From Lahore to Los Angeles

From Lahore to Los Angeles

For starters, let me strictly define a common American (No, Kim Kardashian in not a common American). Common American refers to a software techie who makes a hundred thousand dollars a year, a woman who single-handedly owns and runs a beauty salon (originally from Vietnam), a café-owner and a young film student you can bump into in a downtown coffee shop, a young girl from Nevada auditioning day in and day out dreaming to make it big in Hollywood or Hispanic teenagers who care little about high school GPA and more about running their own business one day.



These people are rather too commonly found if you are walking, not driving, around LA all by yourself.



My blog, however, is not about their commonness. Rather, it is about the commonness of their reactions and reflections on the very mention of my country, Pakistan. Wait, it gets interesting.



My four-month stay in Los Angeles has taught me more about my country than the lifetime I spent there before I came here. Pakistan — seen earlier as a small country next to India — raises eyebrows even with the very mention of the word.



It is not that Americans don’t stereotype. Who doesn’t? But 9/11 altered perspective in a way that goes beyond stereotyping, sharing a thin line with prejudice. Now, it is more like a silent consensus.



Let’s not dig Newsweek’s notorious headline declaring Pakistani the most unsafe country in the world; let’s keep it for later. Let’s not even dig into American media’s stashes of videotapes showing bearded men stoning and burning effigies of American presidents; protesting the knighthood of Salman Rushdie; let’s just altogether forget for a while about the cosy family photos in front of the infamous Quetta military garrison commemorating Shaheed Osama Bin Laden. For this is what we are. And anyone who tries to argue otherwise either doesn’t want to face up to reality or lives in Clifton.



Remember what John Stewart said after Osama’s assassination “My president (Musharraf) you lied to me”.



So what is it about Pakistan that these Americans don’t like after all? I mean we were there wholeheartedly during 9/11 weren’t we, or at least those who appeared on TV? Exactly, that’s why. An average American believes that Pakistan is a haven for all the bad guys, so they must be brought to task. Others believe, Pakistan is Iran’s best friend and that’s their biggest mistake. Huge.



First, rest assured they are likely to know as little about Pakistan as a Pakistani would about climate in Seattle. My husband’s colleague, the aforementioned techie, is supposedly well-read. He knows his current affairs, or so I was told. I was quite impressed by Dave’s knowledge of Pakistan’s internal politics — Musharraf’s policies, his unceremonious exit and the circumstances surrounding it, Bhutto’s assassination and how the north has been a continual battleground for decades.



Just when I opened my mouth to commend his knowledge of my country’s internal affairs, he asks me if I’m from Kabul. “That’s Afghanistan, I’m from Pakistan,” I tell him thinking he just mixed up the two. “Oh I thought it’s the same thing”. So much for reading Ahmed Rashid, Dave!



And poor Dave is supposed to hold the bar higher.



That Americans know very little about Pakistan which is the underlying reason for their contempt is not entirely true. Americans do know little, but that isn’t the reason why green passports are hurled around like pigs on JFK without any substantial objection from any social sector. The truth of the matter is — whatever little these people know of us, thanks to popular media — borders largely on war, illiteracy, terrorism and now acid-throwing.



Contempt does stem from insufficient knowledge but when you add propaganda, it becomes dangerous.



At the end of the day, no one likes Pakistan; those who read Time and Newsweek criticise us in high-sounding words; the ones who read Cosmo just want us out of their way.



For most of them, Pakistan is not different from Uganda, and of course they don’t know where that is either. The Vietnamese lady aka spa-owner, when she found out I’m from Pakistan rolled her small mouth into an uncomfortable hole as if to whistle. “Oh bombs bombs all the time. You scared? You do good, come here”. Sequential bombing of Naval office, FIA building, Holiday Inn and secret service offices in and around Lahore crossed my mind like a hazy, uncomfortable nightmare. I curled like a child in her chair and said “Come on, it’s not that bad”.




I couldn’t tell her she was right. She’s from Vietnam; she understands.

Sarah Sikandar

The writer is a freelance writer with an eye for good literature and a story to be told.

  • ProudPakistani47

    tell us something new puhhhhhleeeeease…really tired of reading same kinda blogs every other week of Pakistanis going to Amreeka lol – agar problem hai itni tou naa jayein pakistan seh mohabbat hai tou aap ider hi rain naa..

    • shahzad

      pakistan se sab ko he muhabat hai meray bhai per shaid jin jahil politicians ko aap vote detay ho sirf is leye k aap k baap daada un ko vote detay aa rehay hain un se nei hai.

  • Adnan Wasim

    i am getting through same circumstances.

