Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Washington Post article: Jesus ant uproar and the equal opportunity offenders Published December 8, 2010

The Smithsonian's ant-covered crucifix video is not a matter of censorship, only a commentary on our state of desensitized rudeness.
The Smithsonian Institution in its National Portrait Gallery Hide/Seek exhibit featured a video by artist David Wojnarowicz who died of AIDS in 1992. The video has a segment showing ants crawling on a crucifix and was said to be a commentary on the AIDS epidemic. Parts of the video are pornographic and bloody and the whole left me nauseated, unable to connect the parts, primarily the claimed connection to AIDS.
The video was heavily criticized by the Catholic League's Bill Donohue and House Speaker-in waiting Rep. John Boehner (OH) and House Majority Whip-to be Rep. Eric Cantor (VA). And now the Smithsonian is being soaked in criticism for bowing under the pressure of censorship.
The Smithsonian's facilities are federally funded but the exhibits are supported by various private foundations. Bill Donohue's statement that "our tax dollars cannot be used to promote religion and they should not be used to assault religion either" is well taken. Donohue and others also said that the fear of Muslims and Jews prevents a similar depiction of Muhammad or Moses.
The veneration accorded the Torah by the Jews is similar to the respect with which Muslims treat the Quran, taking the verse "which none shall touch but those who are clean" (Quran 56:79) very seriously. Believing in all the revealed books including the Torah and the Bible, a Muslim household will have them in a high place on a bookshelf.
Muslims must believe in the unity of God, all the prophets, all the revealed books, angels, the Day of Judgment and fate and predestination. In the hierarchy of love and respect come God (Allah), Muhammad and then parents. Desecration of Muhammad hits at the core of Muslims, true. But Muslims adore Moses and Jesus and many precepts of Islam are illustrated by their lives in the Quran.
The Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoons caused an uproar and death threats to the authors. While the agony and protest are justified, the Quran and Hadith (sayings of Muhammad) do not condone violence. Muslims must vociferously protest the desecration of all religious figures, especially our beloved Christ.
Recently, along with a bunch of Christmas cards and address labels from the many organizations that now send you unsolicited stationery, came a crucifix locket on a chain. Respect for religious symbols is so much a part of the Muslim genome that I could not bear to throw it away; I gave it to someone who'd wear it.
Muslims are perpetually blamed for not condemning enough and not doing enough; what Pakistanis lovingly call the "do more" push by the West. A dispassionate examination of ignored journalism will show that hate speech against non-Muslim figures is protested by individual Muslims and Muslim organizations.
The burning of churches and the mistreatment of minorities in Muslim countries is a highly condemnable act and in stark contrast to the fact that Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the second caliph of Islam, was invited to pray in a church in Jerusalem in 637, but chose not to so that it would not be used as an excuse to take a church over by future Muslims.
My un-artsy eye cannot see the good in the ant-covered crucifix video, all I see is sensationalism. Are we going to sacrifice all-respect, values, basic decency-over that high and holy god called freedom of speech?
Mahjabeen Islam is a family physician, addictionist and columnist.By Mahjabeen Islam | December 8, 2010; 7:31 PM ET

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Maligning Muslims: the new chic-article in the Toledo Blade

Article published November 02, 2010
Maligning Muslims: The new chic

Flying while Muslim used to be a personal ordeal. But when Juan Williams, the former National Public Radio analyst, talked about the “Muslim dilemma” with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News, he thrust it to national attention — and added insult to injury.

Mr. Williams confessed to feeling nervous when he saw people in “Muslim garb” boarding planes. After he made those remarks, NPR fired him, saying his views “were inconsistent with NPR’s editorial standards and ... undermined his credibility as an analyst for NPR.” But he wasn’t unemployed long; Fox gave him a $2 million contract.

It’s a given that “Muslim garb” types, male or female, go through extra security. But my 23 and 24-year-old daughters, clad in jeans, were both pulled aside for checks before separate flights from the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., airport. Everyone picked for these “random” checks was brown or black.

Reports of men hauled off planes because their fellow passengers felt threatened are now common. Muslims are religiously mandated to pray five times a day; prayer on time earns you brownie points.

During travel, prayers are shortened to three times a day, and you can pray in your seat. But I wouldn’t dream of doing so on a flight, for fear of landing in jail.

Six imams sued after they were arrested in 2006 for praying in a public area. Although the flying imams won, and the judge in the case offered a scathing judgment of how the 15 security employees managed the situation, Muslim-Americans have taken heed.

My style now is cramped in all dimensions: spiritual, aesthetic, and intellectual. My hair products can travel only in itsy-bitsy bottles. I cannot read Arabic or Urdu script on a flight.

Nor can I read The Clash of Fundamentalisms, a book by Tariq Ali, because its cover features an image of George W. Bush in a turban and beard and Osama bin Laden in a suit.

My brownness, my accent, my books, plus vigilante passengers — voila! The case is made and I might land in the arms of FBI agents.

Yet the issue is not just the profiling of Muslim passengers. Maligning Muslims everywhere is the new chic. When Mr. Williams tried to make it acceptable in national discourse, Republicans Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee were up in arms about the clipping of his free speech.

During the heated election campaign, national Tea Party leader Judson Phillips said Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.) should be defeated as “the only Muslim member of Congress.” A Jewish or Mormon member of Congress could not be attacked with such impunity.

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., summarized freedom of speech wonderfully: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

A black friend tried to be empathetic: “Sorry, but thank you for being the bad guys everyone loves to bash and laugh at now.”

Our nation must stay true to the vision of our Founding Fathers. We must protect our values and practice our principles. Maligning 7 million people — repeatedly — for the crimes of a handful endangers us even more.

What is classified as protected speech under the First Amendment? What conversation will shatter the already thin ice of our national calm? That is a debate we must have quickly and constructively.

We should not tolerate people who indulge in polarizing, maligning, and endangering speech and then offer excuses of various hues. The power of broadcast communication is beyond encapsulation, and the damage it can do is similarly exponential.

My co-religionists have damaged us the most. Depending on the viewer’s lens, we are perpetrators or victims. I’ve squashed my style and changed my ways, and I live in fearful anticipation.

And I see how the O’Reillys and Williamses promise to polarize America further.

Mahjabeen Islam is a family physician and

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Muslims: everyone’s favorite punching bag

And yet the issue is not just the profiling of Muslim passengers. Maligning Muslims is the new chic and Juan Williams tried to make acceptable in national media what is pervasive in personal Muslim experience.

Muslim-bashing is not just totally acceptable these days, it’s the new cool. Time was that derision and put-downs were slung at individuals. Flying while Muslim used to be a personal ordeal; Juan Williams, the former National Public Radio analyst, while talking to Bill O’Reilly on Fox thrust it to national attention.

Bill O’Reilly and Juan Williams were discussing the “Muslim dilemma” when Williams confessed to feeling fearful when he saw people in “Muslim garb” boarding planes. Williams already on probation with NPR for previous misuse of his NPR analyst title, was fired by NPR for “his views being inconsistent with NPR’s editorial standards and that they undermined his credibility as an analyst for NPR”. Williams wasn’t unemployed long; Fox gave him a $2million contract.

Williams’ Muslim-garb types, male or female, go through extra security and that is a given. But my 23 and 24-year-old jeans-clad daughters on separate flights from Raleigh-Durham airport were pulled aside for “random” checks. A black man himself, Juan Williams ought to know that the other people picked for “random” checks were brown or black; white passengers were waved on through.

Reports of men being hauled off planes because their fellow passengers felt threatened are now common news. During travel, prayers are shortened to three times a day and one can pray even sitting in one’s seat. I wouldn’t dream of doing so on a flight though, for fear of landing up in jail. After all six imams were arrested in 2006 for praying in a public area, trying to switch seats, asking for a seatbelt extension (one of them was 290 pounds) and cursing America in Arabic. Mind you it sounded as though they were cursing America; Arabic is a very guttural language, normal conversation can sound like cursing.

Though the flying imams won and Judge Ann Montgomery gave a scathing judgment against the management of the situation by security personnel, who outnumbered the imams 15 to 6, Muslim-Americans have taken heed.

My style is cramped in all dimensions: spiritual, esthetic and intellectual. My hair products have to travel in itsy bitsy bottles and I have to do a careful survey of my reading material before stepping out. Can’t read Arabic or Urdu script or The Clash of Fundamentalisms by Tariq Ali on the flight; the cover of the book has George Bush in a beard and turban and Osama bin Laden in a suit. My brownness, my accent, my books plus vigilante passengers and voila the case is made: I might just be landing into the arms of FBI agents.

And yet the issue is not just the profiling of Muslim passengers. Maligning Muslims is the new chic and Juan Williams tried to make acceptable in national media what is pervasive in personal Muslim experience. Republicans Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are up in arms about the clipping of free speech. They are also clamoring for NPR’s federal funding to end. The 1900s US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. summarized freedom of speech wonderfully: “the right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins”.

To malign seven million people for the crime of a handful, and to do so repeatedly, endangers us even further. The 9/11 hijackers, the underwear bomber and the many others were not in “Muslim garb”. A lot of them carried backpacks; should backpacks be outlawed from flights?

Rick Sanchez was recently fired by CNN for calling The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart a bigot and making reference to the media being run by Jews. No one protested Rick Sanchez’s firing. Veteran White House journalist Helen Thomas said “the Jews should get the hell out of Palestine and go back to Poland and Germany”. There were loud calls for her termination and she was fired. Bashing Muslims is fine and one is only exercising one’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment. But when Rick Sanchez and Helen Thomas express their views they must be fired.

In 2004 President George Bush signed The Global Anti-Semitism Review Act into law. Under this legislation anti-Semitism is a hate crime. The legislation makes it difficult to criticize Israel or the actions of individual Jews or Jewish organizations. Anti-Zionism can be quickly equated to anti-Semitism. Islamophobia far from being a hate crime is really a default explanation: must have been the Muslim/s.

