Tuesday, December 06, 2005

You probably already knew this, but

...the end of the world is beginning in a remote corner of Pakistan.

Matt Taibbi writes in Rolling Stone:

The best-case scenario for the aid effort is to get everyone a tent and some food and hope the majority of them make it. But few believe it is going to go well. Back in Tariqabad, a young aid worker named Raja Faisal Majeed is wiping his forehead in exhaustion. Just behind him, a bunch of tent-city residents have killed a bull, and people are walking up to the fly-covered carcass which is half-buried in mud, hacking off bloody bits, carrying them away. This place is filthy, unlivable, no one here will have a bath until spring . . .

Majeed, who has been living here on behalf of a group called Muslim Hands, shoots me a look as if to say, "You have no idea . . ." When asked about the winter, he shakes his head and looks ready to cry.

"Without shelter, they will suffer greatly," he says. "Suffer greatly. It will be very hard on the children and the old people."

He pauses. "Just look at this place."

Pakistan is an uncomfortable place for a Westerner. The poverty is so extreme that it hovers as an accusatory fact under every human interaction. In the capital, Islamabad, a Westerner is treated with extreme deference and obsequiousness on the surface, but there is something underneath as well, a defensiveness and readiness to take offense that borders on menacing. It is a country that feels sneered at and surrounded by enemies and would-be colonizers -- which it is -- and there is plenty of fuel here for crippling national complexes.

Before the rubble had even settled, it was firmly expecting to be left behind by the West at the aid-donation party. Even at the level of the individual earthquake victims, there was a perception that the West was uninterested in helping Muslims. Time and again I was asked by quake victims why America hates Muslims, is always making war with Muslims, etc. Two refugees insisted that Osama bin Laden did not exist; one college-educated Muslim aid worker asked me if it was true that Americans called Muslims "dogs."


Taibbi is a veteran of the Moscow Times whose carreer has been marked by a certain cynicism. I have followed his writings ever since he dissd the Clark Campaign with unusual vigor. That he has gone to Pakistan to report increses my respect for him.

Go. Read. Worry.

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