  • guest

    Offcourse Sarah your vet Lady would perfectly know it What BOMS BOMS Mean because if she is in her fiftees she know the Maiylie incident so Salah would not be new thing for her if she was born around the American Exit from Vetnm , she would know what it means NepalmBoms as perhaps neutralized American , she perfectly know her history as Americans , where ever we went , we meant BOMS BOMS so why scar lady , you were at the recieving end as Vetcongs , now your are the delivering and Uncle Sam ,,,,, sarah check it out with her again , perhaps she wana be your true friend in her subcons , she reckons you are one of her own

  • Zalmantaseer1

    yeah and the veitnamese lady is acting as if she hails from the most developed,peaceful and advanced peace of land in the world(vietnam).no need to be apologetic of who u are and what you are.

  • Ahmad Rafiq

    We know already that Americans know nothing about us or the South East Asia region…..

    They are fools and let them be….

    We don’t need to care what Americans think about us…Do they care what we think about them ?

    We are a nation like them…a sovereign nation…tell them to GET LOST !

  • Hadyer Khan

    Pakistan is like a punching bag for every writer. The easiest thing is to highlight the issues related to Pak and get a pat on your shoulder ….what a great writer..

    It is true that the country is facing many issues including the terrorism, poverty, high prices, power shortage; let’s not forget these extremist once were the “Rose” (Remember the Titanic) of US government in the Russian war that was taking place in 80′s. A common man; in current time; not interested in anything except to struggle for his family. Ms. Sanah; this your beloved US who is responsible for the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent children and women in Iraq in the name of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). I am sure you won’t be able to recall even the invasion of US in the viatnam while talking to that lady in which again a large number of people were died. Needless to say; the only rule governing this world is the power and that is seen by the hypocrisy we show while writing the article.

    Let’s not forget that, in 2010, the Justice Department indicted members of a white anti-government organisation called Hutaree. The members claimed that they were warriors for God, who were sent to wage a war against the government, which was controlled by the “Anti-Christ”. If you need more information who are they I will suggest you to read the article in some other famous news paper.

    The bottom line is this we should only say right what is right whether it is US or Pakistan. Be fair and balanced.

  • shahzad

    i find it funny as at work yesterday here in usa, one of my co workers was talking to me about pakistan and at the end asked the same thing lols… so what city you from? kabul lols…. im amazed ppl really dont know Afg n Pakistan are diff. countries

  • NIDO

    why didn’t you ask them that why they BOMB!BOMB all the time here in pak,Afg and where ever they wish…There was not a single Talib in pak before 9/11 and now we are in this mess bcoz of WHOM???????? Next time u go again to Lady GAGA’s country must ask them why you BOMB BOMB everywhere… (a humble request….)

  • Rizwan Sharif

    DO we, Pakistanis , even know where is Ecuador or Angola or Moldova , keep aside knowing their internal politics ?? 90+% not but we do know where is UK or France or Canada.Do i need to explain the reason why we know these countries and not others?
    “At the end of the day, no one likes Pakistan” : Do Pakistanis like US ?

    “why green passports are hurled around like pigs on JFK” : I had no such experience while entering US and i am certain neither you Sarah.Please avoid writing on hearsays.

    Ofcourse people make jokes about Islam and bomb and blah blah but then thats the image we have crafted about Pakistan in general and Islam in particular during previous few years.why blame others…

    I wish our writers will start writing better inspiring content or atleast interesting.

  • Rasheedkhan

    sara .. rather than posting this article why dont you write an article to tell them the bright side of PAKISTAN .. you cant do that right because thats some work , so stop writing these kind of stupid articles .. cause i have been trying to show them the bright side rather than polishing their balls .. u suck sara stupid sikandar bandar

  • Nadiqbal

    I have lived in the US for the last 25 years and agree with everything you have said. I should add that an average Pakistani also has very limited knowledge of US and harbor a stereotype image of America.

  • M.Saeed

    @TruthandConsequences says:

    “—tell me about the stereotypical view of Americans that Pakistanis hold. Then I will decide if Americans’ attitudes are worse, the same or better.”

    What American attitudes?
    A nation that killed its most intelligent ever (!Q-level 188) president J.F. Kennedy, twice elected the dumbest ever president G,W. Bush (IQ 91), rubbished the noble guidance of its founding-father, G. Washington about not getting involved in foreign wars and started foreign wars as corner-stone of its policy of creating world-disorder of highest ever order, can be anything but sane.
    A common American citizen is a distant affair, even G.W. Bush in his first Presidential election campaign had failed to differentiate between India and Pakistan and in reply to a question stated that, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the President of Pakistan!!!

