Really hard jobs

Some jobs are challenging, and some are so hard it’s a wonder anyone can be found to take them on.  Ambassador from Pakistan to anywhere, for example.  At the moment, the US slot is held by Sherry Rehman, and representing her country in a positive way to anyone not clinically insane has just become even more daunting.  She needs all the help she can get, so I respectfully offer a draft of short remarks she might wish to make at her next official appearances:

My dear American friends,

As you know, Pakistan is officially a Moslem country.  This means we are committed to the authority and inerrant guidance of the prophet Mohammed, just as Christians adhere to Jesus and Jews to Abraham and Moses.  You also need to know that while many of other faiths trust their prophets’ teachings to stand on their own, indeed to gain strength through examination, we in Pakistan regard the lessons of Mohammed as being uniquely unpersuasive and unconvincing, liable to shatter on impact with the slightest challenge, debate, examination, or disrespect. The authority of our prophet is, in our view, so delicate that we search out and kill anyone who confronts our faith with doubt of any kind, and to be sure we err on the right side, we not only empower but oblige every citizen to set our police and courts on anyone he wishes slain.  What looks to unbelievers like savagery is actually a glorious enterprise that  fortifies our beliefs with a wall of corpses and a moat of blood.  As you are aware, I have been identified as a blasphemer by this process, and as there’s a good chance I will be put to death before I’m able to further explain the particularly holy and excellent nature of our judicial system and the rightness of our faith, I wanted to take this occasion to let Americans see why my government is implementing the best of our culture.  Thank you for your kind attention and for the chance to further build understanding and trust between our great nations. Allahu Akbar.

Now we should all recite together, “Everyone’s culture is just as good as anyone else’s culture, and in every way.”

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

19 thoughts on “Really hard jobs”

  1. Oh, plenty of Americans aren’t so far off from much of what you attributed to Pakistanis in general. Lower our literacy rate considerably, devastate our economy, and Westboro Baptist will seem like a drum circle.

  2. So are you attacking Islam or are you attacking a particular perversion of Islam? The problem is that you don’t make any distinction, so I can only conclude conclude that you are either ignorant or malicious.

    1. My ignorance and/or malice is of course for you to judge; I think I’ve posted enough here over the years for you to infer as you wish.

      Death for blasphemy against Islam is the considered, official, policy of Pakistan, and it is so explicitly in the name of Islam. No doubt Pakistani official practice is a ‘perversion’ in the eyes of some or many other Moslems (though Salman Rushdie was hounded under threat of death for years by an entirely different (Shi’a) theocratic authority on the same charge), but the law of a land of almost 200m is not an aberration of a sect or fringe group. The sanction appears to have at least some popular support in Pakistan (the story reports “And those who are accused are sometimes lynched by mobs even if they are found innocent by the courts.”)

      What would you attack, if anything, in the context of these events?

      1. It just seems never a good idea to be too general when making cultural critiques. I would specifically go after the specific beliefs, which are abhorrent and not the Pakistani people, as you seemed to (“we in Pakistan”). Sure, they may not be a minority, but neither is the Republican party, whose views I mostly despise, yet would not classify Americans in general as sharing.

        1. I agree with this comment (except that the Republican party is a minority, though a large one). Especially because the straw man in the last sentence of the post isn’t even strictly restricted to Pakistan; it could easily be taken as an attack on Islam in general, and if we have to go look at your other posts to decide whether you’re attacking Islam in general then you aren’t being careful in your words.

          Here’s a test case; suppose someone looked at Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bills and said, sarcastically, “Everyone’s culture is just as good as anyone else’s culture, and in every way.” Whose culture would they be attacking? Ugandan culture? Christian culture? American Evangelical culture? Why not just attack the bigots and the laws they support without trying to make a general cultural critique?

  3. Culture and language is the software that runs on the human brain. Society is what you get when these processors run and interact in parallel. Like any other software, it can be as buggy as hell.

