how the world sees america

American Arrogance -- Or Just Self-Awareness?

Note: Please upgrade your Flash plug-in to view our enhanced content.

Lahore, Pakistan - "It's all about me and I in America," says Umer Naru, elongating his vowels. He's a young director putting on the Neil Simon play "45 Seconds from Broadway" with high school drama students and recent graduates in Lahore, Pakistan. The play is about a talented, egocentric American playwright surrounded by aspiring directors and performers. To director Umer and lead actor Waleed Zaidi, Americans are a lot like the protagonist -- blunt, bright, but self-absorbed.

This applies both to the country, they say, which has selfishly pursued its own interests in Pakistan, and to Americans, who are as Umer says willfully "ignorant of the world." The former they have learned from parents and textbooks, the latter they know from Fox television broadcasts that find their way over here, and from relatives abroad. I try to dig further into politics and get a rebuff: "Look, America has done very little good here; they use us and we are then bombed," says Waleed. "We stay away from politics….We just live our lives."

As I watch them rehearse on the roof of a nearby primary school late at night -- to save money -- I see what they mean. These student actors drip with sweat as they squint at their scripts by the light of a billboard. They've fundraised for this play themselves over months, soliciting local sponsors. It's a labor of love.

With the help of their high school drama teacher, the students chose to put on a Neil Simon play. I was surprised; was Shakespeare losing ground? In Manchester, on the second day of my project, I also encountered young Simon devotees. I'm told the choice was driven by several factors: audiences are curious about Americans, the play poses fun, challenging accents to master, and then, perhaps, the play depicts America and an American character as the students imagine Americans -- oblivious to the world yet at the center of it; surrounded by dreamers yet pragmatic; mercilessly blunt yet kind at heart.

But again, the young stars remind me, the most important thing for them is not politics or international relations but exploring their own individual talent. "We are trying to be original. See what we can do….Pakistan has talent that is raw," says Umer. Theater, and America, encourage just this exploration and shameless expression of the self.

Umer enacts America's narcissism with flapping hands, cocked head and a lofty gait: "'When I discovered myself, it was me who thought that I was good, I was funny.'" "That's how it goes with Americans," he says, refering to his lines in the play. "They're pompous. They don't look outside themselves."

Watching the bustling streets below, the director says, "But there are quite pompous people over here too….The difference is they're not as self-aware as the Americans. We just dismiss them."

Wait, self-aware? This sounds like a compliment.

He explains, while the arrogant of Lahore's elite -- bloated with inherited money -- are fixated on material displays of success like cars, phones, and clothes, the arrogant American is more often, relatively speaking, fixated on his or her own personal talents.

A haughty pose is never a good one, but at least the American often has some substance to it, he says. From dreams and hard work, a self-centered posture emerges.

There is always the lure of Diva-dom, Umer suggests, but as his budding Pakistani actors believe, to get there you've got to work for it.

Join Monthly Mailing List | Del.icio.us | Digg | Facebook

Comments (46)

Vikram:

Reddy, I feel ashamed to call you my fellow Indian. A couple of posts by an honest journalist that dont conform to your own bigoted and jaundiced perception of a place and its people, and you start spewing out racial hatred for him. One of my friends has been to Lahore and said that the city was very clean and people very friendly. I wish the people of Lahore and all Pakistanis the very best for the future.

Niall:

Robert, I like to post comments on the topic we're discussing. So don't expect any condemnations of Al Queada, China, the Roman empire or Venezuela because they don't have anything to do with the topic at hand.

By the enemies of the US, I presume you're referring to Al Qaeada, the Taliban and the Iraqi insurgents. They don't abide by the Geneva convention, because they believe that it's their ends justifies their means. If the US adopts the same argument, then why should think of them as being any better than terrorists like Bin Laden?

The US has the largest and most powerful military in the history of civilisation. It is the world's only superpower. It's enemies have little money, few resources and the worst opposition you could ever hope for. I find myself wondering if the US would act any better than Al Queada if their roles were reversed. I'd like to think that they would, but when people make arguments where they try to justify dropping bombs in residential areas, breaking international law and utilising torture because it makes it easier to achieve a military victory over a vastly inferior enemy, then I have to wonder.

The worst regimes the world has seen might have been benign had they been victorious. A nation is not defined by the way it treats its supporters but by how it deals with its enemies.

As for your comments relating to the phrase leader of the free world being passe, it seems that nobody sent that particular memo to Obama.

And nothing has changed for me. While there are many Americans that I admire, the country is broke and a danger to everyone. Even back then, it was a deeply racist and sexist country on almost every level. There are many worse countries, but the US has the most potential to either make the world better for all or to screw it up even more, so it always attracts the most attention, both positive and negative.

