From Act I, Chapter 1
Usman Khosa is walking east along the White house's ornate wrought-iron fence, tapping it with his hand, like one might tap a white picket fence. A U.S. Park policeman moves toward him. The officer is saying something. Usman can see his lips move, shouting. He pulls out his earplugs. Arab music blares. "Cars will be passing out of this gate. You need to stop!" Usman nods, apologizes, and fusses with his iPod as other walkers back up behind him. The gates slowly begin to open. He looks up at the majestic building--he loves looking at it. He takes a route each morning down Sixteenth Street, where the White house is visible from a mile away and grows larger with each passing block. It makes him feel consequential to walk toward it, like he's going to meet Bush, or could, and often thinks about what that'd be like. Bush is the most known person in the world--his presence, his face, has become the face of America; his pointing finger, punching the air, an emblem of the way the United States engages with the world. Usman feels he knows the man and that, as a Muslim and a lover of America and someone who often finds himself reluctantly defending Bush to invective-spewing Pakistanis, he and Bush might actually have a worthwhile conversation.
He's more right about this than he realizes. Though Bush represents America electorally, his life is as unrepresentative as it could be, a cocoon of rare luxuries and sycophants, a carefully crafted, busy, filtered array of activity, much like the lives of those sitting atop so many venerable institutional mountains, only more so. But those snowcapped peaks are, in the modern age, melting--the range itself, crumbling--under pressure from the shifting, heated, quaking landscape of the individual. The information age, after all, is the age of the individual, a time when great waves of personal choice and expression--magnetic fields of impulse, connected on a borderless, global grid--can level the assembled power of armies and nations. The now common term asymmetric suggests that the comfortable symmetries, strategies, and conversations between those on the mountaintops are increasingly inconsequential as power shifts from the peak to the base, not only to petulant, entrepreneurial "rogue states" but also all the way to the bottom, to those--many among the multitude--who are representative in their experiences, their sensations and swift judgments. . . .
Usman Khosa, as a young Muslim man in search of a better life, busily ingesting the widely available fare of modernity's mishmash, is representative in ways that are particularly consequential at this moment in history. Like it or not, he--and countless others like him--is in a discussion with the isolated man memorizing "talking points" in an oval office 164 yards away.
And, in present tense, the ornate gates are now open. The limo and security SUVs speed out of the delicately cobblestoned roadway between the White House and the U.S. Treasury Department. Usman and a dozen people who've gathered in the past minute watch them pass and attempt a futile glimpse though tinted glass. Usman fiddles with his iPod as the gates close and begins to walk among the crowd toward Treasury.
Right in front of the statue of Alexander Hamilton, at the base of a long sweep of steps leading to Treasury's neoclassical pillars, he thinks he sees a flash of white out of his left eye. A bicycle is being flung. He turns as a large uniformed man lunges at him.
"The backpack!" the man yells, pushing Usman against the Italianate gates in front of Treasury and ripping off his backpack. another officer on a bicycle arrives from somewhere and tears the backpack open, dumping its contents on the sidewalk.
Usman is in a daze, spread-eagle, grabbing cool iron. "What? What!"
"Don't move!" . . .
Usman Khosa is a Pakistani national in his early twenties, a graduate of Connecticut College now working for the International Monetary Fund. The Way of the World tracks Usman's experiences in the United States since 9/11. An ambitious economic consultant and a modern Muslim, Usman struggles to find a place for himself within the American Dream while keeping in touch with his Pakistani roots.