  4. After reading the story I still have no idea what the woman said that Mr. Muhammad Faheem Ahkter Gill found so offensive. Were the words so horrible that they should never be uttered again so we and the court must take his word for it that Ms. Sherry Rehman is guilty? Can we please have a clue? Anything?

    1. Are US media sources unwilling to repeat the remarks for fear of also being charged with blasphemy?

    2. Her alleged “crime” was to have submitted a bill to Parliament in November 2010 to no longer apply the death penalty in blasphemy cases and to then appear on TV talking about it.

      The case that triggered that mess originally was that of Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy (and yes, the facts of the case make it sound like a witchhunt).

      Subsequently, Pakistani politicians Shahbaz Bhatti (a Roman Catholic) and Salmaan Taseer both spoke out for a reform of Pakistani blasphemy laws and were subsequently murdered; Salmaan Taseer by his own police-provided bodyguard.

  5. I would join the pile-on, with one reservation: we’re confusing the symptom with the disease. Reasonably well-run countries do not suffer from this kind of systemic craziness. Pakistan has been badly maladministered since at least the 1960’s. India (its natural control) has been somewhat maladministered since 1947. You have religious riots and murders in India, but they are not part of the system. In Pakistan, they are an integral part of the system: its relief-valve, so to speak.

    This problem is not unique to Muslim countries. Poorly-run dictatorships (or feudal enterprises, such as Pakistan or Saudi) desperately need enemies–domestic and foreign–for regime stability. Ask Milosevic. Ask Stalin. Ask Galtieri. Ask whatever asshats are running Hungary right now.

    1. Just curious, if this is a cultural or religious problem, did it exist before the separation of India and Pakistan? Has it been a longstanding thing that pre-dates certain governance regimes? Or did it arise afterward? Trying to test your assertion that it arises from maladministration. Does that mean bad governance, or what exactly? Your assertion could well be valid; I’d like to know more.

  6. Of course Christianity has known periods (centuries long) of equal sensitivity about criticism of its doctrines. Ask any Albigensian … or early Lutheran. And the early Protestants were not much better. After a couple of hundred years of bloody religious wars in Europe, the place experienced (to some extent) an enlightenment that suggested that maybe people could defend their faiths without kiiling one another.

    It has been said before that one of the problems with Islam is that it has never had a Reformation … though there are good structural reasons for that (no central authority to reform, for example) – and it does not seem entirely to have healed the Sunni/Shia breach that dates to less than a century after the founding of the faith in the first place.

    It would definitely be healthy if Muslims were exposed to some questioning of basic tenets early on, so it does not shock them too much. The rest of us encounter that in Western societies. Most of us get over it, most of the time (though not all – fortunately laws against murder are enforced and laws against blasphemy, not so much.)

    But some Islamic countries/cultures seem to be able to live relatively peacefully, unlike Pakistan, so it’s not just about the religion.

  7. As John G. Says “’s not just about the religion.”

    I would go farther, the religion is merely a conduit for those who are seeking cultural and political dominance in the state. This will happen in any state where a theocratic movement has any traction.

    As an example stated above: the Ugandan “kill the gays” bills are explicitly directed by US-based evangelicals. They know they cannot get these laws passed in the US, so they must content themselves with lesser measures such as demanding ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ be re-instated and pursuing anti-gay marriage measures in the state and federal legislatures.

    But have no doubt; if they thought they could get away with it here, they would.

    Religion has ALWAYS been a tool to enforce conformity to the ruler’s wishes, Henry VIII being the clearest example.

    Note also that this generalized militant Islam is in places THAT ARE ALREADY wracked by war and unrest. It has become the rallying standard that was once occupied by communism. (There is little difference between The Shining Path and Abu Sayaaf, for example).

    So blaming the religion and culture is a useless exercise; blaming a religiopn and culture wracked by violence is far more correct.

  8. People suck, period. I don’t disagree with the idea, but it is difficult for me to piss on another country when we have Texas.

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