Muslim-bashing is rampant at all levels: a black friend tried to be empathetic: “sorry but thanks for being the new blacks that everyone can now laugh at, blame and be scared of”.

During the heated campaigning in the US Congressional election the head of rightwing Tea Party Nation leader Judson Phillips said that incumbent Keith Ellison should be defeated as “he is the only Muslim member of Congress”.’s writer Justin Elliot wonders why such blatant racism has not been noticed and that it would be hard to imagine anyone targeting a Jewish or Mormon member of Congress for being Jewish or Mormon and getting away with it.

Then you have the self-hating Muslims who are whiter than whites themselves. Bashing everything Muslim and justifying the marginalizing and persecution of Muslims is fine in their twisted minds. The irony remains that their own acceptance despite their wholesale sellout will never be complete. Brown we are and Muslim we shall remain in non-Muslim eyes, in case we think differently in our kala-angraiz (Anglicized-Black) minds.

What is classified as protected speech under the First Amendment and conversation that shatters the already thin ice of our national calm is a debate that we must have quickly and constructively. The power of television and radio communication is beyond encapsulation and the damage is similarly exponential.

My co-religionists damaged us the most and depending on the viewer’s lens we are perpetrators or victims. I’ve squashed my style, changed my ways and live in fearful anticipation. Muslims as the overworked punching bag I’m almost completely used to now.

Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist. She can be reached at

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ignominy and mayhem

Who has time for increasing revenue and cutting expenses though, for the gangsterisation of Pakistan is complete; from the killing fields of Karachi to the halls of the National Assembly.

I was never a fan of Musharraf’s image management obsession for it reflected our national hypocrisy in which drawing rooms sparkle and kitchens and bathrooms stink. Why doesn’t the core jive with the cover?

And yet now that we have been put to international ignominy, time after time, I am second-guessing myself. Facades crack, but to the unknowing Western eye and the broken Pakistani heart, provide at least an illusion of respect. With the national post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, that we suffer from, the last and least that we needed was US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finger-wagging at the elite and wealthy not paying taxes and providing flood relief while citizens of the US and Europe are taxed to help the flood relief effort in Pakistan.

Not that she is wrong. Our national begging bowl, though carried in Mercedes limousines and handled by designer suits is ever present and slick. We are silly enough to try and impose more taxes rather than collect basic income tax under the laws that are already in place. We know that Pakistan has one of the lowest income tax collection rates in the world. And yet true to the dichotomy that defines our national psyche we choose to keep our house in a mess and finance our luxuries with the national exchequer for trips to foreign lands for reasons that are dubious at best. Our economic misery provides another fig-leaf for our penchant to beg ever so smoothly every time.

Pakistanis must have the most resilient psyche in the world to deal with a collapsing economy, persistent terrorism, runaway prices, rising unemployment, absent healthcare, target killings, recurrent natural disasters and governmental and politician antics that would shame a bad Hollywood movie. What boggles the mind is the bravado with which others are pan-handled when billionaire governmental officers and politicians have made an art of escaping good old income tax.

We have perpetually looked outward for everything. Not just for praise and positive reinforcement but also disconnected Euro-Americans to point out our problems and give reprimanding solutions. Independence from the British occurred physically in 1947 but mental colonialism is alive and well. And from that same land Shakespeare’s line seems written for us: the fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.

Instead of looking outward, perhaps we should handle the national economy with the simple principles with which one handles a business. Or even a family budget. In tough times there are only two solutions: increase revenue and decrease expenses. The talent within Pakistan is plentiful in all areas and the detail can be easily determined from the many economists that it has. But really this is not rocket science. The mind-boggling corruption at all levels that has occurred, especially of late, is a large hole in the small bucket of national resources.

The high unemployment rate can be decreased and national revenue will soar if a large number of employees are hired in the tax collection system. Procedures to ensure revenue collection must be made effective if not airtight. Taxing the obscene wealth circulating in Pakistan can make that begging bowl redundant pretty darn quick!

The Federal Education Commission and the Election Commission are engaged in proverbial football with regard to verifying the degrees of the parliamentarians. The FEC says to the ECP that it cannot do the job as 400 some parliamentarians are playing cat and mouse with it and not submitting the required paperwork. The ECP reminds the FEC that this is the FEC’s constitutionally mandated role.

It is not just the immediate and effective application of income tax that will generate a great deal of revenue, an example should be set from an assessment of the wealth and tax status of the parliamentarians that we elect and pay handsomely out of the national exchequer. Not only are these parliamentarians, many of whom are indictable for their fake degrees, paid very well for the poor country that Pakistan is, they are also feudal and thus independently wealthy. These wonderful men and women are passing laws that benefit self rather than protecting the state. Much like the fox guarding the henhouse.

Cutting expenses is the other way. And they have to be cut across the board with the qatra qatra darya ban jata hai (drops coalesce to form a river) mindset. Until we change our individual mindsets from one of first-class to that of economy, nothing will change. It is not the other person that is going to do it, not just Zardari or Gilani but each individual Pakistani. At the same time imposing a flood tax is not the answer; implementing income tax and wealth tax is what is needed. Income tax is graded and fair; flood tax would be imposed on a people already unable to provide for basic needs of daily living, and would only serve to inflame an already angry nation.

Who has time for increasing revenue and cutting expenses though, for the gangsterisation of Pakistan is complete; from the killing fields of Karachi to the halls of the National Assembly. That the murder of one man, MQM’s Raza Haider, and a by-election could kill over 150 people is mind-numbing. In its traditional corruption, Pakistan’s police is another example of the fox guarding the henhouse, but now the other arm of justice, our lawyers have joined the fray. How long will absolute savagery reign in a land that has an elected government and an allegedly effective Supreme Court? Will the armed and furious continue to run rabid? At this rate Karachi may well be on auto-curfew; why would people leave their homes to buy bread only to get killed in the crossfire.

Political parties are not meant to be mafia-style gangs, at least not in democracies. And yet no intraparty elections occur in any of Pakistan’s political parties and their nefarious agendas are rife within and have permeated the daily lives of ordinary, unaffiliated Pakistanis. And no major party in Pakistan is exempt from this unfortunate fact.

Just when one thinks things have reached their nadir in Pakistan, something bigger happens. Pakistan’s strange resilience in the face of the nerve-wrecking has paradoxically altered the Pakistani mindset and made it believe even more in the national motto: sab theek ho jaye ga (everything will be alright). Will our state change only when we drag ourselves out from sixty three years of delusional sand?

Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist. She can be reached at

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Brushing it under the national carpet

Dr Aafia Siddiqui is suddenly the ‘daughter of the nation’. With all the problems that plague Pakistan and all the injustices that have been suffered by the thousands of nameless and blameless, we have found energy and time for one woman and her imprisonment

Heads roll for the wrong reasons in Pakistan it seems. Forced by geographic location, economic collapse, terrorism, the floods and corruption at all levels, we have been transformed into a wilderness where the fittest survive and the only law that prevails is that of the jungle.

Travesties there are aplenty in Pakistan. We do a cosmetic lament and then niftily brush them under the carpet. Physicians have been murdered in Pakistan for being the wrong sect, read Shia; Ahmedis are murdered again and again, and the authorities turn a blind eye.

The nation was submerged in floods of biblical proportions due to the unconscionable lack of repairs in dykes but no one lost their portfolio. Time was that a single derailment or accident in the Pakistan Railways and the railway minister resigned. But our ethos has changed. Undoubtedly, the assaults on our nation have been many but who could have thought that national tragedies, time after time, would breed a culture of swagger and cutthroat competition, rather than the galvanising of a people devoted to state and principle.

Out of this same swagger comes Abdul Qayyum Jatoi, the former state minister for defence production who repeated his statement about equality in corruption when the press found it hilarious and shocking. “Why should just the establishment and the government do corruption?” he demanded rhetorically. “Whether they are Sindhi, Baloch, Saraiki or Punjabi, there should be equality in corruption.” He went on to say that the military should stay out of politics and be concentrated at the border doing what it is trained to do. He had also been critical of the chief justice. In a subsequent explanatory meeting with Prime Minister Gilani, Abdul Qayyum Jatoi resigned.

In my last article I wrote about the transmission of the culture of corruption in Pakistan and how memes or units of ideas or cultural symbols are transmitted essentially like genes. Jatoi, in his speech that cost him his job, underscores the corruption meme of Pakistan by recognising it and promoting it even more.

Jatoi was also livid with the army and its penchant for political and governmental interference. And rightfully so. In the meme theory of the transmission of ideas by imitation, the Pakistani mindset, in times of trouble, defaults to the army. And yet that is not how nations are built. Democracy, by its very nature, is cacophonous and seemingly disorganised. And in Pakistan it seems more so than it would elsewhere for we are disorganised to start with. Dictatorships undermine the development of a nation and inhibit institution building.

Admittedly, nepotism, which may be another Pakistani cultural meme, is present in civilian dispensations as well, but in army regimes to have every and all non-military governmental organisations headed by generals, or retired generals, goes against the lifetimes of hard work of civil service officers trained in that particular field. When nepotism has occurred in civilian governments, there appears to be recourse as proved recently in the Adnan Khwaja case. In rigid military regimes, that would not have happened.

Jatoi officially resigned for criticising the chief justice. In actuality, he exposed the corruption meme and told the army to stay in the barracks. And however unwitting that may have been, he is correct.

