The expatriate's angst

“I’d rather be called a terrorist than an Indian.” This comment was made a while ago following reports of some Pakistanis pretending to be Indians to avoid being targeted by intelligence agencies. Nothing bothers young Pakistanis more than being identified as Indian. Yet there is barely any social isolation between them overseas. However, militancy has resulted in an awareness of differences. While it is true that many more Indians are in prominent positions and have greater political clout, the fact is that despite all the profiling no American establishment will alienate Pakistan for tactical reasons. The ordinary expat’s level of distancing from the homeland is evident in the overarching need to assert fealty. The prototype Pakistani goes into apoplectic fits of apologia the moment one of them transgresses from the path. More than anything else, it is seen as a betrayal of the land of pure opportunity.

Therefore, while there is often some level of intellectual empathy with the McCabbie and McSilicon Valley wallahs and given that according to a private survey 96 per cent of Pakistanis have a low opinion of America, it would be natural that expats would not feel differently. It is not the four per cent who take a flight into Disneyland and stay back for the rollercoaster ride. And the one who strays does not suddenly appear in the US on a Waziristan-sanctioned visa. He has been there, digging into Shalimar biryani, downloading Coke Studio episodes.

The general anger towards Islam has affected the Pakistani diaspora. But has it affected the Americans? Mark Steyn wrote recently in the National Review: “Were America even mildly ‘Islamophobic’, it would have curtailed Muslim immigration, or at least subjected immigrants from Pakistan, Yemen, and a handful of other hotbeds to an additional level of screening. Instead, Muslim immigration to the west has accelerated in the last nine years … An ‘Islamophobic’ America might have pondered whether the more extreme elements of self-segregation were compatible with participation in a pluralist society. Instead, President Obama makes fawning speeches boasting that he supports the rights of women to be ‘covered’ — rather than the rights of the ever lengthening numbers of European and North American Muslim women beaten, brutalised and murdered for not wanting to be covered.”

Is one to assume that the US is masochistic or perhaps using a strategy to invite a little doom to feel morally sanctioned to conduct greater devastating strikes? President Obama’s opinion on the hijab is a patronising gesture. Does the US constitution not have provisions to protect women who have been brutalised for not wearing the veil?

The problem is that this is being posited against the educated professional who turns wayward. It is a disingenuous comparison. It could, in certain instances, be a genuine feeling of disgust with the system. Hispanics feel it, blacks feel it and it would be unusual if immigrants from Pakistan did not. When a South Korean student went on a shooting rampage at the Virginia Tech campus, did all Koreans fear getting profiled? Were they condemned to contrition?

If we set aside an act and its ostensible motive, this could be a potent analogy for frustration, the need to draw attention to oneself where the cause becomes a mere medium. Unfortunately, no one is willing to discuss why crimes are not seen as crimes anymore and are all branded terrorist acts. The Pakistani expat with no such history is forced to identify with branches that are tagged as roots.

It also raises the question about how by seeking a greater plan we, and the American establishment in particular, are losing all respect for and anger towards individualism. The militancy of the mainstream can swallow one whole.

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Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2010.


  1. FV
    This is an ingrained hatred for Indians which is reciprocal for Pakistanis from Indians as well. The two nation theory just created more hatred and nothing else.


  2. Just wanted to tell you that a white background is much more conducive to reading online- it hurts the eyes less. That's the reason most major websites have a white background. This red background is awful!

  3. Circle:

    I agree it applies to both sides, but I was essentially talking not about hate but identity and the expat need to be seen as more loyal than he king when ti comes to wayward sons of the soil and why they are pushed in a corner.


    I do like the red background so! But I am having problems scrolling and page loading, so don't. Websites have a white background because they have a lot of material on the home page. This is just a personal blog. An increase i the font size just might make the words easier to read; I make no promises about the content.


  4. “I’d rather be called a terrorist than an Indian.”

    Yes, pal. Indians would rather you be called what you are, a terrorist/paki.

  5. Hello Arjun:

    Did you celebrate the Fourth of July? Do you miss India? Can you read? Do you know who made that comment and in what context and what was stated later by me? Did you...ah, never mind.

    We Indians love you, too.


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