American dream: end or beginning? Anjum Niaz

America polls for a president next Tuesday. Obama’s enemies insist he’s a Muslim; Barack Obama fights back keeping the ‘M’ word out of his life. He’s visited churches and synagogues, but not mosques. He’s loath to be seen in the company of headscarved women for fear that his middle name ‘Hussein’ could ruin his chances of becoming the first black US president.
Meanwhile, his running mate Senator Joe Biden shoots his mouth off with a scary warning. It involves Pakistan. The Democratic vice-presidential candidate knows something that most of us don’t know. He has received secret briefings from the top US intelligence outfits. And seen the gathering storm coming closer. “Mark my words,” he tells the Americans. “Be prepared to stick with us … we’re gonna need you to use your influence, your influence within the community, to stand with him (Barack Obama).” According to the Wall Street Journal “The most obvious interpretation of this ramble is that an Iran-Israel confrontation is coming, and that if Obama is president, America will sit it out with, at best, words that do nothing to support Israel or deter Iran.” But the ABC news channel gives Biden’s warning another twist: The threat will originate from “the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border.”

Should Obama become the next president, will he attack Pakistan? The question has already been answered by Obama himself. Yes, he will. So, how the future relations pan out between Islamabad and Washington DC require no brain surgery. If we need money, arms and American goodwill, then jolly well, we will have to do what the new president – Obama 44, or McCain 71, tells us to do.

What’s age got to do with it? Plenty. The American dream is not only to make money but also to live long enough to enjoy it. Hence, John McCain says that even though he’s “older than dirt and have more scars than Frankenstein,” old is gold, so people should vote for him. If he wins, he’ll be the oldest president of the United States. And guess what? Roberta, 96, will be the oldest First Mom. She’s in fine health but thinks her son needs a “miracle” to win. Her twin sister Rowena goes a step further and declares that her nephew has no chance of becoming the next president. “He’s losing,” she tells the press.

The McCain women – mom and aunt, make John look like a spring chicken. Just four years away from scoring a century the twins are lucid, beautiful and perky. The doubting Thomases who worry McCain is too old to become their president are re-thinking after watching these two dames talk like two enthusiastic teenagers. There must be something in the genes, they argue, that dilutes the age factor. So what if you’re 71, you still can make a great president, parrot the Republicans.

The other presidential hopeful Barack Obama has no mother. She died from cancer at age 53. She was white. She never lived to see her son enter politics, though she saw him graduate from Harvard Law School with honours. Obama was raised by his white grandmother who is 86 and dying. Obama cancelled his campaign for two days to be with her in Hawaii. His mother died because she had no health insurance. He’s sworn if he becomes the president he will make sure that 50 million Americans who can’t afford to buy health insurance will get access to it. He has also promised to “spread the wealth” rather than concentrate it in few hands as the Republicans have been doing, making the rich richer, and the poor, poorer.

Sarah Palin is an enigma. She is either loved or hated. Whatever the case, the latest gossip on her is the phenomenal cost of her wardrobe coughed up by the Republican Party to make their vice-presidential-candidate appear swooningly sexy before crowds. She stuns. Like a Barbie doll, she’s been accessorized and dolled up costing $150,000 and setting the wags talking. All those gorgeous leather jackets – flaming red and black and tight fitting skirts have been bought from high-end stores. One makeup and hairdo session cost $4,716.49.

Despite such glitzy tales emanating from the presidential candidates, America may be heading for a train wreck. Bankruptcies, foreclosures and credit charge-offs are at their highest levels in recent memory. Unemployment is rising, showing no sign of abatement. Business profits, as a percentage of GDP, are at their lowest level in 40 years. Manufacturing has left the US and has been outsourced overseas.

Americans are therefore veering towards “Change you can believe in” which is Barack Obama’s slogan. They are done with the Bush presidency. But while Obama may appeal to the Americans who want a new beginning, his foreign policy is not going to be any different from that of his predecessor. It is a well-known that when American interests abroad factor in, there’s no difference of opinion between Republicans and the Democrats. Both are America-centric and therefore unanimous in their foreign policy matters.

Eight years ago, on a cold blustery January morning, we watched George W Bush sworn in before the nation. His father, President H W Bush stood close by, wiping a tear of joy. He was the happiest and luckiest dad in the world. His son was taking over from the man who had humbled him. Bill and Hillary Clinton walked down the stairs, holding hands, fading into the abyss of nothingness. That night, Laura Bush in her red Chantilly lace and silk satin with crystal beading, was the belle of the inaugural ball. She glowed as she and the president in his tuxedo swirled like a pair of swans late into the night celebrating their victory.

It was the golden age of America. Bill Clinton was leaving behind a couple of trillion dollars in the treasury. The stock market was fantastic. College geeks were becoming millionaires overnight in the world of business. Immigration was at its peak – men, women and children were queuing up to come to the land of plenty to live their American dream. I was one of them. Jobs were plenty; racism was scant. One was not racially profiled for having a name like ‘Mohammad,’ or being of ‘Pakistani origin.’ One was not discriminated for being a Muslim by those wanting to hire you. Few had then heard of a country called ‘Pakistan.’ Even the president-elect George W Bush didn’t care to know who the president of Pakistan was. General Pervez Musharraf was his lowest priority as was Pakistan.

On September 9, 2001, everything changed in a blink. People distanced themselves from ‘Arab-Asian-looking foreigners;’ Pakistani immigrants seeking a job never got an interview call from prospective employers despite floating their resumes right, left and centre. Islamic centres and mosques came under surveillance while many Pakistanis were arrested for petty crimes, imprisoned and finally deported home. It was humiliating and heartbreaking for the families of many who had made America their home, never dreaming they would one day be kicked out.

Suddenly Pakistan was in the news on every TV channel. Cities like Quetta and Peshawar were being mentioned as though all Americans were expected to know their geographical location. It was surreal for a Pakistani living through these dark times in America. Many packed up and left for home, unable to bear the discrimination at workplace and neighbourhoods, while others moved to the security of South Asian ghettos.

Striking fear at the heart of Powell, Bush’s former secretary of state who whipped up hysteria against Muslims after 9/11, was a photo of a mother grieving beside the grave of her 20 year old son. Engraved on the tombstone was the name of Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, his awards — the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star — and a crescent and a star to denote he was a Muslim. “His Muslim faith did not make him not want to go to Iraq,” his father Feroze Khan told the press. “(But) He looked at it that he’s American and he has a job to do.”

Colin Powell went on “Meet the Press” recently and talked about the tragedy. He did not approve of John McCain and Palin lying about Obama being a Muslim in a bid to prejudice the ordinary American voter declaring that millions of Muslims around the world are being “offended by the slimy tenor of the race against Obama.”

Obama, if he wins next Tuesday needs to change his views on ordinary Pakistanis who till now have been misunderstood by his predecessors and the American administration. Make friends not enemies of us.

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting.

Source: The News, 28/10/2008

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