For our generation, to be considered ‘educated’, it was still necessary to be able to spout Shakespeare in addition to Urdu’s poet laureate, Ghalib, and, of course, Iqbal. We read almost all the English language classics, including those by American authors, but for fiction, I found Westerns fascinating. Stories of those early pioneers and their adventures, the slow but steady elimination of the fascinating Indian tribes, the struggle to survive in a hostile land under hostile circumstances; they were always a challenge to the imagination. This struggle I was to witness first hand, as years went by, during my service in the NWFP and Balochistan.
However, when I came to study the world more seriously, I read the American Declaration of Independence at the age of fifteen, and still believe that it is a must-read document for all citizens of the world, if only because it renders an explanation as to why people must part ways in the in the interest of the future of the people.
TV had just appeared in Pakistan, though we did not have one at home, when I heard on the radio of the assassination of John F Kennedy, a tragedy that the world shared.
I was privileged to hear Martin Luther King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial, when he said: “I have a dream. I have a dream that one day there will be no black American and no white one; they will stand equal. I have a dream.” I saw the mammoth crowd, which consisted of both blacks and whites and a smattering of others.
We heard of the assassination of Dr King, and heard with horror of how, in some southern states, policemen and some representatives of federal law enforcement agencies aid and abetted the systemic slaughter of those who were ‘niggers’, and not until the FBI intervened did they stop.
Through it all, American remained the symbol of hope, the land of opportunity, a country where even a nobody’s rise was limited only by his or her vigour and imagination.
It was in the post-1970s, post-Vietnam era that the American image began to be tarnished. The world witnessed The Ugly American, the downfall of President Lyndon Johnson, Watergate and the resignation of President Richard Nixon, following which American political leadership fell into mediocrity. Bill Clinton was an exception, but he too was tarnished by scandals during his tenure. With George W Bush, America reached its nadir and deprived people like myself of our symbol of hope.
Barack Obama’s victory might or might not mean any special support for Pakistan. It probably does not mean any special support for Muslims. And it might not even mean any special support for the non-white people of the world. But it does mean a revival of the dream that was America, the beacon that we all looked to for hope and inspiration.
Once again, I am reminded of the opening sentence of the second paragraph of the American Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
Regardless of how the American people would have voted this year, they would have made history by electing the first female vice president, or a middle-class but bright African American to the White House. That they chose the latter rekindles the American dream; that Obama won with such an overwhelming majority indicates that enjoyed the support of people across the American social spectrum and across the boundaries of race and religion.
Only in America could the people elect as their president a man whose entire history was called into question by his opponents, who suffered the disadvantage of a Muslim connection — highlighted by his middle name — at a time when Muslims are hated and/or feared most (by Americans) in recent history. This is the America that we, the less privileged citizens of the world, admired and respected.
It can be taken for granted that whatever course Obama charters for the US will be an improvement on his predecessor, though that is not much of a compliment. Considering his background, Obama will be more familiar with the conditions of ordinary citizens, having witnessed poverty and deprivation in the rest of the world, including his father’s country, Kenya, and will be people-friendly; and that he will seek to resolve problems not necessarily with the use of force, but without the arrogant use of force that the world has witnessed for the last seven years. Given his mixed origins, he is expected to be more conscious of his responsibilities as the Leader of the World.
Whatever Obama might do, for better or worse, his election has restored the America of my dreams, the beacon of hope for the citizens of less privileged countries.
This article is a modified version of one originally written for the daily National
Reproduced by permission of Daily Times