Saturday, September 2, 2017

Trump and Nawaz Sharif parallels

What the media in the West does not realize is that in Pakistan the fox is guarding the henhouse. 

Democracy and corruption are supposed to be inversely related. The transparency inherent in a democratic system reduces the perpetuation of corruption.

Immediately upon Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification by the Supreme Court, mainstream Western media, almost uniformly, condemned his ouster calling it an attack on Pakistan’s democracy.

The appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia and the handling of Nawaz Sharif by the Joint Investigative Taskforce provide interesting parallels at many levels.

On May 9, 2017 Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, apparently after Comey refused to end the criminal investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. Trump demanded Comey’s loyalty but Comey would only promise honesty. On May 17, 2017 the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia.

On April 4, 2014 the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism published the Panama Papers, exposing tax evasion by the world’s elite through offshore accounts and shell companies. Nawaz Sharif and his family were also named. Nawaz Sharif denied wrongdoing and set up a judicial committee to investigate the charges. Opposition parties rejected the judicial commission and on November 1, 2016 the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. On April 20, 2017 in a split 3-2 verdict the Supreme Court ordered the formation of the JIT. The PML-N labeled this a victory and Nawaz Sharif and Saad Rafiq promised to abide by the decision of the JIT. Sweet celebrations followed, as did PML-N exerting pressure on the JIT. The intimidation and pressure on the JIT became so intense that ex-CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry demanded security of the JIT, the Supreme Court justices and their families.

On July 28, 2017 in a stunning unanimous verdict the Supreme Court disqualified Nawaz Sharif and despite his promise to abide by the JIT decision, Nawaz Sharif left kicking and screaming. And will now face contempt of court charges for thumbing his nose at the Supreme Court and continuing as PML-N party chair.

The Trump-Sharif parallels continue. Trump calls the investigation a witch-hunt and Sharif cries hoarse-literally-about not knowing why the Supreme Court disqualified him. Goebbels, Hitler’s information minister, employed the same tactics: repeat an untruth ad infinitum to the point that you yourself believe it to be true.

Journalist Adam Davidson has published an article for the August 21 edition of the New Yorker in which he traces Trump’s business association with Kazakhstan banker Mukhtar Ablyazov who was indicted in 2009 of £3 billion bank fraud as chairman of BTA bank. In 2005 Ablyazov gave loans to shell companies in neighboring Georgia through the Silk Road Group. In 2012 then property developer Trump was paid $1 million for opening the Trump Tower Batoumi seaside resort in Georgia. A simple Google search at the time would have revealed the extensive money laundering and fraud connected with the Silk Road Group and BTA Bank, but this was not done. Now, though, charges can be filed against Trump under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for an American associating with fraudulent individuals.

Worse yet for Trump the Kazakh and Russian governments have huge dossiers about people, local and foreign, with the ability to easily blackmail them.

On the Pakistan front, there are reports of cronyism by the Sharif family in CPEC contracts. Additionally, the Prime Minister of Pakistan had a work permit, and consequent bank accounts, as a resident of the UAE. Much like the money laundering by Mukhtar Ablyazov, bank accounts in a foreign country make tracing the money trail of devious business deals a great deal more difficult. 

A plethora of individuals in the US government, legislative and judicial branches have been indicted and punished for corruption. The only difference between the Sharif ouster and the process in the US is that a Senate panel decides governmental cases. So why was the Western media bemoaning Nawaz Sharif’s fall? Like Pakistanis the world over, the media too was shocked at the Supreme Court verdict. Everyone pretty much expects that the billion-dollar corruption in Pakistan will never cease. Zardari’s ten percent commission, MQM’s bhatta system and Sharif’s lifafa politics would continue unabated. Though the military has not interfered with the democratic process, it is being blamed for the ouster. Activist judges are being blamed as well.

What the media in the West does not realize is that in Pakistan the fox is guarding the henhouse. Expecting Sharif’s judicial commission to be impartial or for the JIT to present its report to the PML-N dominated Parliament and expect an unbiased verdict would be the epitome of delusion.

And who said democracy had been attacked in Pakistan? No martial law was declared. Democracy in Pakistan remains as dysfunctional as it was in the Nawaz Sharif premiership, with un-parliamentary displays of Sharif’s photo in Parliament and use of taxpayer money for his travels down GT Road.

