Author, "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"
Monday, July 23, 2007 1:00 PM
"Part of the reason people abroad resent the United States is something Americans can do very little about: envy. ... But there is another major reason for anti-Americanism: the accreted residue of many years of U.S. foreign policies. These policies are unknown to most Americans. They form only minor footnotes in U.S. history. But they are the chapter titles of the histories of other countries, where they have had enormous consequences. America's strength has made it a sort of Gulliver in world affairs: By wiggling its toes it can, often inadvertently, break the arm of a Lilliputian. When my family moved back to Pakistan, I was given a front-row seat from which to observe one such obscure episode."
Mohsin Hamid, author of " The Reluctant Fundamentalist," was online Monday, July 23 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his Outlook article on the devastating effects 1980s U.S. foreign policy had on his native Pakistan -- and the love much of the Muslim world still holds for American culture.
'Why Do They Hate Us?' (Post, July 22)
The transcript follows.
Mohsin Hamid: Hello, and thank you all for joining the discussion. As a novelist, I rarely have the chance to interact like this with readers -- and almost never so soon after I have written a piece -- so I am very pleased to be having this conversation with you today.
Charlotte, N.C.: Your Outlook article echoed very closely your wonderfully written novel. As an Indian American I could see the subtle nuances of the U.S. problems you described. But is not the answer democracy, however imperfect? Pakistan has time and again thwarted democracy and eroded any self-esteem as a nation.
Mohsin Hamid: I think this is a very good place to start. It would be unfair (and inaccurate) to offer a critique of the U.S. without looking at other countries as well, and in my case Pakistan is where I was born and have lived much of my life. So let me start by saying that Pakistan's failure to evolve a sustainable and effective democracy is a huge part of the problems that Pakistan faces today. Many countries in Asia have been able to reduce poverty, improve health care and provide education for their citizens better than Pakistan has in the past 60 years. And for this, successive Pakistani governments and their poor policies certainly are to blame.
Herndon, Va.: You see the reason behind Muslim hatred of U.S. in its intervention to shape the destiny of other (Muslim) countries. You also suggest that Americans need to educate themselves, from elementary school onward, about what their country has done abroad. Do you agree that the Muslims too need to educate themselves, from elementary school onward, about how in the past 1,400 years the Muslim Jihadists had conquered and destroyed countries, cultures and religions of non-Muslims (and still continue to do so)? Maybe that could help Muslims to understand why they are not loved in non-Muslim societies all over the world!
Mohsin Hamid: I certainly agree that education is a two-way street. Muslim countries and people from Muslim societies certainly just as often have been perpetrators of aggression as they have been victims of it. Understanding the excesses committed by Muslims is essential in the Muslim world. My point is that we all, whatever our religion or nationality, should accept the obligation of learning our histories and speaking out against the injustices that our countries conduct in our name.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates: I think they hate the U.S. more because of its policies than envy, rather than the other way round as Hamid suggests. Envy and resentfulness rarely arouse the passions against some entity that are felt against the U.S. around the world.
Mohsin Hamid: I did not mean to say that hatred comes more from envy than from the results of policies, just that we should acknowledge that both forces are at work. American policies towards Israel and Palestine long have been probably the single biggest source of resentment towards America among Muslims that I know. More recently, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have also strongly fueled that resentment.
Karachi, Pakistan: Mohsin, what do you think of the observation by Richard Dawkins that humanity's real problem is in fact devotion to faith, whether it is Islam or Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism? Or, as Tariq Ali has pointed out, that what we are witnessing is really a clash of competing fundamentalisms?
Mohsin Hamid: I don't think that devotion to faith is humanity's real problem, but certainly I do agree that we are seeing a clash of fundamentalisms. Some of these are nationality-based (China/Japan), others are religious (Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu) and still others are economic. All suffer from not accepting our common humanity. But faith ought to take our common humanity as a starting point. It is when faith does not do so, when it exists for the political purpose of dividing us, that it is dangerous.
