I had just arrived from a long flight into Dulles Airport during which I had been reading about the excitable, gun-toting protesters attending public events where the President was to speak. One well-known conservative columnist scoffed at the media's "hand wringing" about automatic weapons being openly displayed at Town Hall gatherings, noting that "America's long peaceful democracy is an example to all the world."
Still musing on this comment, I entered my cab and began a conversation with my driver, a middle aged man of my vintage who informed me he was of Pakistani descent.
"This is all so very distressing." he told me. "During my life I have seen so much bloodshed, violence, instability, corruption and crime in the politics of my country." I made a sympathetic noise and he continued. "When I was just a boy in grade school, our beloved leader was horribly shot down, he was so young and handsome. Some of my classmates cried, others even laughed in disbelief. I still remember."
"Very sad," I mumbled. "Oh that was just the beginning," he continued. "The next years were even more terrible. My country was torn apart by war and racial tensions. Several courageous activists fighting for democracy and justice were killed. Every few months in my city hundreds of thousands came to protest war, racial injustice and poverty. Many were arrested some beaten. Then our most inspiring and popular fighter for social justice, a true man of the people, was killed, again shot down. I can still remember the aftermath, whole neighborhoods in flames in my city and around the country." That must have been terrible," I said commiserating.
"So sad, but we did not know then that there was so much more to come," he said with a sigh. "The brother of our beloved killed leader came to our rescue and many of us believed he could restore peace and hope. But before he could be elevated to leadership, he too was shot down. A very corrupt leader followed. Protesters now were persecuted and military guards even shot and killed college students. Finally even our other government officials saw the threat this leader posed to the country and his crimes were exposed and he was forced to resign in disgrace. Sadly we also learned that our country had been involved in assassinations and coups around the world where we helped establish dictatorships where democracies had once been." "Did this leader's resignation finally put and end to all this violent upheaval?" I asked hopefully. "No," he replied. "There were assassination attempts on his successor and a few years later another popular president was shot and badly wounded but survived."
"Well what about the last several years?" I asked. Has it been more peaceful and stable?"
"I'm afraid not," he answered. "A few years ago the opposition tried to throw out our popular president on flimsy grounds and put the whole nation under months of uncertainty. He made it through, but when - at the end of his regime - we had elections, more trouble happened. Many of us believe that this election was stolen. Certainly it was undisputed that this new ruler had not won a majority of the popular support. But despite his failure to capture the majority, he was not fazed. He and his cohorts started new wars. Often secretly they began to undermine the rights of citizens, spying by our military on us became commonplace. Nothing was safe, our phone records even what books we took out of the library."
"My goodness," I exclaimed.
"It wasn't just at home," he added sadly. "Our government committed and supported torture in many places around the world and even hired assassins again."
As we neared our destination I found myself sympathetic but wearied as he continued a litany of violence and suppression sponsored by this leader. "Is it better with this leader now gone?" I asked. "Have things at least calmed down?"
"I don't know," he replied darkly. "I have heard that there have been over twelve thousand death threats on our new leader just this year and that people are now showing up at his appearances with rapid fire weapons."
"Well here we are," I said handing him the fare. "And thanks for filling me in on Pakistani politics. I really didn't know all that."
"Pakistan?" he replied. "I was born and raised in Washington D.C."