Monday, April 21, 2008

Uncomfortable Comparisons

It feels strange, somehow not right, to be so out of touch with news you once devoured, and almost militantly kept up to date with. I learn my news about Pakistani politics now from my mom (carefully chosen snippets), my friend Tazeen's blog (frustrated forecasts for impending doom) and from the Pakistani newspaper Dawn's website (never replaces reading the actual paper, never satisfies).

American political commentaries (these days broadcast ad nauseum since tis the election season)- fit easily into the gap, and are definitely more entertaining than vomit inducing as was the case with Pakistani politics. Plus politics here comes with its own shock stock – the prostitution rings, the random gay governor, the resident pothead ex-mayor, the increasingly frightening ambition of Hillary Clinton...

In short, there is plenty to enjoy and learn an odd lesson from.

However, what's more interesting is the comparison of perspectives that this naturally brings. As a former resident of a third world nation, I had wildly different notions of what was 'hopeless' before, or what was considered extreme corruption, injustice, economic downturn, and so on. It is certainly the media's job to report on these, and here it does so with a flourish that is so unguarded and seemingly all-powerful...that it is a stark comparison to the 'unnamed perpetrators of injustice' carefully reported (protected) in Pakistani media's investigative reports. Granted much of the empowered American media is owned by corporations which render them pretty impotent, but Still, it is hard to turn up your nose at freedom of media in America if you've moved from Pakistan. Especially if you are aware that there is always going to be a Progressive Talk Radio for every Fox News, and a for every neo-con puppet.

Then, you will come across complaints about the system which sound rather similar in words to the stuff back home---about the public school system, the homeless, the corrupt politicians, the overcrowded prisons, the healthcare system. And yet, apart from seeing how different definitions of a truly 'bad' state of affairs can be in two countries, and I say this without undermining in any way the ills of the American healthcare system and public schools, there is always a hint of optimism. You know, the kind associated with the 'next government'. The next leader still brings hope to Americans, who can not only afford to have hope, but also avail the opportunities literally thrown their way to make intelligent comparisons between the policies of their candidates in tens of publicly broadcast debates.

It is such a terrible shame then that most Americans would not give up watching American Idol for a Presidential Primary debate. How wonderful would just ONE such debate be among the politicians of Pakistan...who are never really asked any hard questions at all. How ironic it is that despite the privileges of information that it enjoys, American public would rather read the emails proclaiming the black guy in the running is a secret Muslim. Nothing can replace the surreal feeling every time I see two solemn looking news anchors discussing why it is important to the 'average Americans' to think of their President as someone they could have a beer with...or that the people in Ohio really did vote for Hillary Clinton because they thought Obama was a secret Muslim.

These comparisons are just too discomforting to my re-sensitized brain that had not long ago become the exact opposite solely by reading the Pakistani newspapers each day.

1 comment:

Tazeen said...

There was an article I read about a month ago about dumbing down of American society in New York Times. I fail to understand why anyone would want a president with whom you can relate. You are choosing a person to run your country, not your in-laws that you need to relate to them. I for one, would want a head of state who is smarter than I am, who is more hard working and astute than I am. Some one who can do things I cannot do.
Sadly for me, I live in Pakistan and smart and hard working politicians are about as common in this land of pure as lush green golf courses in sub Saharan Africa.