Robert:

Niall -
We do live in a very sad world - thought you knew that already.
Ireland, Switzerland and Norway - They have never been given the opportunity to demonstrate how well they would adhere to the conventions. It’s clear those who’ve declare themselves enemies of the US are not accepting of these conventions. Where are your harsh words for them?
As to the leader of the free world - It was a comparison to the USSR and is dated to then - a 30 year old phrase no one in the US uses these days.
Still, the US is essentially the same country it was then. What changed for you?

billoo bhai:

I am amazed at virulent commnents made by some, not all, about Pakistan and Islam all in one breath, or one sentence. Amar Bakshi is writing about his travels in Pakistan and his meetings with different people there.

We should have the courage and decency to hear Amar's views without the need to influence him. I am sure he sees this blog. As an undergraduate in Cambridge, England and a post gruduate at Harvard US, as a Pakistani I came across many fellow Indians with whom I had and continue to have excellent friendships. We disagree on a number of issues but do not attack each other on either religious or ethnic grounds. Only the force of good rational thoughts and arguments wins the day.

India is becoming a great country and that ought to be evidenced by its people becoming comfortable and secure. The tone and virulent criticism of Pakistani culture, men, women, the dress, first impressions of an airport or a city etc., certainly shows that Indians are not ready yet to become a Great Nation. By the same token Pakistanis admire India for its engineering, tecnological and managerial skills. That should not detract Indians from hearing what the PM Singh said on the ramparts of the Red Fort - that vast number of poor Indians have not benefitted from economic prosperity of the cities. It is a fact of life and nothing to be ashamed of it.

America is a great nation and has done good things for the world. American people are warm, sincere and friendly. Lobbyists have influenced public policy, just as they do in Pakistan and India. You can blame the neo-cons etc., for it but not the American people at large.

Learn to live and let live.

Andrew:

You're a loser

Niall:

Robert, name one other country that has declared itself leader of the free world? If the best the US can do is to compare itself to Russia, then we live in a very sad world.

As for the Geneva conventions, then please try Ireland, Switzerland and Norway. Those are just three countries named off the top of my head so please feel free to name the ways in which these three civilised countries break the Geneva conventions.

Robert:

Oh, and one other thing - name three countries (or enemies of the US) that DO follow the Genevia conventions? Can you name anyone in the Middle East or South Asia?
I am beginning to think this is a standard to which only the US is held.
In which case, maybe we ought to ignor it too.
You want to change my attitude about this, then get others to toe the line also.
One generalization that applies to all of us, not just Americans, we prefer that everyone play by the same rules and in America that is generally how it works.
'Nuff Said

Robert:

Niall – (and others)
The one thing I think everyone will agree on is it's much more fun to talk about the US than practically anyone else. This whole chain of comments started as a result of an article that was to inform us about Pakistan and what happened… it turned into a discussion of the US. Amazing!
Others kill, much more indiscriminately and as a matter of policy than the US, but they exist only as a toss-out comment for comparison to the US. Which of you will probe the “why” of suicide bombings that aim only at civilians, have no military aim and questionable political value – at least with the US, the civilians are an unintended target.
Arrogance – The US has no corner on that market – Seems the Russians were fairly arrogant planting their little flags in waters the Canadians always considered theirs, but were (and are) too cheep to patrol. (The US took this up for them by default when it was clear the USSR was making use of this for submarine traffic.) Closer to Pakistan, there seem to be huge numbers of followers of a particular religion who are arrogant enough to threaten or kill others for making disparaging comments, poking fun at, otherwise showing disrespect to their religion. Or to take it a step further, those who worship differently than they do, even though they follow the same creed. Who would kill someone who considers changing their belief and the way they worship by changing religions.
Now that is Arrogance!!
As to lost freedoms in the US? You would think we are walking around in chains for all the talk. Most of us would be hard pressed to think of a “Freedom” we have lost. If you look at the changes, they are almost all addressed at how the US can deal with foreigners, not US citizens. Can you name a few instances where a US citizens rights have been abused to a greater degree than they would have been before 9/11?
People need to read some history and get some perspective.
By and large I think the problem with the world is not that the people in the US know too little about other countries, but that people in other countries know far too much about the US… or at least think they do.
People, we are a huge country of 300 million, one that is constantly churning and changing – you name it, we got it! Did the reaction to 9/11 surprise you… then you do not listen to country western music often enough – lots of revenge in some of those songs.
We are a competent, incompetent, compassionate, violent, ignorant, enlightened, questing, complaisant people. Just about like everyone else. After all, we all came from someplace else to get here.
Now, let’s talk about Pakistan….

