The inaugural issue of Newsweek Pakistan (out earlier this month) featured a fascinating interview with A.Q. Khan, who Newsweek describes as “the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb” and who leaked nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. This man is not a friend to the United States or the West in general, but I think that this interview provides well-articulated insight into the image of the U.S. abroad. Some Americans seem to not care what the rest of the world thinks of them, talking about “American exceptionalism” and pretending that America’s dominance will last forever (it won’t). I take a different view. I think (hope?) that America will continue to be one of the world’s leading powers for a long time to come, but that we will gradually be forced to recognize that other countries are catching up to us (China comes to mind) and that we cannot simply throw our weight around and get our way like we have historically been able to. We must learn to interact with other countries in a way that recognizes them as equals, not as wards subject to our control.
It is in this context that I find the interview with A.Q. Khan so interesting, because he is very clearly a brilliant man who has a view of America that most Americans would like to believe is unique to terrorists and those ignorant of the America’s glory. This is not some backwards tribesman, who hates America because he’s jealous of our freedoms or some nonsense like that. This is a man who has as much information available to him as anyone does, and, taking all of that into account, believes that “[t]he Western world is united in Muslim-bashing and ridiculing Islam and its golden values.”
I am not necessarily endorsing the views put forth by A.Q. Khan in this piece, but I think that they merit significant consideration, precisely because they come from such a different perspective. He thinks that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have not made the world safer, but rather have provided a mobilization point for Islamic fundamentalists. He thinks that the West is engaged in a sustained propaganda campaign to demonize Muslims and exaggerate the threat that countries like Iran and Pakistan pose to the rest of the world. His criticisms do not seem to come from a place of jealousy at the freedoms that we enjoy and he does not, but rather from a place of wanting America and the rest of the West to just butt out of politics in the Muslim world and allow them the self-governance that America was so fortunate to enjoy for so long.
This piece is especially relevant in the context of recent events in America that, I fear, will divide our culture from Khan’s even more. Khan criticizes the governments of America, England, and Pakistan itself, but reserves a message of hope in the populace: “There is a saying that the common people are too clever to be fooled by crooks.” While he uses it in a context that describes Pakistanis, his careful assignment of guilt to the governments of the U.S. and England, rather than the citizens, gives me hope that he may feel the same way about common people in those countries as well. However, I worry that the recent controversies over the Cordoba House in New York City (as well as a variety of other mosques around the country) and the proposed Koran burning in Florida may cause him and others like him to lose faith in our citizenry.
There seems to be a belief in America that we need not worry about the consequences of our actions around the world, that we are so powerful that we can displease whomever we like without consequences. I think that idea is quickly becoming dated, but opinions like Khan’s give me hope. It says to me that we still have a chance to recognize that there is a significant portion of the rest of the world that would be much happier if we minded our own business and focused not on demonizing other countries to keep them weak, but on providing those countries with the same thing that we enjoyed during the early stages of development in our nation: the freedom to grow.