Being part of the jungle, another Pakistani staple has become the herd mentality. It is curious that physicians by the hundreds have been murdered in target killings, civilians decimated by drones, 20 million left homeless by the floods, minorities raped and killed, but the Pakistani nation could only be brought to throng in the thousands for one woman sentenced by the US for 86 years in prison. Dr Aafia Siddiqui is suddenly the ‘daughter of the nation’. Admittedly, there are holes in the story and her whereabouts for one to three years are unaccounted for and the sentence is over-the-top, but with all the problems that plague Pakistan and all the injustices that have been suffered by the thousands of nameless and blameless, we have found energy and time for one woman and her imprisonment.

Plagued by internal misgivings and the statement by Scotland Yard that “rows within his own party may have led to Dr Imran Farooq’s assassination”, the MQM is indulging in the politics of distraction. It is seriously heartrending to watch the thousands rally for Aafia Siddiqui and to have stayed home when travesty after travesty happened in Pakistan, to Pakistanis by Pakistanis.

And that has become another cultural meme: the hunood-yahood (Hindu-Jewish) conspiracy. With the belief that the yahood control all of the US, yahood and the US are synonymous. All that plagues Pakistan is apparently the result of the hunood-yahood workings.

Drones got an al Qaeda leader recently, but in most strikes tend to kill civilians and decimate their homes. Drone attacks have occurred even after the floods, with some strikes occurring in flood-affected areas. The US claims it has a wink-and-a-nod from the Pakistan government and the Pakistani government’s public displays of indignation are much like the noora kushti (fake wrestling) of World Wrestling Entertainment matches. Recently, NATO forces entered Pakistani airspace from Afghanistan in hot pursuit of militants and killed 60 ‘militants’, claiming that they have an agreement with Pakistan to enter its airspace when in pursuit of militants. Pakistan’s foreign office denies this agreement.

Drones have the precision of centimetres for their target. We have no problems with the civilian deaths that occur with the militants that the drones kill. That can be brushed under the rug, no problem. After all, militancy is out of control and since we give our homes and hearths to foreign extremists, we can only rely on the US to decimate them.

When we pillage our Pakistan because everyone else is doing it, let us brush that under the carpet too. Only two percent of a nation of 176 million pays taxes. And when we refuse to pay taxes and use every loophole to get out of it, let us brush that too under the rug. When women are sexually harassed and assaulted, we imprison them instead of the perpetrator. It is too much to fight for and come out to protest against; let us sweep that one under also. And the list goes on. And much like our core, this is no flat rug anymore. Our nation’s carpet is bulging now. And the stink is reminiscent of a zoo.

The writer is a columnist, family physician and addictionist. She can be reached at

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Transmission of the culture of corruption in Pakistan

Repeatedly shocked at the height and extent of corruption among Pakistanis I have wondered whether it had become genetic in some way. With the concept of memes (pronounced like dreams) my ruminations may well be founded in emerging sociological theory.

In his 1976 book The Selfish Gene British scientist Richard Dawkins coined the term meme as a unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures or other imitable phenomena. The origin of the word meme is from the Greek word mimema which means something imitated. Supporters of the concept of memes regard them as the cultural analogues of genes, in that they self-replicate and respond to selective pressures.

Dawkins coined the word meme as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Simply stated he considered a meme as a unit of cultural transmission. Examples of memes in the book are melodies, catch-phrases, beliefs (especially religious beliefs) and fashion. Detractors do not believe that culture can be understood in such discrete units.

Gene replication causes information transmission vertically from parent to child. Virus replication does this horizontally. But memes are able to transmit information horizontally and vertically; perhaps this is why the corruption meme of Pakistanis is now so entrenched.

Tales of corruption by Pakistanis both within the country and expatriate are numerous, long and sordid. A recent one that takes the cake is of course the corrupt betrayal of the Pakistan cricket team and the incredible videos of the money-filled brief-cases.

Nepotism knows no bounds in the case of the appointment of Adnan Khwaja as the new OGDC chief. Inexperience, lack of education and jail-time were not able to outweigh the most important qualifier: crony of the Prime Minister.

Another deeply embarrassing tale is that of the antics of the officers of the New York Consulate General when the New York Stock Exchange, touched by the enormity of the floods in Pakistan donated the Times Square screen for one hour for an appeal for the flood victims. $5-10 million could have been raised with ease if an appeal for flood aid had been made. But Consul General Babar Hashmi and commercial counselor Muhammad Amer portrayed “welcome to New York” and photos of themselves and the Pakistan flag instead. Watching a video of this travesty makes it even more incomprehensible. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureishi has promised an investigation but the prognosis for stemming corruption in Pakistan remains guarded at best.

And why would it not be? It has permeated Pakistani society like a termite that need hide no more. Time was that it was devious and under the table. It is now a badge of honor, a kind of recognition, a rite of passage. Time was that people whispered about and avoided the corrupt and sneered at their ways. I remember my father, God bless his soul, alternately laugh and complain about corruption within the civil service with stories of “donoan haathoan sey khaya hai” (they have eaten with both hands). But now it is a given.

In the expatriate Pakistani world more than money, it is power and its hunger that corrupt absolutely.

And that is where the meme theory applies to Pakistanis: in the corruption meme. Some of it is the imitation aspect of the meme theory and some of it is survival-if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em, like the Americans say. Some of it is the role models our society offers. In the highly visible tripartite branches of government, the executive, the legislative and the judiciary corruption rules.

As much as a fan of the democratic process that I am I was benumbed that the nation chose a man with a deeply suspect past as its president. By the very process of election to such an office we are essentially condoning unfathomable corruption and the theft of wealth that if returned to Pakistan, where it rightfully belongs, could yank it out of its misery in an a hurry. Feudal politicians that hold Pakistan in the vice of abuse and essential slavery outdo each other in their nauseating antics of corruption.

In 2009 Transparency International reported the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) which measures the perceived level of public corruption in 180 countries. The scale is 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 10 (perceived to have low levels of corruption). New Zealand was least corrupt with a CPI of 9.4. The most corrupt was Somalia at 1.1. Pakistan hit spot number 139 with a CPI of 2.4.

“Stemming corruption requires strong oversight by parliaments, a well performing judiciary, independent and properly resourced audit and anti-corruption agencies, vigorous law enforcement, transparency in public budgets, revenue and aid flows, as well as space for independent media and a vibrant civil society,” said Huguette Labelle, Chair Transparency International. This in current day Pakistan seems like wanting the stars and the moon.

So is all hope lost and are we all helplessly addicted to corruption? If one considers the meme theory again it appears that meme evolution follows the laws of natural selection. Dawkins notes that as various ideas pass from generation to generation, they either enhance or reduce the survival of the host or influence the survival of the ideas themselves. So it seems that all of us have not been hit by the meme of Pakistani corruption. Will it take a few good people to buoy a drowning nation?

We are a fickle nation and tire of rulers quickly. Although it seems to be a meme to be disciplined by the army, when it rules we fatigue with dictatorship. Civilian rule is subverted by corruption labels, forgetting that the army is no Sufi bunch. For really, the corruption meme appears to be an equal opportunity employer in Pakistan.

Like there is no force in religion (Quran 2: 256) there can be no force in eliminating the evil of corruption. We need to change the Pakistani corruption meme and make absolute, invincible honesty its fashionable replacement.

My addiction patients are only successful in recovery when they have hit rock bottom and the desire for sobriety comes from within. Pakistanis have to feel that we have hit rock bottom; we have to want to erase corruption at the personal level so it extrapolates to the national level.

Allama Iqbal paraphrased the Quranic verse (13:11) beautifully: khuda ney aaj tak us qaum ki halat nahin badli na ho jis ko shuoor khud apni halat key badalney ka. (God does not change the condition of a nation which has no desire to change itself)

Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist. She can be reached at

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Abolish feudalism

Despite how trite it sounds the floods may well be a blessing in disguise. Perhaps they are meant to wrest Pakistan from the abyss that it was hurtling toward and set its compass right.

As idealistic as my three-point action plan, abolish feudalism, prosecute corruption and ensure speedy justice to quick-fix Pakistan may seem, it can be given actual practicality. All that is needed is a national will. The unequalled Shakespeare: “there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads onto fortune”.

One of the bitter remnants of British Raj, feudalism was used to honor and ingratiate nawabs, taluqdars, jagirdars etc. Originally the intent was to bless the favored with large tracts of land and when the blessed expired the land returned to the Raj. During the tenure of the blessings by His Majesty, the grantee enjoyed material, political and social favors. The land was tilled by peasants that had no ownership with lives bordering on slavery.

Land reforms occurred in post-partition India in 1953 but Pakistan chose to be buried under the yoke of feudalism with its attendant economic, social, educational, human rights and political evils. With Pakistan being largely agrarian feudalism has permeated and saturated the national psyche and one notices its recurring stamp in what is now an entrenched feudal mindset. And with globalization and the technological revolution, do not imagine your feudal lord dressed in shalwar kameez and pagri with a perpetually curled waxed mustache; your modern day man is vrooming in a convertible BMW and is dressed in pants, casual cotton shirts and loafers.

A few thousand families currently hold Pakistan in a vice-like grip. They own thousands of acres of land that is tilled by haris, landless peasants, who are held in varying degrees of subjugation by cruel feudals. Bondage is widespread in rural Pakistan and landlords and tribal leaders have even created private prisons. There is also the concept of debt bondage that the peasant has to work off, rather than pay off with money or goods, and this debt bondage extends through generations. The violation of basic human rights that this creates is another one of many stains on our nation.

Strongly politically connected or the only political game in the village, feudals do not pay taxes.

Themselves minimally educated if at all, feudals perpetuate the horrific literacy statistics of Pakistan. Married invariably to four and keeper of numerous, the feudal lord maintains all in deep ignorance, knowing that education would sever the bondage.

The family and social environment of the feudal community is impervious to rules of religion and of course to modern day justice. Some landlords are alleged pirs or spiritual leaders with propaganda of their lineage to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and hordes of people do bayt or swear allegiance to them. Besides the gold that the land brings in, the mureeds or followers rid themselves of a variety of ills by giving nazar or a monetary gift to the pir.