Alexandria, Va.: Thank you for taking the time for questions. Is there any realistic effort going the other way to explain to "the Muslim world" why many Americans hate them? As someone born about the same time as you, I have grown up watching Islamic terrorism flower -- from Munich in 1972 through the Beirut bombings, Leon Klinghoffer, 9/11, civilians beheaded on video, etc., etc. Frankly, I'm sick of it. Pakistan and Egypt are our largest aid recipients after Israel, but you never hear anything about that.
Mohsin Hamid: I think what many people fail to recognize is that there are enormous divisions of opinion in "the Muslim world." Most victims of acts of terrorism conducted by Muslims are themselves Muslims. And if you were to open a Pakistani newspaper or watch a Pakistani television channel, you would be likely to see constant and passionate denouncements of terrorism. Terrorism is not defined as violence that happens between Muslims and non-Muslims -- it is violence that happens between those who kill innocent people for political purposes and their victims.
College Park, Md.: Why do you think that it is American policy in Pakistan -- and not the dictator at the time -- that is responsible what is happening in Pakistan today?
Mohsin Hamid: It is both. I think we should avoid simple either/or ways of looking at the world. Pakistan's government must bear great responsibility for what happens in Pakistan. And American policies also have considerable responsibility.
Purcellville, Va.: Do you know of Walid Shoebat's book "Why We Want To Kill You"? I saw him on a television program, and the reasons he states seem to have less to do with us and more to do with Islamic teachings.
Mohsin Hamid: I have not read that book, but I think the term "Islamic teachings" often is used as a great oversimplification. For example, of the billion-plus Muslims in the world, most live from Pakistan on east -- in other words, not in the Middle East. And very few of the Muslims of the east can read or speak Arabic.
Muslims are not robots programmed to obey just one interpretation of a single verse in the Koran. They are hundreds of millions of people who have many different cultures, many different levels of religious knowledge and many different interpretations. One can be a female fashion model in Pakistan or a male fisherman in Indonesia or an old doctor in Nigeria and still be a Muslim.
Boston: Reading your article, and the review of a book about the CIA, "Legacy of Ashes" made me think about "The Great Gatsby." At the end, after all the deaths and destruction, Tom and Daisy go on as if nothing had happened. The U.S. seems to be stuck in that mode -- we can through enthusiasm or carelessness cause great destruction, yet seem incapable of putting things back together, whether it's Haiti, Nicaragua, Pakistan or Afghanistan. I had a Pakistani roommate one year in college. He'd been wounded by an Indian air strike on Karachi, and his grandfather had been killed in Israel in 1948. I only could admire on how he was focused on building the future, instead of nursing hatreds.
washingtonpost.com: "Legacy of Ashes" review (Post, July 22)
Mohsin Hamid: I agree that nursing hatreds stands in the way of building for the future. I think of Nelson Mandela's transition from an "ANC terrorist" to perhaps the greatest peacemaker and statesman of our time. It was in large part by appealing to a shared humanity that he achieved what he did for South Africa. There is a vast common ground that human beings of the 21st century can occupy, and many voices need to be much louder in calling for it. But that common ground also will require real change, even as it will require hatreds to be left behind.
20,000 women languishing in jails across the country under the medieval Sharia laws on adultery.: They hate us because we want to free women.
Mohsin Hamid: There are enormous problems and inequalities regarding the treatment of women in Muslim countries, but again, I think the second part of your statement is a gross oversimplification. Pakistan and Bangladesh both have had women as prime ministers, for example, while there has not been an American head of government who is a woman yet. Also, I would suggest that it is not only among many Muslim men that America is resented, but among many Muslim women as well.
Mohsin Hamid: Thank you for your questions, and for the many others I did not have enough time to answer. It has been a pleasure to be part of this dialogue. Time for me to see if I can find something for dinner in the rather rainy place that is London this evening...
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