I'm always interested to read or hear about the experiences of other Brits who have traveled to the USA for more than just a vacation. While browsing the BBC News website on Thursday, I spotted a magazine article entitled "Hello America, I'm a British Muslim". It was the story of a man named Imran Ahmad, who had written a book about his life as a Muslim living in the Western world. His family had moved from Pakistan to England when he was very young, and he'd also traveled extensively in America on business. Having recently been made redundant from his corporate day job, he seized upon the idea to follow up the launch of his book in the USA with a speaking tour, starting in Chicago and proceeding over the course of 50 days in a clockwise road trip, giving his talks at local Unitarian Universalist churches.
Out of curiosity, I followed the link to his website to see the locations and dates of his events, and it turned out that he was coming to Glen Allen on Saturday! It so happens that one of the offices he regularly visited on business is located right in Short Pump, so of course Richmond had to be on the list of stops.
The audience numbered about 25. Other than myself, the only visitors were a couple of Imran's previous colleagues, the rest being members of the local congregation. Still, the Unitarians are an accommodating lot. Imran came on and started talking in a rather despondent tone about the current tension between Muslims and the West. It would have been depressing had it not been for the interesting viewpoint that he offered. Growing up during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, he remembers the Muslims and the Christian West being on the same team, on the side of good, against the evil Godless Communists. It then came as a huge shock when in 2001 all that was forgotten and he found that now the Muslims were being characterized as the 'bad guys' by the West.
While interesting, the historical summary of geopolitics was really just a preamble to set a context for why Imran came to write a book. The main part of his talk centered on how he eventually persuaded himself to sit down and write, as well as the circuitous tale of how he finally got the book published an publicized. While his sense of humour was undoubtedly British in its self-deprecation, he certainly knew his audience in a way that few British entertainers would and had the whole room in fits of laughter at times. I may have been the only person who truly understood his quips regarding Ann Widdecombe, but other than that he cleverly explained critic terms so that we could all enjoy the punchline.
Interestingly the moral of his story of trying to get published was carefully but not obviously suited to the Unitarian Universalist mindset. On the speaking tour website he mentions that the events are not of a religious nature, and this was certainly true. I would say there is room to argue that not UU event is of a religious nature! Nonetheless, he spun a tale of an author initially focused on the potential for money and fame who, through a combination of good luck and sheer bravado, eventually becomes a published author but never achieves the fame and riches. However, he discovers that the real joy is in the creative process of writing, and also in the many friends and frankly unique experiences he has been blessed with as a result of writing the book. The on-a-whim tour of America is simply the latest mad adventure!