The deep and disgusting rot that is part and parcel of feudal families is well documented in many graphic novels that cause insomnia. That rape, incest and child sexual abuse is brushed under the rug of hallowed spiritualism makes it all even more despicable.

Sad also is the political hold that the feudal families have on Pakistan. Be it the PML (N) or the PPP, a majority of the National Assembly members belong to these infamous feudal families.

Slowly but surely their duplicity is being unmasked. Since the passage of the minimal qualification for election being a bachelor’s degree, many landlords are noted to have fake degrees and their grip on political power is loosened. A bit.

Pakistanis have an interesting fixation with land. Right after partition, people allegedly walked into vacant homes and called them their own. Pakistan has been ruled by alternating military and civilian dispensations; in the military regime promotions were given in the form of pieces of land. And in the heavy cross that the nation bears, all civilian governments have been headed by disgustingly wealthy landlord politicians from the infamous feudal families.

And now the floods and the accusation by peasants that the politically powerful diverted the water by breaking the levees so that their lands could be saved and the land of the poor was inundated.

The economic, social and political inequity perpetuated by feudalism must end if Pakistan is not to drown in the literal and figurative sense of the word. The floods provide a strangely painful opportunity to do this. Anger at the feudal lord has been steadily growing and as the media becomes more powerful stories of the murders, jirga justice, vani or child marriages, marriages to the Quran to retain property are all coming to light.

Altaf Hussain makes all the right noises but suffers from a glaring lack of credibility. Hordes of female fans listening to his crackling dramatic voice on a bad speaker notwithstanding. When bhatta or an imposed bribe/tax is part and parcel of the workings of a party and when he is unable to land in Pakistan for fear of a reprisal murder, no calls for a French revolution type movement or ending feudalism make a dent.

Changing from the PPP to the PML (N) is like a collective jump from the frying pan into the fire. The leaders of Pakistan’s major parties are embedded in the Pakistani staple of self-aggrandizement, self-enrichment, unfathomable corruption and a terrible betrayal to the poor whose backs they have ridden on all their lives.

The silver lining in Pakistan’s dense clouds is the definite mindset change that the default solution is the Supreme Court and not the military. The media has also played an indomitable role in unmasking Pakistan’s evils that were perpetually either brushed into oblivion or propagandized a la Goebbels.

Perhaps Pakistanis are still in the denial stage as far as the magnitude of the flood devastation and how it puts Pakistan in peril of actual survival.

Land ownership should maximize at 100 acres and with such a large percentage of land inundated, the time is ripe to rid Pakistan of feudalism, both physical and the mindset. And correct the huge gap between rich and poor.

The deeply dishonest politicians of Pakistan, with all their vested interests, will not institute land reforms. The people must: using the force of the media and the writ of the Supreme Court. To call for revolutions and indulge in the impracticable would be another betrayal and an opportunity to save Pakistan lost.

Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist. She may be reached at

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Perish or rise

In collusion with Pakistan’s imbecile political leadership plans for the balkanization of Pakistan were going along as scripted until an unlikely interruption: floods of biblical proportions. Forces one to recall an almost wry verse in the Quran: wa yamkuruna wa yamkurullah wallaho khairul makireen- they plot and plan and Allah too plans; and the best of planners is Allah (Anfal 8:30, Al-Imran 3:54)
Michel Chossudovsky, Director of the Montreal based Center for Research on Globalization and author of America’s War on Terrorism in his article “The Destabilization of Pakistan” says: “Washington’s foreign policy course is to actively promote the political fragmentation and balkanization of Pakistan as a nation”. Chossudovsky points out that “the US strategy, supported by covert intelligence operations, consists in triggering ethnic and religious strife, abetting and financing secessionist movements while also weakening the institutions of the central government.” Chossudovsky’s analysis, Selig Harrison’s 2007 article “Drawn and Quartered” and Pentagon scholar Ralph Peters article “Blood Borders” are all based on a 2005 report by the US National Intelligence Council and the CIA. This report forecasts a "Yugoslav-like fate" for Pakistan "in a decade with the country riven by civil war, bloodshed and inter-provincial rivalries, as seen recently in Balochistan."
The purported interest for all this is control over Pakistan’s nuclear assets, the 25 trillion cft. of gas and 6 trillion barrels of oil sitting in Balochistan and angst over Chinese interest in the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline traversing Balochistan.
With the submersion of thousands of acres it seems that this is the point that we can springboard to a fresh start. Abolish feudalism and every last remnant of it. Ownership is suspect and documents non-existent. It is time that we as Pakistanis begin to look to the Supreme Court and our judicial system as the sole working institution in the country, not the army as the default one. In a crisis that mirrors Partition, legislation must come from the Supreme Court that erases the iniquity of feudalism and the incalculable damage that it has caused Pakistan and its people. Our deeply corrupt feudal politicians that form a majority in the National Assembly have always worked for self, never for state, so expecting them to pass legislation is to expect the Indus to rewind.
Corruption and Pakistan have become synonymous and we hang our heads in collective national ignominy at the blatant monetary sellout by certain members of the Pakistan cricket team and their enabling by the Pakistan Cricket Board. Why do all roads lead to the same old place? PCB bigwigs are related to our President and that is exactly the point. The Pakistani nation is inured, immune, desensitized to any and all amounts of mind-blowing immorality. The hoopla about Zardari’s French chateau died down and now the news of his successful bid out of a bullet proof Mercedes of a £146 million flat in Hyde Park nauseates.
In my floods-induced depression I have an idea which might seem entirely insane to the President, but someone must convey it to him. He can become Quaid-e-Azam II from the gentle Pharoah that he is now. Mr. President bring all your assets back to Pakistan, each and every dollar/pound and rebuild Pakistan from scratch. Live in a 1000 sq. yard home. Wash your party and Pakistan of corruption and make it a prosecutable offence. You are now known as Mr 10%; you would be worshipped in life and hallowed in death with street corners bearing witness to your amazing vision, generosity and ability to make Pakistan forget mindless corruption. Washed eternally of all its pain rising anew as a beacon of hope and happiness.
Alright so I am being delusional. Pain and anger does that to people. The pain of the woman whose baby was delivered in the filthy graveyard that the village folk had taken refuge in. Starved herself she is unable to nurse the baby so it is dying slowly. The pain of children being swept away by the angry waters. The pain of gushing waters and inundated towns, gaunt, weathered faces and desperate eyes.
And anger is a mild word, fury is better. Fury at how the law of the jungle prevails in Pakistan. Parliamentarians have this sixth sense it seems that they may not be on public payroll too darn long, so why part with any donation? The brutality of the killing of the brothers in Sialkot, the many dead in the Yaum-e-Ali processions in Lahore and Karachi and mainly fury at the pervasive Pakistani mindset of minimizing everything and going on with business as usual.
Pakistan a largely agrarian economy has had its agricultural base destroyed and this will generate a chain reaction affecting all aspects of life in Pakistan. Estimates vary but the agricultural loss is Rs. 6billion. Inflation is 25%, over 10% are unemployed and a whopping 40% of the nation now lives below the poverty line. After the water recedes the support structure that will be needed for rehabilitation will require at least a year’s worth of food and a detailed, exhaustive plan to recreate from zero.
Not only has there been a loss of life and property, the education of the nation’s school and college going students in the flood affected areas has been compromised for at least a year.
Developed nations have trouble withstanding floods. Pakistan was teetering before they came. As a nation though we cannot feel that band-aiding the situation will do it. In calmer moments one is forced to think that perhaps there is a reason the floods happened: a maslihat maybe. Perhaps Pakistan was on its way to destruction, what with plans to carve it into four, bomb it every day and pillage it all the time.
If Pakistan becomes worse than sub-Saharan Africa, if cholera takes several more lives and famine descends upon it while its rulers luxuriate in Rs. 10 lakh-a-day maintenance of presidential and prime ministerial residences, then balkanizing Pakistan will be ever so easy.
But if our self-respect awakens and the blood of the millions who lost their lives to create Pakistan is valued we will realize that there are only three things we need to do as a nation, however simplistic they sound: abolish feudalism, prosecute corruption and establish speedy justice. We have a choice as a nation: perish or rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist. She can be reached at

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A thought revolution

I have spent years crying silently for the brothers that I lost to a car accident and my father who died within five years of them, overcome with grief. I have hated that life went on as though nothing had happened; the condolences faded and soon enough it was business as usual. For the world. My mother and I lost all the men in our family but we were not reduced to abject poverty; tens of thousands of flood victims in Pakistan have the burden of grief as well as economic ruin. Millions are homeless. But as the intensity plateaus and tries to fade, Pakistanis are practicing the infamous mantra: sub theek ho jaye ga (everything will be alright).

Capitalizing on the glaring absence of the government and its unforgivable inefficiency, political mileage is sought by all quarters. Subservience to the British and to martial law have penetrated Pakistani psyche almost to the point of being a part of the national DNA. In times of trouble, martial law seems to be the default solution. Public memory is short and the struggles and bloodshed to remove dictatorship are swept away and the deep corruption within the army becomes the food of amnesia.

Pakistani billionaire Malik Riaz Hussain has pledged 75% of his fortune to the flood victims. The King, Crown Prince and Interior Minister of Saudi Arabia have donated millions of dollars from private funds and Saudi citizens have thronged flood relief centers. In face of that philanthropy is the niggardliness of Pakistani politicians. The Sharif clan donated Rs. 10 million, Zardari Rs. 5 million as did Altaf Hussain, while Yusuf Raza Gilani, not a “believer in cash donations” sent his son down with donation in kind. Seems the Quran address this issue well in Surah Baqarah (2:268): when you get ready to donate Satan puts the fear of poverty in your heart and you hold back.

