Sunday, July 22, 2007

‘Not Many Academics in the U.S. Believe in the Clash of Civilization Theory’

American journalist Amar Bakshi is a man with a mission. After spending a month in UK, he is in India for his project ‘How the World Sees America’ ( Here are some excerpts from the interview. Posing Lensman: Amar Bakshi trying to show his 'shooting' skills!

Q: Tell me about yourself and your project briefly.

A: I have been working as the editor of PostGlobal for the past year which basically connects editors around the world to answer questions twice a week hold by David Ignatius and Fareed Zakaria. I have just graduated from Harvard University, majored in social theory and documentary video. I did features on Zimbabwe looking at media propaganda. And as I was there I became interested in the way Mugabe regime consolidates its power. As soon as I graduated, I started working for the Washington Post. It was an interesting theme to explore; how America is perceived and why different pockets of the world harbours so much resentment and so much hope for the United States at the same time. I think this love-hate relationship is very complex one. I came up with the idea when I was in Zimbabwe.

Q: It’s almost been two weeks that you are in India. Can you share your experiences?

A: I think, India so far, has been very personal experience for me. First couple of days I interacted with my grandmother and really looked at her for the first time. I explored what America meant to her and done to her, having her family migrated there, the opportunities that opened up for me and the loss in some way that it caused to my family rooted in India. So far as I have been to Delhi, Gurgaon, Chennai, Mumbai and I am trying to get away from big cities to get a sense of what it feels to be in less urban parts of India. I think the sense I had is America here has great ideas and stands for things that many Indians hold dear to both the cultures. But certain actions rubbed against that idea come across as critical…I think that there is a lack of citizenship and communications from Americans and Indians. And I do think that the second and third generation of Indian Americans can play an important role in bridging that divide.

Q: How do you perceive Indian Muslims as compared to Muslims in the United States & elsewhere?

A: I have interacted with Muslims in England. And this is the first time that I am interacting with Indian Muslims. But I should say that among American Muslims that I interacted with [In Coney Island,New York], there was a real sense of fear that they couldn't necessarily trust their own government. I think the same sense is very much in Britain [in Blackburn and parts of London]. And I am not sure yet what the sense is here. In terms of the views of the America, I think in UK there was more open hostility to United States than I saw here. And in terms of American Muslims there is a real sense of wanting to belong properly and I think its sad as to what happened post 9/11; deep concerns of pure alienation.

Q: What kind of reactions do you come across as an American on your visit to UK and India as far as Anti-American feeling is concerned.

A: I don't think I have experienced Anti-American feelings yet. I think the real way I experienced being American is the source of pride people have that I don't speak Hindi and I am not rooted in India and yet I am brown and look like that I could be an Indian. I am confused about my identity. I think the way my family tried to Americanize me; it had some unfortunate consequences so there is a desire to reconnect. I want to retain my Indianness and I want to be a 'global American'!

Q: Do you think that Indian Muslims living in a secular country like India could be an ideal example for rest of the Muslim world, leaving aside isolated incidents as to what happened in Glasgow recently?

A: I really don’t know since my interaction with Indian Muslims has been minimal so far.

Q: What do you think of American foreign policy towards the Muslim world?

A: I understand those perceptions outside America that it is conspiring to target the Muslim world. If you were in America, say Washington DC, people and policy makers would say that this is an attack on terrorists and no one would say that this is an attack on the Muslim world. And, you know, the goal of American policy should be to go after few extremists and do whatever to capture them and the fact that U.S. is perceived as fighting is Islam is very unfortunate.

Q: Don’t you think that America might be winning war on the battlefield but losing battle for hearts and minds?

A: I wouldn't say losing battle on the battlefields. I would say that it is unnecessarily extending on the battlefield. There is a very much perception outside America that America is doing this to dominate the Muslim world. There is resentment in America as well. And you must remember that there is right now a fundamental difference between American government policy and what American people want. American government does not necessarily stand for what majority of Americans want.

Q: In Iraq war, there have been many civilian deaths. As per one study published in The Lancent, at least 6, 50,000 innocent civilians have been killed since the invasion of Iraq.

A: Nobody is pleased about that in America. In no way Americans approve of as to what happened in Iraq. There are many many people who abhor it, I would say a tremendous number of Americans hate it. Now the question is what we are going to do about it now that it has happened. And that’s what Americans are grappling with, and it’s very tragic. Majority of people believe that we should not have entered Iraq in the first place. Now that we have, what will be the complications if we pull out? These are some of the questions being raised by the Americans.

Q: What do you think of American mainstream media as far as the Iraq invasion is concerned? I mean almost the entire American media was gung-ho about the invasion. You had columnists like Thomas Friedman hell-bent on attacking Iraq. Isn’t it a classic case of Yes-Man-Journalism?

A: Although I am not a media expert but I agree. It was a big think in the US. How media lied down. And this project is trying to bring together viewpoints from people all across the world. It will be great to find out how America is perceived outside. It will give Americans an insight as to what people think of them and their government. There was so much turmoil in the U.S. media. But now the media is moving very quickly especially this project. We want more voices articulated on world views and people who don’t find an avenue to express their feelings; this project is a good platform to share their ideas.

Q: Will your project have some kind of imapct on the U.S. foreign policy?

A: U.S. government is a very complicated thing. I mean who will have effect and how… but as far as Americans are concerned, they will get to know what people think of their government . It gives a little bit of sense to the reader & viewer what other person is like. For example, once they see people working in BPO industry (call centres), they probably would understand them better and might not shout at them.

Q: How is Samuel Huntington’s theory ‘clash of civilizations’ viewed in the U.S.?

A: I don't think people take it too seriously, especially At Harvard University, many professors and academics don't believe in it at all. I mean there are bunch of interests not known and is not considered but in terms of fundamentals I don't really agree with the theory.

Q: Can media play an important role in bridging the gap between the U.S. and the Muslim world?

A: Media definitely plays an important role in bridging this gap. I think the media should encourage human interactions as well, dialogues. This project is all about creating dialogues.

1 comment:

The Pakistani Spectator said...

Nice to know that Samuel Huntington’s theory hasnt got much respect in US either