Friday, October 05, 2007

Special Survey - What Do Young Americans Think of Pakistan

Still from Aliens in America TV series

Pakistanis in the perceptions of their greatest ally.

[By Raymond Lee; he manages the blogsite People Who Have Touched Me; picture by Warner Brothers]

It is common knowledge, I assume, that Americans are ignorant, and proud of it. On the night of September 29, 2007 I interviewed twelve people from the ages of 14 to 25, seven males and five females. Nine are Chinese American, two Philipino American, and one Japanese American. They all live in California, eleven of them in or around San Francisco.

I am a 23 year old (who studied Philosophy and Managerial Economics at UC Davis) and would here like to put forward a disclaimer: this survey is not academic in any real sense. Instead it is a collection of casual conversations I had with family and friends, written expressly for Pakistan Paindabad. This is what I found.

When I asked people what comes into their mind when they thought of "Pakistan" they either chuckled or gave me an indignant "What?", followed by a genuine "I don't know." Then they started to say the buzzwords that popped into their head. The most common one is "terrorists" (or "terrorism" or "(President Bush's) War on Terrorism"), in this case implying specifically that the nation of Pakistan is responsible for training, harboring and exporting terror and that at least some Pakistanis are a serious threat to Americans and their way of life.

The second most popular term is "Middle East". However, Pakistan is not in the Middle East per se though it is usually considered a part of the Greater Middle East.

Some people mentioned their friends. Jason Chao, 23, talked about his Pakistani school friend Zaki Hussain who "used to want to eat a lot of curry". Jason says that Pakistani students our age "seem to be just a hint darker than Indians." Karen Abad, 22, spent eight years in Saudi Arabia and attended an American international school there. Karen says Pakistanis were quite, humble and reserved, while Indian families were more outgoing and outwardly friendly. She has slightly negative feelings towards India because Bollywood produces movies with high-pitched singing, which gives her a headache. Both Pakistanis and Indians, she recalls, often have "strong odor" - body odor, cologne, or some combination.

Derek Flores, 21, was the only respondent to refer to the aborted comeback of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. David Tan, 23, suggested that there are problems in Kashmir and elsewhere along the border with its neighbor, India. He blamed the "cultural differences" as the culprit.

Here I want to confess that I too knew nothing about Pakistan, its history or culture except for my exposure to characters like Babu Bhatt (actually a Pakistani with a Hindu name) on Seinfeld and Apu Nahasapeemapetilon Jr., Ph.D. (an Indian) on The Simpsons. This changed when I spent some time as a student in Delhi about two years ago.

Politically the country is more similar to the United States than one would think. They are a democratic republic, with a semi-presidential system that includes a bicameral legislature consisting of a 100-member Senate and a 342-member National Assembly, which is the lower house (we have the House of Representatives). The leader of the largest party in the Assembly often serves as the Prime Minister of Pakistan (we have the Majority Leader in the House of Representatives). The President is the Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and is elected by an electoral college. The Constitution, written in English, is the country's most important document and lays the foundations of government.

Joseph Geminiano, 23, said he doesn't know much, except that "the whole war (on terror) thing comes to mind.” Christina Umehara, 23, and Jane Lau, 24, both said they are indifferent and "ill-informed" to give any opinions. Andy Mah, 14, an eighth grader in San Diego, connects "war", "Middle East", and "terrorism" with Pakistan. He does not know any Pakistanis, nor has he eaten Indian or Pakistani food.

Gerrick Wong, 24, who has not attended college, thinks of Pakistan as a country of "terrorists", "hairy people", "guns" and "a dusty place" where "some are suicidal." Robert Chiang, a 25-year-old dentist, associates the country with "terrorists, Middle East, Israeli border, West Bank and all that." Jenny Wong, 23, who studied Economics and Sociology at UC Davis, laughed and said, "I don't even know! Oh my god. You can write that down. I don't even know."

California has the largest minority population in the country and many of us, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, believe we have an elevated global awareness over our counterparts in the middle states. However, I think Cecilia Chen, 19, a second-year student at UCLA, aptly sums up our collective attitude when she said that there are terrorists in Pakistan, that she has no negative feelings towards the country, and that she doesn't know enough about it and does not care to learn more.


Blogistani said...

From this we can conclude that most Asian-Americans are really bad in geography.

Anonymous said...

Once, an American student was asked about UN. He said: It must be some country!

That's the level of world knowledge which the common American displays. And it would be an understatment to mention it as ridiclous. It is much more than that. - Ameer Hamza.

The Line of Beauty said...

but what's the point of this mini survey?

Anonymous said...


Could you tell me more about the honor killing situation in Pakistan and what the current government has done to curb that and give women equal rights...i watched a horrifying documentary on it and have to do a project on it now.

Anonymous said...

