PARIS -- Both my wife and I have lived in Pakistan and worked in Afghanistan and Afghan refugee camps. I wrote a book about that part of our lives in the early 1980s, titled "Passage to Peshawar." Because of that, a couple of friends, one an Afghan-American woman, the other a writer and former government minister in Pakistan, sent letters about the new world in which we are now joined.
Both have stories and ideas Americans should hear. Nasrine Gross, founder of NEGAR (Support of Women in Afghanistan), tells the story of what she saw in a guesthouse in Khoja Bahauddin on Sept. 9, in the room next to where Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance, was murdered by terrorists posing as a television news crew. Mushahid Hussain, a graduate of Georgetown University who was minister of information in the government of Nawaz Sharif, wrote insightfully about why his people love and hate the United States.
"One of the terrorists was dead, split from the waist by the explosion in his belt, the top part of his body badly burnt and stuck to the wall ..." wrote Nasrine after running into the room where Massoud was killed, almost certainly by agents of Osama Bin Laden as a "favor" to the Taliban. Then she went to Massoud's home, among the women comforting his wife and children. She described a library that included Freud and Sartre, innumerable interpretations of the Holy Quran, and videos of Western films, "Gandhi" and "Mission: Impossible" among them.
What was most striking and significant in her account was her description of Massoud's oldest son, 12-year-old Ahmad. Dressed in a khaki suit, the boy said: "My father's killing was unjust and despicable. Now the world knows his struggle was just and his words true. ... We will continue with more fervor. I will not rest but work to realize his dream."
That was not what his father wanted. When Ahmad once told his father he intended to be a soldier, Massoud had said: "Don't, because then you will become like me, away from home all the time. Be a medical doctor."
My friend Mushahid -- his wife and mine were classmates at Columbia University's Graduate School of International Relations -- is working as a journalist again after spending a year under house arrest and in prison, put there by Gen. Pervez Musharraf after his troops overthrew the Sharif government. He wrote a column titled "America's Goodness Doesn't Extend Overseas," which should be recommended reading for most Americans.
"For any foreign visitor to America," he began, "the virtues of the average American coupled with the fact that immigrants get freedoms and opportunities that are denied to them a home, are key ingredients that make the United States the world's most popular destination ... empathy, candor, humor and hard work endear Americans to all those who interact with them ...
"How does this 'good guy' at home become the 'ugly American' overseas? Because American liberty, rule of law, democracy and justice are alien to American foreign policy ...
"What did a diverse group of Third World leaders -- Mao Tse-tung of China, Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Sukarno of Indonesia -- have in common? They were admirers of the American Revolution. ... So inspired was Ho that when he declared Vietnam's independence from France, he borrowed words from the Declaration about the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ...
"But what happened? Coming to power these leaders became implacable American foes after finding that the United States they idolized was different in real life. ... During the 1991 Gulf War, President Bush's father aptly summed it all up: 'What we say goes.' ... Not many Americans are aware of the adverse impact of U.S. foreign policy on millions of lives overseas because what happens over there never affected their lives back home. All that changed on Sept. 11."
Hussain, a Shiite Muslim, also added: "Muslims feel that they are being made to pay for crimes committed during the Holocaust by the Christians of Europe against the Jews of Europe."
You do not have to agree with everything said by people in places that once seemed so far away to most Americans. But it would be foolish not to finally spend more of our time and energy in trying to see ourselves as others see us.
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