By Rev. Dr. Art Cribbs
The Rev. Dr. Art Cribbs is the executive director of CLUE-California (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice), a statewide faith-based organization, that advocates for workers and immigrant rights, quality education, and health care.
While preparing to travel to Pakistan, concerned friends and relatives used their most persuasive arguments and reasoning to dissuade me from traveling there. After all, they had read and heard about the decades-long strife between Muslims and Christians and the historic petitioning of the country by Great Britain that resulted in creating that Islamic Republic and separated it from India. My very loving and well-intentioned family and community wanted to protect me from certain violence.
It is not lost on me that as a Native Angeleno who grew up in that urban corridor infamously called “Watts-Compton,” labeling communities, cities, and countries as “too dangerous” to travel there is not unfamiliar to me. Both as a journalist accustomed to delivering the nightly news to an awaiting audience and as a global traveler, the distinction between realities on the ground and what is presented through the news media rarely comports with consistent accuracy in terms of real world experiences and conditions. Of course, it is also very true anyone can find exactly what is searched out to verify any contention.
Is Los Angeles a dangerous city? Should millions of tourists from around the world avoid such a mad cap environment and avoid the possibility of being mugged or worse? All one needs to do is read the newspapers or watch the daily news to see just how dangerous a place this home to Disneyland, Hollywood, and Venice Beach really conveys. Whatever you have heard or read about the wasteland of Southern California is undoubtedly true.
Dare I go to Pakistan with any romantic notions of visiting Mecca or paradise on earth? Is it safe for Americans? Does harm lurk behind every building, mosque, or church? Will I be safe? How do Pakistanis feel about us in the United States? Yes, it was all about me and my safety that focused the genuine concerns of people who love me.
Upon arrival in Islamabad, the late night-early morning mobile visitors and citizens mingled separately in lines to gather our baggage and exit the airport. The standard international routine was familiar and not out of the ordinary. They receive passengers in Pakistan exactly the same way as is customary in most countries with ties to the United States. No problem.
The surprise that awaited me on my first visit was the warm, extravagant reception sponsored by our hosts. English was spoken and we were greeted by Muslims and Christians, including a Roman Catholic priest. Although the cuisine was an array of unfamiliar, delectable local and national dishes, my mouth and appetite enjoyed every morsel. Each taste sated my desire with the pleasure of plenty to indulge. Beyond the delicious foods, the extraordinary delight was found among the people.
Nearly half the students at the International Islamic University were women. They were extremely smart, sophisticated, curious, and open-minded. Although many of them had never met a Jew, there was a representative number of them who were Hebrew scholars and had an unusual interest in Judaism. Unfortunately, their keen awareness about interfaith exchange and global realities is not mirrored across international borders. While nearly 60,000 Pakistani students study in the United States, less than a dozen American scholars attend schools in Pakistan. Such an academic imbalance perpetuates suspicion, ignorance, and misinformation. Thus, what we know about Pakistan as American citizens is delivered to us through the lenses of people who rely on our limited exposure to ingest their perspective, perception, and prejudice as our primary source of information. To be clear, information is not knowledge.
A return to Pakistan will no doubt open my eyes, ears, and mind to the real facts about life in that foreign nation. Which reminds me, what country is not a foreign nation?