My finger froze over the mouse as I squinted at a blurry photo of a young Pakistani man holding an AK-47 on my Facebook page. “Confirm friend request,” the cheerful blue font suggested. I closed the window and sighed, saving the decision for another morning.
The obvious answer here—the one I got from everyone I showed the photo to—was: “Don’t friend him, he looks like a freaking terrorist.” But I know Toffee and I do consider him a friend (well, at least in the Facebook sense of the word).
We met in Pakistan a few years ago when I was reporting on education issues for the Common Language Project. It was the spring of 2009 and the Taliban had taken over sections of the country—sections not so far from Islamabad where Toffee was going to university.
He did some translation for one of my stories, but really we just liked hanging out and talking about politics and culture. He had grown up a wealthy Pashtun in the tribal areas and I was curious about life in a part of Pakistan that I couldn’t safely visit.
We were roughly the same age and Toffee wanted to know how things were different in America. Despite his traditional upbringing and the very serious circumstances of his country, Toffee’s stylish clothes and cute adopted nickname made him seem more like a happy-go-lucky hipster than anything. We joked about creating a cultural exchange program for twenty-somethings.
Toffee asked me if Americans think all Pashtuns are terrorists.