The last few days have not been easy ones for me. I have had to watch as my adopted homeland, the United States, is accused by Pakistan, the nation of my forefathers, for being responsible for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers by “friendly” fire.
So it wasn't hard to imagine that once again I would be hurting for being both American and Muslim as I was on 9/11, and now I am once again feeling the pinch of being both Pakistani and American as well. Believe it or not, you can love two countries; just ask Italian or Irish Americans. I am sure you know that this is not the first time and certainly will not be the last time that as a Pakistani American I will be reeling from news concerning Pakistan. Yet the covert attack and neutralization of Osama Bin Laden in May of this year in Pakistan, a country long suspected to be his hiding place, have all but shattered any remaining doubts to the American public regarding which side of the fence Pakistan finds itself. As President Bush so famously said “You’re either with us, or against us” to President Pervez Musharraf immediately following the attacks of September 11, 2011.
At least since Bin Laden’s killing on May 2, 2011, as far as the average American, John Q Public is concerned, it appears that Pakistan was against us all along, and merely only was paying lip service the last 10 years. However staffers at the US State Department, all the way up to Secretary Hillary Clinton and President Obama will rightly admit, that this simply is not the case. Pakistan has been a difficult ally to be sure, but the country has been an ally nonetheless and has proven time and time again to be invaluable not just in this current fight for the strategic direction of Afghanistan, but also was critical in the last great fight involving this land against the former USSR in the ‘80’s.
One can go even further back and talk about the historically strong US and Pakistan relations that go all the way back to at least President Eisenhower and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), a security pact similar to NATO, but for Asia and parts of the Pacific, it was an organization of which Pakistan and the US comprised membership, along with six other nations namely Australia, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Thailand. This was an eclectic bunch of nations to be sure, but a defense pact tying Pakistan and the US, this once brought the two together in a treaty of mutual defense and cooperation going back as early as 1954.
One would also be remiss if we forget that the famous US Air force pilot Gary Powers flew on a U-2 secret mission from Pakistan’s Peshawar airbase at the request of Eisenhower and at Pakistan’s acquiescence. He had been doing a reconnaissance mission against the Soviets at the height of the Cold War when his plane was shot down causing the then famous 1960 U-2 incident. Amazingly, it was less than just a couple generations ago when President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously called Pakistan America’s “most allied ally in Asia. Wow, as the old Virginia Slim’s cigarette ad tagline used to go “ You’ve come a long way baby!” Haven’t you, Pakistan?
I suppose before we get lost on another few paragraphs on US-Pakistan alliances of old and their longstanding history of cooperation and friendship, whether from the days of the Cold War or the far more recent war on terror, let me get back to the original purpose of this article. So, there I was, in my now seemingly regular funk, on account of all the rapidly downward spiraling US-Pak relations, and then, there it was, a glimmer of hope for a bit of positive news. Maybe a chance for something unrelated to terror, bombs, Taliban, Shiite-Sunni violence, blasphemy laws, honor killings or anyone of the myriad of utterly negative topics that so easily and regularly grace the top of the headline news on any cable news channel on any given day regarding Pakistan.
So here finally was some positive news regarding this nation. Initially I wondered if perhaps this feel good story would be along the lines of the usual sports filled beacons of hope for the otherwise unfortunate Pakistani masses such as in the form of when an Amir Khan gains world boxing glory or when an Imran Khan led cricket team of old wins aCricket World Cup or maybe it was similar to the legend of the Khan boys, Jahanghir and Jansher Khan who were busy conquering the world of squash (racquetball) for decades. Perhaps this news I so eagerly awaited to get me out of this rut was related to a scientific or professional endeavor that highlighted Pakistani achievements and success stories such as that of Pakistani born neurologist Dr Malik M Hasan, the man who single-handedly helped change the medical industry in the US for the better, when over the course of a few years through a process of mergers and acquisitions, he helped eventually form HSI, a multi-billion dollar healthcare provider that in 1993, was an organization with about 1.4 million members, 40,000 doctors, and nearly 400 member hospitals! His innovative and entrepreneurial management style led to the very first modern Health Management Organization (HMO) in the United States, and thereby brought more affordable healthcare to the vast majority of Americans in the 1980’s. Dr Hasan eventually grew the business to be worth more than $10 billion dollars and countless thousands jobs for professionals through many midwestern and western states.
