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