking that you, a shaper of opinion and an educated person helps spread these blatant inaccuracies. You’re supposed to inform your people, not feed them propaganda.
The level of ignorance about the United States especially, a nation that never colonized the region but has shed a lot of blood to save its people from terrorists, is astounding. I once watched a rising star of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lecture a group of PhD students about how US policy was controlled by the Christian Church. At a different university, I heard a renowned leftist professor suggest a US conspiracy against non-whites by saying that “ninety-percent” of African-Americans are in prison. Neither even attempted to provide any objective evidence.
Our ignorance about you is equally shameful. When I started working on human rights in Bangladesh, I was aghast at how few Americans knew where it was or even that it was a country. At one point, many Americans at least associated it with former Beatle George Harrison; but even that has faded into history. Then there was the college-educated American who heard I was working to save Hindus and who looked at me and very seriously asked: “Hindus, aren’t they Muslim?”
Thus, the Pashtun who want Americans to understand their struggle so they can assess where their tax money goes, have to recognize this; the same goes for the Baloch and Sindhi. For Americans, many of whom know little about Pakistan except the name, mere assertions of nationality are likely to fall on deaf ears. If you want Americans to know your people and their dreams, you need to:
- Grab us on an emotional level, but not with rantings, wild accusations, and big theories. Let us see you, feel like we know you, so we can experience the same joys, sorrows, and aspirations as you. This will take time and require a well thought out program of awareness. As an American, I know what will do it and am anxious to help. However, it must be done continuously, again and again without becoming boring or repetitious, and we must be proactive in addressing audiences.
- If you are going to allege any human rights abuses, incursions on your ancestral homeland, or other actions; you must make sure you have solid, objective evidence to support it. Through media and internet, we hear so many wild accusations and allegations of bad behavior that people are likely to dismiss them unless there is something else that resonates with them; and so often, the allegations turn out to be exaggerated or false. More importantly, even if they are true, those who make them often fail to provide the convincing proof when they are inevitably challenged by those being accused.
If you do this, you will see as have so many other peoples, that Americans are the most generous people on the planet. We have helped in disasters, used our geopolitical influence to stop human rights abuses, and even shed blood for good causes—whether it was stopping the atrocities against Muslims in Bosnia or funding the United Nations, even though it often takes positions against us and our allies.
It will not be easy or without its challenges. However if it is done intelligently, in an organized fashion, and relentlessly, we will succeed. You have a compelling story, and Americans are the right people to whom we should tell it.
Labels: Baloch, conspiracy theories, Daniel Pipes, Pakistan, Pashtun, sindhi, South Asia, United States