Back to the army worship issue, brought to the fore by Altaf Hussain and Imran Khan’s welcome of the army. Pakistan is rudderless and no leader in the current potpourri is its panacea. It is also highly unlikely that an Ayatollah, Stalin, Mao or Lee Kuan Yew will emerge from one of the tenements anytime soon. We have always looked up to leaders to bring about a change, perhaps we need to have a grassroots movement, in something as simple as a thought revolution.

Pakistanis should not be delusional to think that replacement of ruling parties or martial law is that answer. The problem is corruption, unfortunately a national trait; democracy should not be sacrificed at the altar of our collective fury. Placement of processes and institution building is sorely needed in Pakistan. The history of all politicians on offer is sordid and to work for dislodging the present government in the hope of a better future is grossly misplaced. Zardari, the Sharif brothers, Altaf Hussain or Imran Khan are all the different faces of the same termite that eats away at a nation that is busy covering over corruption, unleashing mafia murders and harboring extremism.

As a citizenry we must bring about accountability, transparency, mandatory payment of taxes, the rule of law, abolition of feudalism and the marginalization of corruption. Every effort must be made to prevent corruption with all aid for flood victims. Be it a peon or a president, we must start with stark personal accountability and then apply that unchanging principle in each and every sphere of our influence. This, conglomerated, will be the flood that will salvage Pakistan.

As the floods take Pakistan back at least fifty years, perhaps a steady change in the way we think and live will cause the necessary paradigm shift. Maybe corruption will become unfashionable in Pakistan. What a thought!

Prior to the floods Pakistan was in the lower rung of the developing world. With 30% of the country under water, destruction of its agricultural mainstay as well as the ripple effect that this will have on its economy and national psyche, Pakistan is threatened with joining sub-Saharan Africa; a sea of brown water, outstretched hands and rampant disease as its marks on the memory.

Pakistani scholars, from Mufti Munibur Rahman to Tahirul Qadri and many others were asked whether they felt that the floods were a trial or a punishment. In a surprise show of unanimity they said that this was a time of trial for when God wishes to punish a people He wipes them off the face of the earth. Their Quranic quotations did not address the issue fully and they seemed typically smug. They unanimously discouraged Umra and non-obligatory Hajj trips as well as iftar and Eid parties, encouraging diversion of the funds to the flood victims.

But our patriotism starts and ends with the notes of the national anthem. Pakistanis both within and expatriate have this sickening survival of the fittest skill. Iftar parties are jamming along. Eid day invitations have arrived. APPNA, the Association of Physicians of Pakistani-Descent of North America will have its Fall Meeting in the ultra-luxurious Ritz-Carlton in Key Biscayne Florida. Lots of money has been raised for flood victims but nowhere near what could have been. I wonder what heart Pakistanis the world over have for celebrating iftars, Eid parties and the luxuries of the Ritz? It is tradition to not celebrate two consecutive Eids when we lose a loved one. Donating a paltry amount to flood relief and then skipping off to decide your iftar invitee list and your ritzy travel plans are representative of that same national rot that we love to blame the government for all the time. The enormity of the flood devastation calls for a decade of mourning.

The situation is so dire that any and all of our incomes beyond our basic needs must go toward rebuilding Pakistan. We must question each party, each purchase and each bite of food keeping the memory of the millions always alive in our minds.

This is our last chance as a nation. The change has to come from an individual level then a family level followed by a community level to permeate and repair the character and corruption leaks of Pakistan. It is a thought revolution that is needed in Pakistan, from the bottom up, not the typical blame game and passing the buck and always expecting change from leaders that put clowns to shame.

Mahjabeen Islam is a family physician, addictionist and columnist. She can be reached at

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Comprehending the catastrophe

Regardless of one’s persuasion when faced with catastrophes and personal suffering the question ‘why’ always comes up. And with all that Pakistan has been through in variegated forms from terrorism to economic collapse and now the floods, for Pakistanis it is not a simple question but a chorus of agony.

On a mundane and scientific level it appears that global warming is to blame. About 14 million people have been affected by the floods making it more disastrous than the South East Asian tsunami and the Haitian earthquake combined. According to scientists ‘a supercharged jet-stream’ is responsible for the floods and landslides in Pakistan and China and an extreme heat wave in Russia and one that killed 60 people in Japan in July.

Meteorologists are unsure of the root cause but seem to favor that rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will drive up the number of extreme heat events. This same effect and the ‘supercharged jet stream’ are blamed for the floods in the UK in 2007 and the heat wave then in Eastern Europe.

Antiquated irrigation systems and the lack of repair of irrigation leaks have compounded the situation in Pakistan. And the deforestation mafia created the final straw causing rivers to barrel down in mammoth fury.

The count now is over 1600 dead and 20 million affected but what of entire villages that have been swallowed by the waters? As weeks go on and the floodwaters recede the actual devastation will become apparent and the fact that a struggling nation has been pulled back another fifty years from current civilization is likely to emerge. And now killer diseases like cholera can claim more lives.

After the 7.0 Richter scale earthquake in Haiti in January evangelical priest Pat Robertson claimed that the earthquake had hit Haiti as it had “made a pact with the devil” referring to voodoo rituals carried out before a slave rebellion against the French colonists in 1791. After Hurricane Katrina in 2006 John Hagee another evangelical pastor said "I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that. There was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that Hurricane Katrina came”. However in 2008, Hagee backed away from his comments regarding Hurricane Katrina by saying, "But ultimately neither I nor any other person can know the mind of God concerning Hurricane Katrina. I should not have suggested otherwise”.

But we love to second guess God, don’t we? Explaining the current floods crisis the ultra-right claims God’s wrath for the Lal Masjid fiasco and the pact with the Great Satan aka America. And the mystics say they knew His fury was not far when Data Ganj Baksh’s shrine was attacked.

If only His will were that simple and events so elementary to dissect. If the Lal Masjid fiasco is to be blamed, why does its primary perpetrator Pervez Musharraf sit in luxurious dry land in England?

Hadith Qudsi 25 states: “Whosoever shows enmity to someone devoted to Me, I shall be at war with him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it”. This is widely taken to describe the auliya-Allah or the friends of God of whom Data Ganj Baksh was one. And yet the thinking mind wonders why God would decimate thousands of innocents for the disrespect of one?

While the Bible and the Quran are graphic about God’s wrath and ascribe a reason each time, it is important to grasp the concept of Divine retribution, or sin and result, but not to play God and float theories regarding our terrible state.

Several verses in the Quran speak of God’s retribution against the defiance of the people of Prophets Lut, Nuh, Shuaib, Hud and Moses. Chapter Ankabut (29:40) encapsulates the other verses well: “Each one of them(wicked people) We seized for his crime: of them, against some We sent a violent tornado (with showers of stones); some were caught by a (mighty) Blast; some We caused the earth to swallow up; and some We drowned (in the waters): It was not Allah Who injured (or oppressed) them: They injured (and oppressed) their own souls.”

Like my friend Saeed Akhtar Malik wrote “our day of reckoning has come, it seems”. Something has gone awfully wrong with all things Pakistani: corruption, moral and monetary, is part of our social fabric. Even if we wanted to it seems we could not escape it. The disconnected power-elite wallow in it, the middle class and the poor indulge to make ends meet. Killing has no worldly or moral consequence it seems. Our moral compass was teetering, seems absent now. For all our claims to religiosity, there is widespread use of black magic for quick attainment of relevant desires. Black magic is akin to the unforgivable sin of shirk or associating an entity with God. Forget taxes to the State one wonders how many in the Islamic Republic practice the fourth pillar of Zakat. If the obscenely wealthy gave 2 ½ % of their assets to charity in Pakistan we would not be dirt poor.

The stark incompetence of the government at the time of its people’s greatest need, spending its time doing damage control over its leader’s foreign trips and shoe adventures is a travesty but another chapter in many similar ones. Extremist organizations are filling the void in the hardest hit areas promising to generate greater militancy in the future.

Our focus needs to be reformation at the personal, community and then national levels. It is very Pakistani to generate fire and brimstone explanations of natural disasters and also to theorize about the future. The Internet is replete with predictions of an army takeover or an Islamic revolution.

We would be better served if we went through an exhaustive personal moral inventory and contribution of any kind to the humanitarian disaster. If ever there was a wake-up call this is it. Pakistan already is in a state of anarchy. If we don’t galvanize quickly it is threatened with extinction.

Tail-piece: As events unfold one can’t help but think that the one thing that the populace can be incriminated for is electing a government that has institutionalized corruption. And it is entirely weird that the greatest ravages are in Sind, the stronghold of the PPP. The flood victims are hungry and homeless awaiting government help-the leader of which entertained himself and his coterie with an expensive European trip-all while his government is missing in action.

Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist. She can be reached at

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Death and taxes

A common Americanism attributed to Benjamin Franklin goes “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. In Pakistan the only certainty these days is death. Everywhere you turn: the crash in Margalla Hills, the worst floods in a generation, endless terrorism and resurgent target-killings. But taxes are an alien concept in Pakistan

In a shaming July article the New York Times states “Out of more than 170 million Pakistanis, fewer than 2 percent pay income tax, making Pakistan’s revenue from taxes among the lowest in the world, a notch below Sierra Leone’s as a ratio of tax to gross domestic product.” A December study by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency reveals that the average net worth of a Pakistani parliamentarian is $900,000 with its richest topping $37million. The article quotes Zafarul Majeed a senior official of the Federal Board of Revenue as stating that Pakistan’s income from taxes last year was the lowest in the country’s history. And this in face of the PILDAT study which revealed that Pakistani Parliamentarians’ assets doubled in the last year.

