The gora syndrome- by Shakir Husain 1

“And how does one keep looking so good when one is so busy?”, this being Information Minister Sherry Rehman’s opening line to Sarah Palin, a politician with no real credentials, and now the Republican vice-presidential candidate. If this wasn’t bad enough, President Zardari shook her hand and opened with: “You’re gorgeous. Now I know why the whole of America (sic) is crazy about you”. If this doesn’t have you cringing in your seat, how about a healthy dose of desi charm when President Zardari finished with: “If he’s insisting I might hug.” This came after one of the handlers asked both of them to keep shaking hands for the cameras. The exchange has been caught and aired on global networks, and much has been and will be made of it in Pakistan. Some argue that it was very sexist of President Zardari to compliment Sarah Palin on her looks although in defence of President Zardari with Palin what was he supposed to do? Compliment in her ability to gun down moose and carve them up?

Even though I think President Zardari’s tête-à-tête with Sarah Palin was not quite the show of diplomacy that one would have wanted to see from the president of Pakistan, it’s not the end of the world. Sarah Palin has been called worse things than ‘gorgeous’ by people inside and outside America. What I found horrifying was the fact that President Zardari’s handlers would even set up a meeting with Sarah Palin – a virtual political unknown until she was selected by team McCain to be the Republican vice-presidential nominee. The McCain campaign wanted to set up meetings with as many foreign leaders in New York for her to build up her foreign policy experience of which she has none other than being able to see Russia from her home. Sarah Palin is a bible-thumping, ignorant redneck who has been brought in to invigorate the Republican campaign for the presidency of the United States. She has given three interviews to date because she doesn’t have anything intelligent to say about any issue out there. Her handlers want to be able to ‘guide’ her through any public appearance. She is to US politics what Wasi Zafar (remember Slapper Wasi?) was to Pakistani politics – a sheeda.

I call the meeting unfortunate because team Pakistan should have been trying to hone in a meeting with the democratic duo of Obama and Biden. Obama is well-known for his opinions about going into Pakistan after terrorist havens while Senator Biden is known as someone who has spent time in Pakistan and is generally well-educated about the region. President Zardari would have been better off turning his charm on Senator Obama and explaining the situation in Pakistan to him. Of course he wouldn’t have been able to call him ‘gorgeous’ (though a lot of women may disagree with me) but the meeting would have: a) been far more beneficial in terms of creating some rapport with Obama, and b) been more meaningful in terms of substance. The Republicans and Pakistan have gotten along very well since Pakistan’s birth; however, the Democrats have been far more distant with few exceptions. It would have made sense to woo the Democrats rather than the Republicans as far as our president was concerned.

But the gora syndrome isn’t something which President Zardari can alone be accused of. Most Pakistanis are. Put a gora on the scene and the mightiest of them all recall their accents from that trip to western shores and start fawning. Lest we forget remember when Shaukat Aziz tried to ‘charm’ Condi Rice which was embarrassingly recalled in her biography? Or when everyone starting from Shaukat Aziz to then President Musharraf were lining up to get meetings arranged with Angelina Jolie when she came to Pakistan to lend a hand with the Kashmir earthquake? Rice neutered Aziz with her legendary stare while Jolie fumed about several incidents to the press after she had left Pakistan.

There is something about goras which triggers the most absurd reactions in Pakistanis or generally people who have been colonized – I am sure there are plenty of studies that studious types have churned out. Most of the time you throw a gora in a roomful of otherwise intelligent people and the results can be embarrassing. Strange accents start to emerge and the weirdest conversations are begun and ended. It’s as if royalty has walked into the room. It doesn’t matter if the gora is on the dole back home. Like any other race or people I’ve met my share of brilliant goras and then not-so-brilliant goras. Yet, Pakistanis have a penchant for treating every gora they meet with an admiration which wouldn’t even be bestowed on the Quaid-e-Azam if he were to walk into the room. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be hospitable and charming – but there’s no need to go overboard.

It’s a well-known fact that if a white man lands up at any ministry in Pakistan he will be admitted without an appointment; yet a high-powered delegation comprising ‘natives’ will be made to wait till the ‘sahib’ is ready to grant them an audience. This is not some jingoistic rant about the white devil and his brown serfs; rather about an embarrassing facet of life in the Land of the Pure which we need to examine.

The writer is an entrepreneur andbusiness consultant. Email: shakir.

Source: The News, 29/9/2008


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One thought on “The gora syndrome- by Shakir Husain

  • Maliha S. Rao

    Your write up was actually quite thought provoking, i ended up having a long discussion with some of my friends regarding it and we all seemed to agree with you.