Friday, December 2, 2011

Candidates and closet skeletons

Republicans in America have been raked over the coals these past few months; the clowning on the presidential-hopefuls stage would make even a Democrat cringe.

And the gaffes of the wannabes in the Pakistani paradigm are no different, except that the clowning there seems to include the prominent of all the parties.

Betrayed by Bill Clinton’s private adventures in the White House, America seemed to have gone on overdrive to redefine its moral compass. Fairly elected or not, George W. Bush ruled for eight years with misadventures more grave, numerous and enduring than this article could accommodate. The personal life of any presidential candidate or many a politician for that matter has become as easily examinable as their tax-returns.

In a debate Texas Gov. Rick Perry listed three departments that he would do away with but for the life of him, in the interminable silence of a waiting national audience could not remember the name of the Department of Energy. On another note he thunderously said that the first order of business if he were to become president would be the termination of aid to all other countries. This time, with greater alacrity than the amnesic crisis though, he stuttered “except Israel”. For in the minds of all presidential hopefuls there is no crossing the Israeli lobby.

History can be a pain, but I’d brush up on it if I were aspiring to lead the United States. Republican presidential hopeful Michelle Bachman stated that “The Founding Fathers, men like John Quincy Adams, did not rest till slavery was extinguished in this country”. As a matter of embarrassing fact John Quincy Adams died in 1848; slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution after the American Civil War ended in 1865.

Her worst faux-pas, by far, is while commenting on the UK closing its embassy in Iran. She says if she were president she would close the US embassy in Iran as well. The ouch is that the US has not had an embassy since the hostage crisis in Iran in 1980.

But self-named “Harmanator” Cain takes the cake. Again and again. He would not have a Muslim in his cabinet because a Muslim friend that he trusts told him that most American Muslims were extremists. Asked about Libya he said that the Taliban was trying to get a control of the government; unaware that they only roil Afghanistan and Pakistan, only a continent away.

His intense and reflexive prejudice is difficult to digest as he must have ancestors that suffered dehumanizing segregation and whose woeful stories make up legend that communities absorb into their DNA. He encountered oncologist Dr. Abdullah during his prostate cancer treatment and was markedly disturbed at the prospect of being treated by him. Cheerily, the nurse announced that Dr. Abdullah was Christian. Cain was hugely relieved.

However geographically and factually challenged as the Republican hopefuls may be, casting perhaps a much needed eye on the American education system, it is not their gaffes that get people mad; it’s the lies and the denials. Four women have come forth with stories of a sexual nature involving Herman Cain and even though two of them were paid compensation, Cain is adamantly denying the charges. The death-knell to Cain’s campaign though will probably be the 13-year affair that he had with Ginger White right until early November and announcing his candidacy.

Speaking of Whites, leadership fervor in Pakistan is now focused on Imran Khan. No one quite predicted his popularity as displayed in the massive Minar-e-Pakistan rally in Lahore. The PML (N) has been caught most flat-footed and its attempts to diminish Imran Khan end up being entertaining. That people from all over the world are trying to be part of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has now left the PML(N) primarily and the PPP secondarily, whose indignation is hampered by their steadily slipping hold on power, to mount a character assault. Or an attack on his book, paragraphs of which in a boisterous TV talk show can be easily taken out of context.

Ms. Sita White is in Imran Khan’s past. He did marry a Jewish woman and does have a British politician as a former brother-in-law. He could despise feudalism and be less chauvinistic. And yet one wonders, both in the US and in Pakistan-are the people to elect the Pope for president or the best that the nation has on offer at the current time?

Muslims love to judge one another and that is what politicians prey on. That an overwhelming majority of common-folk in Pakistan are done with Zardari is incontrovertible. That “Zardari” is now a slur in Pakistan speaks for itself. The intoxicating Pakistan’s “Kursi Syndrome”(the ruler’s chair syndrome), that I have written about in the past, inherently involves being killed off or kicked out. It is simultaneously delusional and utopian to imagine a graceful exit for the Zardari-Gilani duo.

Is unprecedented corruption by the Zardari-Gilani clan as well as the not-too-far-behind mega-wealth of the Sharifs more desirable than the past physical indiscretions of Imran Khan? Are we giving our daughter’s hand in marriage to these men or considering their suitability to lead a nation that is at the brink of collapse and endures chaos of numerous hues on a daily basis?

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich will most likely compete for the Republican nomination. Romney is dogged by flip-flopping on issues and being Mormon. Gingrich though astute will suffer his relationship indiscretions baggage. The candidate that rightfully deserves the nomination is Dr. Ron Paul. But with his take on The Patriotic Act being unpatriotic and similar well thought out but against-the-herd views, the chances of being front-runner are slim to none.

Predicting the future in Pakistan is akin to astrology. Events unfold at lightning speed and change the scene completely. Zulfiqar Mirza credits General Kayani for the continuance of democracy in Pakistan. More than normally boisterous and disorganized, its Pakistani version is still the best for Pakistan. For its continuance it is vital to get out the vote and not just scream in mega meetings. Pakistanis must mature in the democratic process and evaluate the candidates on their leadership credentials and ability to yank Pakistan out of its ever-deepening morass. Not whether they would be good brothers-in-law.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. She can be reached at mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Haunting, bold Bol

A prerequisite before enjoying Bol is an open mind. But even for the lead-lined mind of the zealot, just the sensory input of the film could break a steel-web or two. And staunch liberals might feel whiplashed at times as well.

Director Shoaib Mansoor insists that we talk. All that he brilliantly directs happens rampantly, but Pakistanis know not to talk about it. Our taboo issues are learned as if by rote and almost every issue raised in the film is where angels fear to tread.

The reviews were so wonderful and most films disappoint, for a movie, like life, is really all a matter of expectation. Not Bol. It is amazing that one film could mirror Pakistani society and tackle taboo issues so successfully. The art and savvy of the film is not its plot, for most of it is easy to predict; it is the depth, the dialogue and deep heartache that the lives of the characters create within you that makes you want to see it again so that you can savor what you surely missed the first time around.

While Pakistan is one of the few nations of the world that recognizes transvestites as a third gender, their ridicule is a given. Theirs is a mold that was predominantly created by society and has unfortunately continued to be filled and characterized today the way it was centuries ago. Recognition as a third gender is present in the law, but again like all things in Pakistan the law is useful only when cases of murder and gross usurpation of rights have to be fought in court. Societal bias and ridicule have not changed an iota and this is addressed very successfully in the film. When a child with gender confusion is born in a Pakistani family, hell does break loose. And this is the most heart-rending part of the film. In a single sentence of a single character the concepts of cross-dressing and homosexuality are challenged. Taking umbrage of religion, Pakistanis have stolidly ascribed the issues of cross-dressing and homosexuality to the environment; the film shatters this.

Patriarchy, intimidation and the preferential treatment scooped up by men is shown even in the small touches of the father getting mosquito net protection and the larger portion of food, but no one else, for the rest of the family is all women. Deprivation of education by the father and then ridicule for illiteracy is the typical double standard of numerous households. The practice of palming off endless daughters to any Tom, Dick or Harry and feeling the burden when the bad decision returns in the form of a divorce or undereducated or illiterate girls waiting a lifetime for Prince Charming is painful to see.

Hot-button issues of ethnicity and sectarianism take you on another roller-coaster ride. And Bol is an equal opportunity employer. If you feel embarrassed for the crudeness of Punjabi behavior, don’t despair, for the arrogance and superficial sophistication of Delhi-wallas is pitiable. If Shias are seen to be cultural Muslims, one sees Sunnis as blinded and without perspective.

Human life has little or no value in Pakistan. And Bol is graphic about this. We are more concerned with honor and societal respect than simply “the milk of human kindness”. And we are willing to sacrifice, in the literal sense of the word, a whole heck of a lot for ratings of friends and family. “Loag kya kahein gey” (what will people say) might as well be “kishwar-e-haseen shad bad”(happy be the bounteous realm).

The father’s cronies are unmoved when he says that he will kill his daughter or she will kill him one day. He only grabs their attention when he says that she questions Hadith.

Islam stands up to harsh inquiry and only those that understand a bit more than its basics don’t get hot and bothered by seemingly pointed questions. The logical inquiry of a young mind which is totally on point and is premised on the “dua and dawa” (prayer and medicine/action) concept bother the father endlessly, for his is not blind faith, but a dead one. Islam promotes inquiry and many a verse in the Quran asks you to wonder, challenges you to seek and learn.

That women perpetuate the exploitation of women is also well illustrated in the film. And the harsh and abusive circumstances that many families are living in day in and day out make you count your blessings.

For days Bol haunts you. You talk about it ad infinitum only to realize that everyone is not a fan. “We should make films that give a better image of Pakistan” said a friend. Is an image more important or the reality I asked? But ours is a society steeped in veneers. The veneer of a spotless drawing room but filthy kitchens and filthier bathrooms. Ours is a “sub theek ho jaye ga” society. Colonialism has not left us; we are more concerned about what is thought of us than righting our ills.

