In Nadeem Aslam’s novel of post-9/11 Pakistan and Afghanistan, The Blind Man’s Garden, he writes an insightful and tense scene between Mikal, a young Pakistani man, and an American interrogator. Although Mikal has entered Afghanistan with the intention of helping civilian victims of the war, he has been captured in a compromising situation and is now suspected of collaborating with al-Queida.
The American gestures toward a poster on the wall of the interrogation cell. It shows the blazing Twin Towers on 9/11. He asks,
“How did you feel when it happened?”
“It was a disgusting crime.”
“Most of your people didn’t think so. They were pleased.”
“Now you know we don’t all think alike.” The man’s eyes have not left his for even a fraction of a second. “How many of my people have you met anyway?”
“I have met enough of them here.”
“Do you want me to base my opinion of your people on the ones I have met here?”
–Nadeem Aslam, The Blind Man’s Garden, p. 170
I was profoundly moved by this exchange. Here’s why:
- Notice how each man refers to the other’s fellow countrymen: my people, your people. It sets up a dichotomy between self and other, one that cannot be bridged, one that makes it easy to appropriate a victim’s role and deflect all guilt onto the other.
- Notice the assumptions made about the other’s fellow countrymen, based on little more than wartime interactions between enemy countries and his personal interactions with suspected terrorists.
- Notice, too, that while Mikal recognizes that the American interrogator’s assumptions about the Afghan people aren’t correct, he isn’t entirely open to the idea that not all Americans think alike. He asks the hypothetical question at the end, but really, he has formed an opinion of Americans based upon those he’s met in his country. And it’s not favorable.
At another point, Aslam notes, “The logic is that there are no innocent people in a guilty nation” (page 6). I’ll note that this logic (in this case, at least) could apply to both nations, and this attitude could equally apply to both nations as well.
My point is not to start an argument (or even a discussion) of the war against terror, 9/11, extremist Islam, American interrogation techniques, or just war.
It’s to call attention to how we view people different from ourselves. Not just those of a different race or gender, the ones we might encounter at the grocery store in the cereal aisle, but the ones who are our enemies. Or ones from those countries that our country considers as our enemy countries.
Does everyone from a particular country or religion think alike? We know that’s not true of us–we’d laugh if someone said all Christians or Americans are alike!–but do we recognize that in other people groups?