Trump is panicked because the Mueller investigation is getting very close to what is now an obvious conclusion, further perpetuating the Trump-Sharif parallel. And for a Pakistani-American it will indeed be double the pleasure.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Sickening Servility

Indeed you can take a Pakistani out of Pakistan but you cannot take Pakistan out of him. The attachment, love and allegiance to Pakistan are the wonderful side of this aphorism. The servility and colonial mindset among a plethora of other things, is the downside.

The United Muslim Association of Toledo does a great job of socio-political activism. The mayor, congressional representatives and law enforcement officials in the city attend its annual Ramadan iftar dinners. Commendably it is working on a Ramadan iftar to be held at the city government level. This last time however, one of its office bearers in typical hands folded, slightly leaning over stance repeated what is his mantra in essentially all events: “thank you for protecting us and thank you for letting us practice our religion”. My fasting hunger quickly turned to nausea and I toyed with the idea of walking out but logistic, read food issues, and not wanting to make a scene kept me there.

We are the third wave of immigration to the United States but we are as much citizens as the first immigrants that docked here. The right and freedom to practice our religion does not come from the protection of the local sheriff, or the generosity and indulgence of our neighbors, but the constitution of the United States. When the arson occurred at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in 2012, law enforcement and the US Attorney’s office did a great job and we are very appreciative. This must not be the narrative, all the time though, of, “thank you, thank you, thank you”. They are after all doing their jobs.

This obsequiousness arrogates to us automatic second-class citizenship. And then we fret and fume that we are being treated unfairly and there is so much Islamophobia around. A Mahjabeenism: “the world treats you the way you make it treat you”. So lets drop the servility and behave like the equal citizens that we are.

APPNA, Association of Physicians of Pakistani-Descent of North America in its annual convention this July had a Pakistani-American oil company owner as one of the keynote speakers. His rags-to-riches story was touching until he gushed over his adoptive country, belittled Pakistan and called us “Mozlims” and “Pack-istanis”, and not so subtly accused Pakistani-Americans of not keeping a close enough eye on their youth to ensure that they didn’t transform into terrorists. I’d paid a lot of money for that event, and a real live comedian was to follow, so I again didn’t leave.

It isn’t just desi-Americans but Arab-Americans as well who have this penchant for calling a white person an American. If it is an African-American they are referring to, they will call them black. But if you are desi and an American citizen for decades, you are still Pakistani or Arab. In the minds of desi and Arab-Americans, Caucasians have monopoly on being called American.

At the same APPNA convention I attended a presentation on APPNA Free Clinics. The first two presentations were very informative. The third presenter was a Muslim-American psychology Ph.D., invited to share his experience with setting up free clinics. At the inception of his talk he asked the roughly 50-person audience the question that “if something happens on the road, who is more likely to help the person, an American or a Muslim?” Five or six people raised their hands to American and the same to Muslim. I was so done by now. I hated to interrupt, I said, but this comparison was invalid as Americans can be Muslim just as Muslims can be American. Momentarily the presenter was embarrassed and admitted his mistake, but proceeded in the same self-hating rant that he had come prepared with, ignoring the interruption of the moderator to stay on point. I had reached the end of my tether and this time did walk out.

The classism of color and socio-economic status rampant in Pakistan has taken root and proliferated among Pakistani-Americans.  The assimilation spectrum goes all the way from left to right. The ultra-left with its uncomfortable American twang, peppered with Mozlim and Pack-istani, has fully adopted the larger American culture. The ultra-right live in Muslim ghettos, either physical or virtual, and have zero interaction with their neighbors and minimal with their co-workers. Though the majority lies between these two extremes, it is still trying to find its niche and has many confused folk within it. As though answering this angst, Azhar Azeez former president of ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America, gave a succinct Juma khutba during the APPNA convention. With the confidence that comes from control of the facts, Azeez persuaded the congregants to be proud of being Muslim-American, relishing our history and the lives of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.

To be treated equally and to be taken seriously, Muslim-Americans must shed their cowed-down, ingratiated, yes-man attitude. We have not rented American citizenship; we own it. With all its rights and responsibilities.

