From my previous posts on 'Moving to Pakistan', I hope I am not giving out a message of hate or disrespect for the U.S. I still think it is one of the best places to live in the entire world. I think in many instances, it rates much better than Pakistan. It is still the land of dreams, filled with many opportunities for the talented and the knowledgeable.
When I first landed in the U.S. in January 1999, America was flourishing like anything. The internet boom was on full swing, people were making money left and right and unemployment was lower than the average, and more importantly the U.S. debt was on decline. So the future looked pretty promising. I remember I met a guy from Bangladesh who was graduating at the end of my first semester. He had received an offer from a telecom company a couple of months ahead of his graduation. I believe his Grade Point Average (GPA) was below par but they still hired him. I also remember another Indian guy who had received multiple offers from various companies in the U.S. and they were all competing to hire him. So those were pretty good days to be in the U.S.
During our visits to the malls or other public places along with other Pakistanis or Indians, sometimes locals had a little gossip with us about our whereabouts. And they were quite surprised to know that we were from overseas and had left our families for studies in the U.S. That was really heartening for them. They thought really big of us to sacrifice so much just for the studies. They appreciated what we were doing and encouraged us to keep doing what we were doing. They even encouraged us to stay back and work and live in the U.S. after graduation and make U.S. our home. So that was the kind of acknowledgement we got before 9/11 from the locals. Many of them would like to chat with us about our countries, families, social fabric, culture and almost every other thing they pleased. They would inquire us about comparisons between different things in the U.S. It felt so much at home while talking to them. So things were great. And surprisingly or not, not many Americans were familiar with Pakistan. Sometimes, they thought of Pakistan as India or Palestine. Some thought it was still part of India. But all in all, those were good times.
When 9/11 happened, things changed. There were quite a few Pakistani students in the university at that time. The first few days were pretty scary. Pakistani students would not want to leave their apartments at night or alone. We would not leave our apartments without purpose during the daytime. We would not try to get into an argument with the locals. So the Pakistani students got pretty frightened and became conscious of the fact that we were foreigners in this country. This is not to say that we didn’t think of being foreigners before. But things had changed now. Before 9/11, during our visits to the mall, the locals would greet us warmly or at least would not stare at us suspiciously. After 9/11, their eyes would chase us from one end of the mall to the other in case we do something to alert them. Occasionally, they would talk to us, but in this case, trying to investigate us.
However, the university administration tried to help us in whatever way they could. They increased the police patrol, put out instructions of being watchful and all, and had held various multicultural meetings in the university to educate the locals and us. These were beneficial for the community to understand the sensitivities on both sides. The administration tried to convey the community that every Muslim is not a terrorist, Islam is not equivalent to terrorism and restraint is the key. They also informed us not to do or say anything stupid in case someone says anything which might hurt our feelings. But I think, things were pretty tense those days. Fortunately, it did not result into anarchy. To be continued….