To complete our humiliation, the article states: “The country’s top opposition leader Nawaz Sharif reported that he paid no personal income tax for three years ending in 2007 in public documents he filed with Pakistan’s election commission. A spokesman for Mr. Sharif, an industrialist who is widely believed to be a millionaire, said he had been in exile and had turned over positions in his companies to relatives. A month of requests for similar documents for Pakistan’s president and prime minister went unanswered by the commission; representatives for the men said they did not have the figures”

There is a reason for taxes being equated with the certainty of death in the West; they bleed you. And yet how else would health care, education, public transport, roads and railways be financed? The industrialization of Japan, Europe, Canada and the United States testifies to the steep and certain taxes imposed on their respective populace.

And in the injustice that is now so Pakistani, sales tax is imposed and breaks the back of the desperate driver who makes $123 per month while it’s a breeze for the Parliamentarian who makes $1400 per month. God forbid that the Parliamentarian should pay income tax on his millions. Feudals are so powerful and plentiful in Parliament that no federal tax on agriculture has been established.
Would eat into that income too, now wouldn’t it?

British Prime Minister David Cameron insulted Pakistan during a visit to India saying “Britain cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that Pakistan is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror”. Around this time the Airblue jet crashed in the Margalla Hills numbing an already worn people. Plans are already set for a Presidential jaunt to France and England. Pakistan’s security officials cancel a visit to England in protest of Cameron’s statement but Presidential plans are still on. And then all dams break loose and the worst flood in a generation claims 1400 lives, affects 3.4 million and erases 70% livestock.

One’s mouth hangs open watching footage of houses swallowed by the turbulent waters as though they were made of cards. You rewind and play thinking that it must be a simulation and forget to move because it is not.

It is a terrible day at work for those images keep coming back and block other brain activity. And somehow the day ends and I struggle back only to be hit hard with more devastation and the worst insult to Pakistan’s injury: Zardari’s trip to France and England on public expense. Now I feel like I have PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, I am not kidding. PPP diehards in England wail protests joining the national chorus of condemnation. But the French chateaus beckon.

Despite the noise of the naysayers, the President proceeds. But why the entourage of an entire plane load? The entire ninth floor of the Hyatt Regency, The Churchill a swanky 5-star hotel in London is booked. Tab-£7000 a suite. Dozens of Rolls Royces and Bentleys wait to entertain the entourage, not to forget the special chef and food.

Now I just don’t have PTSD, I feel like the girl in Exorcist: my whole head is turning around and green yuk wants to spew forth.

And when the bill is paid from the taxes of those stupid Pakistanis that did not know how to evade them or the millions brought in from sales tax, who is counting and who cares?

Zardari and his entourage may have missed the point, but British-Pakistani politicians have not for they stolidly refused to meet with him. “I’m not going to meet with the president because I believe that a head of state needs to be in his country of origin when people are drowning and have nowhere to go. He is spending poor people’s money on the launch of his son’s political career at a time when his country needs him shows that he’s out of touch and his advisors are ill-informed. Quite frankly, staying in five-star hotels with his huge entourage, tens of big cars that have been hired just to give him this protocol in London, it’s quite outrageous” said Labour peer Lord Nazir Ahmed. He was echoed by Labour MP Khalid Mahmood.

And then the foreign policy gaffes. Feeling the criticism, Zardari attempted to deflect it by some chest thumping: the coalition was losing the war on terror, he said in an interview to a French paper. Even if that is the case, a statement by the leader of a frontline state only serves to strengthen terrorism and cause more loss of life in Pakistan.

Maybe it is my mental handicap that I am still at a loss to understand this madness. “How do they sleep at night?” I scream at a colleague. He claims they do not have a conscience. I insist that everyone does. Well then, they have given it Valium and put it to bed! So there you have it: no conscience, no taxes. Just a flood of death-for the poor.

Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist. She can be reached at

An erosion of national character

Buffeted by air-crashes, natural disasters, economic collapse and terrorism at the Islamabad Marriott and Lahore’s Data Ganj Baksh shrine among numerous others, one wonders at Pakistan’s resilience. And the shot nerves of its populace. If fury rains from the heavens above, one can do the fatalistic thing and bow to God’s will; but how does one stem the tears when people wrong you?

National character is an extrapolation of individual, family and community values. And these have taken a steady downturn since Pakistan’s creation. The word sharafat has a deeper meaning than just decency- it is one of those untranslatables. Time was that as a nation sharafat was a concept that was recognized and referenced; with a bearing on marriages as well as national appointments. Lost in the chaos, confusion and cacophony of our national post-traumatic stress disorder is our moral compass. And though it sounds blasé in face of life and death issues, in and of itself it guarantees our perpetuity.

Islam underscores the means to the end; any and all means are not acceptable. Pakistanis seem to be emphasizing the end; the means seem entirely irrelevant.

The tragedy is not the mind-boggling wealth of the super-elite but the attitude that the 10% commissions did not happen as they were never proven. Even a cursory look at the net worth of MNAs is enough to give you vertigo. There has to be something deeply wrong somewhere if an American physician traveling to Pakistan feels poor around her friends who seem to be pulling out large denomination bills as though they had a veritable mint in their purses.

And how totally Pakistani to practice all the wrong that the West struggles with. One of the latest is the proving business. Take MNA Shumaila Rana for example. She calmly steals a woman’s credit card from a locker room, tries to buy jewelry with it and on failing and pressure from her party resigns. The entire interaction in the jewelry store and the conversation with the bank is caught on closed-circuit television, and when the banker is asking for her password, is particularly amusing, as she keeps saying “yes, yes”. The other lady does not press charges and so Ms. Rana now wishes to rejoin the National Assembly and has the gall to say that since the case against her was not proven she is innocent!

This same Shumaila Rana and women of her ilk riding in their top-of-the-line Lexus would have no problem harassing the poor vegetable seller and insisting he lower the price of tomatoes by a few rupees. Or abusing the farmer that tills the hundreds of acres that the elite own.

Pakistanis only concept of patriotism is to sing the national anthem with gusto. All else and thereafter is for self rather than state. Feudalism would be abolished, first thing, if that were not so. However broken, Pakistan has a democracy, but what use is it when legislators are feudal landlords and suck the blood of an entire stratum and keep them locked in illiteracy, poverty, debt, injustice and terror. With nothing for them or their families but a lifetime of tilling the land for pennies.

Another national fiasco is the issue of fake degrees, bringing home once again the point of only proof being relevant and not the truth. And in the wonderful vein of Pakistani resourcefulness, we have a plethora of fake degrees that the fraudulent had hoped would pass muster. What is even more interesting is the attempt by guilty parliamentarians to shift blame on the media and for female parliamentarians to actually pout and then sob. Have we no shame at all?

The Supreme Court has ordered a verification of the genuineness of these degrees by the Higher Education Commission. The disqualification of a significant number of parliamentarians could create a crisis for the ruling party. The HEC head Javaid Laghari is under intense pressure and has refused to “slow down” the process and as a consequence has suffered the arrest of his brother on purported corruption charges and a raid on his farmhouse and arrest of his servants.

Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky seemed to have downed America in a pall of gloom and shame. And was probably one of the reasons that George Bush slid into the White House. The ruling elite of Pakistan are deeply corrupt, their antics displayed time and again on national and satellite television, but outrage is eerily absent. For the stage is set from above. In a frayed economy and multiple crises the population has learned to negotiate life’s tedium by the tattered moral standards of the ruling elite. Love that Americanism: “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”.

Years ago as I took the professional exams in MBBS in Dow Medical College I vividly remember the invigilator order me to “help” one of my classmates. Horrified and panicked I refused. She went on to another student with whom she made a tacit pact. This student had various pockets stitched into her shalwar and she removed various pieces of paper from them, copied them with impunity and handed them over to the one that needed the help. My idealism was shattered when the invigilator’s little pet, a professor’s daughter no less, graduated in the top ten.

Farah Hameed Dogar the daughter of then Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar had her marksheet manipulated 20 points so she could be admitted to Islamic Medical College Rawalpindi.

Youth Prime Minister Hasan Javed Khan who died in the terrible Air Blue tragedy had some wonderful advice for a nation that would mourn him and all that lost their lives: good governance and accountability are only possible with supremacy of the law.

I grieve for all that died in the Margalla Hills as much as I mourn the erosion of my nation’s moral character. Festering at the top and trickling down, leaving our youth with the premise that any and all means justify money and power.

Mahjabeen Islam is a family physician, addictionist and columnist. She can be reached at

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Patriarchy the hijacker

Patriarchy is the worst hijacker of Islam, right up there with terrorism. And to think that a simple partition in a woman’s anatomy could be the real or imagined basis for horrific acts of violence is difficult to accept.

The Muslim male’s obsession with virginity, and by extrapolation chastity, plays out in conflict at the domestic level where fathers and brothers apply a standard to women that is flagrantly dichotomous. Muslim societies completely accept a young man dating, drinking and engaging in premarital sex. Some families just look the other way, in others it is open and accepted.

In the days of old chaste women were sequestered from prying male eyes. And now the tacit order remains in effect: female virginity can be proven and so it must be protected at all costs. Current day England is not free from honor killings or threats toward women. Afshan Azad a 22-year old actress in the Harry Potter movies has been assaulted and threatened by her brother and father in disapproval of her Hindu boyfriend.

Jamal Badawi in his book Gender Equity in Islam shatters patriarchal models as well as the propaganda that Muslim women are inferior to men. Most of all the distinction between equality and equity is brilliant.

Twenty years ago a young man in Pakistan was dining a young, brilliant corporate executive. Excitedly my mother persuaded him to propose to her. “No, no Auntie, one does not marry women like her, one just has fun with them” was the decimating answer.

