8A - The Michigan Daily - Monday, January 28, 2002
IiOMe of the "' . 111V(5-
LSA senior Junaid iqbai of Pakistan and Business senior Varun Chopra of India worry that their nations could go to war whiie they are studying in the United States.
Daily News Editor
Business senior Varun Chopra landed in New Delhi,
India, on Dec. 13, the same day as the attack on India's
parliament attributed to Islamic militants from Pakistan.
The event has been the flashpoint in the most recent
buildup of tensions between Pakistan and India. Both
countries have amassed troops at the line of control in
the disputed Kashmir region. Tensions have eased
since the attack, but the threat of war is very real.
The idea of an act of war on domestic soil is unfath-
omable to most Americans, even following the Sept.
11 attacks. For international students like Chopra, war
is a reality they face anytime they return home.
"Everything was moved to the border and the Taj
Mahal was also covered (with a camouflage tarp to
preven air attacks).... I went to Rajisthan with my
family for New Year's, and many of the roads were
blocked because ofmilitary movement.
It's something I 'cannot do anything 'W e at
about, I guess," said Chopra, who
returns to New Delhi every summer we h
and holiday break,
"Most of my family is in India. Both
of my roommates are from Delhi as
well, and we chat about what is going
on. If there is a full-scale war, we would not be able to
go into the countries," he said. "We are very anxious
about our families, and we have our fingers crossed all
There are 540 Indian students on campus (122
undergrads and 418 graduate students), according to
the International Center.
From the other side of the border, there are 36 stu-
dents (22 undergrads, 14 graduate students). One of
these Pakistani students is LSA senior Junaid Iqbal.
Iqbal returned home to Karachi, the country's
largest city and a port on the Arabian Sea, for winter
break. "When I was back there, the Indian parliament
thing had already occurred and there was this one
night when everyone was discussing that," Iqbal said.
"That was the night when everyone thought that war
would be inevitable. Everyone thought, 'We don't
know if we'll wake up tomorrow.' The only war now
that can happen between India and Pakistan would be
nuclear war. (Pakistan is) not the richest country in the
world, and they cannot sustain conventional warfare."
Chopra is not as pessimistic.
"I'm pretty sure my country won't bomb and I'm
pretty sure Pakistan won't either; it is the end, it can
affect mankind for centuries," Chopra said.
But whatever the chance of nuclear war - a possi-
bility after both countries detonated weapons in 1998
- living in the nuclear shadow is still a daunting
proposition. It is a threat not felt in the United States
since before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
"It worries me all the time, especially when tensions
get escalated. Whatever happens, the worst case sce-
nario is that it's going to take a few minutes and every-
one will be executed, and its scary not being with your
parents;' Iqbal said. "My parents' response always is
'Well, life goes on, what are you going to do? Hopeful-
ly it will get better.' They are not as scared of it."
LSA senior Ronny Luhur, one of 97 Indonesian stu-
dents on campus (80 undergraduates, 17 graduate stu-
dents), said that things in Indonesia, where riots and
coups have highlighted social unrest during the past
few years, are not necessarily that different fromsome
situations in the United States.
"There are a lot of similar things in the states; you
think about Columbine two years ago, or the 15-year-
old kid who flew a plane into (a Tampa, Fla., sky-
scraper) was American," said Luhur, who lives in
Jakarta. "A lot of the older community in Detroit can
still remember times when there were just riots. Col-
lege students definitely have a very different view."
United States) is centered around oneself, and back
there life is controlled by many different factors," Iqbal
said. "People still live in joint family systems, and
when you say 'family' over there, you don't just mean
your parents, you mean your grandparents and your
aunts and uncles and cousins."
Iqbal said there are some aspects of life in Pakistan
taken for granted in the United States.
"You don't know when the water is going to run out,
or when the power is going to go out. The realities of
life over there are somehow very different. That is the
beauty of it, that is the reality of life. Over here you
have complete control over what you are doing, it's
very different - life over there," he said.
"There's a lot of stratification in society. You get to
see a lot of differences between the wealthy and the
poor are below the poverty line. The middle class is
growing, and that is the strength of any society," Iqbal
re very anxious about our fam/lie
ave our fingers crossed all the tp
- Varun Chopra
"You see that government offices are better orga-
nized. Every time I used to go back there before, even
for something as simple as getting a drivers license
made, you had to bribe someone or use someone's
influence. This time when I went, it was the first time I
saw single-file lines in a government office. You
couldn't break traffic lights anymore, a cop will start
Cdnversely, there are things Chopra takes for grant-
ed in India that do not happen here.