“The movie is very stressful” said another. Really? And Pakistan is not? Terrorism and corruption ridden, bursting with an uncontrolled population we should still put our collective head in the proverbial sand and make those movies in which they prance around in the grass singing love songs.

Free will and predetermination are also discussed. And the widespread attitude of receiving without lifting a finger and the raging confusion of submission to God’s will meaning to just be a puppet that perpetually procreates. Ironically this puppet-like submission does not come with an acceptance of God’s will when He showers a household with daughters.

A painfully human and particularly Pakistani trait is sharply shown: to blame a person for the way they look, for their gender and for their sexual orientation.

Shoaib Mansoor’s films are reminiscent of the soul-searching films of Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal. And more; they are pointed and courageous and Bol puts you through an emotional vacuum cleaning, if you let it that is. And we must collectively let it; we must talk about these issues rather than cloistering them into a stench.

The theme that the film wants to promote is not understood sufficiently because it comes way late in the movie. All else that it wants to convey it shouts, it screams and it harmonizes in a beautiful but sad symphony.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. She can be reached at mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The US-Israeli no-win solution

President Obama performed beyond the expectations of his supporters; like a faithful wind-up toy. ‘Tis the season to be afraid of the reach and retribution of the Israeli lobby; after all the presidential election is right around the corner. Jewish writers have pointed out that Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, could not have done better. And like the consummate politician, Obama is counting on public memory to be ultra-short and forget his famous Cairo speech and others of the same content, in which he spoke convincingly of a two-state solution in the Middle East. Maybe he doesn’t expect the world to forget, as long as he’s re-elected, for integrity and justice don’t hold the key to victory; AIPAC, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, does. Obama threatened to veto the bid for Palestinian statehood if it came to the UN Security Council.

America worked feverishly to prevent Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ presentation of the statehood bid to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, with threats of aid cuts and more taxes by Israel.

In his speech afterward to the UN General Assembly, Mahmoud Abbas got a hero’s welcome. Repeated applause and wolf-whistles permeated the otherwise formal air, crowned with a standing ovation when he referenced a copy of the statehood bid. The American delegation looked grim and uncomfortable.

After Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to an eerily silent hall and called the UN a “theater of the absurd”. The Israeli delegation tried hard to applaud loudly, but had a solo run.

That only the United States, Canada, Israel and Botswana were against and 189 countries for Palestinian statehood, matters little to a self-steeped sole super-power and the always-arrogant Netanyahu.

Obama parroted Netanyahu in demanding that the Palestinians negotiate with Israel instead of going to the UN for a statehood bid. In protesting to him, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan read back to Obama, Obama’s own address to the UN a year previously in which he spoke of Palestinian statehood.

Negotiations between Israel and Palestine had broken off in 2010 as Jewish settlements had continued. Netanyahu’s demand now is that Israel be recognized by the Palestinians. The fact that in a two-state solution recognition is implicit shows the mala-fide that this is based on.

Mahmoud Abbas got a wonderful welcome on his return to Palestine even though some do not subscribe to the two-state solution and Hamas felt that the 1967 borders were not the acceptable bargaining limits. BDS or Boycott, Divest and Sanctions is a campaign that began in 2005 against Israel’s apartheid. It aims for a one-state solution in which Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel have full equality, ending of the occupation of all Arab land and dismantling of the Wall, and promoting the return of Palestinian refugees as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

It is not just the hegemony of Zionism but the steadily changing demographics in Israel that seriously threaten it, that make BDS more of a pipe-dream than ever. ABC’s Ben Knight in an article “Make no mistake, Israel’s existence is under threat” writes of how secular Jews pay taxes, serve in the army and have an average of two children per couple, while the ultra-orthodox don’t pay taxes, don’t defend Israel and have an average of eight children per couple. Ben Knight reports that there are three types of state-funded schools in Israel: regular schools, Arab-Israeli schools and ultra-orthodox religious schools. In 1960, Knight writes, only around 15 per cent of Israeli children were enrolled in religious or Arab schools. That figure is now around 50 per cent. In 30 years, it will be almost 80 per cent. That is a frightening statistic for the nation of Israel, he says.

Additionally, Ben Knight reports that the ultra-orthodox study the Bible all day, every day; no math or science. Funny that the report that some madrassahs in Pakistan do not teach math and science causes the West to go into self-righteous convulsions.

Ben Knight sums it up thus: “if the figures are to be believed, in less than 30 years, Israel will have a population where the majority either can't, or won't join the workforce – putting an increasing, and impossible burden on the secular minority to pay the taxes and serve in the army.” Knight claims that the Palestinian issue aside, “Israel's demographic time bomb is still ticking away.”

However much of a blind eye the Israeli government may have turned to this ticking demographic time bomb, it is entirely impossible that it will entertain a one-state solution.

However divided the opinion maybe regarding the best solution for the Palestinians, this much crystallized in the recent UN General Assembly session. That America’s first black president disrespected the blood, sweat and tears of his people, just sixty years ago, and unleashed apartheid on another. Though isolated, arrogant and blatantly unjust, Israel and its Zionist diaspora hold US presidential hopefuls, congressmen, politicians and the media in a death grip. That the Palestinians don’t get statehood or equal rights within the state of Israel; it is the typical heads I win, tails you lose philosophy.

A nation that was dehumanized by a Christian army in the horrors of the Holocaust, routinely murders and maims with American taxpayer funded Apache helicopters and Caterpillar bulldozers. No one “negotiated” with the Palestinians when they walked into their land and took it as their own. With the pathetic Republican presidential candidates on offer, Obama might win a second term. On the backs of Palestinians, not that he could care.

One day, some day there will be a land for the Palestinians. It takes time and wreaks havoc on the way, but justice like inevitability, surfaces.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. She can be reached at mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Owning Quran and the Hereafter

The mania and grandiosity of our politicians have hit heretofore unknown proportions. The power surge that they got from incredible wealth and owning armies of servants was bad enough; they seem to have transcended into the arrogance of owning religion.

Former Sind Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza does tell-all in and of itself was inflammatory; the repeated placement of the Quran on his head became a show-stopper. In the many anecdotal surveys since, he appears to have achieved his objective in that most people appear to accept the veracity of his claims.

During the press conference however I remember watching the Quran’s repeated trips from tabletop to head with alternating shock and chagrin. While God says in Surah Hashr (59:21): “If We had sent down this Qur'an upon a mountain, you would have seen it humbled and cleaved asunder from fear of Allah. And these examples We present to the people that perhaps they will give thought”, Zulfiqar Mirza, fire in his eyes, would raise it and lower it as though it were just about any old book. So caught up in his invective was he that many a time his left hand would do.

I am certain that it was not the Urdu or English translation that Zulfiqar Mirza was swearing upon but the Glorious Quran itself. God speaks repeatedly of its stature to the extent that in Surah Waqiah (56:77-82) He says: Indeed, it is a Quran, most honorable, in a Book well guarded, which none shall touch but those who are clean, a Revelation from the Lord of the Worlds, is it such a message that you would hold in light esteem?”

And from Zulfi-Leaks it was downhill all the way. After a two-week reprieve MQM’s Altaf Husain presented the “Many moods of Altaf Bhai” video-conference from London. My shock turned to horror as I saw the Quran, carelessly opened, waved in the air, its pages flying about and then plopped on his head despite claims that the Quran is not meant to be sworn on but read. One wonders whether Altaf Husain has read the Quran and how God describes its sanctity in it repeatedly.

The disrespect reached such serious levels that in the same press conference the man broke out into song and simulated dance, with our Holy Book lying in front of him. Does political self-defense make people entirely insane? What is that Urdu saying about drowning oneself in a handful of water? Any person in their right mind watching a replay of that video and seeing themselves behaving so shamefully and disrespectfully with the Quran lying carelessly in front of them should consider cyanide or the closest window.

As far as swearing on the Quran is concerned, scholars liken giving false testimony as one of the major sins in Islam akin to polytheism. This opinion is based on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stating that “testifying falsely is tantamount to polytheism” and quoting Surah Hajj (22:60) “therefore avoid the uncleanness of the idols and avoid false words” three times to support his statement.

In everything in life there is an initial reluctance, a breaking-in if you will. And after that you’re on oiled wheels as it were. And so it was with Zulfiqar Mirza. In television talk show after talk show, his inevitable companion was the Quran which did its usual head-to-table trips. So consumed was he with this new currency that he first persuaded and then almost physically insisted that the poor talk-show host place the Quran on his own head. If Pakistani cardiologists are not good enough for President Zardari, Zulfiqar Mirza has every rationale for rest, recreation and a psychiatric check at Brompton Hospital in England.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik bore Zulfiqar Mirza’s target practice with fortitude, that much must be said. And yet in all things Pakistani we never really reach rock bottom-the worst is always waiting. In a harried interview with reporters all around him Rehman Malik mightily claimed that he had not ordered the release of a single target killer. And if he had he said “may I not be able to recite the kalma at my death”. Whoa! Bargaining our eternity are we?

