(This is Part 6 of a series of posts. Previous parts can be read on this page)
Overcoming cultural and ideological biases is an important step in becoming a balanced, mature person. That was an aspect which we got a chance to explore on our first morning in Washington, DC. The remaining three fellows of our group had arrived from Pakistan early in the morning and it was our first official engagement as a group. We were invited for a brunch at “Zaytiniya” restaurant by JAM-DC, a small organization started in 2009 aimed at bringing together Muslim and Jewish young professionals in the Washington DC area through social, educational, cultural, and service activities. Most Pakistanis do not get a chance to meet a Jew (there are almost no Jews living in Pakistan) during their lives while anti-Semitism is prevalent due to non-stop conspiracy theorizing about Jews plotting to take over the world and scheming against Muslims all the time.
It was a unique opportunity for us to not only interact with Jewish people, but also discover about such exciting projects like JAM-DC. It was a three-course meal and during the session, most of us got a chance to talk about our experiences of interacting with people of different faiths. I related a story from my past, when I had discovered on ICQ chat from a Jewish person in Germany about difference between Zionists and Jews. We also listened to Mr. Harish Vadiya, a Hindu doctor, about his experiences and philosophy. Following the sumptuous meal, some of the fellows decided to visit the nearby Smithsonian museums while other went back to the hotel. I went to Virginia with a friend and saw pre-election preparations in Virginia, a key state and in DC itself.
Monday, 5th November, 2013 was our first “formal” day in Washington, DC. We started early in the morning with a visit to the headquarters of NPR(National Public Radio), to talk to Mr. Steve Inskeep, author of a book on Karachi titled “Instant City” and host of program “Morning Edition”(one of the most widely heard morning shows on radio in the US). We got a chance to visit their studio and later talk to Mr. Inskeep, his co-host Renée Montagne and other member of their staff. The major discussion topics were Karachi, U.S Presidential Elections and media. After a group photo with the producer of “Morning Edition” and collecting some swag from the NPR Office, we headed back to our hotel to prepare for the next meeting.
Our next stop was the Atlantic Council office on 15th Street in Northwestern part of DC. We had a meeting with Mr. Frederick Kempe, president and chief executive officer of the Atlantic Council. Mr. Kempe worked for three decades at the Wall Street Journal. He talked about Atlantic Council’s history, his vision for the Council and the emphasis on younger generation. He told the young leaders that solutions for Pakistan’s problems lie within Pakistan. He was of the view that think tanks in Pakistan should be modeled on the Brazilian model in which there is involvement of public sector, private sector and businessmen. He praised the existing philanthropic culture in Pakistan and exclaimed that the existing infrastructure can be used to solve some of the economic problems in the country.
That meeting was followed by a session with Senator Chuck Hagel, who is the Chairman of Atlantic Council. Mr. Hagel is a professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, chairman of the Atlantic Council, and co-chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. He was selected as the 24th United States Secretary of Defence in 2013.He talked about challenges facing the United States following 9/11, his view about the preceding wars was “Wars are a mistake; we need to be more careful in the future”. He discussed his own experience in the Vietnam War. He mentioned some of the qualities of leaders which included:
1. Try to do things in the right way.
2. Leaders should have mutual respect.
3. While making choices go for things that are good for your country, 4. Don’t go after popularity.
5. Leadership is about character first and courage later.
6. There are only a few things that we can’t control, so while making decisions focus on things that we actually can control.
We also got a chance to take a look at a report prepared for the incoming President about “The Task Ahead”.
It was a very busy day, precursor to similar days that we spent in the capital of USA. The last meeting of the day was at a café named “Busboys and Poets”. Busboys and Poets is a restaurant, bookstore, lounge, and theater in Washington, D.C., founded in 2005 by Andy Shallal, an Iraqi-American artist and activist. It has been described as a haven for writers, thinkers and performers from America’s progressive social and political movements.
Our session at the place was a Networking Reception with Shelley Whelpton from The Sheridan Group. We received a crash course in packaging our stories and how to present ourselves in future meetings. It was an interactive session and volunteers were called forward to share their stories with other fellows.