"I end up making my bed, and I end up doing my
dishes - back home labor is cheap, and you have dri-
vers who drive you - for someone like me, you're not
used to it;' Chopra said.
Students from the region share a common bond.
"Sometimes its so difficult to me to figure out who
is from Pakistan or India, basically we have the same
skin color, eating habits, and the languages are similar.
Even though some of my friends are Pakistani, I don't
even think about it when I'm sitting across the table
from them;' Chopra said.
"It was very hard to adjust, especially the first
semester, being away from family and friends, food,
the weather was a very tough one. Life is so different,"
Iqbal said. "I joined AISEC (an international organiza-
tion for students).... Being a part of that organization
and working for cultural understanding made it a lot
more exciting for me."
But living in a country where most people have a
limited knowledge of international affairs can be trying.
"In general, papers have covered the India-Pakistan
dispute, and my friends do ask me how family is. But
they don't know the details, they don't know why it
was happening," Chopra said. "I don't expect them to
"Some of the American students I study with do not
know about the whole world. A lot of people did not
know about Afghanistan before September 11; they
did not know who the government was, and it was
pretty disheartening to see," Chopra
s, and said. "If I grew up in the'US., I proba-
bly wouldn't know that much about the
ime, rest of the world. I blame it on the
media rather than anyone individually.
"I think professors are well
acquainted with the facts, but not
every student takes a world politics
class, and not every student takes time to sit down and
chat with their professors, but when they do they do
end up seeing things with a new perspective and in a
"Most Americans don't have an accurate perception
of what politics in Indonesia is like. Part of this is due
to a general lack of interest in Southeast Asia by most,
and part of it is due to the fact that even if an American
were motivated to find an accurate perception of poli-
tics in Indonesia, one would be hard-pressed to find it
even from specialists in the Western media;' Luhur
But the misunderstandings go both ways.
On of the apparent positive effects of Sept. 11 seems
to have been an increased interest in understanding
politics and culture overseas.
"Especially after September 11, there are people
who make more of an effort to understand and not to
judge. I remember freshman year, there were people
who would ask me where Pakistan was and would we
ride elephants over there"Iqbal said.
Continued from front page
And home is where I was these last few weeks. Back for the break or
back for good was the question at hand as many friends, foreign students
like myself, decided to stay back. No one knew if we would be rejected
by U.S. immigration when we got back, for the immigration rules are
changing faster than any time in recent history. There were all sorts of
rumors going around about people three credits away from graduating
not being allowed back in the United States. Still, it was worth the risk. It
was an important time to be in Pakistan - close to, if not the, epicenter
of global geo-politics of current times.
But thinking that home is a political hotspot and worth a trip is like
coming to Michigan simply because you like the school colors. I had to
be home to come to at least partial terms with the constant pressure of
being, simply put, a foreigner.
That didn't quite happen. Reinforced in its stead was the realization of
the permanence of limbo, a concept which is slapped on the self by being
an international student, that most exotic of university species: bearer of
zealous will, high tuitions, strange clothes. Having encountered every- 0
thing from being asked if there's Internet access and sports cars in Pak-
istan to being physically assaulted for speaking Urdu doesn't quite cover
the tactile odyssey of academia abroadis.
Of course, being stateside means a lot, but before anything else it means
you're more often than not automatically boxed in, usually reserved for
viewing at the American Museum of Stereotypicalism. Dealing with the
microwaveable, ready-to-eat, ethnic-food TV-dinner, Type-B human that
most perceive you to be is then an understandably pathetic ordeal: Oh,
you're from Pakistan, huh. How come you're drinking? Why do you drive a
truck? What's with you and Star Wars? Do you get football?
But this is not that column. That being Oh, look at me, I'm hip, I can
dance, drive on the right side of the road, throw a spiral, listen to the
Mighty Mighty Bosstones, grill a mean burger, read Superman, talk
about Enron and that No Doubt chick whose name I can't recall, watch
SNL reruns on Tuesdays. So please, please letsme in. I'll keep it real.
Nor is this the I-can-do-it-all-without-you column. I've written way too
many of those as well: Yes, we have Hershey's bars where I'm from. No,
no camel races to school for me. No, I don't feel uncomfortable at Rick's,
nor am I enraged by the dress-code at Sigma Kappa, and actually, the rea-
sons I can speak and write better English than you are that a) I started
learning it as early and b) it's probably a matter of intellect.
This piece is a plea of despair. No help will arrive, but the complaint
has to be lodged: For being the perfect outsider. Not just here, but back
home as well.
