A search for answers opens Pandora's Box
The question — “why do they hate us?” — leaves Americans rather perplexed.
Mohsin Hamid, a Pakistani author recently wrote an article where he described, for an American audience, how Lahore changed over time and became fundamentalist as a direct result of US foreign policy.
Nodding when asked if he had read the article, Amar Bakshi revealed that he was to be published along with Hamid in The Washington Post, except for a delayed deadline.
Bakshi, who left Delhi for Lahore, is involved in a very interesting project — one that he pitched to Newsweek International’s editor Fareed Zakaria, and is now in partly funded by The Washington Post too.
It involves him traveling around the world and finding out how people view America.
It is open-ended: there is no clear itinerary and no particular aspect (political, cultural, economic) to cover. He keeps a blog, and posts videos, which he updates as and when he finishes a leg of his journey.
So the question to ask is, how does the world see America? To get a clearer picture, Bakshi has shied away from talking about President Bush because then Bush bashing invariably overtakes the conversation. Instead, he has attempted to visit an assortment of characters.
In India, he has met a 62-year-old widowed politician in Kerala, who admires the independence of American women; a leader of the JKLF who believes the US has a definite role to play in ending the Kashmir conflict; the CEO of a clothing export company in Tamil Nadu, who is profiting from American consumerism; the leader of an anti-Coca Cola movement in Kerala who is agitating against ‘American Imperialism’; a professor at a madarsa in Maharashtra who is inspired by secular ideals stemming from American literature; a 9/11-loving original member of the terrorist outfit SIMI in Kerala... the list goes on.
His findings show there is nothing simple about the way the world sees the US. Especially in places affected by war, Bakshi muses; people don’t realise that if one young man dies, eighty people are affected. It’s not just his family, but extended family, co-workers, friends. The same goes when a big American company coming in affects the small farmer.
Within India itself, views differ widely. One of the more intriguing posts is about his meeting with several young men from the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind party in Calicut, Kerala. The anti-US talk is harsh, but as one of the members later tells him, “They try to talk big when they are all together,” and mischievously asks him what it is like to date an American woman. Pala Koya, the leader of the National Democratic Front in Kerala also sharply critiques the US. But as he tells Bakshi, “I’m not saying something I wouldn’t want the Americans to hear.”
And they sure are paying attention. Bakshi’s blog, How The World Sees America, is popular. The reactions his posts invite add immensely to the value of this project — how people react to a foreigner’ assessment of other people’ views about America. Lively debates arise on the website after Bakshi has written a post.
His article about the American girl in Mumbai once again raised the question of the subcontinental fetish of white skin. And the admission by an eminent journalist in Communist-run Kerela, that most people in the state only pay lip-service to the ideology of American cultural imperialism, is overtaken by debate over how Bakshi’s blog projects Kerela.
While the point of this entire project is to talk to individuals in order to string together a larger picture for an American audience, it is also serving as a mirror for other countries. Of what a foreigner, albeit of Indian origin, makes of people’s complex relationship with the US.
Bakshi’s stop in Pakistan will undoubtedly, provide much food for thought and fodder for debate. For everyone.