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Kidnapped: My Friend and American Ideals

By Hady Amr

DOHA, Qatar -- You have not read this in the news before.

Three months ago, an American citizen was kidnapped in Northwest Pakistan. He was murdered. His body was just recently recovered by his bereaved family. I learned about the kidnapping shortly after it happened, when my dear friend Ayesha wrote to tell me that her brother, Imran, had been abducted in Northwest Pakistan, still bravely expecting him to be recovered.

Ayesha and I had first met in 1999 as co-workers at our office in Washington D.C. on 17th and K Street after she had graduated from Georgetown University. We worked together on projects funded by the United States Agency for International Development, the part of our government that gives out overseas development assistance. Since 9/11, the United States has spent more than $10 billion dollars on aid to Pakistan -- two thirds military, one third economic development -- with mediocre results.

Ayesha and I became close friends. Friends because back then there were so few American Muslims working in the policy community in Washington. Friends because we both retained an interest in improving the lives of, and the U.S. relationship with, the people from the vast region of the Middle East and South Asia that our families had emigrated from -- hers from Pakistan, mine from Lebanon.

I moved on to work on Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. Ayesha went on to Harvard to more fruitful pastures to earn a master's degree in education and ultimately returned to Pakistan to pursue her dream of working to improve the state of education for the children of Pakistan. One of the pluses, she told me when she decided to move to Pakistan, was to be closer to her brother Imran and her two nephews.

The presence of Ayesha, a highly successful American Muslim with a graduate degree in education from Harvard, in one of Pakistan's more conservative areas to work on improving Pakistan's education system could only bolster the image of America as a fair playing field on which American Muslims can succeed.

But her individual contribution to U.S.-Pakistan relations clearly wasn't enough.

While Ayesha and I were corresponding about the kidnapping of her brother, I suggested engaging the U.S. Government and offered, through the relationships I had developed over my years working with Washington's officialdom, to try to help engage the United States at a high level. Despite my persistence, Ayesha, after careful reflection, thought it better to not involve our government.

Why? Because she felt that the chances of negotiating her brother's release alive with criminals, terrorists or both were higher if the U.S. government, loathed on the local scene, was kept out of the picture and local channels handled the matter.

While the true motives of the kidnapping and murder remain unclear, what is clear to me is this: Ayesha and her family felt that when push came to shove, the local Pakistani officials had better stature from which to approach the kidnappers than our own government.

What little solace Ayesha and Imran's family can feel at this moment can only, I believe, be found in the fact that evidence now shows that Imran was murdered probably the day after his abduction. They do not have to second-guess themselves about their response.

But I can feel no solace whatsoever. My government has conducted itself in such a manner that in places where we were once admired for our ideals, we are so loathed for our hypocrisy that our own citizens, when their lives are on the line, feel it safer to engage the help of local officials instead of the mighty U.S. government.

Whose fault is this? I can only blame myself, my fellow citizens, and our elected representatives in Washington for conducting ourselves in such a way-voting to go to war in Iraq on flimsy evidence, not reacting more harshly to the Abu Ghraib prison abuses, allowing the perpetual detention of prisoners held mostly without charge in Guantanamo Bay for half a decade now-that our actions are indefensible, our reputation is severely damaged, and our ability to defend our citizens is non-existent.

When I was born in April 1967, America was admired across the Muslim world as the shining light on the hill breathing hope for a positive future. Today, we are loathed and distrusted by huge majorities from the eastern shores of the Atlantic to the western shores for the Pacific, from sea to shining sea. Something, something at home, has got to change.

Hady Amr is the founding director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service.

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Comments (23)


Shovan Das -- apparently you are so well-informed you have no idea where Qatar is.

shovan das:

Keep on blaming yourself till you find misguided solace. If you think you can solve the regions problems, try living there yourself instead of the sanctity, security and safety that America affords you.