It is general Muslim belief, or fear, that faith can be so tenuous and Satan so ever-present that despite a righteous life, at the very end one could die a non-Muslim. Tomes and poems have been written on this fear, however irrational it may appear to the calm and spiritually placid. Belief in the Hereafter is an integral part of being Muslim (Surah Baqarah 2:62). To speak of its compromise with Rehman Malik’s casualness is also a mind jolt.

It has to be the corruption of absolute power. In a nation of mind-boggling poverty BMWs and Mercedes’ are used as official cars. It’s only the ever-widening gulf between the rich and poor in Pakistan and more so between the power-intoxicated politicians and the starving millions that make them look and sound psychotic.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Poor parenting and national looting

Reeling from the massive violence across Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron blamed pockets of society that had not only broken down but were “sick” and that “poor parenting” was responsible for the looting.

His diagnosis is painfully accurate; unfortunately the treatment cannot be surgically swift. For children are products of circumstance and training both in turn heavily dependent on economics and religion. And parents today are faced with infinitely greater challenges than their parents and grandparents were.

It was entirely liberating to realize that I was not the only one that grew up with visual discipline; robot-like I lived in fear of imploding as I followed the eye-bulging, frowning, or eye-brow raising of my mother. Essentially all of my generation has been on cruise control! And all my cohorts agree that this visual discipline is now an act of the past.

With parental commands or requests ours was a culture of yes. In families of today a parental request cannot be simple, it must be rationalized and negotiated and the response is also not simple but a debate. And somewhere along the way the hierarchy in the family unit has been lost. For reasons unclear to me the youth of today has tilted the balance of power in its favor, and bewildered parents struggle with varying grades of rebellion. How are robots supposed to deal with temper tantrums? Or with children demanding apologies from parents, or threatening to call the authorities with tales of abuse?

The Ten Commandments urge believers to “honor thy parents”. In Islam disobedience to parents falls in the category of a major sin, just under shirk or associating anyone with God and akin to murder and adultery.

The family is the basic structural unit of society and its cohesion and well-being is vital to society’s benefit at large. The violence in Britain has strong economic reasons as well: the deprivation of a particular segment of society has simmered for a long time and has now reached an explosive point.

The video footage of the looting really does tell the story of societal breakdown. One sees an injured youth bleeding profusely and two other young men coming to his aid. And as they purportedly help him they steal his wallet and other items from his backpack. Endless stories of shops emptied out and videos of gleeful youth parading the loot are shocking.

While poverty can be a game-changer, we are generally ambassadors of our families. And as far as looting goes we either saw our parents do it or did not listen to them when they tried to teach us good moral values. The plunder of Pakistan’s exchequer falls under the same premise-familial looting or personal failure.

Various methods are used to teach integrity and I remember a heart-warming story as a child that was repeated on many an occasion. Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani was leaving home and was given a vest lined with gold coins by his mother with the express advice to tell the truth under any and all circumstance. Sure enough he was held up by robbers and when asked about money duly reported the gold coins. Shocked by his candor the robbers spared his life and his coins.

Preserving the family unit and imbuing good moral values is heavily dependent on creation and maintenance of the hierarchy within the family. While Islam promotes shoora (consultation), democracy is a great idea and discussion is vital to the healthy resolution of issues, parents must be treated as parents and not buddies or worse, servants.

Whatever the packaging the bond of love between parents, especially mothers, and children cannot be negated. God takes the name Al-Rahman (The Beneficent) from rahm or the mother’s womb, underscoring the love that a mother feels so naturally for her child. There is a slow but steady erosion of this premise among Muslim families especially when points of contention or issues of discipline arise. The growing tendency to tie actions or history to this love makes discipline very problematic. For all the parent is trying to practice is the concept of “tough love” to institute sanity in chaos.

And where one wonders is the kind of love that Owais Qarni, one of the Prophet’s (PBUH) companion’s, felt for his mother? She asked him for water but by the time he got it she fell asleep; he stood by her bedside all night in case she awoke looking for it again. His treatment is the ultimate; the Quran recommends the basic in Al Isra (17:23) “Your Lord has decreed good treatment to parents, whether one or both of them reach old age with you, say not to them any word of contempt or repel them and address them in kind words”

Society cannot count on the chance that parents and children will get along. The larger onus, at least in Muslim societies lies with children and understanding the very distinct orders laid down in Islam. Regardless of the age of parents or the child, irrespective of the education of the parents, mindless of the wealth of the parents or the lack thereof, at the end of every issue parents enjoy a higher stature and must be obeyed.

The Imam of my mosque said it well: included in sabr-fi-ta’a (patience in religious practice) is patience with parents and remembering that after worshipping God is the treatment of parents.

If we want to avoid societal failure as seen in London then the current trend of contempt toward and equality with parents must stop and change to a culture of cohesion, an attitude of yes and a posture of humility.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. She can be reached at mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com

Friday, July 22, 2011

Grandiose paralysis

From individuals to institutions Pakistani credibility hangs near zero. One wonders whether the tall talk of its politicians, the disconnectedness of some media personalities and the false promises of its tailors have traveled to infect the parliament making it a democratic body in name, entirely paralyzed in action.

Karachi metamorphosed into a war-zone rapidly but Interior Minister Rahman Malik was all calm, smiles and praise for new Sind Home Minister Manzoor Hussain Wassan and former Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza. And insult to injury, went on to say that the authorities knew the identity of the criminals and would bring them to justice soon. When? Why the delay? Bob Dylan’s famous lines are searing: “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”

Gen. Musharraf was a great fan of image management and had no qualms owning up to it. He was a proponent of a shiny fa├žade regardless of inner rot to the point that he wished for Mukhtaran Mai’s gang rape case to be hushed up as it cast Pakistan in a bad light!

A prominent television anchor says in a booming voice advertising his show: “Pakistan cannot collapse, because Pakistanis love education!” On the face of it, it sounds great that Pakistanis love education and may well be true. And yet the abysmal literacy rate and the declining allocation in the budget for education do not bolster that bombastic statement.

On May 14, 2011 the Pakistan parliament passed a unanimous resolution condemning US drones and demanding the attacks stop or else Pakistan would be forced to restrict the transit facility to NATO. The very next day a drone attack occurred and many have since. Recent in this series was on July 12 in which 37 militants were killed and another on July 21 when four casualties are reported. The Parliament remains blissfully ignorant of its own ire

In March 2011 a top Pakistan military commander Major-General Ghayyur Mahmood spoke to a group of Pakistani reporters on a rare trip to Miran Shah, the administrative center of North Waziristan. He said that in information gathered by the military, most of those killed by the drones were hard-core militants, and the number of innocents killed was relatively low. The damning Wikileaks disclosure that P President Zardari does not consider the drone deaths of innocents as even collateral damage and Prime Minister Gilani’s assurance to the Americans to proceed with impunity; he would do the necessary token protests, further shatters confidence in the government’s sincerity.

And yet the primary issue is not the legitimacy or otherwise of American drones violating Pakistani sovereignty. It is the conglomeration of clowns that the Pakistani parliament has made of itself and the great insult to democracy that it is. Before the entire chest-thumping and indignant mode that it went into and passed the unanimous resolution, why didn’t the Foreign Office urgently and definitively brief the legislators? Perhaps some of the fury could have been stemmed and a condemnation could have been issued and not a consequence that could and would never be carried out.

Dictators such as Musharraf ousted themselves with their reality disconnect, which is fine. But to a nation that has yearned and fought hard for democracy, the role of its foundation, the parliament, should be to strengthen itself and not make it the laughing stock of the world. Pakistan’s government officials and statements provide endless humor internationally; we did not need the parliament to have joined the jokesters.

Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmad Mukhtar was interviewed about the $800 million US aid suspension to Pakistan and said that if the aid was cut, Pakistan would have to pull back in the Pak-Afghan border and this would undermine efforts against the Al-Qaida and Taliban. The US Congress debates the suspension of aid little moved by Mukhtar’s threat.

Another one in the same interview is about Zawahiri being in the tribal areas to which he quickly says that he hoped America would not repeat the mistakes that it made with the Osama bin Laden raid. Mistakes? America thinks it did the most heroic thing ever getting Terrorist #1 out of Kakul Military Academy’s backyard. An encore would be in the realm of probability.

