Thursday, August 24, 2006

Lamb Pullao

I made a new friend today. He started his first day as a software engineer today at the office where I work. He sits next to my cubicle. We were chatting it up after he gave me a spoonful of his wife's pullao, a dish of spicy lamb and rice. Delicious!

He's from Pakistan. He's very warm and friendly. After I shared my enthusiasm for the epicurean delights from the subcontinent, he opened up and told me a bit about his background in Lahore.

I asked him if he was Muslim. "Yes," he said, "but really it doesn't mean much. I eat pork and drink beer. I never go to the mosque." He seemed anxious to let me know that he was just a normal guy.

"In the city, most the people I know are like me. We live good lives and try to stay away from politics. It's totally different out in the country. People are backwards and conservative. They're crazy."

He told me how it was embarrassing to him that most of the immigrants in high tech were Indians, not Pakistanis.

"The Indians have great technical institutes. They value education and dominate the industry. Most Pakistanis have businesses that sell food, or they drive taxis. It's disgraceful."

It was only took a few minutes of banter about food when he asked me over to meet his family and have a lamb barbecue.

I've only just met this fellow, but he impressed me for being so much like me. It's too easy to group all Muslims into a distrustful category. Yet he defies such a simplistic categorization. A poll recently taken in the UK shows the distrust rising:

Most people in the UK feel threatened by Islam, a poll has revealed, after the Government launched a bid to tackle inter-faith tensions. The YouGov survey for the Daily Telegraph found 53% were concerned about the impact of the religion -- not just fundamentalist elements -- up 21% from 2001. There had also been a near doubling of the number agreeing that "a large proportion of British Muslims feel no sense of loyalty to this country and are prepared to condone or even carry out acts of terrorism".

I suspect my new work mate also feels threatened by Islam, in his own way. We don't hear enough from people like him -- people who are just like most of us, for the most part, who want peaceful lives, who aren't fanatics. People who call themselves Muslims who are only guilty of shrugging their shoulders at the fanatics around them. They just want to get away from the backwoods simpletons and get ahead in life. That's the picture he painted.

We should hear a lot more about these hard working people caught in the middle of a maelstrom. I worry for him. If this war gets hot enough, he might find his H1B visa revoked, bundled on a plane headed back to Lahore.

I would rather have him sitting next to my cubicle, working towards the good life, and sharing his wife's spicy lamb pullao with me. I think his presence in my country makes us safer, and richer.