Niall:

Sorry guys, I'm rushing here, so apologies if I'm not taking in your points fully.

Mike:
"Of course their credibility on this matter is in tatters today."

Their credibility was in tatters when Bush was re-elected. Remember the famous weapons of mass destruction? Also, I wasn't referring to the torture that occurred in Abu Gharib but the torture that occurs in "Gitmo" and the torture that is outsourced to certain allies.

"The grain of truth in this aside, this is a cartoonish version of the American voter."

The comment wasn't actually referring to American voters, but to certain voters who prioritised matters like gun ownership and tax rates over torture and the slaughter of innocents.

"Second, bombing communities where children sleep is a horror of war...all war, not just those conducted by the US."

Agreed, but if you look around the world right now, the number of countries that are actually bombing civilian areas in conflicts are pretty few. The US happens to be one of them.

"Third, GWB was not reelected because of taxes or gun rights. Many states, in particular Ohio, swung pretty clearly on the issue of homosexual marriage. And Nader's grand contribution to the election was to siphon off votes that would have allowed Kerry to win."

I really don't think that opposition to gay marriage was a good enough reason to re-elect a man who endorsed torture, who broke the Geneva Convention (in spirit if not in practice) and who recklessly bombed civilian areas.

Paul:

"I never did answer the question "would I want my children hanging out in DU contaminated areas."
Your question is naive - because you are expecting an "yes" or "no" answer."

Tell you what, how about an easier question. Fashion considerations aside, would you be happy for one of your children to wear jewelery made up of DU ammunition. Would you like for them to be constantly exposed to it everyday of their lives at a level that is higher than normal?

I think we can agree that it has not been proven that DU us the cause of the problem in Iraq, but when the correlation exists I imagine that we should be able to agree that it is only prudent and moral to terminate its use.

Paul:

Sorry Niall, got you mixed up with Barzan. Part of that nonverbal thing I mentioned higher up the thread.

I never did answer the question "would I want my children hanging out in DU contaminated areas."
Your question is naive - because you are expecting an "yes" or "no" answer.

The glib answer is: "if I had kids, they WOULD be in a uranium contaminated place right now." Uranium is a naturally occurring substance, and is actually more radioactive in its natural form than in the processed DU, and it's everywhere. Every brick and hunk of concrete around you has it. I happen to live in a place where the soil is unusally rich in uranium. The background level of radiation in my area is 2 or 3 times average. DO I worry about it? Nope. My body evolved to live in a radioactive world and can easily shrug low levels off.

The REAL answer is: "I'd be WAY more worried about the lead bullets." No joke. From what I've heard, unlike uranium, lead's effects are measurable at even low levels, especially on children. And that's not saying that lead is the most toxic thing that shows up on a battlefield.

Moral: "You should prioritise dangers, based on known facts". Or maybe it's "You should avoid battlefields."

And you're right, W's proposed moral lackings were not so obvious at the time of the election. I should have said that. But, as far as I'm concerned, his incompetancy was fully obvious. So what were people blinded by? Options in play include both fear and stupidity.

Mike S:

Niall, Paul, et al.

"When you think of it, it is a man with a pretty strange set of priorities that votes for a man who legalised torture and who bombs the communities where children sleep because it will mean he has to pay less taxes or because it means he can buy an automatic weapon.

Those who opposed Bush, and the policies he endorsed, should have been outraged when he won."

The grain of truth in this aside, this is a cartoonish version of the American voter.

First, during the election most Americans were not convinced that GWB had "legalized torture," an extreme claim. In fact, that's still true. Yes, we are ALL horrified at Abu Ghraib, but that's clearly illegal, and the usual scapegoats have been found. The legalistic parsing that accompanies the Administration's efforts to evade the spirit of the Geneva conventions also has clouded the issue of whether torture has been "legalized." Also, Abu Ghraib aside, most Americans thought that the prisoners who may or may not have been tortured were mostly "bad men" who had the destruction of our country in mind...because the Administration said so. Of course their credibility on this matter is in tatters today.

Second, bombing communities where children sleep is a horror of war...all war, not just those conducted by the US.

Third, GWB was not reelected because of taxes or gun rights. Many states, in particular Ohio, swung pretty clearly on the issue of homosexual marriage. And Nader's grand contribution to the election was to siphon off votes that would have allowed Kerry to win.

Niall:

Paul, that's all fine.

Like I said, I'm no expert on the matter. What I know, is that reports by various orgaisations suggest there there is a significant possibility that DU is responsible for at least some of the birth defects we are seeing in Iraq. There have been many calls by respected organisations to halt use of such weapons until it can be established that DU weapons are safe.

