May 2, 2011

(API* Heritage 2011) Post #2: Osama Bin Laden and Asian America

Most non-Desi or non-Arab Asian Americanists would either downplay or completely miss the relevance of the title of this piece.

With the kick-off of our month, we get the news that Osama Bin Laden was killed by a covert special operation by the U.S. military. I haven't spoken with Asian Americanists around the nation, I don't know what people are thinking. Perhaps people are out in the streets "partying" like some of mainstream America (murder is not my choice cause for celebrations). Perhaps they are indifferent.

But most of conscious and progressive South Asian America is NOT doing that. People are worried, scared, unclear on what this means, realizing that the global is the personal again, and might become even more and very directly so if things go the way people are bracing for. Last night soon after the news broke, I received a series of text messages from a Pakistani American friend with whom I have had an ongoing dialogue about how complicated community politics are and how lacking mainstream and even ally efforts to speak to or gloss over these issues can be. The friend was troubled by the blood lust, and very conscious of the geopolitical ramifications of the details as they were being released.

It is not good for Pakistani Americans that he was found far from the "caves" in the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan where he was rumored to be. This is all complicated by the mounting pressure in Pakistan to understand the role of the central government and domestic intelligence agency in this, as well as assert sovereignty despite what seems like collusion to U.S. state-sponsored terrorism in their own land. Meanwhile, India is faithfully rattling the "harboring and assisting" argument to garner a better foothold in the face of its arch-rival's dominant strategic position in the everWar against Terrorism.

I suppose you can try to argue that that is "over there" politics that should not trouble us so much as Americans, with the lines in the sand drawn by traditional Asian Americanists (removed from the internationalist and radical roots of the Asian American Movement) against transnational concerns. However, that is not the reality for South Asians in the United States; our communities are inextricably linked and tuned into homeland politics, culture, and changes in a way that feels different from many other communities in Asian America. And besides, this news has real world impact for South Asian American community work as well, as the internal politics and neo-nationalism flare up in migrant communities when things at this scale happen.

And of course, there is tremendous fear of backlash, reprisal or copycat attacks in the U.S., and unending suspicion (from the thin strata of Americans who can discern the difference between Pakistani Americans and their amorphous global enemy in the "war on terror"). FB status messages of "be careful" and "best to stay inside" made their way on many of my Sikh and Muslim friends' pages. While our compatriots celebrate, we have to take cover for fear that their rejoicing could end up in an "accident" with our name buried below the non-ironic headline with words like "unfortunate" and "mistake" rather than "murder" or "innocent."

Does mainstream Asian America see or realize any of this? Shouldn't it?

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