This hollow grandiosity is part of our culture of corruption-a lackadaisical aap kal ajaiye-sub theek ho jaiye ga (please come tomorrow-everything will be alright) syndrome. Is it severe economic hardship and a jungle-mentality that reigns currently that has changed our cultural norm to self-preservation at all costs? Honesty, discipline and a work ethic are created and promoted in the family unit. Are our families starving or on the brink to the point that honesty is a luxury, hypocrisy a necessity and only the fittest survive? For clearly while people become increasingly desperate for food, gas, petrol, electricity, education and basic health care our rulers continue to state the stupid, commit the criminal and decimate the democracy that we desperately need to strengthen with processes and institution building.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Profiling and personal fatwas

We’re an opinionated lot that much is certain. But when criticism rolls onto censure and soon enough into the personal fatwa machine, it becomes yet another poor prognostic sign for Pakistan.

Muslim-Americans fume at being profiled and singled out for scrutiny at airports but happily join the melee of labeling people based on appearances. A hijabi is purity incarnate and only the morally weak wear shorts don’t you know?

Prejudices are transmitted and bolstered by parents and families and a good number of unfortunate people go through life not examining the outlandish, leave alone that they sound like their grandmothers. I grew up at a time when PIA chose air-hostesses based on height, weight and good looks. And since Pakistani actresses were frankly obese, my glamour ideal was a PIA air-hostess. The family was looking for a match for my uncle and someone suggested a pretty girl. My grandfather’s words hiss in my ears till today “absolutely not, she is an air-hostess!” And out went my nurtured dream of flying the skies.

I knew intuitively then and know definitely now that PIA air-hostesses endure sexual harassment because of my grandfather’s type of mindset and not for other salacious reasons. But I examined the bias that was fed me with chapatis every night. Many swallow it whole.

With welled-up tears a divorced friend asked me why it was that Pakistani men, most of them married, hit on her all the time. I wondered if it was her sleeveless outfits cut low to reveal a well-endowed cleavage. My hypothesis was Greek to her.

Not only do we presume and profile, we churn out fatwas at whim. Who would have thought that one needed intense schooling in the Quran, the sunnah, the hadith and fiqh to be able to be a mufti. Our informality knows no bounds; we brand people casually at parties, to their face, behind their back, on national television or else a session of parliament.

I have this terrible luck of running into the moral police at parties where I happen to be wearing a sari. Somehow that puts them in the frothing-at-the-mouth mode, made worse by the fact that their husbands are engaged in animated conversation with me. About nothing other than…….religion! The situation is made worse by a deferential introduction by husband to wife and as her eyes bore deep into my bone marrow she demands to know whether I have read the Quran. Surprise! I have read Maudoodi’s translation, I say, thinking that that would be an olive branch, better than Muhammad Asad or Yusuf Ali. But she’s underwhelmed and as another disapproving once-over burns my sari and ignites my hair she condescends into whether I had heard of amar bil maroof wa nahin anal munkar (promoting the good and forbidding evil). Furious at this and continued inane volleys I told them that the tragedy of Muslims was that they insisted on converting Muslims to Islam when in the Quran God says that those that believed in Him, the Day of Judgment and did good deeds, their reward was secure with God and they need not grieve (2:62). Indignantly she refuted the verse. I was trying to persuade her to be kind and take it in perspective; she had slotted me as wholly ignorant of religion. And what was she wearing: hijab, jilbab (long coat) and her daughter had a niqab on for good measure.

At this and another event I was told quite seriously that we must practice what we learn from Islam. I immediately felt a heathen in a sari. For a religion that means peace and promotes justice, these were angry, vicious people. A veiled fatwa was issued right then and there and I know behind my back if words could kill you wouldn’t be reading this.

Crowds are roused to riot on national television by pseudo-scholars like Amir Liaquat Husain and fanatics murder Ahmedis in grisly madness. Rana Sanaullah slanders Babar Awan in a parliamentary session for bribing judges for the clients he represents and goes on to call him “wajibul qatl” (one that deserves to be killed)

The intelligentsia makes up less than 2% of the population but holds Pakistan’s destiny in its hands. Blinded by bias, shuttered by ignorance and endangered by whimsical fatwas we catalyse Pakistan’s abysmal descent.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and free-lance columnist. mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Survival of the predators

The rapidly degenerating situation in Pakistan forces the mind to re-explore the reasons for its creation. While a tome could be written on opposing arguments there, Pakistan proves the Malthusian and Darwinian theories quite simply.

In the 1800s Rev. Thomas Malthus postulated that population growth eventually gets checked by famine and disease. Well before Pakistan eagerly joined the war on terror its health care was pathetic and it had no viable population control programs in place. Time was that Bangladesh’s population growth was the highest in the subcontinent but Pakistan holds that dubious distinction now. With that massive growth in population, the already poor infrastructure gave way further and what may have been enough to go around previously is grossly insufficient now. Interminable hours of load shedding and the shutting down of businesses lead to further economic hardship and skyrocketing infectious diseases in a land that was a-fester to start with.

It would not be cavalier to extrapolate that the multitude of cases of gastroenteritis and dehydration that may have survived in the past with broken resources will die with the absence of electricity, transportation and money.

Also in the 1800s Philosopher Herbert Spencer coined the term “survival of the fittest” from the phrase “natural selection” used by Charles Darwin when he wrote “On the Origin Of Species”. He gave it an economic connotation, different from the biologic one that Darwin wrote about.

Genetic mutations through the ages and mechanisms to survive are concepts that apply at a jungle and thereafter very basic human level. But to see that current day Pakistan embodies the concept of survival of the predators is heartbreaking.

Somewhere almost as though a large brush just painted over Pakistan, the ambience changed. It is not just each man for himself; it is now a seething, violent mindset that does not just want to ensure its own security, it knows only to do so by preying on others.

With general economic hardship and severe personal insecurity a generation of Pakistanis is growing up under the national diagnosis of PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. Families don’t know if loved ones will return from work or school, every family has one or more graphic tales of kidnapping and armed robbery to tell all while the sun is merciless and the night suffocates, as load shedding seems the only constant.

Perhaps the cause is severe financial hardship, maybe it is radicalization, it’s possible that it is Pakistani corruption at its worst, but there is now an element of callous violence in one incident after another. Unarmed Chechens in Kharotabad were pumped with bullets by the Pakistan Rangers and Frontier Constabulary in mind-boggling savagery. I cried at the video footage of the young man riddled with Rangers bullets and then left to bleed to death in Karachi.

From the urban to the rural the story is the same. In the remote village of Neelor Bala of the Haripur district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa middle aged Shahnaz bibi was stripped and paraded in the village for her son’s alleged affair with a neighbor’s wife. All by a jirga’s ruling. For days thereafter she lived, shamed, in the jungle, and though she is back she knows she shall forever be ostracized.

And in a veiled but worse murder of the millions by Pakistan’s super-elite is the padding of Swiss bank accounts, zero taxes to Pakistan, pandering for power and controlling the destiny of 185 million whose futures they have plundered. Is it me or has the political jockeying between Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif taken on a decidedly savage tone?

Saleem Shahzad and scores of other journalists paid with their lives for exposing the terrifying truth that perhaps our own in the armed forces have turned on Pakistan. The savagery that reigns in Pakistan today, despite the struggle for the supremacy of the law in the return of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, cannot be expected to deal with the origin of the issue and the placement of processes. Like a wildly charging lion it is devouring all that come in its way.

The treatment of a disease or the solution of an issue is only possible if there is first acceptance that it exists. Recounting our national savagery is not being a prophet of doom; it is the first step toward working toward a solution in a situation that has gone awfully wrong. Not understanding and accepting our issues is much like:
falsafi ko behes key andar khuda milta nahin
doar ko suljha raha par sira milta nahin’
(the philosopher does not find God in debate, fruitlessly he tries to untangle a knotted string but can’t find its end).
Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. She can be reached at mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com

Friday, June 3, 2011

Killing criticism

For the last few years the media has been the only effective opposition in Pakistan. The individuals that sit on the opposition benches in Parliament are corrupted and carry convoluted agendas raising their voices to wrest power rather than advance the democratic process.

The torture and death of the Asia Times Bureau Chief Syed Saleem Shahzad has cast what may be a mortal blow to the cachexia that is now Pakistan. Mainly for the murmurings that the ISI may be involved and an expose of the navy’s radicalisation. An unprecedented press release has been issued by the ISI which even threatens legal action against the media circus implicating it, but there is much that is troubling here and too much that stubbornly sticks.

Shahzad was an intrepid journalist and had written a searing first-part to a tell-all article and a book “Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban; beyond bin Laden and 9/11”. In October 2010 he wrote in Asia Times Online that Pakistan had freed an Afghan Taliban commander. According to an email sent to Human Rights Watch, Shahzad was summoned to an ISI office and told to retract the story or release his sources. When he refused a veiled threat emerged: the ISI had arrested a terrorist who carried a hit-list; the ISI would let him know whether or not his name was on it.