To say that we must establish the exact means by which DU causes harmful effects before we should stop using it as a weapon is crazy! If a link was established, even if was only correlational between say lead paint and cancer, it would only be sensible and humane to stop using the product. It would not be good enough to sit around for half a century insisting that the exact means be demonstrated before halting its use!

Paul:

Barzan Kurdistani -

Apologies, I didn't mean to suggest that DU is completely harmless. But it annoys me that a curtain of fear and superstition has surrounded the subject, all because most people are ignorant of science. Particularly Europeans, it seems.

Because here's the thing - DU isn't all that dangerous. For an overview see this IAEA link:
http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Features/DU/faq_depleted_uranium.shtml

The problem as I see it is that most people base their fear of it on the fact that it is radioactive. And that's hogwash. OK, DU IS radioactive - barely. And most of the small amounts of radiation it emits isn't very penetrating - it doesn't make it through the outer layer of dead cells on your skin.

So why is DU dangerous at all? What most people don't realize is that DU's primary danger is that it is chemically toxic - it is a heavy metal, like lead say, after all. So why haven't people been getting hysterical about the fact that bullets have lead in them. I ask? Because chemical toxicity is an everday topic, and doesn't have that 'spookiness' people associate with radioactivity.

Continuing on - DU is really only a problem when absorbed by the body. The good news here is that this can only occur when it's in a water soluble form, like a uranium salt, say. There are no uranium salts in a DU bullet. So your kidneys are safe.

So how else might DU from a bullet get into to the body? Well, assuming we're talking environmental threats (not direct hits) then the most likely culprit is in dust from. When a bullet strikes a hard surface, it at least partially disintegrates into tiny particles, i.e. dust. This could then enter the lungs via breathing. The good news here is that uranium reacts quite readily with the oxygen in the air prior to this, and so the dust is actually uranium oxide, which is both insoluble in water and chemically inert. So if it coats the inside of your lungs, that's as far as it gets, and you lungs expel it over time like any other type of dust. At this point, the only concern is the small dose of radioactivity the lining of your lungs gets before it is expelled, and that it not a huge concern.

This type of contamination is mostly a problem for people who are repeatedly exposed to significant quantities of dust, like uranium miners (uranium oxide is the raw form of uranium) and people who work in ranges where DU bullets are tested. There's plenty of health data on these people, so there are few mysteries here.

Even though all of this is well understood by scientists and doctors, people still mindlessly attribute a perceived increase in illness in Gulf War veterans or residents of Basra, or whatever, with the 'boogeyman' DU. Never occurs to people that the 'perception' might just be due to increased reporting or that the thousands of tons of burning petroleum products in the air might have something to do with it.

By the way - there's concern that that the tungsten alloys used by many countries, in lieau of DU, may cause cancer, though the jury may still be out on that one.

Niall (Anonymous):

Barzan Kurdistani:

Is it appropriate to hold the entire Iraqi people accountable for all the tortures, killings and genocides that a dictator like Sadddam committed against his own people and others? A self-imposed dictator with did not even represent 5% person of the population?

Again, I pointed out that America was a democracy and when Bush was re-elected after he committed his crimes, which were common knowledge. There in lies the difference. Bush managed to increase his support after years of terrible acts.

Paul:
Anonymous - keep in mind that in both of Bush's elections, people had a hard time telling the candidates apart, and the races were close. Only a relative few had to buy into the fear of higher taxes, fear of Osama, and fear that somebody wanted to take their guns away, in order to get Bush elected. This doesn't excuse the majority's inability to recognise his incompetency, mind you.

This is mostly accurate, but there is one problem with that analysis, the existence of Nader. If Americans did not want to re-elect Bush and they thought that Kerry just wasn't different enough, they could have voted Nader. And yes it is important to realise that many Americans didn't vote for Bush because of his war record but for other reasons, but unfortunately the same can be said of Kerry.

When you think of it, it is a man with a pretty strange set of priorities that votes for a man who legalised torture and who bombs the communities where children sleep because it will mean he has to pay less taxes or because it means he can buy an automatic weapon.

Those who opposed Bush, and the policies he endorsed, should have been outraged when he won. They weren't. Yet, we all know that if he had done the same things to Americans (and not Iraqis) the man would be in a prison at the moment. Americans would have been so outraged that the establishment would have had no choice but to put the man on trial and convict him.

If you're going to appoint yourself leader of the Free World, then you have to live up to the title.

Paul:
And speaking of mindless fears, get off the depleted uranium thing. It is not the exciting substance that you think it is.

Well I'm no expert. But when even the US army admits that there are serious questions to be answered about its use, when lab experiments with animals show its affect on the reproductive system of mammals, and when Iraqi women and children suffer similar effects after exposure to DU weapons, then it is immoral to continue using it, especially from a supposed pro-life president.

