Mohsin Hamid, a Pakistani novelist who attended college and law school in the U.S. and now lives in London, spoke with All Things Considered host Melissa Block today in advance of President Barack Obama's highly anticipated speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt tomorrow.
Hamid was interesting on a number of issues, including the Obama's choice of Cairo as the venue for his speech. Salient points by Hamid: the Muslim world's center of gravity in terms of population and democracy, is actually further east than the Middle East.
An excerpt from their conversation
MELISSA: Do you see a see a logic in his choice of Cairo as venue for this speech or would you have rather seen him go maybe outside the Arab world, maybe even give the speech in Pakistan, for example.
HAMID: I think if he had given the speech in Pakistan that would have been incredible.
There's both pros and cons about the choice of Cairo.
If the intention is to speak to the Arab world, then of course Cairo is the capital of Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world. And geographically right in the middle of the Arab world.
But people often forget that the majority of Muslims are not Arabs, countries like Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, Bangladesh all have more people than any Arab country.
And more than half of Muslims live from Pakistan to Indonesia, far more than live between Iran and Morocco.
So I think this kind of Arab centric or Middle East centric view of Islam is perhaps a bit, it tends to misunderstand, I think, where the Muslim population lives and what the concerns of that population are.
MELISSA: What would those concerns be? What would the misunderstanding be that you might want to see him address in addressing this broader population outside the Arab world.
Ahmid: Well its interesting if you look at Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, these countries have done much more to advance democracy than really any country in the Arab Middle East,. When you talk about the emerging Muslim democracies, in Malaysia as well, a number of countries are beginning to make forward progress in this area. I think reaching out to those countries is of great importance.
Of course, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Gulf, with its enormous oil reserves, tends to pull American attention back toward Saudi Arabia, back towards the countries surrounding the gulf. But that's a concern really about natural resources perhaps more than about human beings.
You can hear more from the interview on All Things Considered