The Way of the WorldA Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Ron Suskind
All right reserved.ISBN: 9780061430626
Usman Khosa awakes to the voices of his roommates in the kitchen. A hazy sun is shining in, giving the exposed brick above his bed an orange hue. He checks his night-table clock—7:15—and slips back into the deep sleep of a young man.
It is morning in America. Or at least in an apartment near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., where three young, well-educated men start a summer's day. They are friends, a few years out of Connecticut College, dancing through the anxious glories of first jobs and few obligations. It's a guy's world. Linas, a strapping Catholic, American-born, with Midwestern roots, is an economic analyst; David, Jewish and gay, with wavy brown hair and movie-idol looks, is a public relations staffer for an international aid organization. After breakfast, they slip out together, each in a blazer and khakis, Christian and Jew, straight and gay, into the flow of the capital's professional class.
Their Muslim roommate hears the front door shut and rises with a sense of well-being. He'd worked late, as usual, and then met some friends for dinner, a night that went late with loud talk and drink. He came south to D.C. from Connecticut just over three years ago, a day after receiving his diploma with its summa cum laude seal, to a waiting desk at an international economic consulting firm, Barnes Richardson, with offices across the street from the U.S. Treasury Department and a block from the White House. He finds the work fascinating because it is: taking sides in bloodless struggles between countries and their major corporations over product dumping and tariffs. Trade wars. It's the kind of conflict that smart folks thought the world was moving toward in the mercantile 1990s, when the Soviet Union's fall was to usher in a post-ideological age, a period when aggression would be expressed, say, with tariffs on imported cars and wheat dumping. It was a hopeful notion that issues of progress and grievance, the fortunes of haves and have-nots, would be fought on an economic field where the score could be kept in terms of GDP, per capita income, and infant mortality rates. It wouldn't turn out that way, as the few who saw the rise of religious extremism foretold.
And that's why the boy brushing his teeth this particular morning—July 27, 2006—is not just any young professional on the make. He is, notably, a Muslim from the fault line country of Pakistan—the home, at present, of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, Pervez Musharraf and Mullah Omar, fifty-five nuclear weapons and countless angry bands of Islamic radicals. Usman, from this place, of this place, strives with an ardent, white-hot yearning to be accepted into America's current firmament of fading hopes. Like each fresh wave of newcomers, he presses mightily to make that hope new. Whether he means to or not, he's testing American ideals at a time of peril.
It's a fault of cultural nearsightedness, or worse, that he is not immediately seen as identical to immigrants glorified in oft-told tales of potato famines or Russian pogroms or, back further, a search to worship freely by some Mayflower stowaway. He is, after all, identical to them in every essential way.
But his journey involves a blue '78 Toyota Corolla. In Pakistan, a car is a symbol of a man who can move as he wishes, where he wishes. A new one is a rarity, a luxury, and Usman's father, Tariq, was given the car as a wedding gift from his father, who told Tariq that a married man should have a car, and he should be his "own man, beholden to no one."
The Khosas have a deep history in the region that now lies at the geographical heart of modern-day Pakistan, but the family is not among the few dozen elite who long ruled South Asia and cut deals with the British when the empire took over in the 1860s. The shaping hand of the Brits is still keenly felt in the region, particularly in its cutthroat academic tradition. Competition would be too generous a word. It was more emancipation through recitation, a test of classical British learning with a million contestants, a handful of winners, and enormous prizes, all determined by a crucible known as the civil ser-vice exam. In the vast country of India, a fraction of the highest scorers would win coveted acceptance into the civil service—the bureaucracy, running their country for the British—which came with grants of significant leverage over their countrymen and subtly stolen rewards. Even after India broke free in 1947, the civil service test remained, grandfathered in by the country's ruling elite, who could recall the posting of scores—the day, the minute, the sensation—like a family's second birth, cited often and judiciously from parent to child across eras.
Usman's grandfather, a very good student, finished one slot out of the money, so to speak, but carried the fervor of the runner-up into the newly created state of Pakistan. As a young man, he met Muhammad Ali Jinnah and thoroughly internalized the great man's vision of a Muslim state that would break away from Hindu-dominated India; an Islamic republic with mosque-state separations and protections modeled loosely on Western democracies, where religion would be largely a private matter and rigorous education all but deified. Jinnah's idea was that this balance would allow the growth of a professional class that would become the country's cornerstone of progress. Usman's grandfather embodied that vision. He became a lawyer, involved himself in countless public causes, and began to sell what land the family had built up in the past few centuries to educate his children in the finest regard Pakistan had to offer. Usman's father, Tariq, was the eldest and the first beneficiary, taking his college degree and that blue Toyota on an array of edgy professional missions and rising through Pakistan's competitive bureaucracy to become one of the leading law enforcement officials in the country. Like many bureaucrats, he moved between government houses, even had government servants, but acquired little cash, and so the remainder of the family's land was sold to educate his children at Pakistan's best schools. This meant that Usman's sister, two years his senior, starred at Lahore's finest private academy for girls and won a full scholarship to the London School of Economics. And that Usman, a blazing student at Lahore's exclusive Aitchison School—built a century before by the British to educate the children of India's feudal families—was given a full scholarship to Connecticut College. The problem came down to what wasn't covered: the costly flight from Pakistan to America.