Would you be happy for your kids to live in a home where they were exposed to DU everyday? If there was only a 20% chance that it was harmful, you'd probably wouldn't take that chance with your children's health.

Paul :

Sunny Naru - Good to see that over-the-top oversimplification and the application of degrading metaphors to foreigners isn't a strictly American habit. With a few adjustments you'd make a fine neocon.

Anonymous - keep in mind that in both of Bush's elections, people had a hard time telling the candidates apart, and the races were close. Only a relative few had to buy into the fear of higher taxes, fear of Osama, and fear that somebody wanted to take their guns away, in order to get Bush elected. This doesn't excuse the majority's inability to recognise his incompetency, mind you.

And speaking of mindless fears, get off the depleted uranium thing. It is not the exciting substance that you think it is.

Larry L. - I've heard it said that Canadians don't carry the same sense of national identity that Americans have. Care to comment?


Barzan Kurdistani:

To: Anonymous:

Is it appropriate to hold the entire Iraqi people accountable for all the tortures, killings and genocides that a dictator like Sadddam committed against his own people and others? A self-imposed dictator with did not even represent 5% person of the population?

Barzan Kurdistani:

To: Anonymous:

Is it appropriate to hold the entire Iraqi people accountable for all the tortures, killings and genocides that a dictator like Sadddam committed against his own people and others? A self-imposed dictator with did not even represent 5% votes?

Barzan Kurdistani:

To: Anonymous:

Is it appropriate to hold the entire Iraqi people accountable for all the tortures, killings and genocides that a dictator like Sadddam committed against his own people and others? A self-imposed dictator how did not even represent 5% person of the population?

Barzan Kurdistani:

To: Anonymous:

Is it appropriate to hold the entire Iraqi people accountable for all the tortures, killings and genocides that a dictator like Sadddam committed against his own people and others? A self-imposed dictator with did not even represent 5% person of the population?

Rabbit:

SHEHZAD says - Its the same to think that all Indians live like petty paupers and on the footpaths as evident by seeing your countrymen sleep, eat, beg, live and die on your metro cities footpaths. Do they?

I ADD - or all of your Indian women look like Kareena Kapoor or Bipasha Basu? Yeah Right!!

Shehzad Ahmed Mir:

NATIVE INDIAN - Your comments are more of a Naive & Racist Indian to think that all women wear Burqa in Pakistan. Its the same to think that all Indians live like petty paupers and on the footpaths as evident by seeing your countrymen sleep, eat, beg, live and die on your metro cities footpaths. Do they?

Anonymous:

Barzan Kurdistani:
"We should differentiate between America and Americans. It is unjust to give a verdict about the nice America people based on their country’s foreign policy. What is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq has totally no relevance to the people of this country."

This is far too simplistic.

The US is a democracy with a relatively free press. Yet, the re-elected George Bush!

They re-elected a man who endorses torture, the use of chemical weapons, the bombing of civilian areas, the use of depleted uranium and indefinite detention without trial or conviction.

There comes a point at which we have to realise that we hold a degree of responsibility for the actions of countries, otherwise, we end up sounding like Nuremberg defendants.

Sunny Naru:

America is the epitome of Individualistic Western civilization. The central activity in the land of the free is the pursuit of individual self-interests, outlined by the founding fathers to be, life, liberty and happiness. The society founded on such axioms is bound to be what America is, self-absorbed, preoccupied with its own indulgences, at individual and national level. Of continental proportions, oceans on both sides, the country is naturally predisposed to be self-absorbed.Its youth gives it its Narcissism and its naive view of the rest of the world. It is only now meeting India and China,it did not live the days when Marco Polo saw the Great Wall, when Alexander could not cross the Jehlum, when Taansen sang, Ashoka reigned and Akbar weaved the fabric of a tolerant secular Indian society. America is a pubescent teen, boiling with vigor and vitality. Yes it brings sorrow for many in the world, yet from within it is a delightful sight, just like a teeming with life nineteen year old. Its about time for the youth to grow up, sit at the feet of the sages of the old world, its about time for Teddy Roosevelt to meet Gandhi.
The young kids from Lahore share a great deal with America. The city itself was once the New York of the Mughal days, and its people harbor that trait of relentless pursuit of their dreams, and so do these kids, Get it folks, its all yours..HUM HEIN NAYE ANDAAZ KYUN HO PURANAA!!! best of luck with the play...and do some classy stuff next time some Shakespeare preferably!

Mike S:

Larry L -- Why would anyone want to attack Canada, possibly the most civilized nation on Earth?