The Taliban and Al-Qaeda are certainly a bunch of gun-toting wild-eyed fanatics and zero ethics are expected from them. And if everything pointed perfectly in their direction it would rest controversy and the broken Pakistani system could somehow hobble along. But circumstantial evidence implicates the state, whose love for us is romanticized to be that of a mother. In his May 27th article “Al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistan airstrike” Shahzad writes about the PNS Mehran attack. Many parts of the article reveal his incredible courage for he seems to court the killers: “Asia Times Online contacts confirm that the attackers were from Ilyas Kashmiri's 313 Brigade, the operational arm of al-Qaeda. Three attacks on navy buses in which at least nine people were killed last month were warning shots for navy officials to accept al-Qaeda's demands over the detained suspects.”

The article goes on to more whiplash: “The May 2 killing in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden spurred al-Qaeda groups into developing a consensus for the attack in Karachi, in part as revenge for the death of their leader and also to deal a blow to Pakistan's surveillance capacity against the Indian navy. The deeper underlying motive, though, was a reaction to massive internal crackdowns on al-Qaeda affiliates within the navy. Several weeks ago, naval intelligence traced an al-Qaeda cell operating inside several navy bases in Karachi, the country's largest city and key port.”

More explosively a senior navy official spoke to Shahzad on condition of anonymity: “It was clear the militants were receiving good inside information as they always knew where the suspects were being detained, indicating sizeable al-Qaeda infiltration within the navy's ranks….Everybody present agreed, and it was decided to open a line of communication with al-Qaeda…..The detainees were allowed to speak to their families and were well treated, but officials were desperate to interrogate them fully to get an idea of the strength of al-Qaeda's penetration. The militants were told that once interrogation was completed, the men would be discharged from the service and freed. Al-Qaeda rejected these terms and expressed its displeasure with the attacks on the navy buses in April.

These incidents pointed to more than the one al-Qaeda cell intelligence had tracked in the navy……insiders at PNS Mehran provided maps, pictures of different exit and entry routes taken in daylight and at night, the location of hangers and details of likely reaction from external security forces. As a result, the militants were able to enter the heavily guarded facility where one group targeted the aircraft, a second group took on the first strike force and a third finally escaped with the others providing covering fire. Those who stayed behind were killed.”

Shahzad paid with his life for the drastic revelation that we don’t just have Taliban sympathizers in the armed forces, our navy appears to be laced with Al-Qaeda itself.

Pakistan ranks 151 out of 178 countries in the press freedom index and 15 journalists have been killed since early 2010.

In the most dangerous place in the world the first reflex is to hibernate in face of all the threats that journalists, bloggers and writers get. Regardless of city/state of residence the Internet is able to remotely generate chills down many spines. And the treasure trove of threats and vulgarity that come via the cyber-monster can recreate those goose-bumps for a bit.

It takes a vile minority to infiltrate and destroy Pakistan. But we need a resounding chorus of protest that does not just condemn this barbarity but outs the extremists from every walk of life. Many have been martyred for the motherland, dying fearlessly in the way of the truth: Governor Salman Taseer, Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, journalist Wali Khan Babar’s names come to mind and almost invariably the murderers have not been brought to justice.

Saleem Shahzad’s criticism got him killed. Yet could his murderers kill millions of Pakistanis that protest extremism? The stakes just keep getting higher. There must be protest and action from every street corner in Pakistan against extremism. For the next victim is not a young and healthy Saleem Shahzad. It’s another young though frail and almost comatose Pakistan.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. She can be reached at mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com

Friday, May 27, 2011

Rapid effective solutions

We’ve been sleeping with the enemy, that much is incontrovertible. But getting the Pakistani nation to realize that we face imminent demise unless some emergent action is taken is like trying to get the deeply somnolent, nay comatose, national ostrich pulled from under the sand.

As though harboring Osama bin Laden for years in the comfort of a million dollar mansion in Abbottabad were not enough, we were invaded from within, by an enemy we pretend not to see. Strolling through the backfields of PNS Mehran, simply cutting the barbed wire, probably smiling at the unmanned guard posts and security cameras , first allegedly twelve, then supposedly six and now apparently only four militants held one of the world’s most well-trained armed forces at bay for eighteen hours. The Karachi sky lit up with the destruction of the two Orion PC-3 that just sat there in seeming wait for this invasion.
Initially the story went that two militants escaped, later this was denied. There appears sufficient circumstantial evidence to show that this was an inside-job.

As soon as the incident occurred all national military installations were placed on “high alert”. One wonders if they should not have been on eternal high alert after the bin Laden incident or the GHQ attack or since 9/11 for that matter-but that’s where our “sab theek ho jay ga” (everything will be alright) Pakistani mantra always comes in handy.

In the raucous debates over the Abbotabad and Karachi incidents the straw that might well break the camel’s back is being ignored: power and impending food riots. But the civil and military government seems totally inured to this. At least Ahmad Shuja Pasha offered to resign after the bin Laden incident. The Navy’s Noman Bashir does not even consider the invasion of the PNS Mehran a security lapse. Is he confirming that it was an inside job or were they jinn of some kind?

As much as the Mehran incident has broken the spirit of Pakistanis the world over and robbed them of the last shred of self-respect, Bashir audaciously travels in a sparkling white Rs. 7 million bullet proof BMW and on retirement gets two plots of land in a prestigious locality. All from the taxpayer that is currently contemplating suicide or selling her children or marrying his daughter to an octogenarian for bail-out money.

After four long days of the Mehran attack the civil and military leadership finally met, sans the Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar who was traipsing the US. Is this a PPP thing to travel when the country burns? Anyway, the resolution that came out of this plastic meeting was that the armed forces would work to prevent acts of terrorism. Excuse me? They weren’t doing that till now?

I condole the death of Hakim Ali Zardari but wonder why taxpayer money was spent on helicopters hovering over the funeral. As it is when the most ignominious and critical incidents in their rule occur, Asif Ali Zardari and Gilani leave the country for jaunts to France, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China etc. It is also a matter of record that neither of them provided any coherent statement to the people after the Abbotabad and Karachi incidents-the nation recognizes their corrupt incompetence, but for old-times’ sake, nay vote-times’ sake, we could have licked our wounds together.

There’s always a silver lining in each cloud; with the rapidity of a technical knock-out the nation has realized that the army had better stay in its barracks. They can’t do what they trained for so they should not be pulled into government. And on a sadder note: the incidents stole the romance the nation had for the army. The armed forces are just another facet of a fast degenerating nation: lackadaisical, undisciplined and clearly corrupt.

The metastatic cancer of extremism that has spread widely in Pakistan, the role of the United States in destabilizing and splitting Pakistan to get at its nuclear assets and reduce China’s regional and world influence and India’s eternal enmity should really be moot issues for those that really value Pakistan’s survival. Daily protests occur against the widespread lack of power. Factories and businesses are so widely affected that unemployment rises and a population threatened with scrambling for food can be brought to the precipice of starvation. Suddenly.

These are not problems that the current corrupt clueless government has even the distant ability to manage. First and foremost the Zardari-Gilani national joke must be retired. It is not Pakistani to leave volitionally and with grace. Thankfully the army is not an option. Sadly though the replacements on offer make one’s despair complete, and yet essentially anyone could outsmart the national embarrassment that the current government is.

The days when detailed twenty-point agendas and five year plans were made for Pakistan should be long gone. The current government must be replaced by a vote of no-confidence by the Parliament. The second and most important action agenda is the economy: it needs to be yanked out of its abyss and the population provided with basic needs. Third, house to house de-weaponization. We are not the United States where there is a right to bear arms. Carrying a weapon should be made heavily and immediately punishable. Fourth, a policy of exterminating domestic terrorism and radicalization as well as a cohesive and united face as far as the United States is concerned. Pakistan has suffered from a lack of historic continuity in terms of agreements made by past rulers with none of the details shared with successors. We have to rely on WikiLeaks to give us the scoop.

As a nation we have long looked at accountability as quasi-treason, especially when it is asked for from the armed forces. And thus in the sub theek ho jaye ga mantra we have swept everything under our now mountainous national carpet of shame. The prognosis is not guarded but grave. We seem to hurtling in free fall. Sincerity, alacrity and smartness can parachute us to survival. But in the face of our imbecile leaders and the enormity of our issues, crying, I brace myself.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Heading toward divorce

May 18, 2011

Caught sleeping on the job the Pakistan government has turned its machinery to bite the hand that feeds its face. Nations evolve and one would have thought that rousing nationalistic songs and hot-button phrases like “invasion of sovereignty” would have been dropped in favor of unvarnished facts. Time was that dictators spewed nonsense and one yearned for democracy and a wonderful array of elected legislators that would arm themselves with data and speak with accuracy and vote with conscience. But our kismet is crossed with parliamentarians that come with their own personal agendas.