So just because young ignorant American's think of terrorism when asked about Pakistan, that makes it untrue? (I could only make that out from the tone of your article since like "the line of beauty", I couldn't make out what you were trying to prove with this mini survey.) Maybe you should also survey the hundreds of families who have lost loved ones in terrorist attacks by people radicalized in Pakistan. Even though I agree with the purpose behind this blog, I also know there is a problem in Pakistan (maybe only with a small minority), and no problem in the history of the world has ever been solved by ignoring it.

Harsh Satya said...

i think there is still a problem in the educated indian and pakistani. please excuse me if i'm wrong with respect to an edu paki, but i'm sure the problem is with most educated indians. the problem is we are overawed by the west.what the west says, becomes of utmost importance to us. we can't ignore it.
i mean how does it matter if americans related pakistan with terrorism? do they know what terrorism is? do they know what it takes a common man to take up that job?i'm an indian, and i can understand why a common paki would want to fight in kashmir.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Ameer Hamza, i respect your opinion but don't u think it's very easy to criticize the Americans as they are the most successful nation in the world. But just ask yourself how much you know about countries many times poorer than yours (i don't which country u belong to)..say about Ghana?...or for that matter about any poor African country? how many things can you say about them?.... It is the same for the Americans when they say they don't know and don't care to know much about something like Pakistan (no offense to Pakistan).

Anonymous said...

You don't really know anything about government in Pakistan do you? Yourwords on that subject are a well written bluff that glosses over anything of significance and is enchantingly economical with the truth. All this bicameral legislature blah blah in a nation led for more than half its years by a greedy army who are overseeing a further splitting of the country. Not that I care - but why confabulate?

Anonymous said...

It is commendable that one person takes on the task of obliterating false steriotypical notions about a culture. Bravo and keep up the good work.
It must be noted that Raymond Lee did not make any claims when he presented his survey.
I've often heard S. Asians claim that they know more or have more 'knowledge' than their US counterparts. That is abjectly untrue, in my opinion. Most S.Asians know nothing about the history, geography, cultures, migratory patterns, conquests, pioneering efforts, music, sports, etc of Americans despite living there for decades. They only mingle with miserably ignorant versions of their own kind and glean their 'knowledge' of the West from TV. I know first hand that almost all S.Asians who live in the northern part of their own countries have no clue of the culture, ethnic roots, language, religions, philosophies etc of their southern neighbours. Ask a typical Punjabi to discuss Kerala and you may get one word out of him - Madrasi ! It's the same with Pakistanis- ask them about Sindh or Bangladesh and you will get a weird look. The funny thing is some of these people wear their ignorance on their sleeves and derive some perverse pleasure out of their ignorance. Ask S.Asians in the US about the Bayou or BlueGrass music and he will look at his lawn mower !
The minute a S.Asian walks into an Indian restaurant with his American colleagues and he begins to expound on the wonderful and healthy facts about Indian cuisine. The truth though, is that most male S.Asians do not even enter the kitchen at home and S.Asian food is considered among the most unhealthy - in terms of cholesterol, diabetes, cardiac problems etc. How many Gold (or any) medals have S.Asians won in the olympics ?
I rest my case.
A (comparitively) knowledgeable but humble S. Asian.

Anonymous said...

If Pakistan or India has honor killing, the US has the incest. It is widely accepted by psychologists working in the US that incest is the most famous form of child abuse in the US as told by my psychology professor during a lecture. Similarly, one can find some other prominent evil in the other society. No society is either good or bad.

The terms like evil or good are not applicable to any society. Most of the evil acts are present in almost all societies. But in some society one bad action may be frequent than others. Name any single society throughout human history which is all good or all bad. There isn’t any. The terms like “axis of evil” depict typical American mentality. They usually think in black or white. They seem to avoid the existence of any gray area.

I remember once in writing course in which I have to take a definite position. Even teacher was not willing to accept there can be any middle position. For instance, if two things are contrary, it doesn’t mean that one is true or other is false. Two contrary things may be false at the same time!

Again, US public general finds it difficult to think in that way. Even the university education does not remedy it. On the other hand, most of the Pakistanis make a clear distinction between US government and the US public. That is, when any Pakistani criticizes US foreign policy, this doesn’t imply that he/she hates US people or the country US. In my experience, the US public in general does not understand this.

-resident alien-

Anonymous said...

'Incest' was basically originated among Britishers.As Britain is an introverted by society.Queen Elizabeth's mom was sentenced to death by the King and his judiciary of being convicted by incest.
Passing this statment all'Muslims are terrorists'has now become very common among many Americans.Okay I myself accept that there are terrorists in minority claiming themselves as Muslims.But why the issue is being manipulated on the basis of ethical grounds such as sex,race and origin of nationality?? Isn't it getting personalized with someone?
I appreciate Americans for their efforts and feelings against terrorism BUT they must also think that originaton of terrorism came in to existence by the grudges,cruelity and blood shedding of their best friend Israil against Muslims.