Shalini -- Thanks for the props. Your point on America's position in the world is well taken. I don't think most Americans are sensitive enough to the fact that the honest criticism that comes their way reflects authentic concern about how American actions are perceived to affect ordinary people around the world. I happen to think that this concern is often misplaced, but it is sincerely held.

Paul -- You sell yourself short.

Peace

Melt:

Larry L, you seem to be taking punches at a "straw man". Most of the posts here seem civil and thoughtfull today except for the online fued between our Pakastani and Indian friends. You know it's funny, I never hear Americans say anything negative about Canada or Canadians, but a lot of Canadians seem to have a complex about Americans. What's that all about? A little national envy. I was thinking about moving to Canada after Bush got re-elected, but now I don't know. I'm not feeling the love from out neighbors to the north.

Paul:

Mike S. - Sorry I missed your entry. Much more articulate than mine. Wish I were more verbal.

Larry L:

As always, there has to be a few idiots here. You sit and complain about another's views of America and Americans and you sit in bigoted judgement of them.

All the things that make America great are diminished. Your freedoms slip away without a whimper because 'we're at war'. Perhaps if you learned something other then just American history, perhaps you might have a better view of the outside world. You might see that these countries and their people are both good and bad as is any country.

Now will you flame me under the guise of 'freedom of speech' while you try and deny them theirs? A pause to think, wonder about life in these countries and a look into their history might open your eyes a little. Judging anyone or any country with a 'black and white' view of everything just leads to more anger and resentment. Look at the shades of gray, home and abroad before you start spouting off in ignorance and arrogance. It's nice to see that there are those here too. The thoughtful. The respectful. We need more of those people everywhere.

By the way, I'm Canadian if you need something other then my words to attack!

Larry L:

As always, there has to be a few idiots here. You sit and complain about another's views of America and Americans and you sit in bigoted judgement of them.

All the things that make America great are diminished. Your freedoms slip away without a whimper because 'we're at war'. Perhaps if you learned something other then just American history, perhaps you might have a better view of the outside world. You might see that these countries and their people are both good and bad as is any country.

Now will you flame me under the guise of 'freedom of speech' while you try and deny them theirs? A pause to think, wonder about life in this countries and a look into their history might open your eyes a little. Judging anyone or any country with a 'black and white' view of everything just leads to more anger and resentment. Look at the shades of gray, home and abroad before you start spouting off in ignorance and arrogance. It's nice to see that there are those here too. The thoughtful. The respectful. We need more of those people everywhere.

Shalini Razdan:

Mike S. - Well said. I think you've articulated the idea of "American-ness" quite nicely.

I also think, that what's often taken as American self-absorption and general cluelessness about the world, is a natural consequence of our position in the world. Folks across the globe are so well informed about the US because they have to be - we are the current world leader and every nation's self interest demands that they keep abreast of US actions. I'm sure Pakistanis neither know nor care much about, say Peruvian national affairs because that country's politics doesn't have much impact on their lives.

Paul:

To Jeff and Mag22 - I think we have a semantics problem here. You guys seem to link the term "identity" to ethnicity, and that's off the mark, at least when it comes to Americans.

Not having a common ethnic background, Americans can't easily bond that way. Sure, an American will ALWAYS trot out his "Old Country" ancestry when asked. Talking to a foreigner (like Mag22), they won't have to be asked, it come out as a knee-jerk response. Why? It's an extremely superficial attempt at claiming a larger identity, not appear parochial, and/or maybe offer a foreigner a little chance to bond (along the lines of "hey, I'm a little foreign, too!").
Sorry Mag22, Americans are extremely parochial, and foreigners make them a little nervous.

So how do Americans bond together and form a common identity? I really don't know. Somehow we've developed our own peculiar brand of tribalism.

All I can offer is some anecdotes. Mag22 picked up on the oddly-romantic nationalism. Jeff might suggest common culture, but I'd defy him to define just what that is (a thin veneer of Puritanism with a dash of Britney Spears?). I'd point out the painful egalitarianism: Americans like to pretend that we're all of one class (which defined by money here). This is why Americans often act (or are at least prepared to act) as if they belong to a lower socioeconomic goup than they really do.

But that's all pretty weak, hence my puzzlement.

So, since we don't look like each other, how does one American recognise another? Two words: accent and attitude. If I met Amar in Pakistan tomorrow, I'd know him for an American as soon as he opened his mouth.


Mike S:

Mag, Jeff, Paul

I agree with the notion that Americans have a strong sense of identity. It is a national identity, not an ethnic one. Americans identify with their liberal Lockean values, their constitution, their "Nation". Look at the very narrow political differences between the major parties; these values are virtually uncontested.