Maybe a boldly similar idea or solution in today’s rapidly increasing costs of healthcare and lack of insurance for over 40 million Americans can come, if not from a Pakistani American like Dr Hasan, then perhaps from another of the world’s brightest who still yearn to come to these shores with their dreams and aspirations for success and achieving a piece of the American Dream that millions of their countryman from Europe had done years before them. Along the way, people like Dr Hasan employed hundreds and thousands of Americans and become a mega job creator, kind of like the ones that Republicans say they love.
It could be that the Pakistani American feel good story bringing much needed good news to the Pakistani global diaspora, and indeed by that realization, at the very least, to a Pakistani American like myself was going to be similar to the story of my fellow Lahore born compatriot like Tariq Farid, the founder of the wildly popular Edible Arrangements, a US based international franchise that specializes in fresh fruit arrangements for special occasions and gifts. With nearly a 1000 locations in the US and a few countries abroad, I am sure many a Congressman from both Red and Blue states would love to attract job creators like him to their state and lure his growing and profitable company, during these economically depressed times, to their state from their Headquarters in Connecticut.
I suppose I could go on and on at the long list of distinguished Pakistani Americans from the renowned NASA physicist, Dr Bashir A Syed, to Gibran Latif Hamdan, the first person of Pakistani descent to play in the NFL. Other major contributions not in the field of science, sports or business, yet still as inspirational to Pakistani Americans could have been the story of the American hero of Pakistani descent, Sgt. Wasim Khan, the first Purple Heart winner from that nation who won the award for valor during Operation Iraqi Freedom, costing him numerous injuries while fighting for our freedoms.
Certainly no one to date has better demonstrated a greater sacrifice to this nation than the story of Cpl. Kareem R Khan, another Pakistani American, one who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his beloved country, the United States, when he gave his life for American freedom, liberty and ideals dying on Iraqi soil during combat there. He also earned the Purple Heart and has the honor of being buried at the resting place of fallen American heroes, the venerated Arlington National Cemetery. One can do their own Google search for a list of Pakistani Americans to find out that this list comprises far more accomplished and good citizens of Pakistani descent than the occasional delusional individual like Faisal Shahzad, of the Times Square bomb fame.
So you bet it was good news for me to hear a few days ago that a successful and hard working American businessman and multi-millionaire from the midwest, Shahid Khan, a Pakistani American owner of a large automobile parts manufacturer, Flex-N-Gate, had just bought an NFL team, the Jacksonville Jaguars! My rare good optimism however seems to perhaps been ill placed though because it seems that even a positive and notable news story like this can quickly turn into something far more twisted and sinister as witnessed by the scores of Islamophobic and racial comments being left on the Jacksonville Jaguars Facebook page and other sports blogs and boards, hours since the sale and the origins and national background of the new owner became public. The deal which still has to go to an NFL owner’s vote would only then be complete and final. Whether the NFL owner’s vote affirmatively on the deal or not, the rancid and clearly Un-American comments on the team’s fan page demonstrate that a majority of the local fans of this NFL team seem only to care about his Pakistani background and not of the fact that he is committed to staying and keeping the team in the small Jacksonville market and that he is a genuine fan of football and by all accounts would make a great manager/owner of the franchise.
The sad fact remains that there is a possibility that despite all the countless contributions to this great nation made by Pakistani Americans, many of these die hard football fans have no problem with risking losing their team to a different owner who would take the team out possibly west to the vacant Los Angeles market than to have a “Paki” keep the team in Florida’s small Jacksonville market and try and build a contender there.
Maybe its his IRS troubles that Shahid had a few years ago that prevented him from buying the St Louis Ram’s majority ownership stake last year or maybe it really is his very interestingmoustache that scares people away. Regardless, I will gladly take either reason for his bid not being approved than anything that points to his national origin or racial makeup. Afterall, us Americans should never forget the words of the late great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr when he said that we should ”not judge a man by the color of his skin, but rather by the content of his character.” All I know is that this Pakistani American still keeps alive Dr King’s dream. So no amount of paranoia should let the die-hard Jaguar fans fear that Muslims and Allah are on their way to taking over their beloved NFL franchise. Now gentlemen, let’s play ball!
-Manzer Munir, a proud American of Pakistani descent, is a former US State Department Foreign Service Officer Management Selectee, and the founder of Pakistanis for Peace. He is also an often tormented fan of the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL as well as having the good fortune of being a lifelong fan of Kansas Jayhawk Basketball.