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The Lines on Your Page of Memories

'K. Promised to shy away from politics with this LJ, but I just feel one of my little dissembling don't-throw-me-in-the-briarpatch stories coming on again with all this hatin' on people of different creeds goin' on down in the land o' plenty. Anyway, here goes:

It was back in November of '79. It was a complicated time. I had met Cara Sposa in my fifth grade class at ISI (wow, it's got shiny since!), but we weren't friends yet. Our Superintendent was a hostage in Tehran by accident, and some group of manson-style nutcases had taken over the mosque of the Q'aaba in Mecca. Khomeini, who for various reasons, wasn't too fond of America in general and the CIA in particular, blamed the siege on the American government. Our "ally" Zia-ul-Haq, afraid that anger on the streets would lead to him being done the way he did Bhutto. So in the afternoon, he roused up the rabble to attack the American Embassy, and in the evening, sent out troops to quell the disturbance. Mr. Pattanaik's fascinating talk on TED gives an excellent summary of the cultural values that make this kind of cross-purposes policy the norm in Pakistan, but suffice to say he remained an "ally" until his death. So, the mob attacked our school and the Embassy, and all the other American institutions like the Library and Consulates in Lahore and Karachi. All non-essentials (us) were evacuated, and I went to live for a few months in Boulder, Colorado, just as the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. I wasn't the only kid from a different country. The school was full of Cambodian kids who were able to get out of Chiang Mai and the other border detention centres and emigrate to the U.S. But one day, the teacher told me to go up to the front of the class and point on the map where I had come from. Then I explained this complex political situation to my classmates, who glazed over in about three minutes.

Later on that afternoon when I was pedalling home, a bunch of kids jumped out of a ditch and pounded me with snowballs, screaming "go home you fuckin' Rooskie".

Because, you know, Afghanistan is kinda like Pakistan, so what's the difference? Is there a difference? And if Afghanistan is in Russian hands, then the only reason I'm there is because I'm a fuckin' Russian. And we want you fuckin' Russians to know we don't appreciate your coming here and fuckin' with our way of life. We're watchin' you, bud. We've got our eyes on you.

I was kind of stunned, so I sat there while the snowballs mostly missed me or hit some part of my bike. And they weren't very scary, and after a while the kids ran off. For lack of anything better to do, I laughed a little at the sheer enormity of the chasm between the world as I understood it and the one I was just presented with.

I haven't seen that chasm grow much narrower in thirty years.

So, recent discussions of which I'm sure you're all aware got me thinking back to those heady days when Reagan was the ascendant star, back when the bugbear under the bed's name ended with -ov instead of beginning with Abd-.

Back then, if you asked what was wrong with the "fuckin' Rooskies", it was always one of 1. They want to take away our God, and 2. They want to take away our freedom. Pointing out that we don't go to church and that we're living from paycheck to paycheck was not encouraged. The fact that the "fuckin' Rooskie" system would put an end to corporate capitalism and nationalize industry was never raised. If you did raise it, they'd say "yeah, and if you complained you'd get sent off to a Gulag because Stalin would be running the show like a king, and you'd have to eat rotten potatoes." Which never really addressed what I thought was the central question, but no bother. Yes, the USSR was corrupt, autocratic, and repressive, and often incompetent. Thankfully, they've thrown off that yoke now, and life without corruption or repression, or food shortages. I hear they also have a free press....

OK, that was childish, sorry.

Fast forward thirty years, skipping over the parts where the CIA was swell friends with the Mujahadeen and didn't mind their Taliban-like rules as long as they were fightin' the fuckin' Rooskies. But when the nursed viper bit back, well.... We had the Rooskies back. But now they were Al-Qaida. Now the enemy was Muslims, with all their head-rags and beards and hands up in the air shouting. You know. Like on TV.

Back then, Carter was a communist, but now Obama is a Muslim. And we hate those Muslims because: 1. They want to take away our God, and 2. They want to take away our freedom. If you point out that nearly 1/5 of the planet is Muslim and for the most part, they're modern, law-abiding people who are just trying to make a living and enjoy their lives in relative freedom and safety, just like you—Generally, you hear about how they'll bring back stoning, and cutting off thieves hands, and cutting off women's clitorii, and making women wear a burkha and stay at home. Pointing out that it's only been this past 1/2 century that Christianity and Judaism have gotten over their misogyny and other bigotry, (for the most part; it's a slow process), with Islam moving pretty quickly along as well, generally in proportion to affluence, just as it was in the West. Again, not encouraged.

Now, it seems to me, on this side of the chasm, that the real threat both the Fuckin' Rooskies (as they were) and the Fuckin' Muslims (meaning people who think Islamic law should be instituted) really have over the American Way of Life (tm) is that neither of them: 1. recognize corporate personhood, 2. Allow usury, and both of them 3. demand a person put back into their society a fair proportion of what they get out of it. Preferably more. Sharia law in a post-colonial-colony country means an end to capitalism as we know it, and a tendency for investments made under Western-style fiscal systems to slip from the control of the investor. God Forbid. And those Credit-Default-Swaps? Someone really has to back them. With cash. And witnesses.

Americans aren't stupid. They're not going to accept Sharia any more than they would accept communism. That was never the issue. But Sharia law in a nation otherwise unable to defend itself from predatory multinationals? That changes the status quo in a fundamental(ist) way. A way Keynes and the MBA don't know how to deal with. And it's scary to Wall Street and all who sail in her.

The chasm is indeed large. But it's not the one the TV is letting us look into.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
wendigomountain
Sep. 22nd, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
"they're modern, law-abiding people who are just trying to make a living and enjoy their lives in relative freedom and safety, just like you"

That's sort of a leap of faith, isn't it? Sure we're free, at least, that's what our leaders keep telling us...
barry_king
Sep. 22nd, 2010 05:33 pm (UTC)
Damn. You're right. I better not go trusting anyone just like me at this time of life. It's a sure sign they're up to no good!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )