KARACHI: A Muslim-American of Pakistani descent, 32 year-old Wajahat Ali, is well-aware of the unique position he enjoys due to his multi-faceted identity and wishes to counter negative stereotypes on both sides through cultural exchange and dialogue.
Born and raised in America, Ali is an attorney by profession but dons many hats. His flirtation with words began in 2009 with the writing of award-winning play, The Domestic Crusaders, one of the first major plays about the American-Muslim experience. The play was very well received and premiered at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC. He also wrote a report exposing right-wing elements that are responsible for fuelling the Islamophobia narrative in the US.
On a recent visit to Karachi, he conducted several dialogue sessions at The Second Floor café and MAD school about Islamophobia in America in an attempt to promote a better understanding between the two countries.
“Culture is the ultimate weapon that can be used to enter this market place of ideas and challenge these very toxic extremist narratives that have popped up in America and Pakistan,” he told The Express Tribune during an interview.
Ali claims that his career was the product of being a ‘lafanga’ and not knowing what to do in life.
“I knew I wanted to tell stories – stories that were by us [Muslim Pakistani Americans] for everyone [a global audience],” he said, recalling how a childhood passion transformed into a vocation and ultimately a mission.
The young writer admits that being a Muslim-Pakistani American in a post 9/11 world has not been easy. He has been questioned extensively on why Islam hates the West when he is in America and showered with questions about drone attacks and the Iraq invasion when he is in a Muslim country.
“I have somehow become the cultural ambassador of 1.5 billion Muslims and 200 million Pakistanis and 300 million Americans. My job is not to be an apologist or propagandist for either side, but to tell my own unique story.”
Ali felt that there was a dire need for people to realise that the foreign policy of a nation does not represent 300 million Americans, and the perverted actions of a few extremist Taliban does not represent the narrative of all Muslims.
Comparing his current visit to Pakistan to the earlier visits in the 80s and 90s, Ali said that he sensed unease and perpetual vigilance in the air. “Pakistanis are living through a present-traumatic stress disorder. People are trying to live normally amidst dysfunctional tragedies that would have derailed any other country completely.”
Ali has high hopes from his upcoming TV pilot that revolves around an American Muslim cop and a movie screenplay about an Arab-American scientist. “It has nothing to do with extremism, no one is married to a terrorist, no one’s chacha is a terrorist…. the aim behind these projects is to show a slice of life that has not been shown in America before.”
Ali hopes to partner with Pakistani artists and writers to undertake similar ventures here. “I have never gone to any country with the arrogance of saying I am here, work with me. These things require an investment of time and effort and I have been trying to make that in Pakistan over the past year.”
He has, however, no plans of moving to Pakistan. “I am an American and I have as much right to America with this brown face and the Pakistani name as any European gora. I want to show America that there is richness and values in our tradition that we can give to them and vice versa.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2013.