This shameless patriarchy and double standard have become part of the genetic complement of the Muslim male. Contrary to Islamophobic hysteria, the only two points in which men and women are set apart, in Islam, is in the man being the head of the household and inheritance laws. The analogy of having only one CEO applies in terms of the head of the household issue. This is also part of the other Abrahamic faiths. Women in Islam inherit less than men as women are not required to share their earnings or wealth and when they become orphans, divorcees or widows they are deemed the financial responsibilities of first degree male relatives. If males do not fulfill their role here, it is their greed and irresponsibility; Islam cannot be bashed.

Spiritually men and women are treated as total equals and many a verse in the Quran addresses “the believing men and the believing women, the Muslim men and the Muslim women”. Men may not have physical proof of virginity but premarital sex and adultery carry the same punitive damages in the eyes of God, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator. That the reprehensible Hudood Ordinance and the deep corruption in Pakistan allow the man to go scot-free is an essay for another day.

Women outnumber men in Pakistan and somehow the number of marriageable Muslim women in North America also appears to outnumber male counterparts. This has served to strengthen patriarchy and deep hypocrisy in Muslim households. Men, even if they are drunks and nincompoops have a pick of the crème de la crème, while girls may have to weigh their options: go with a loser or witness the maddening inexorable ticking of the biological clock.

A strong premise in Islam is that of niyyah or intention. The reason for a Muslim man to sport a beard or a woman to wear the hijab may not be entirely a strong personal inclination toward Islam; it may well be multi-factorial.

But men seem to have this distorted sense that hijab equals holy. Some savvy families have latched on to the concept of market economics; knowing that the demand for hijab wearing girls seems higher attempts are made to increase market value by adorning the hijab. “I had to kick out my hijabi roommate because she wanted to bring her boyfriend to sleep over every third night when I was on call” said a disgusted young physician, adding that the hijab served as a great cover for the deep affectionate impressions he left on her neck.

Another manifestation of market economics melding with entrenched societal tradition is the effort to regain what has been lost. While the furious kill the one that stains their honor, other parents take no chances in ensuring that the necessary stain does occur on the wedding night and their daughter is not sent packing for promiscuity. Plastic surgeons in Egypt and Europe have been doing hymen reconstructions for young Muslim women for a while now.

Jamal Badawi repeatedly challenges Islamophobes to show to him which chapter or verse in the Quran speaks of 72 virgins promised in heaven for violent jihad. And yet out of context and weak Hadiths superimposed on tales of Western hegemony and imperialism are continually used to brainwash teenagers to make an explosive exit taking many with them.

And fair is fair. Deeply conservative and sexually uninitiated men wishing to marry their own kind should have every right to. But households where sons can come home at any hour, alcohol and drug use is no issue, premarital sex is considered grooming but daughters are monitored and cloistered, the expectation to marry a virgin half the man’s age is beyond reprehensible.

The most vital piece is educational and economic empowerment of women. Women must stop this cycle of abuse that they perpetuate against their own gender. The birth of a son is hailed and he is given preference in food, education and favors. These same women become economically and psychologically insecure mothers-in-law and generate horrific abuse toward the poor woman that sonny boy gets married to. And that daughter-in-law, herself marginally educated and disfavored, does the same to her daughters. And the cycle of abuse and disempowerment goes on.

“Say to the believing men and women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty” says Surah Nur (24:30, 24:31). Note that the exhortation is to both men and women-not to women alone.

Testosterone-infused patriarchs have knowingly and unconsciously vilified Islam and misinterpreted it to satisfy their virginity-obsessed lusts. To save family units, and indeed the world, a strong swift swipe must be made against the steel-webs of the mind. Either we accept promiscuity in our wives, daughters and daughters-in-law or work toward the simple standard of gender equity, spiritual and physical modesty. Either way, what’s good for the goose must be good for the gander.

Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist. She can be reached at

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Surging suicides in Pakistan

VIEW: Surging suicides in Pakistan —Dr Mahjabeen Islam

It is true that there have always been suicides and always will be, in any society. But to relegate it all to mental illness in current day Pakistan is representative of the mental insulation that typifies any party that acquires power
Fauzia Wahab, the PPP information secretary, and her government are fast becoming the Pakistani versions of Marie Antoinette. The Queen of Louis XVI of France, when told that the population could not afford bread, is reported to have said, “Then let them eat cake!”

Suicides are surging in Pakistan and now there is an increase in murder-suicides. Surviving relatives detail their financial desperation or crushing debt. And when fathers, like the rickshaw driver, poison their entire family and then kill themselves, it seems to take the whole nation’s breath away. The many stories are essentially the same, the characters and details a bit different. The refrain is invariably poverty and the frank inability to feed, clothe and shelter a family.

But Ms Wahab’s take is different. When asked about this issue, she felt that it was related to “despondency, mental illness and the media glorifying suicides”. She went on to say that “these people need to understand that there is no namaz-e-janaza for the one who commits suicide, that suicide is haram and that suicide is cowardice!”

This is a classic case of mental insulation; how can one live, drive, watch and hear and still not sense the screams of desperation of a populace? The poor kismet that I have of living thousands of miles away and just watching the news, even I can sense the pervasive economic desperation in Pakistan. It is adding insult to injury for the many dead of so many households that the powerful in Pakistan speak in such contemptuous terms of such a grave situation and offer no solutions except finger-wagging admonition.

The Quran does say in Surah Isra and Anam (17:31, 6:151), “Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you: verily the killing of them is a great sin.” In the vicissitudes of life though, the most comforting is Surah Zumar (39:53): “Do not feel disconnected from the Mercy of God, for God is Oft-forgiving, Most-Merciful.”

And yet, to understand this sad scourge of suicides, one must understand that it is not abrupt but rather very slowly sequential. The onset of trouble is with a situational depression, precipitated in this case by economic burdens. The person tries to deal with it and if there is relief, the situational depression resolves. If there is none, the person’s depression progresses, thought processes start to fuzz out and major depression sets in. The hallmark of major depression is suicidal ideation.

It is only in the very early parts of a person’s emotional decline that they are able to understand and value the importance of Quranic injunctions and societal condemnation. After major depression sets in, the decline begins so precipitously that unless there is immediate removal of the precipitating factor as well as medical treatment of the depression, the person is liable to proceed down the path of suicide.

The actual rate of suicides in Pakistan is not available or accurate for suicides are not always reported due to the attendant shame. It is true that there have always been suicides and always will be, in any society. But to relegate it all to mental illness in current day Pakistan is representative of the mental insulation that typifies any party that acquires power. I have named it the ‘Kursi Syndrome’ in past articles; even if a Sufi acquired power in Pakistan they would become arrogant, delusional and disconnected from the very people that elected them.

Major depression, or like Ms Wahab puts it, “despondency”, is an equal opportunity disease. If, in their Marie Antoinette supercilious arrogance, the ruling elite seriously believes that they are somehow inured to the ravages of depression, or the turning of fortune, a reality check is immediately in order. It would be the ultimate irony if, God forbid, one of them had to be declined for a namaz-e-janaza.

The insensitivity of calling such a tremendous societal tragedy an act of “cowardice” is beyond my ability to condemn adequately, especially when the government has devoted more money to the war against terror than economic and educational uplift.

The dichotomy of the ultra-right in the face of these suicides is also sad. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and other similar groups brainwash teenagers to commit suicide, convincing them with perverse and unfounded logic of reward in the afterlife. In Islam, a male is classified as an adult when he comes of age biologically and a woman when she menstruates; and both at adulthood become responsible for their actions. “Killing one person is as if he has killed all of humanity,” (Surah Maidah 5:32) says in the Quran rather directly. And regardless of the brainwashing by men who themselves stay away from suicide vests, the young perpetrators of these heinous crimes are in full control of their mental faculties.

The only individuals who are exempted from accounting for their five daily prayers are the insane and mentally challenged. When a person has crossed over from the blues to major depression with psychosis, they would not be considered mentally competent in a worldly court of law. So what is one to think of the Oft-Forgiving and Most-Merciful?

Ijtihad, or re-interpretation of Islam in the light of modern knowledge, is dead. It is no wonder that religious scholars in Pakistan do not have the vaguest clue of what depression is except 'a weakness of faith’. The government gives monetary support to families of murder-suicides. Should not this monetary help have arrived sooner?

Rapid and effective economic and health relief needs to be provided to the people of Pakistan. Suicides as a whole are preventable and those based on financial desperation, completely so. Food, clothing, shelter, education and health are basic rights and need to be provided urgently and across the board. Human rights activist Tahira Abdullah said rather forebodingly: “Some of the hungry are committing suicide now. The government needs to fear the day when the rest of the hungry come onto the streets and demand justice.”

Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist with a practice in Toledo Ohio. She can be reached at

Monday, June 28, 2010

A gun slinging nation

VIEW: A gun-slinging nation —Dr Mahjabeen Islam
Friday, June 25, 2010

When a government is entirely incapable of providing security to its citizens, it takes up arms to protect itself, and when the going gets tough those arms are used

Pakistanis have developed a markedly predatory character, on an individual, community and national level. Democracy is neonatal yet, and as scores are not settled in the ballot box, bullets are so much more efficient it seems.

We do not have an effective population control programme and it seems to me that people at large know this for they are doing their bit in subscribing to the Malthusian theory of population. Political economist Thomas Malthus theorised that population growth is stemmed by famine, disease and natural disasters. Taking the law into their own hands and gunning down tens to hundreds at a time, Pakistanis have added predatory practices to the Malthusian theory.

Listening to the news, especially anything related to Pakistan, is an exercise in adrenaline surges. Rarely does a day go by that some sort of violence does not occur on a significant scale in Pakistan. On individual levels, one hears of revenge killings or the calm motorcycle murders in Karachi in which one or two walk into a medical clinic, empty their revolvers into a doctor’s head, jump back on the motorcycle and vaporise into the crowd.

