Today, former US Secretary of State possibly the best know living US military general, Colin Powell, endorsed Barack Obama. His decision was probably not a surprise, although it is clearly another blow to the Republicans. But what is important is not his endorsement, but what he said in making the endorsement. Take a listen to the entire thing, but especially to the portion after minutes 4:28 onwards when he talks about the charges about whether Barack Obama is a Muslim or not, and if so what does that mean.
This is really not about my liking Barack Obama (I do). This is not about my generally respecting Colin Powell (I do). This is not about my having grave concerns about many mistakes that Colin Powell has made, especially while Secretary of State (he did). This is not about me being a Muslim (I am). All of the above is important, but irrelevant to the reason why this clip is important and why what Powell says minute 4.28 onwards is absolutely important. Important to Pakistanis and to Pakistani Muslims, but far far more important to all Americans. Indeed, important to all students and practitioners of politics, everywhere.
To stand for principle, and to state that principle clearly even when it is something that is not popular is what statesmanship really is. What we saw today was not just an endorsement. It was statesmanship. So let us cherish this moment of statesmanship, because it is not often that one witnesses this very often in politics anywhere. Not in America and certainly not in America.
I fear that we will get a barrage of comments about America and American politics in response to this post. That is too be expected. And so be it. But I hope that at least some of you will think, and think hard, about what this makes you think about Pakistan and Pakistani politics. What if there was an Obama-like political star in Pakistan today? What if that politician’s father was, say, a Christian or Sikh or Hindu, with a corresponding middle name from those religions? What would be the tenor of the political conversation around this issue then in Pakistan? And who would have been the Colin Powell to have stood up and say what was said today?
I do not know what might have happened in such a case. I would like to believe that the hysteria and bigotry that some in the US have been exhibiting would not be seen in Pakistan. I would like to believe that. But, quite frankly, I find it very hard to do so. And so, today, I think about exactly this. Even as I celebrate not just what Colin Powell has done, but what he has said and how he has said it.
Editorial Note: We have had and will continue to have a very firm rule in the editorial policy of this blog. This is a blog on Pakistan. Here we discuss ALL Things Pakistan, and ALL we discuss is things about Pakistan. We have followed this rule very very stringently, and this post notwithstanding, we intend to continue doing so. Pakistanis have interests in many things – for example, in Indian films, in Russian politics, in various religions including the many that many Pakistanis follow – but this is not a blog about these things. It is a blog about Pakistan. This above all is the principle that has guided our choice of posts. Today may seem like an exception. We do not believe it really is, but even if it is, it is going to be exactly that – an exception, and not a rule. If it is an exception, then it is one that we believe is very well worth making.