The two things that galvanize Pakistanis of all hues are cricket and the kursi. Strange bedfellows and stranger sums of money exchange hands for both. It is in times of crisis that a person and a nation’s mettle are tested. A la Goebbels after the in-camera session of Parliament, the Information Minister stated that the ISI Chief had “surrendered” himself to Parliament. We’ve now taken to messing with the nation’s psyche. The parliamentarians got together and drew up a 12-point agenda the primary thrust of which was to stop the drones or else the NATO supply lines would be cut and to initiate a judicial inquiry commission with regard to the bin Laden fiasco.

Around the same time US Senator John Kerry visited Pakistan; and interestingly he roared in like a lion and left quite the lamb. For it seems that soon after the bin Laden fiasco American and Pakistani voices questioned their union in the fight against terrorism. The slur of infidelity seemed thrown around and both sides felt violated. $3.2 billion in aid screeched US congressmen and media, what is going on in Pakistan? In the depth of the night, in all of 40 minutes, with helicopters and Navy Seals, Osama and all multimedia files are gone, wondered the whiplashed Pakistanis.

The Pakistani media went on overdrive. Only a minuscule few honed in on the actual invasion of sovereignty that has occurred over the last quarter of a century in Pakistan and one that we have accepted with gratitude and smiles for this invasion came laced with money and religion. We welcomed Uzbeks, Chechens, Arabs, Afghans and more. It is alternately sad and stupid to realize that the real serpent that has permeated and become one with the fabric of our society is so completely ignored and like petulant children we are kicking and screaming at the United States.

Extremism is born and perpetuated by poverty and unemployment. The hungry, disenchanted teenager is much more likely to be ensnared by the charms and monetary temptations of the radicalized. And when the radicalized are your neighbors, your servants, your co-workers, your teachers or essentially anyone and you collapse your economy further, you simply guarantee extremism.

Ensconced in ultra-luxury Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has decided that the Punjab province shall refuse the American dole. While it is true that Pakistan has not accounted for its billions in aid appropriately and a good part of it has not made it to its intended purpose and has probably lined many a private pocket, it is factual that American aid is used for a large number of governmental and non-governmental educational, administrative and developmental projects. These projects will simply dry up as the aid does. Chucking charity is not as simple a choice as the ghairat (self-respect and pride) of Shahbaz Sharif might dictate.

Perhaps it was this Punjabi indignation or the graphic posters that protested in front of the in-camera parliamentary session that caught the eye of the Americans for now their tune is decidedly different. Kerry may have wagged his finger at Kayani behind closed doors but in public the story is conciliatory. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that this is not the time for the US to flex its muscles at Pakistan, rather it should withhold judgment. Senator Mitch McConnell says that disengaging with Pakistan now was not a good idea. And most surprising is the statement by House Speaker Richard Boehner who said that Pakistan was a real asset and had lost more troops and more individuals in the fight against terror than the US.

The American-Pakistan partnership has been one of those uncomfortable but necessary alliances for both parties. So analogous to human relationships when you realize with this gnawing deep inside that you share little now except an interwoven past and an inextricable convenience.

Our hypocrisy must stop: the drones fly from Pakistan’s airfields and we have given our express permission for this, our President does not even think the non-extremist civilian deaths are collateral damage. Regardless of American intelligence, drones do not rain down on Iran, Turkey or Malaysia. They don’t froth at the mouth about “national sovereignty” they protect it by simply refusing.

Our elected representatives and our people must realize that it is not the drones or national sovereignty or American aid that is the main issue. It is that termite of the extremist mindset that kills Muslims in mosques that has permeated our society and converted it into the rotten mess that it is in today. It will take a concerted effort at de-weaponizing house by house and legislators, civil society and the media to galvanize and work tirelessly for decades on a thought revolution to ensure the extermination of extremism and the preservation of Pakistan.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Of abdication, vacillation and decisions

Strange that it is France where our leaders abdicate to when Pakistan is either drowning in biblical proportion floods or frying in the greatest debacle after its 1971 division. While an entire populace sat stunned, betrayed and sleepless at the American Abbotabad strike, Prime Minister Gilani and a troupe of fifty luxuriated in the $800 a night Paris Intercontinental. Why did the Speaker of the House or the wives of the various officials need to go?

Is finding the World’s Most Wanted on Pakistani soil so much of an everyday occurrence that the Prime Minister seemed rested and his colleagues all smiles? After May 2nd America released a volley of information to the world. But Pakistan’s establishment seemed to have been given a paralytic. And when the silence did break it was nonsense that spewed forth and continues to. These are the people that we elected and the military and ISI that were once able to galvanize the nation with fiery speeches.

The insult to injury that Pakistan’s government, armed forces and ISI add to Pakistanis the world over is difficult to encapsulate in words. It would have been easy to vilify America or demonize India or abuse Israel, but when your own elected representatives and the armed forces that swelled you with pride and the intelligence agency you thought was superb are the ones that pretty much crucify Pakistan, hope all but evaporates. Is ghar ko aag lag gayi ghar key chiragh sey (this house was burned by its own candle).

The mealy-mouthed Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir is a smear on Pakistan’s Foreign Office. In a clear clash with Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Haqqani who repeatedly spoke of an inquiry, Bashir was content with a review. Leon Panetta was quoted as not sharing information with Pakistan as they would leak it to bin Laden and Bashir said that “we have the highest regard for Mr. Panetta”. Icing on the cake: “we realized that there was invasion of Pakistan’s airspace due to a ticker tape on the television”. This is not funny, only ignominious.

A statement on the website of the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement reads: “US helicopters entered Pakistani airspace making use of blind spots in the radar coverage due to hilly terrain. US helicopters’ undetected flight into Pakistan was also facilitated by the mountainous terrain, efficacious use of latest technology and ‘nap of the earth’ flying techniques.” So here’s the recipe, come invade us, tried and tested, it works!

The only credit that General Kayani gets is that he looked like a truck had just run him over. Interior Minister Rehman Malik shooed away reporters but had all kinds of time for the Saudi royals and Iran’s President Ahmadinejad to both of whom he paid a warm visit speaking with folded hands and deference. What of the millions that elected the PPP, don’t they deserve an answer or comfort, something? The Air Force Chief all but ripped off the scab that was barely beginning on the national psyche when he said that the radars on the western borders were not jammed they were off! And then that stealth technology was used and we couldn’t have detected them anyway. We really feel secure now.

But then it’s our fault isn’t it? We get the corrupt and the incompetent perhaps because we are damned as a people. Our own vacillation knows no bounds. The jihadists have woven their network into our society overtly and covertly, many a time with our permission. And now that our neighbor or servant has the philosophy and ability to hold us up at gunpoint or blow up our schools, we are really stuck. For within us are the likes of Amir Liaquat Hussain and the venom that they spew, and the television channels that they influence. Many pseudo-scholars like him have been successful in swaying the population by inciting hatred rather than promoting peace. On one such television channel the anchor spoke of bin Laden in the “unki” plural and respectful form and his daughter not as beyti but as his sahibzadi (honorable way of address). These are small cues but vital subliminal statements.

Pakistan remains a nation divided and is reaping the fruits of this deep division. The 6000 terrorist attacks and 30,000 innocent Pakistanis killed by fellow Pakistanis since 9/11 mean less to the population than the invasion of our sovereignty by the United States. We as a people need to understand, agree and unite on the premise that ridding our nation of terrorism can only happen with the help of the population. It must be de-weaponized and thought-controlled with regard to terrorism.

If bin Laden could have lived in Haripur and Abbotabad for nine years, under the nose of the Kakul Military Academy, what confidence should the nation have about the protection of its nuclear assets? Or is that what America is after?

Judicial commissions and closed sessions of Parliament are all delaying and diffusing techniques, crafted to gain political points. The “referendum” of the MQM is a misnomer, it is more of a survey and again serves to bide time. People who love Pakistan deeply are beginning to question its creation. This is not a time to create more bitterness and skepticism; sharp surgical action is needed to yank the nation out of its dark malaise. Prime Minister Gilani in an address to Parliament incredulously demanded several questions of the nation: what was the citizenship of bin Laden, what of the thousands dead in terrorist attacks, why has all this happened? Perhaps it was jet lag from French jaunts for even the Speaker of the House looked pained and confused as the Prime Minister seemed to be asking questions the country should be demanding of his elected administration.

Pakistanis are very slick at getting out of the worst pickles. Commissions and parliament sessions should be easy as pie. A no-confidence motion should be passed in the Parliament post-haste or a true referendum held on this one issue of resignation. And President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and ISI Chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha should gracefully resign. It’s generally three strikes or a grave violation and you’re out. This is as grave as it gets. Pakistan desperately needs a change at the helm. Immediately.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com

Monday, May 9, 2011

The two faces of Pakistan

This is a tough time to be Pakistani. Perhaps the humiliation and bewilderment of the average Pakistani can be analogized to the time when West Pakistan unleashed rape and murder on its eastern half and lost it. But those were not the days of the Internet revolution; propaganda whitewashed the gory details and West Pakistanis lived in ignorant bliss.