Out ofsync. Completely and in Technicolor. Both home and abroad,
wherever they may be. My accent here is a denim jacket there. If I gener-
ate pleasant surprise for calling out a fourth-down conversion here, I'm
expected to be Butkus over there. If I'm Osama Jr. here, I'm Bush III
there. I'm your Ali Baba to their Jim Morrison. I'm your Kalashinkov to
their M-16. Burning in cultural ovens, I'm a kebab versus a hot dog. I've
been extradited and hung in absentia of nationality and nationhood by
both the United States and the Pakistan Supreme Courts. I've been elec-
trocuted and beheaded by wired chairs and scimitars. They've painted my
sort in medieval tapestries and Moghul miniatures. They've built Taj
Mahals for me in New York and Leaning Towers in Lahore. I'm in patri-
otic delirium and immigrant psychosis. I am a thriving constitutionalist
and a notorious junta general.
I'm Sen and Keynes, Mullah and capitalist, Iqbal and Plath, Saddam
and Oppenheimer, Kshatriya and G.I. Joe.
Redeemably, and in all probable certainty, I am also a victim.
I once wrote about the comforts of being back home: "I leave for
Karachi, Pakistan. I leave for a praetorian nation with a defunct constitu-
tion, endemic corruption, general poverty and a military regime. I won't
see kids working on a snowman when I'm driving home from the airport.
I'll probably be witness to tense paramilitary troops guarding aristo-polit-
ical neighborhoods, protecting Third World elitism with First World M-
16s. I will be safe then. Safe from the teeming millions. Safe from
taxation concerns. I will gloat in a foreign educated, upper-class, quasi-
celebrity status. I will revel in machine-gun sponsored segregation."
If you didn't pick up the pathos there, here's a shovel: The international
student, in effect, usually becomes a dual-time chronometer. A watch with
two times. As a Pakistani student here, or an Amreeka returned upper-
cruster there, the only common function between the two spatial and tem-
poral domains of home and abroad is playing ambassador of peace.
This-is-the-way-things-really-are in America or life-is-not-that-bad in Pak-
istan become a characteristic spiritual subtitle, almost involuntarily.
One becomes an apologist. A diplomat. A go-between. An extempore
debater of the "real picture," challenging all the Fox and Al-Jazeera
inspired quasi-hawks. Saying that that you shouldn't do it if it bothers
you doesn't fly. It has to be done, so imperative are its functions and pur-
poses. Still, it's not a comfortable life to live, either way you look at it.
Sorry for making it sound like life for my kind is pitted in permanent
disparity. It's not entirely that bad. Both sides, home and here, have ele-
ments which are willing to listen and, it should be added (but not too
But the nitty-gritty is more hard-boiled, a seedier Marlowe-versus-
Bachchan mystery. For example, a couple of months ago, a friend and I
were assaulted outside the Union by a man who called me a "fucking
Iranian," evidently upset when he heard us conversing in Urdu. Both my
friend and I took some blows but didn't react. Then on New Year's Eve,
the party I was attending (along with many other young people from sim-
ilar liberal backgrounds and foreign degrees) in Karachi was interrupted
by a car bomb which injured five, evidently planted by some right-wing
"Islamic" (hardly worth the title, but more on that later) group which
frowns on coed friends celebrating the Gregorian New Year. Like last
time, my friends and I did not react. Like last time, we couldn't, nor was
there any need to.
Moral of story: different tactics, same issue. Flip-sides of the same
coin, banks of the same river, whatever. If the quasi-Bill O'Reillys are
reading too much into the text here, probably thinking that getting
assaulted by a single male is a way better deal than risking a car-bomb
planted by an extremist organization, and that consequently the mullahs
are more dangerous than the redneck, then think again.
To reiterate, tactics and extremity are not the point here. A crime of
hate, whether by bigoted rednecks or indoctrinated mullahs, in the form
of a physical assault or massive car bomb, has the same implications:
Inculcation of personal or group animosity.
Terrorism is not just a political crime. It has obvious elements of hate
attached to it. Consequently, race-based assault is not just about ethnic
intimidation. It has deep political roots as well. My attacker in Ann Arbor
had probably never met an Iranian whom he mistook me for. There was
no basis of hate except skewed political alignment and bigoted views
Similarly, the car-bombers in Karachi had probably never talked to the
foreign-educated Pakistani college kids they were trying to brand as
impious and worthy of death, but that did not matter in the face of class-
conflict and political leanings. I don't care whether one party used a
bomb and the other their hands to show their disapproval of the things I
do. That is a debate about access and accountability, law and order, and
should be reserved for another moment.
The case at hand is based on a single notion about whatever happened
Although the political climates in Ann Arbor and
Asia are all but incomparable, sometimes it is the more
subtle differences that international students find hard
to adjust to.