I expected angry, perhaps racist, comments in CNN’s vox pops at Times Square, ground zero and outside the White House early Monday morning when ordinary Americans came together to celebrate their major victory against al-Qaida.
But none of them said a word against Islam, Muslims, Arabs or Pakistanis.
In fact, one of the people interviewed said that all Americans, whether Christians, Muslims, gay or straight, were equally happy that the man who planned 9/11 was dead.
What strikes me most about this country is the level of tolerance of its ordinary citizens, though I’m sure that most Americans could find many reasons to hate Pakistan.
Consider this: No one knows how long Osama bin Laden had been living in that purpose-built, “secure” compound in the garrison city of Abbottabad, the Pakistani equivalent of West Point.
He, or at least his lieutenants, operated from Pakistani soil for years and executed terrorist attacks in London, Madrid and Bali.
The mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was arrested in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in 2002.
Omar Saeed Sheikh, who transferred money to the ringleader of the 9/11 attacks, was also a Pakistani.
Another Pakistani national, Faisal Shahzad, a resident of Bridgeport, attempted to bomb Times Square in 2010.
To me, the only palpable reason why hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis still work and study here is the tolerance of ordinary American.
But what about us, Pakistanis?
The well-established involvement of our fellow countrymen in global terrorism should’ve made us less self-righteous and more humble about our role in international politics.
Sadly, that hasn’t happened.
Instead of putting our own house in order, we’ve resorted to playing victim. Our sense of victimhood is cast in the mold of smugness, arrogance and, sometimes, ignorance.
It wasn’t surprising that after the killing of bin Laden, my Twitter and Facebook timelines were flooded by reminders of U.S. atrocities in Afghanistan, Iraq and tribal areas of Pakistan.
Mistakes of the United States, which I’d say are many, shouldn’t mean we should let al-Qaida and the Taliban take over Pakistan and threaten world peace. How long will Pakistanis blame the United States for its wrong policies of the ’80s? When will we take matters in our own hands and stand up against the militant Islamists?
We live in deep denial, and self-pity has worsened our country’s security situation.
I’m glad that bin Laden is dead now. But my happiness isn’t chiefly because America’s Enemy No. 1 is dead, though it’s surely a good thing.
I’m happy because Pakistan is safer without bin Laden.
The United States lost nearly 3,000 lives nine years ago. Pakistan, however, has lost over 30,000 civilians and 5,000 security forces personnel since 9/11 — all in al-Qaida/Taliban-sponsored terrorist attacks.
The casualty figures make bin Laden Pakistan’s Enemy No. 1, too.
The sight of Americans chanting “U.S.A.” and “Yes We Can” outside the White House was moving.
I wish an equal number of Pakistanis had gathered outside the presidency in Islamabad as well to mark the killing of al-Qaida’s central figure.
Kazim Alam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @kazimalam
(This article first appeared in Connecticut Post, a mainstream newspaper of the United States, on May 4, 2011. It was also carried by Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time and News Times, all publications of The Hearst Media Group. Subsequently, it was lifted by MiD DAY, a major Indian newspaper, for its print and online issue of May 5.)