Think Locally


One Supreme Court justice, 1,500 lawyers and a disgraced former prime minister out of a population of nearly 150 million people hardly constitute great opposition to President Pervez Musharraf, who had declared a state of emergency in Pakistan.

For Americans to prattle about a "return" to democracy is both silly and hypocritical. Musharraf was a dictator when we asked for his help after 9/11, has been a dictator ever since, and very likely will remain a dictator unless some assassin gets lucky.

Furthermore, democracy in Pakistan has a sorry history of corruption, coups and assassinations. The best and smartest thing we can do is simply keep our mouths shut and let the Pakistanis work it out for themselves. In a country where Osama bin Laden is more popular than George W. Bush, our influence is virtually nil anyway. As long as President Bush wants to keep troops in Afghanistan, he needs Musharraf more than Musharraf needs him.

Unfortunately, too many of the baby boomer generation are blathermouths. They have this insane notion that they have to "make a statement" on everything in the world, not realizing that words won’t even ruffle the wing of a gnat. To make matters worse, we’ve developed an industry of chatterers on radio and television, hardly one of whom is the least bit knowledgeable of the topics he beats his gums about.

No American who hasn’t spent years in Pakistan is qualified to talk about it. It takes that long to learn who the players are and where the power structure lies. Looking at fleeting images of crowds on television doesn’t tell you anything except that there are crowds in a very crowded country. Ignorance is best served by silence, lest it spread.

Besides, we have only a limited and narrow legitimate interest in Pakistan. It’s not our country. It’s not on our borders. Our only interest is, Will Pakistan assist us in the war against terrorism (to use the bad metaphor of the Bush administration)? If the answer is yes, it doesn’t matter to us who is in charge of the country. As the ancient saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Right now would be a good time to turn off the television sets in America. The writers are on strike, and soon there will be nothing but reruns of reruns. Apparently none of the late-night comedians is able to write his own material. The news shows are a joke. If you get lonesome for a talking image, play a DVD or a tape.

In the meantime, your local newspaper will keep you informed, though keep in mind much of what we journalists classify as news is really irrelevant to the readers. If you live on the East Coast, you might have some idle curiosity about wildfires in California, but you can easily do without the information. Random crimes and accidents outside of your local community are likewise irrelevant and useless. It is not a good idea to clutter up one’s mind with useless and irrelevant information.

For years, Americans have been propagandized to "think globally" when we should be thinking locally, which is the only place where we have any influence. I know there are busybodies who desire to save the world and actually think they are doing it if they buy a sack of organic coffee or send a check to some self-proclaimed charity.

But the world is a pitiless place where power rules. If you have no power, you have no influence. Sometimes even if you have power, you have no influence, because most people in the world are not cowards. Palestinians, for example, have been defying Israeli power for more than 60 years.

Think and act locally. It’s our only chance at making a difference. And forget about Pakistan’s internal politics.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.