An Open Letter to Fareed Zakaria

Dear Mr. Zakaria,

My name is Amra Tareen. I’m the founder and CEO of San Francisco-based global citizen news site Allvoices.com. I am a former venture capitalist, an Ivy League-educated electrical engineer, mother of two boys and a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen. I’m writing to provide the Pakistani voice you neglected to include in your recent CNN Global Public Square segment which aired on Sunday May 9 and Newsweek column of May 7 labeling Pakistan “Terrorism’s Supermarket.” Both your broadcast and column were stunning examples of bias, not to mention examples of how the old world of media often falls short in incorporating diversity and a broad range of opinion.

Your CNN program pitches itself as a “Global Public Square,” yet it was severely lacking in any true global perspective. Rather than utilize social media, the Internet and other technologies that could have brought in a diversified perspective, you fell into the old media trap of sticking to a select number of voices that reinforced your beliefs. This was strange in light of the consistent use of Twitter, Facebook, iReport and other social media by CNN during its broadcasts.

Here’s the video from the show:

Rather than the intelligent, well-researched and thoughtful examination of the day’s issues we’ve come to expect from you, we witnessed instead the manipulation of two huge media platforms to promote a personal belief. Labeling Pakistan as the world’s leading supplier of material and support to terrorism negatively brands all Pakistanis everywhere as terrorists, or supporters of terrorism and undermines the strategic importance of Pakistan to U.S. interests.

A Weak Larger Assumption

Either your inability or unwillingness (it’s not clear which) to include a Pakistani point of view when making such a sweeping statement is irresponsible. Your argument falls short here in the U.S., which means your larger assumption — that Pakistan is behind much of the rest of the world’s terrorism — is equally weak. Here’s why:

  1. The 9/11 attacks were conducted by Muslims, none of which were from Pakistan.
  2. The recent attacks against the Unites States where not all carried out by people of Pakistani origin; Faisal Shahzad is the first. Your Newsweek column and CNN program seemed to suggest that Pakistan has been behind all plots.

Let’s take a look at the people who have attempted or carried out terrorist attacks over the last couple of years on U.S. soil:

  • The Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Husan, was of Palestinian descent; he was not a Pakistani.
  • Abdul Mutallab, the Christmas airline terrorist, was from Nigeria, not Pakistan.

How many other U.S. citizens with Pakistani descent have been involved in terrorist activity in the U.S.? With one of three terrorist attackers coming from Pakistan, it’s impossible to deduce that all educated Muslims from respectable families who are terrorists have a link to Pakistan.

Pakistan (as you rightly state in the Newsweek piece) is the only country that has lost over 30,000 people — a huge toll on both its military and citizen population — fighting a war on terror on its own soil. So how can Pakistan still be “terrorism’s supermarket?”

Three guests on your CNN program made assumptions about Pakistan to support your “supermarket” theory:

  • Irshad Manji, a Muslim from Uganda/ Canada
  • Bernard Levy, a French author and philosopher
  • Fawaz Gerges, a man of Arab descent who is a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science

None of your guests were of Pakistani descent. How can you promote a “Global Public Square” discussion about Pakistan if you don’t invite a Pakistani to take part in the discussion? To me, that removed any thread of relevancy. By neglecting these options and the online channel you’ve followed the top-down, broadcast-only path.

End of Single Voice Media

People are no longer interested in a singular voice when it comes to news — especially not for terrorism news, and certainly not for analysis of terrorism news. I got the idea for Allvoices shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks when as a Muslim I experienced the same kind of broad-brush bias and suspicion you’ve recently been promoting with your arguments against Pakistan. Back then there were few media sites where anyone with a news story or opinion could circumvent the mainstream media to present their views. It was very scary to see everyone of my creed labeled as extremists, and I’d never wish that on anyone. This is why I opened the dialogue with Allvoices. You could too, given your position within two major mainstream media outlets.

Take a page from the rest of CNN’s programming, Mr. Zakaria. Many of its shows throughout the day have embraced the online channel to provide detail, color and a “man on the street” perspective the mainstream media can’t quite capture anymore. They use Twitter, Facebook and other social media to bring in additional voices and provide an element of exchange and conversation. So useful is this input that CNN now relies heavily on its citizen media portal, iReport, to augment its professional reporting. GPS could be a much more inclusive and accurate discussion if there were more voices in the square.

Your column and television show should come with a heavier burden of responsibility. Negating Pakistan’s struggle against jihadists by calling it “terrorism’s supermarket” is offensive to a superlative degree considering how many people have lost their lives fighting fundamentalism there. Yet you’ve spent an inordinate amount of time focusing on just Pakistan. What about other fundamentalist hotbeds like Saudi Arabia and Egypt? If only you would shift some of your energy into listening and participating in the real global public square online you’d find fewer reasons to label all Pakistanis as collaborators in Pakistan’s national terrorism agenda.

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Amra Tareen is founder and CEO of Allvoices.com, a global people’s media company where anyone can report news or their story from anywhere in the world via cell phone or PC. Launched in July of 2008, Allvoices is the fastest growing citizen media site with over 4.7 million unique users per month and 300,000+ citizen reporters from over 180 countries. Prior to Allvoices, Amra was a partner at the venture capital firm, Sevin Rosen Funds. Before joining Sevin Rosen, Amra was a product marketing director at Ascend Communications and Lucent Technologies. Amra has an MBA from Harvard University and a bachelors of electrical engineering and computer science from University of New South Wales, Australia. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two young boys.

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