I agree with Amr's article. (And, I am a white, male Christian--U.S. citizen, if it matters to some of the religious bigots who might read this.) America's ideals have been kidnapped by a U.S government that tortures, suspends habeas corpus, and keeps a 150,000 troops in a country whose citizens don't want us there. The response of many readers to her article proves her point that America has adopted attitudes and behavior that has tarnished, perhaps crippled, America's stature and influence abroad. With dismay I read the comments of those who paint the entire Muslim world with a broad brush as evil hatemongers. These readers do so because they are angry that many in the Muslim world paint the U.S with a similar broad brush. Ironic it is that we condemn others for doing that which we do. What ever happened to the Golden Rule?

As for the posts that explore the connection between the kidnapping and American behavior: you miss Amr's point entirely. She did not say the kidnapping was caused by America. She wrote that local government and community figures in Pakistan will not turn to America to help an American citizen and her family because doing so will likely endanger the folks they are assisting---because America is so reviled for its arrogant hypocrisy. This is happenining all over the world. Rather than getting angry at those of us who point this out, folks should wake up to reality, understand the consequences of America's diminishing influence in a global community, and direct there anger at those in our government who have pursued these damaging policies and practices. Defend our values and ideals, not those who have harmed them. Otherwise, we hand the terrorists a victory: a less just, less noble country that suspends civil liberties and weakly turns to the dark side, giving in to the pursuit of malicious intentions rather than courageously maintaing our values. Those in America who look down on Muslims, who engender ignorance and hate toward predominantly Muslim nations or toward those with foreign names and unfamiliar religious practices are taking the bait of the terrorisits and other extremists. When extremism invites and obtains extremism as a response, it wins.


Don wrote:

"Your hypocrisy telling. I don't condone torture. But don't assume to lecture Americans on human rights while the Muslim world condones violent acts of murderous terrorism against innocent people."

The Muslim world does not condone violent acts of murderous terrorism. These violent acts are committed by a small number of extremists who have reached modern day technology to commit hienous acts.

All acts of terrorism must be condemned but maligning all Muslims for the acts of few should also be deplored.

The solution to holding distorted world view of the extremists is to change that world view. But world views can not be changed in a hurry. It takes generations. How about starting with overhauling education, raising standards of living by providing decent jobs etc. etc.?

Jati Hoon:

I fail to under stand the thurst of the article, because her friend brother was killed or murder in Tribal parts of Pakistan, which never was or will be under the control of Pakistan, has to do with the American Policy.

Only thing I see by her article, is how, "born in America, living in America, highly educated in American university", is ISLAM BIASED.

Writer, should open her, "jihadist mind,"and think, think hard, think very hard, and see with open eyes not jaundiced eyes, what America stands for, it is pity that she herself cannot shake her staunch muslim family upbringing.Make world aware of American peoples and its kindness to all, rich poor, muslim,christen or of other faiths, the country which helped her to be what she is today, I hope for better.Stop preaching American politics, start preaching America's 'VIRTUES.


Wow. Typical Muslim reaction. While I completely agree that this administration has done much to tarnish our reputation, I find it typical that you (the writer) have put very little emphasis or blame on the people who abducted and murdered this young man.

When our brave men and women mistakenly kill innocent civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan, the Muslin world is outraged. When Muslims commit terrorist acts that kill hundreds or thousands of innocent people, the Muslim population is silent.

Your hypocrisy telling. I don't condone torture. But don't assume to lecture Americans on human rights while the Muslim world condones violent acts of murderous terrorism against innocent people.

I truly feel for your friend who lost her brother to senseless violence. But lets direct the outrage towards the people responsible for his untimely demise.


Let me see if I understand this article. A bunch of filthy, corrupt, uneducated, murderous, misogynist members of a medieval cult somewhere in the badlands of Asia don't like us so therefore we should change. Just to set the writer straight, many Americans couldn't care less what Muslims or Arabs or any other foreigners think about this country. In fact, since 9/11, many Americans have developed a healthy contempt for Muslim countries. Does that mean they should change? Perhaps Mr. Amr could enlighten us on this question. The worthless beggars don't even have the dignity to turn down our money and they presume to lecture us. Despite our faults, the USA has contributed a great deal to the betterment of the people of the world. What exactly have Pakistan and Lebanon contributed? On balance, have they made the world a better or a worse place?