  • Amir Iftikhar Warraich

    The stereotype images of Pakistan is not only common to America, but also prevalent in Europe. Before the 9/11 Pakistan was considered an unsafe nuclear trigger-happy state on the brink of war with India and with a lot of poverty and distators. After the 9/11 Pakistan became even more “dangerous” because of Al-Qaeda sancturies and jihadi terrorism. Internationally, after the May 2, 2011 Abbottabad operation, there is hardly any trust left in anything in Pakistan.

    However, when some of my Scandinavian colleagues and friends visit Pakistan, in particular Punjab region and cities such as Lahore, they are positively surprised by the grandeur old culture, civility, generosity of people and an active public opinion on matters related to A-Z. Many foreigners come to Pakistan thinking of the entire country being a desert-mountainous Taliban territory, but when they see that majority of Pakistanis are not radical extremists they change some of the nagative images. Just look at Mexico which has one of the highest street crime rates in North America, but where the tourism industry is flourishing.

    Yours kindly,

    Amir Iftikhar Warraich
    Former President
    Pakistan-Norway Association


    When a terrorist with a 10 million bounty on his head is a member of the ‘Defense of Pakistan Council’ and sits with the mainstream leaders of the country like Imran Khan — is it a surprise the country is called the ‘Fountainhead of World Terrorism’ and its citizens are treated as potential terrorist pariahs all over the world?

    Lock up Hafiz Saeed, Pakistan — he is a bad egg stinking the whole place.

    • Anonymous

      Locking up people without evidence and fair trial (yes even for dodgy crooks and murderers) even if they are perceived to be a bad egg is not civilised – makes the proponents of such actions as reactionary.

      Would you accept locking up all who proposed, facilitated and executed the war in Iraq on the basis of a premise which was untrue and was known to be untrue and enough evidence exists for a trial but legal cover for executive authority prevents trial rven if international laws were breached repeatedly in terms of regime change.

      • S Nasrullah

        Bravo Mr Qalim. In cricketing terminology, NASAH bowled a nasty bouncer only to be hooked for a huge SIX by you. Hafiz Saaed had a six month long trial at the Lahore High Court which was then taken up by the Apex Court which deliberated the case for Three Months and even during the last sitting of the Case, the Government presented sensitive evidence in Camera through Latif Bhoosa, the incumbent Punjab Governor, and yet the accused was acquitted on grounds of insufficient or inadmissible prodigious ploys of the prosecution. No less than the Supreme Court of Pakistan have thrown out the window the wild accusations against Hafiz Saeed and if India and its pal joining forces to exert phenomenal pressure on Pakistan and choosing the occasion of a coming visit of President Zardari to India, it signals there is something more than meet the eye and the obstinate and tenuous hold on to a fatuous stand, is a trick of the trade.


    The American electorate is as dumb as the Pakistani one — the South even dummer — any country that could elect a dumass GW twice must be the dummest in the entire world except for electing exactly the opposite – Barack Husain Obama.

    United States is a country of contradictions – like any other country including Pakistan – hard to stereotype.

  • M.Saeed

    On 1st June, 2002, the then US President Bush clearly explained to the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy (w/p) about the role of pre-emptive war in the future of American foreign policy and national defense. He said:

    “—We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long — Our security will require transforming the military you will lead — a military that must be ready to strike at a moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world. And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.”

    And, from ground realities, Obama acted exactly like an obedient cadet!!!

    • Anonymous

      Saeed Sb

      Since the argument presented is about morality and ethics and GW was certainly no absolute or even relative moralist, was /is he a deontological, teleological or a consequential moralist?!

  • Tariqdanial

    Yea now even acid blow on poor women but this is not it.. I think we have psycological problem or pakistanesiA.. We as as a nation always point out are bad things and thanx to our leaders; now couple of dozens of major issues..but we never tell or rather appreciate are good things and hence the world dont know those good qualities of ours.. Our media always shares or point out our issues and that is in a way a good thing because that us look week and dat is y ammericans have that oppinion.. On our part we also have a similar view.. Ppl who like to drink or enjoy drugs of different sort or having undesired relationships with girls and meeting them in night tym.. U all know what I am trying to say over here…

  • Kammie Dante

    As long as Pakistan has People Like Zardari, Nawaz Shareef, and whomsoever call themselves as “Leaders” Pakistan will always be an unstable punching bag for everyone. Every country’s strength grows by their Leaders but in Pakistan The leaders Swiss bank account is raising the bars.. EVERY one i meet from Pakistan HATES Zardari and they know he is pointing pakistan in a mess but yet NO ONE is doing anything about it.. WHY IS THIS GUY STILL YOUR PRESIDENT??? ???? That my friend is the REAL question….