As a nation of immigrants, Americans value their own racial/ethnic/religious/cultural ancestry, as well as those of their fellow Americans, but only to the extent that it is secondary to their American-ness. That's why we frequently self-identify as hyphenated Americans. It's also why the immigration debate is so potent; some fear that illegal immigrants may not be Americans first.

Let's also remember that America is a young and evolving culture, but an old "nation," as nations go. Our constitutional regime is older than the democracies of Europe or Japan's, or the post-colonial regimes of South Asia, South America, or Africa, or the former Soviet-bloc nations, etc. We therefore have some mythmaking to catch up on, but we still do coalesce around distinctly American cultural artifacts. I would say, for example, that Thanksgiving in the US is probably an even more significant holiday than the religious celebrations, whereas in other nations the religious holidays carry so much cultural weight that they are the most significant.

Shehzad Ahmed Mir:

Amar Bakshi is reporting without bias, preconceived notions or ulterior motives. As I said its going to get better for Amar as he stays on and reports honestly on the Pakistani Society. His reports seem have the ability to shatter the stereotype image which has been created about Pakistan by internationally vested interests.

Unfortunately for the likes of anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan severely bigoted Indian racists like REDDY (who is always in front in Pakistan and Muslim-bashing self-delusional comments now turning on his own American Indian Amar) will soon be forced to take out the proverbial finger out of his rear-end (I still have my doubts on that!!)

Let us all root for REDDY!! He's really trying hard to negate and propagate anti-muslim and anti-Pakistan venom while sitting in front of his screen & successfully projecting the sheer minuscule caliber of his gene pool and his countrymen through his limited vision and genetic lack of commonsense comprehension.

Amar on the other hand is reporting first hand out of his own experience in Pakistan.

Joe:

The project Mr. Bakshi is on is very similar to what Karen Hughes went on for the Bush administration, that is trying to understand the Islamic world.
This is nothing new. They complain endlessly and but do no thank US for saving Muslims in Somalia, Bosnia, Kuwait, Darfur...
But let's see Pakistan's contribution to USA and the rest of the world: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (mastermind of 9/11) is a Pakistani, creation of Taliban, al Qaeda sheltering (including Osama), London suicide bombers... The list is endless.
The current upheaveal in the world is very much due to Pakistan. What a shame!

Mag922:

Adressing a point made by Paul,
I'm an immigrant to this country, having lived in New Zealand and the UK before settling here. My impressions is that American's have a very shaky sense of identity. I have never experienced the need for constant re-enforcement that "our flag is still there" as happens here. When people enquire of my nationality, they tell me that they are actually Scottish, Greek etc, and I then ask when they arrived in the US. Without exception they say they don't know but it was a great great grand parent somewhere down the line.
So my impression is at odds to Pauls assertion of a strong sense of identity.

Barzan Kurdistani:

We should differentiate between America and Americans. It is unjust to give a verdict about the nice America people based on their country’s foreign policy. What is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq has totally no relevance to the people of this country.

Due to imposition of thoughts, dissemination of growing anti-Americanism by misguiding spiritual leaders, ignorance, absence of freedom to perform independent researches, many inadvertent misinterpretations are being made about Americans. Understanding the facts is difficult and different.

To be able to make a fair judgment, one should either pay a visit to the United States or come out of that gloomy part of the world. Maybe, the United States government should increase the number of visas for many interested scholars, researchers and members of the foreign press. It will definitely help diminish the confusion and cast a better light upon the truth for the true truth-seekers.

I concur that after 9/11, life has become more difficult for us, especially American – Muslims. We might even experience indirect religious prejudice and discrimination in our social life. We could even be excluded if we don’t adjust. But again, it all depends. It is up to us. It is us who will make that decision. We could be behaved toward as hardworking, law-abiding and respectable American citizens or seen with eyes of suspicion and terror. We, the American-Muslims need to remove these barriers; we need to pick the first up, we need to more socialize, we need to adapt with the American way of life, and we need to blend in the society. After all, we are calling ourselves Americans. We are the part of this family. We have some moral, social and national responsibilities. The day we raised our hands and swore under the American flag, since the day that we became US citizens, we vowed to protect our country, we vowed to work to better our country, we vowed to respect the laws and abide by them, we vowed to tolerate and coexist with our other religious fellow-citizens, and we even vowed if our country is attacked or goes to war, to save from harm.

We all know that America is one of the most beautiful and blessed countries in the entire world with limitless opportunities for growths. We all know that this is the only country where we can practice our religion freely and where we can have all those human rights and civil liberties. That is why we chose to come here. We came here because we know we can form a family here, we can own a house someday and finally we can achieve our American dreams. If we are well-read, wealthy or well-known today, it is because of this country. We have to admit the truth that we were and we had nothing prior to coming to the United States.