Assault rifles are used when vindictive families clash and, after all is said and shot, dozens lie dead on both sides. And, of course, the ever-present sword of Damocles, terrorism, in which suicide vests, combined with assault weapons, wreak havoc in one part of the country or another.

There was a time when one saw rifles slung on the shoulders of soldiers. With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, tanks on street corners of Pakistani cities became commonplace and Kalashnikovs proliferated on the shoulders of chowkidars. And now it is not a status symbol to have rifle-wielding guards. Pakistanis feel that it is as necessary, perhaps, as food and water.

With poor governance, rampant corruption, a collapsing economy and an extremely high-strung nation, the chicken-or-the-egg theory applies. When a government is entirely incapable of providing security to its citizens, it takes up arms to protect itself, and when the going gets tough those arms are used. And now that the population is armed to the teeth, disarming it is going to be a mammoth project and one that the government is not only unprepared to undertake, it seems to see no need to do it.

This mind-boggling disinterest on the part of the government is borne out by a de-weaponising plan that is as ineffective as the redundancy in which it is described. This is not a time for bureaucratic retardation and lines and points of methods and plans, none of which have even been given semblance of shape.

Pakistan’s National Report on the Implementation of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), June 2010, submitted to the UN by the interior ministry, states under the heading ‘Legal, regulatory and administrative framework’, in minuscule part:

“Production, import, export, transit and transfer of all weapons, including SALW, is strictly regulated under law. The laws and regulations are kept under constant review in order to ensure their relevance to new developments.

A very well defined and effective national system of export, import or authorisation of SALW exists in the country. Production of weapons for export is totally government controlled and falls under the purview of a specialised ministry, i.e. the ministry of defence.”

This is just a sample of the government’s tall claims and one wonders what the author was smoking while writing it, knowing of course that perverse corruption and unbridled power serve as the opium of the government for it to be so out of touch with the ground realities.

While winding up the budget debate in parliament, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh said that ministers with six cars ought to be ashamed. Though he got desk-rapping applause for this, Speaker Fehmida Mirza appeared markedly uncomfortable and one wonders with what conscience parliamentarians applaud when many probably hit the six-car mark with ease.

SALW in Pakistan are produced firstly by state-owned enterprise, second by private manufacturers who operate under state license and regulation and, lastly, the Darra Adam Khel/Bara gun cottage industry, which is not under any state supervision. Weapons manufactured in Darra Adam Khel and Landi Kotal closely mimic the original, be they AK-47s or M-16s with apparently only the weight of the gun setting it apart from the lighter-weight original. The gunsmiths in Darra Adam Khel manufacture guns hidden in ballpoint pens and walking sticks as well!

Production and availability are not the problem anymore; proliferation is vast and reaches all segments of society. The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf website makes an effective suggestion about tracking gun-ownership by linking it to the NADRA locator. But that time has now sadly passed and probably has future importance when only very limited security agencies should be allowed to possess weapons.

The urgent need of the hour is to create a simple, viable and rapidly effective programme to disarm the civilian population. All arms of the government, the executive, legislature and judiciary must get on the same page now. Immediate brainstorming sessions must be held at all levels to develop and execute a plan that disarms and, at the same time, provides effective security to the population. This is certainly easier said than done, but it must be done or else our fall threatens to be precipitous and collectively fatal.

Prosecution for gun-ownership and uniform application of punishment should be announced, dependable and harsh. Only the police and armed forces need to possess weapons.

Presidential and prime ministerial bulletproof limousines and their security details could feed and clothe entire villages with ease. They also belie the hoarse screams of, “The day of death is fixed, that is our faith, and we do not fear death.”

There must be an equalisation of yardsticks. We cannot apply one to the widowed teacher who walks warily to school, wrapped in layers in the searing heat to avoid leering male eyes and another to the air-conditioned vroom of ministers with their fake degrees.

In a recent television discussion, commentator Javed Jabbar calmly spoke of the inevitable, which according to him was a peaceful or violent revolution. “Peaceful revolution is the better way but the way things are going, we are now walking towards the violent one,” he contended. I dread to think what would happen if civilian guns turned on their perceived oppressors. So let us de-ostrich ourselves and de-weaponise the citizenry now; maybe we can keep that inevitable change a peaceful one.

Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist with a practice in Toledo, Ohio. She can be reached at

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The continual killing of physicians

VIEW: The continual killing of physicians —Dr Mahjabeen Islam
Friday June 18, 2010

There is something seriously wrong with a society that harasses those who stand for justice. If I protest the killing of Ahmedis, then I am labelled as one. And now watch me metamorphose into a Shia
What do you do with a nation that has been killing its physicians for the last 10 years? Not in the name of vigilantism and avenging malpractice or the egregious deaths of patients but for insane ideologies that fault a physician for being Shia. Or worse: Ahmedi.

The spectrum of consent is vast: on the one end are those who do not know or care and on the other those who actively orchestrate the targeted murders. And the government versus the people ping-pong continues. No photo-ops are sacrificed and the promises are nauseating in their emptiness.

It all began 25 years ago as extremism, a la Ziaul Haq, permeated the Pakistani psyche. When slowly but surely the Arabisation of Pakistan began. When we found it blasphemous to say Khuda hafiz and substituted it with Allah hafiz. When the colourful and totally modest shalwar-kameez-dupatta combo had to be substituted with the austere, frequently grey or brown, jilbab-hijab-niqab trio. Harassment of Shias, and especially Shia physicians, had begun, and then, as now, the government had better things to do.

About 80 doctors were murdered in a crescendo of target killing in 2000, and the majority were Shias. Many worked in the underserved and overpopulated areas of Karachi. It seems to me that there may not have been a subsequent reprieve, just an exodus of Shia physicians.

Ahmedi is, of course, almost an expletive in Pakistan. In the recent past, in Punjab, Ahmedi physicians have been murdered in broad daylight. And, for all the legal recourse that the return of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry allegedly brought, no suo motus occurred, no one was apprehended and no trials were set.

Pakistan was built on the doctrine of Islam, an ideology that is based most fundamentally on justice. There is something seriously wrong with a society that harasses those who stand for justice. If I protest the killing of Ahmedis, then I am labelled as one. And now watch me metamorphose into a Shia.

The second wave of target killings is sadly now. There have been days in which six have been killed. A press release of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) on June 8, 2010 is very telling.

“A meeting was held at PMA House, Karachi, which was attended by CCPO Mr Waseem Ahmed, Mr Raja Umer Khattak, SSP Investigation, senior leadership of PMA, doctors of the city, members of the PMA Karachi, PMA Centre and Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA). The CCPO informed the doctors that the police department knew which groups were involved in the killings and the people behind the killers. He further said that he and his men were going to apprehend them in the next 24hours. He further committed that if he were unable to protect the lives of the citizens and the doctors he would proudly resign from the post and go home.

“He elaborated in detail the motives of these target killings and the proliferation of unlicensed arms in the city. Mentioning this, he said every day more than 10 search arrests are made but due to pressure and ill implementation of specific laws such criminals go free, though he assured that despite all this he would deliver positive results soon.

“In his statement, Dr Idrees Adhi, the President PMA, was agitated and saddened on the apathy of government officials. He added that there are so many doctors in the government holding important portfolios, for example, the governor of Sindh, interior minister and health minister of Sindh but none of them had taken notice of the situation and issued a statement in this regard.”

Now, for the CCPO Mr Waseem Ahmed to make brazen statements such as having prior knowledge of the criminals and the inability to apprehend them due to ‘pressure’ baffles the mind and defies response. Considering the continuance of the murders and his lofty promises, it seems it is resignation time.

In this meeting to protest the repeated murders of physicians, it is to be noted, though euphemistically omitted in the press release, that all 20 doctors participated. The fear and panic that grips the nation has permeated physician minds and the “discretion is the better part of valour” paranoid copout has taken hold.

Governor Ishratul Ibad and Dr Farooq Sattar, in a meeting with President Zardari, appeared appropriately grim. Cocooned in his mansions and Mercedes, Mr Zardari smiled and smiled. Is a smile his version of the infamous Pakistani prescription of ‘sub theek ho jaye ga’?

Thirty-year-old Dr Babar Mannan was working in Hussaini Health Home in the Irani Camp locality of Orangi Town when two young men barged in and emptied their guns on him. In another recent episode, motorbike gunmen intercepted Dr Haider Abbas near Metroville III, killing him on the spot. In the same wave of madness, Dr Junaid Shakir and Dr Hasan Haider were killed in New Karachi and Railway Colony respectively.

Sad, and seemingly powerless, physicians on the Dow Medical College alumni list mourn the victims. Dr Tariq Chundrigar writes poignantly: “A childhood friend of mine used to run a dental clinic in Nazimabad. He shared the clinic with a GP. This tireless, never out of temper gentleman had a following of patients that warmed one’s heart. One day, in 1989, someone walked into the GP’s clinic, pretending to be a doctor, put a gun to his head and shot him twice. And calmly walked out, to a waiting motorcycle, and rode off. Closer to home and heart, I am sure you all remember Raza Jafri. A more brilliant mind I have not seen. I spoke to a fellow surgeon and was shocked when he told me that he actually identified Raza’s remains on the stretcher in a small private hospital in Gulshan. This was late 2000.”

The Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) is also busy preparing for its summer extravaganza. No time for condemnations.

The US constitution guarantees the right to bear arms; Pakistan’s does not. De-weaponisation must be immediate, without ifs, ands, buts, smiles and promises. Perhaps the Supreme Court needs to step in for a government that is as usual ineffective, unwilling and incapable of protecting its citizens.

Pakistan’s literacy rate is abysmal as it is. And no society is in a position to destroy its greatest asset: intellectual capital.

Mahjabeen Islam is a columnist, family physician and addictionist with a practice in Toledo, Ohio. She can be reached at\06\18\story_18-6-2010_pg3_3