Dr. Mahjabeen Islam practices addiction and family medicine in Toledo, Ohio. Her email is

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mahjabeen Islam Washington Post article on Hajj

The Washington Post
Saudi Arabia-and the world-must take steps to make hajj safer for Muslims

By Mahjabeen Islam January 1 2016
Mahjabeen Islam is former president of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.
It has become clear that thousands of hajj pilgrims died Sept. 24 in Mina, Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi government is sticking to its story of 769 fatalities — the number released two days after the disaster. The combined numbers reported by various Muslim governments far surpass this total — Iran alone reported more than 460 deaths — and counts made by the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse news agencies exceed 2,000, with hundreds more unaccounted for. Less than a week after the tragedy, the Saudi vice minister of health stated that the death toll had reached 4,173, but the figure was later retracted.
An inquiry was promised, but the prognosis for a speedy and fair investigation is poor. Transparency and accountability are not Saudi strong suits. Still, more than enough is known to draw one important conclusion: Muslims planning to take part in the annual five-day pilgrimage to Mecca should be aware that until better crowd-control measures are put in place, they will be putting their lives at risk.
The hajj is a journey of a lifetime for Muslims and a transformative experience for many people. I, too, had some dramatic experiences during my one hajj and two umrahs (minor pilgrimages), and I treasure those memories. But I wouldn’t go again. Saudi arrogance and hostility toward visitors, especially women, are too great.
Poor preparations of the pilgrims, along with a language barrier, are significant problems. Far too many of the Saudi boy scouts and soldiers who monitor and guide pilgrims speak only Arabic, so the majority of pilgrims from the Muslim world are out of luck. Travel agencies in the various countries are supposed to guide their clients through the steps of the hajj. But a handful of people cannot accompany hundreds each step of the way. And instructions can be misunderstood or forgotten.

During my hajj in 2004, we had been repeatedly admonished to avoid attempting to retrieve lost sandals during the stoning of the devil, or Jamarat, ritual, but I saw my friend do exactly that. She was being swallowed up by a vortex of people, and we extricated her just in time from a deadly crush. The death toll was more than 240, and the moment is forever stamped in my memory. Two years later, during the same ritual, 345 people were killed in a similar stampede. Afterward, international outrage forced the Saudis to reconstruct the entrance and exit to the area, and there were no more incidents. Until September’s catastrophe.

What’s known about what happened is that a panic broke out on narrow streets near the entrance to the Jamarat site, about three miles from Mecca, but reports have been contradictory. Iran and many other countries blamed Saudi mismanagement. The Lebanon-based newspaper Ad-Diyar, citing witnesses, reported that a convoy escorting Prince Mohammed bin Salman played a role in the incident by making some pilgrims turn against the flow of the crowd. Saudi authorities denied this report and instead blamed pilgrims for not following instructions. Other witnesses said closed exits touched off the panic.
It’s clear that some simple, workable steps need to be taken.
The administration of the hajj should be a fully international effort. All Muslim countries should send a large contingent of guides to Saudi Arabia months in advance. These guides should receive ground training at each of the sites where the hajj rituals occur, especially with regard to crowd control. During the hajj, they could then be stationed at important locations wearing colored jackets denoting the country they represent or the language they speak.
Each Muslim country should be responsible for training its pilgrims. A training course on hajj rituals and crowd responsibility should be created by Saudi Arabia and translated into the various necessary languages. Formal hajj training sites should be established in all countries with significant Muslim populations, and a hajj visa should be issued only if a certificate of training is attached to the passport.
The hajj is a pillar of Islam and must be completed once in our lives. But why would any Muslims make the pilgrimage knowing that they risk injury or death? Muslims will not announce that they are boycotting the hajj, for that seems blasphemous and could invite retribution. But as parents and breadwinners with responsibilities to their families, they simply will refrain from making travel plans.
The Saudis have a strong incentive to act. It would be naive for them to think that Muslims won’t think twice before making the hajj until definite, credible arrangements are made to ensure their safety. According to the Al-Hayat newspaper, Saudi Arabia received $16.5 billion from Muslim pilgrimages in hajj in 2012. Saudi Arabia’s main source of revenue is oil. Falling oil prices have contributed to a Saudi budget deficit of $98 billion this year, with a projected shortfall next year of $87 billion. The Saudi intervention in Yemen is costly. Discontent in the royal family and rumors of a possible palace coup have been reported. High unemployment remains a problem. And now a horrific tragedy has struck the hajj. Riyadh can no longer afford complacency.

Muslim countries and Saudi Arabia badly need to conduct a transparent inquiry into the cause of September’s hajj crowd collapse and make swift arrangements for a detailed, international orchestration of hajj for the future. The survival of pilgrims is not all that is at stake. The Saudi monarchy may be as well.