Osama bin Laden’s killing remains shrouded in mystery; the backpedalling of the American government is unsettling. And for Pakistanis across the world the initial eerie silence and the subsequent outlandish statements of the Pakistan government and the ISI add the last nail in our coffin of infamy.

The media had a heyday with reports of Bin Laden using his wife as a shield and all that connotes. After 24 hours there was a recant. President Obama seems very concerned about Muslim sentiment and the preference in Islam to bury as soon as possible. So with “Muslim rites” bin Laden is dumped in the sea! The bodies of all previous high value terrorists that were killed were shown to the media and all were buried. A basic knowledge of Islam would reveal that Muslims cannot be buried at sea unless there are extenuating circumstances, and this was not one. The calls for closure and quashing of conspiracy theories demand, at the very minimum, photographs of the body but the decision now emerges that it would inflame Muslims and threaten national security so they too shall not be shown.

That bin Laden was living for at least a year in the backyard of the elite Kakul Military Academy in the garrison city of Abbotabad, that America could kill him and gather all computer data in 40 minutes flat before the Pakistan Air Force could mobilize, that the Pakistanis were deliberately kept in the dark about this and now there is no public evidence of bin Laden’s death only leads to further vilification of America and arms Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to advance their conspiracy theories and extremist ideology.

Even non-Muslim Americans and those that lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks would have benefited by the closure that photos provide. Reprisals one can anticipate, making definitive evidence public rather than expecting the world to believe the “99.9% DNA match” would not have been gloating but the closing of a terrible chapter in world history. 64 % in a CNN poll wanted the photos to be made public.

Pakistanis must face that over the last 25 years Pakistan has been converted into a haven for terrorism. That the thousands of Paksitani military and civilian lives lost in a war that was not Pakistan’s died at the hands of Muslims. With the tacit and overt support of the population.

There are two Pakistans-one that is committed to democracy, human rights, education and professional advancement of women and a Sufistic practice of Islam. The other is the Taliban brand-literalistic, uneducated, violent, treating women as receptacles of procreation and following the Salafi/Wahabi practice of Islam.

Most Al-Qaeda figures that have been arrested for terrorist activities in various parts of the world have had links to Pakistan and the majority of them were not Pakistani. Over the last 25 years Uzbeks, Arabs, Chechens, Afghanis and even Filipinos have found safe haven in Pakistan, learnt Urdu and Pashto and obtained Pakistani passports. Worse, economic conditions have forced the local population to rent to and aid and marry these foreigners and slowly but surely Pakistan has been radicalized and also permeated with Wahabi thought.

As a young woman I don’t remember seeing flailing beards in our cricket team or army passing out parades as one notices now. Not to mention the entirely modest dupatta and shalwar kameez outfit that has been dumped in favor of the Arab hijab, niqab, gown and gloves, that also in the searing heat of Lahore.

Speaker of the House John Boehner and other members of Congress are questioning the US$2 billion aid that Pakistan receives. And rightfully so. Accountability is not Pakistan’s strong point. It is conjectured that some of the aid went with Musharraf when he went overseas. The current government is mired in corruption and Prime Minister Gilani soaks up French hospitality while Pakistan burns.

The ISI most likely knew of the operation and perhaps it was decided that it would play dumb, for CIA Director Leon Panetta claims that the first response of his counterpart on hearing the news was “congratulations”. It is virtually impossible for Pakistanis to believe that supposedly one of the best secret services in the world did not know of bin Laden living in a military garrison. It is conjectured that a large part of the ISI and the army has been permeated by Taliban thought, with the unjust American invasion of Iraq as a terrible catalyst and perhaps keeping the ISI out of the operation completely would allow it to better deal with its radicalized members.

After the London train bombings the friend of one of the bombers said that it did not matter if bin Laden was alive or dead; “al-Qaeda is inside” he said pointing to his head. The same premise applies to Pakistan. The government and now the ISI are inept, true. But the problem is the population and with it lies the solution.

The non-radicalized face of Pakistan has an onerous responsibility. It must form coalitions and maybe an umbrella organization to rid Pakistan of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Ironically bin Laden and terrorists like him are easy surgical strikes. Wahabi/Taliban thought that has permeated into the population over the last 25 years may take another generation to cleanse. And by that time Pakistan may not even be the banana republic it is now. Probably drawn and quartered beyond recognition.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Interview with The Toledo Blade/Osama Bin Laden death

May 3, 2011
Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Special Forces, but his ideology died before him, several local Muslim leaders said Monday.

“I think he effectively died in the Arab revolution of the last few months when the whole relevance of his call against the West received a ‘no confidence vote’ by the Muslims in the street,” said Ovamir Anjum, the Imam Khattab endowed chair of Islamic studies at the University of Toledo.

Dr. Abed Alo of the Masjid Saad Foundation in Sylvania expressed a similar view, saying the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and other Arab nations showed that the people’s peaceful actions can be more effective than terrorism.

“The current developments in the Middle East showed that bin Laden’s thinking was not valid. The only reason why such ideologies will attract some people is when there is too much oppression and dictatorships. Now when people think they can change the situation without violence, then this type of ideology will not have much attraction any more,” Dr. Alo said.

“My reaction is that it’s no longer a really big deal except in America and possibly in the Afghanistan and Pakistan region,” Mr. Anjum said. “In the short term his death might provoke some reactions, but on the whole, what has happened in the Arab world already sounded the death knell of bin Laden’s ideology. This puts the final nail in that coffin.”

A number of area Muslims said they were relieved to learn that bin Laden was taken out at his Pakistani mansion hideout.

“He got what he asked for,” said Yehia “John” Shousher of Toledo. “He started out defending against the evil Russian occupation of Afghanistan and then he became a devil himself. ‘

Mr. Shousher and others said bin Laden’s radical and violent actions have given mainstream Muslims a bad name.

“We felt we have paid a price with the victims in New York and other places because of what happened. We never approved what went on, but we paid the price and now we have to fight for respect in the community in which we live,” he said. “What bin Laden did is against our faith and our country and against humanity and 99.9 percent of the Muslim world feels the same way.”

“We are very happy about what has happened,” said Dr. Syed Maseeh Rehman, president of the United Muslim Association of Toledo. “It was like Osama declared himself as the Muslim voice for the world when in fact he does not represent the mainstream Muslims. He is not a scholar. He’s a nobody. He has his own version of Islam and he brought a bad name to everybody — to Muslims, to Arabs, and to human beings. Killing innocent women and children in the name of Islam — this is absolutely not allowed in Islam.”

Dr. Mahjabeen Islam said the al-Qaeda leader’s death raises a number of serious questions, such as how he was able to hide in a heavily fortified mansion that towered over the rest of the neighborhood and which was close to a prestigious military academy. It suggests government collusion, she said.

“As a Pakistani American, I am absolutely furious at the Pakistani government. How much did the Pakistani government know? Clearly something was going on,” she said.

Dr. Islam also fears that bin Laden’s death might trigger violent reprisals among his supporters and other extremists.

“I think his death is going to radicalize his al-Qaeda followers more. … I think his death is going to make it stronger. I think there are going to be vengeful attacks on innocent people,” she said.

Dr. Islam also voiced concern that U.S. officials reported they buried bin Laden at sea. If so, that would be a violation of Islamic practice, she said. It also means that if bin Laden’s body is at sea, there is no way to check the DNA evidence that officials said proved he was the target of the raid.

Ziad Hummos, a member of Masjid Saad, said he hopes the terrorist leader’s death will bring about peace.

“Violence creates violence. I hope this will be the end of killing innocent people around the world,” Mr. Hummos said. “I hope now the world will come to peace and people will come back to their sanity. It is something really important that people respect all human life.”

Imam Ahmed Abou Seif of the Toledo Muslim Community Center also said the events might provide a chance for positive change.

“Getting rid of Osama, that would be a great opportunity for both the Muslim people and the U.S. to work together toward the same goal,” Imam Seif said, adding that the goals are “justice, freedom, and equality.”

Cherrefe Kadri, a Toledo attorney and former president of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, said Muslim Americans feel no differently about bin Laden’s death than do other citizens.

“I don’t know that Muslim Americans should have any different feelings than any other Americans. It’s a measure of justice for all Americans,” she said. “We don’t have any special interest in Osama bin Laden. We never looked at him as a religious leader or a religious figure. If somebody does bad, then I think they get their just due. Hopefully this closes a chapter.”

Staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.
http://www.toledoblade.com/local/2011/05/03/Local-Muslims-say-they-re-relieved-2.html

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Saved by the Sharia

It’s hip to hate Sharia or Islamic law. Many a Republican is jumping on the bandwagon and Rep. Don Wells (R. Cabool) even likens it to polio. That a CIA spy who killed two Pakistanis was freed because of it is quite ironic.