Of course, America is at war. But America is at war with terrorists, not the peace-loving Muslims. America is at war with the enemies of peace and freedom.


I consider myself an American-Muslim. But I am first an American.

My country (America) is blessed. And my people(Americans) are the most caring, hardworking, philanthropist and peace-loving people.

Aamir Ali:

Some Indians are posting foul language and nonsense on this page. A good display of Indian culture.

Jeff:

Two comments for Paul: 1) I think your arrogance=annoying optimism is quite brilliant and on target. However, 2) your belief that no other tribe or nationality can match our sense of identity is only remotely true if by identity you mean a set of cultural values. The problem with much of the world (e.g. Northern Ireland, south eastern Europe, the entire continent of Africa, etc., etc.) is that ethnic or religious identity trumps all rationality. Gosh, Americans don't even have a caste system... we lose track easily of who are the brahmins and who the untouchables. Political cynics love to disparage the 'melting pot' but they're hard-pressed to find a large nation to which the notion may better apply.

As for self-awareness... the fact that some people reading what I just wrote will think 'but what about civil rights and slavery?' just testifies that we are plenty self-aware. No, we're not tripping over other nationalities as frequently as one might in the EU, but that is an artifact of geography. Consequently, some American naivete about other ethnicities is not due to any sort of character flaws.

Joe:

What is new in this article? We all know their "love" for America by now. Why do we spend so much money there? So we can feed the Muslim extremists. Does not make sense. They will never ever be thankful for what America has done for them.

Aamir Ali:

I see that Indians are dirtying this page as well with their foul language and nonsense talk. However it is a good display of Indian culture.

Voice of Reason:

Why does everyone post blatant racism on this website?? I found this article, and Amar's devil's advocacy, strongly in defense of American values and the American people.

However, if some of you bigoted morons actually listened to what people in other countries thought about you, and kept an open mind while reading this series, maybe you'd quit fulfilling that stereotype of arrogance.

Paul:

I'll deliver one American's viewpoint: Are Americans arrogant? Damn straight, and all too comfortable with it. But what is 'arrogance' exactly? In the American case, I'd argue that it amounts to a particularly annoying form of optimism. We feel that we live in a place where good things can, and will, happen. So they do.

Self-awareness? No Way. Wrong term. On an individual basis, Americans are actually rather poor at self-analysis. On the whole, they do not question their value systems anywhere near often enough (does anyone?). What American have, in spades, is an incredibly strong sense of identity. We are steeped in it. We reek of it. I don't think any other country in the world could compete with us on this score.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not trying to say that these attributes are all "good." There's plenty of room for "bad" in there.

sadhaasana:

As an American I am saddened by your view of us, but as someone that has done a bit of traveling
around the world I think I understand what you
mean. But please allow me to give you a different
viewpoint. First of all you need to stop watching
FOX News because they are rabidly right-wing.
Second since I am not one of the 1% of the
richest, I work, and just like a lot of other hard
working people over here we are both tired of the
lies of the so-called "free-press" that don't
really report what really happens in the rest of
the world unless it is entertainment, unfortunately, or it involves prominent Americans/Corporate America. And unless you have
family or visit another country you don't realize
exactly what is going on. Some of us are aware but
our voices aren't heard because we are not in
positions to do anything. While there are those
Americans that do not care because of their own
ignorance you should not judge us all by that
standard. After all you would not want me to judge
all Muslims or Islam by the actions of the
Jihadists would you? Nor would you want me to
mistakenly refer to you as an Arab? What needs to
happen is more dialog amongst all people. Only
thru dialog can we change our attitudes and minds.
Only then will we be able to see our common
ground.

NATIVE INDIAN:

I meant "what lies beneath that pretty burqa".
I apologize for the inappropriate reference to "skin", we wouldn't be able to see the skin of an islamic state, only the burqa. Do pakistanis refer to their country using the feminine gender? :-))

NATIVE INDIAN:

If Pakistan is as congenial as depicted in the blog, then why is it all set to implode and unleash a virulent and toxic jihad on the rest of the world? What lies beneath that pretty skin?

Reddy:

Amar,

I am sad to say this but what you are doing is increasingly becoming a propaganda for muslims.

For your information

"Bakshi" clan originate from NW Pakistan and driven out to India during partition. Yes by the same muslims you are trying to glamorize.

Reddy:

Amar,

I am sad to say this but what you are doing is increasingly becoming a propaganda for muslims.

For your information

"Bakshi" clan originate from NW Pakistan and driven out to India during partition. Yes the same muslims you are trying to glamorize.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send your comments, questions and suggestions for PostGlobal to Lauren Keane, its editor and producer.