John Dixon jdxn@aol.com:

If the kidnapping and killing appeared in NWKFP or the Tribal Areas, I don't think it had much to do with Iraq, Abu Ghraib, or Guantanamo. It most likely had to do with events there; General Musharraf's alliance with Bush, attacks by Pak and US military in the Tribal Areas, sympathy for the Taliban and bin Laden. And you don't mention what the young man was doing when he was taken.


One thing both "sides" have in abundance is ignorance. For many of us, dealing with the manifestations are the most frustrating aspects of life itself.


Mr. Amr, I am so sorry to hear about the death of your friend's brother. Although kidnapping and murder under the circumstances you describe have an awful randomness, it can't possibly make it better for the bereaved family.

I am also sorry for the sniping and bile that some truly thoughtless people have felt free to post on this site. I know our fellow citizens have been frightened and have felt violated by 9-11 and by the hatred the Taliban and the "Arab street" expresses against us, but it in no way excuses the posters' complete lack of respect for the loss of the life of a fellow American.

Finally, I mourn with you the loss of our country's good name in the world. It horrifies me that respectable people in Europe think better of Russia than of us, and saddens me that we have shown so little of our admirable qualities to the world under this Administration.

People once thought us the best clear chance for humankind. I fear we'll never be that, but we can at least give some fleeting thoughts to what are supposed to be our ideals.

I grieving family is careful and take care of themselves. My heartfelt condolences.


'Abolish Middle-East "THEOCRACY & MONARCHY" Yea'


What dopes are you on? You seem pretty 'high'...

And good luck.. you have every right to dream, keep dreaming..


Well, if it is just muslims against US, how come we don't see any so called hatred against Canada, Australia, Far Eastern countries etc.

Mr Sabbagh, women drive cars in above countries too and have more or less same 'non muslim' culture.. but how often you see this hatred against those countries??

Plain and simple... it is US policy that is so biased and unidirectional. Dollars were showering from US when the 'mujahdeens' were fighting against Russia and now they are terrorists as they do not serve US interests any more. Afghanis did not like Russia in their country back then and they don't like US/NATO now, period!


When the US was raising the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan to fight the Russians, it was loved by the muslim world. When the Mujahideen evolved into the Taliban with Pakistan's blessing and the US started to turn against them, the muslim world started to have only animosity towards the US. This animosity towards the US (seen as the West) has also been aggravated by matters that the US was not involved with (such as the danish cartoons).

Why should the US be described or defined only in terms of what the muslim street likes or does not like? There are many non-muslim countries that have far fewer problems with the US and that at least do not share the rabid attitudes of the muslim world. Moreover, the US must do what is right and best under the circumstances and not always what the rest of world wants. True, the Iraq war was a mistake and based on a lie but the muslim world which has been incapable of democracy and of restraining its large hordes of violent extremists is not exactly loved by the rest of the world either. Will the author ask his fellow muslims to change as well? That might help the world much more than any introspection by the US which, by the way, the US is fully capable of. The question is: can the muslim world stop living in its medieval past and enter the modern era?


It has been my experience as a black American that I have worse treatment from my fellow white Americans than I have from muslims in Islamic countries.

I endured numerous instances of bigotry and segregation from Texas to California, Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, New York, Minnesota, Washington.

I worked for three years in Saudi Arabia. And I've traveled in Turkey, Jordan, and Pakistan. Other than problems with the language I never experienced any hostility or discrimination.

That's my observation.


Over there it is brother against brother, sons against the father, family against the clan, clan against the tribe, tribes against the govt, and everyone against the Jews-or any other infidel. May as well try to pave the ocean as make a shia love a sunni. We had a sort of peace until Pres. Carter cut the USA's peace briberies to the Muslim clerics, imams, ayatollahs etc. A few months later the Shah was leaving Persia & the nut bag Khomeni was coming home to whip the women for marching in the ayatollah's support. Ya gotta love those rugs tho.

joe sabbagh:

Don't kid yourself, Muslims hated us in 1967 for the same reasons they hate us now. We supported Israel in their struggle to survive the June '67 assault of Nasser and his gang of goose-stepping allies. They continue to teach hatred of America in their mosques, principally because we are not muslims -- we let women drive cars and walk around without covering up their hair. They will despise us no matter how much cash we throw at them. From my viewpoint the ten billion we gave Pakistan would have been better spent at home, on pediatric health care for instance, or rebuilding New Orleans...


