During the next two weeks I’ll be visiting Pakistan at the invitation of the US Embassy there. I won’t be there to toe the government line; from time to time US diplomats abroad call on people from many different points of view and walks of life to give overseas audiences a chance to encounter Americans first hand.
On these trips, US diplomats try to ensure that a variety of audiences get a chance to meet with you and share their concerns. This time I’ll be meeting with everyone from senior members of the Pakistani diplomatic corps to civil society groups and secondary school students. I’ll be interviewed on TV and for newspaper articles; I will post links to the English language coverage so Via Meadia readers can see how things are going. Many Pakistanis speak and write fluent English; I’ll be posting links to some of the English language publications I run across so readers here can follow the Pakistani media on their own. One of the great benefits of the internet is that news sites from all over the world are instantly available; access to publications like The Dawn, The Nation and The News can help Americans get a sense of what people are thinking and doing over there.
This works both ways. Pakistanis read American papers and sometimes they don’t like what they see. A recent example is the “Burn a Koran Day” being sponsored by a profoundly misguided church in Gainsville, Florida. As this story from the Orlando Sentinel notes, the church members plan to burn a copy of the Islamic Holy Book outside their church on September 11 this year, and encourage others to go and do likewise. The Pakistani media has picked up on this story, including the Urdu language press, and people are understandably upset. For many Pakistanis, this is confirmation that Christianity is a dangerous movement of religious radicals who will use any weapon at hand to destroy Islam. They will point to US military attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan itself, and highlight statements by US military officials and others that give a religious cast to America’s war efforts. They will point to statements by religious figures like Franklin Graham and Benedict XVI to paint a picture of Christianity on the offensive against Islam around the world.