SMG45ACP: "When the pirates of Tripoli were attaching our ships in the 1800s and taking Americans and selling them as slaves we didn't have American forces in Saudi Arabia or any other of the grievances that liberals often put out for why the Muslim street hates us."

That history is more complicated than that. Piracy and slavery were a two-way street. While we and Great Britain tried to get those taken as slaves released, we were also dealing in the slave trade ourselves. Europe alone enslaved 15 million Africans. Also, Britain for example needed trade with slave holding countries in North Afica and access. The only access they had was to go in and try to negotiate release of their citizens. Then when a huge sum of money was paid for their release, that money was returned in trade. Both slaver and western europe and us depended on each other. For the Brits at least, trade was a priority, not necessarily the release of hostages/slaves. In fact, pleas were smuggled out of Morocco to relatives back home and were ignored mostly by the British crown. It was families of those held in slavery who had to plead with the government to do something through local parishes that got the crown to do something and then of course the vicious cycle repeated itself over and over.


I think that Americans are complacent, thinking that the media would inform us when our government started behaving against the ideals of our country.
Many Americans live in a bubble and really do not understand what is going on globally. For example, most do not know that an individual American consumes more energy in a day than a citizen a developing country may use in an entire month or longer. Some do not even know what that means.
This issue is complicated and I feel that it is too simplistic to say Muslim's loved our country back in the day. There has always been some resentment at some levels. The US has been considered a bully in many places in the world, and some Muslim's are just a fraction of that group.
As a citizen of this country, for all of our mistakes and flaws, I still believe is a standard bearer of democracy.I feel that we will correct what our government is doing. It will take time, educating, patience and courage for all of our citizens. We must all work together to broker peace in order to serve the human interests across the globe, not just our own. That is the only path to peace in the world today.

commi burakii:

America was loved and admired by those who benefited from it only. It is was a confusing place! It was a place which produced weapons which killed Palestinan children for more than 60 years but also was a dream for those who wanted to mirgrate to it and improve their lives.

After 911, what was hidden between the lines appeared. Not only those who were born in the US or their parents but also all the people all over the Moslem world knew that American values are nothing but fake and worthless.


Terrorism pervading Pakistan is home-grown and has nothing to do with America whether Mr. Amr accepts it or not. Pakistan is reaping the fruits of policies of its own democratic and military governments that have encouraged and nurtured Islamic fundamentalism -
1. It was by choice that Pakistan’s democratic government facilitated relocation of Osama bin Laden from Sudan to Afghanistan in 1996.
2. It was by choice that democratic government of Pakistan created Taliban movement and installed Taliban government in Afghanistan.
3. It was by choice that Pakistani ISI relocated Taliban to Pakistan after US overthrow of Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

As If:

the Muslims really love us. Pakistan a 99 percent intolerant Islamic nation.

This author is a typical example of a Muslim- Muslims killing each other and the blaming America. Gimme a break for Allah's sake

Fred White:

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco from 1970 to 1972. I disagree that Muslims hate Americans.


The Islamic world has always hated America.
When the pirates of Tripoli were attaching our ships in the 1800s and taking Americans and selling them as slaves we didn't have American forces in Saudi Arabia or any other of the grievances that liberals often put out for why the Muslim street hates us.
When the Lebanese Christians were being slaughtered in the 1970s and 80s they had done nothing that the PC world today claims to be reasons for Muslims to hate us.
What did northern Africa do to deserve the Islamic invasion. How could they have appeased the murderous armies of Islam? What policy change could have saved them from forced conversion?
You are in fantasy world if you think you can do anything to make the radicals like you, other than kill yourself and save them the trouble.

On top of everything else you don't even know the motives of the killers. They could easily just had been common Mafia type criminals kidnapping for money without any religious or political motivation.

Blame the murders. Not everybody else.

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