In late January Raymond Davis was driving in a populated area of Lahore when he killed two Pakistanis, photographed their bodies and radioed for help wherein an American consular vehicle rushed to the scene, crushing a bystander to death in the process. Davis’ car was loaded with arms and his cell phones showed contact with terrorist groups. Davis was arrested and started a diplomatic frenzy wherein the US maintained that he had diplomatic immunity and Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi was fired for not toeing the line, for he and his department maintained that Davis did not. Even President Obama invoked the Vienna Convention that confers diplomatic immunity insisting that Davis was an embassy employee. The Vienna Convention however confers diplomatic immunity in the pursuit of diplomatic duties and running around with unlicensed arms does not fall in that arena.

The American mantra did not change. For four weeks under severe public pressure the Pakistani government ran from pillar to post frazzled but loathe to annoy its benefactor. And then someone had an epiphany; blood money or the qisas and diyat law.

Under Sharia law in the event of grievous injury or murder, the case must first go to court and a verdict pronounced. Thereafter it is the victim’s family’s prerogative to either go with full retribution/an eye-for an eye (qisas) or monetary compensation (diyat) with consequent forgiveness or complete forgiveness with neither qisas or diyat. The Qisas and Diyat Law has been part of Pakistan’s legal system for the last thirty years and a Federal Shariat Court specializes in cases of this nature. Monetary compensation is calculated in the case of murder as the cost of approximately 30,000 grams of silver.

In the Davis case one of the victims’ widows committed suicide and on her deathbed repeatedly said that she was killing herself as she was not getting justice and she wanted “blood for blood”. The families of both of Davis’ victims repeatedly said that they did not want compensation but justice.

Sen. John Kerry visited Pakistan and CIA Director Leon Panetta visited President Zardari and Pakistan’s CIA counterpart, ISI Director General Ahmad Shuja Pasha a few weeks ago. Many Pakistani antennae went up when David Ignatius wrote of the concept of blood money in the Washington Post.

Pakistan is famous for its bureaucracy and its maddening inefficiency. Yet in a matter of two hours the attorneys for the victims’ families were changed, their original attorneys detained, a one-by-one questioning of 18 family members by the judge about their compensation and forgiveness, and the whisking away of Davis to a waiting US Air Force jet at Lahore airport were all accomplished.

A total of $2.34 million was divided among the 18 family members. Not by the US but some fund of the Pakistan government. The ingratiation of Zardari to the US is so complete that the vanity of the US was also kept in mind: no precedent was to be created in which the US might find itself paying blood money for its wayward spies. Foreign Policy magazine reports a Pakistani official as saying that the US promises to pay Pakistan back in the future.

The victims’ families have disappeared. It is difficult to tell whether the compensation was forced or volitional, and whether they’ve left for greener pastures or have gone into hiding for fear of public humiliation. The anger and outrage in Pakistan over Davis’ hurried release is widespread and spans all sectors of society from students to lawyers.

Even relatively America friendly scholars have clearly stated that the Qisas and Diyat Law was misapplied for first the court should have given a verdict. Religious scholars state additionally that Davis committed an act of terror against a nation and the Law of Qisas and Diyat does not apply in this case. An appeal against the disposition of this case has been filed with the Supreme Court of Pakistan. But the futility of that is obvious. It’s all semantics now; Davis is gone.

The greater issue is what is raging in the Pakistani mind: America’s flagrant double standard. In 1997 Mir Ajmal Kansi killed two CIA agents outside Langley, disappeared, surfaced in Pakistan and was handed over to the US by Pakistani authorities and executed. In 1995 Ramzi Yousef was extradited to the US by Pakistan, convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and given two life sentences. In September 2010 another Pakistani, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, an MIT graduate and frail mother of two, was convicted in Manhattan of armed assault, carrying a firearm and three counts of assault on US officers and sentenced to 86 years in prison, essentially a lifeterm.

The questions in the Pakistani mind center around the vast difference between an American life and a Pakistani one. There is furor over America’s chest-thumping pronouncements about the supremacy of the law and then its flagrant violation in other countries. The sudden, suspicious release of Davis stokes the self-respect of the common Pakistani, entrenches anti-Americanism and catalyzes extremism.

I am appalled at the wholesale caving in of the farcical Zardari government but it’s a disaster on wheels, I know and expect it. It is primarily my America that I am so ashamed of and so scared for. We’re not exporting peace, justice and democracy; we’re just the super-bully of the world. With blinders on to boot. Pakistanis thought that the US would be forever grateful for Raymond Davis’ miraculous exit and all kinds of overtures would occur to curb anti-American sentiments. The very next day American drones bombed northern Pakistan and killed 42 innocent village elders. Thank you Pakistan, we’ll do it again.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Project Friday Khutba

Imagine tens of millions of Muslims as captive audiences to imams for a half hour every Friday all across the globe. The Friday sermon is so much a part of the prayer itself that one cannot talk, text or phone during it.

Through the ages the Juma prayer has been ingrained as part of the Friday schedule of observant Muslim men. And yet most daydream during the sermon, shutting out the frequently out-of-touch imam. With the rapidly escalating state of global insecurity perpetrated by fringe-fanatics, it behoves the larger Muslim population to go into overdrive and find very quickly what it is that we can do to stem this tide of lunacy in the name of Islam.

Feeling similarly violated after the London train bombings in 2005, I felt I had an epiphany: Project Friday Khutba I called it. The premise is a simple statement in every Friday sermon plainly calling terrorism haram (forbidden). The Friday sermon is governed by rules: there must be a quotation from the Quran, one from the Hadith, and by most schools of thought some reflection on areas of current day socio-politics.

To understand the impact of this better, first, the current state of imams the world over deserves attention. In Pakistan and probably most of the Muslim world, bright achieving children become professionals: doctors, engineers, architects, accountants and the like. As a general rule, imams, mullahs and maulvis are unfortunately a default profession. Some of them are products of orphanages and thus there is the added layer of the pathology of an absent family life.

Unlike clergy schools in Christianity and Judaism, the basic prerequisite of being an imam in the Muslim world may only be that of being hafiz (having memorized the Quran). The non-religious education of an imam may be either non-existent or minuscule, up to the tenth grade, usually not university level.

The North American situation is similarly bleak. Most imams are imports from the Arab and Muslim world, with thick accents in English and little understanding of the North American Muslim socio-politics. Some are graduates of Al-Azhar in Egypt or the International Islamic University in Islamabad, but mindsets do not change with BAs or even PhDs. Egocentricity, myopia, self-aggrandisement, frank materialism, hidden agendas, strong male chauvinism and intense patriarchy characterise the majority of imams in North America. There is also a perverse penchant for four marriages, the public one under American or Canadian law and a couple others under their distorted interpretation of Islamic law. For shame!

The intense interest in sex is so transparent that during taraweeh (the evening prayer in Ramadan), the sole subject across the continent is how intercourse is allowed during the nights of Ramadan. And to these specimens we have given over our religion and the spiritual leadership of the Muslim masses!

In Surah Juma (62:9) the Quran says, “O you who believe! When the call for prayer is given on [Friday] the day of congregation, rush towards the remembrance of Allah and stop buying and selling; this is better for you if you understand.” As per a Hadith, women are exempted due to childcare constraints but I figure that if I am a wage-earner and monitor a medical schedule and do not have little children to tend to at home, Friday prayer becomes mandatory on me as well, for the Quran always supersedes a Hadith. I digress only to prove that Friday prayer at the mosque is equivalently imposed on both genders. And that swells the population that the imams have access to.

If you draw upon memory you will agree that in the most major of world events, imams slickly go ostrich. It is true that a lot of them are totally clueless and have not heard about what is going on. Others feel that if they put on their robes and sit in the pulpit and act important and talk about minutiae like how not to close your eyes when you are standing for prayer, the elephant in the mosque, I mean the room, will miraculously go away.

“Sister, sister we do not have no terrorists in the mosque!” I was told dismissively when I approached a couple of imams to implement what is perfectly doable after the London train bombings. I thought machines had x-ray vision; here they were claiming to know the minds of their entire congregations?

If a disenchanted, angry and possibly economically distraught young man does attend the Friday prayer and for a half hour is compelled to listen to an imam, the opportunity for preaching Islam’s message of “killing non-combatants is haram” becomes a golden one.

Dire economic straits seem to rule the world over as well as a deep well of fury against the West for the perceived injustices in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and now Pakistan. One does not need both for an explosive future; one is more than enough to capitalize and build on.

The premise is “diloan mein kehney sunney sey kudoorat aa hi jati hai, safai laakh ho lekin adavat aa hi jati hai” (listening to and talking about things does cause misgivings, regardless of rationalisations an enmity does build up).

All of us develop in the crucible of our own very personal worldview. With Faisal Shahzad an ideological pull seems to have done it. With the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the same seems to apply, for it was his father that alerted the authorities of his leanings. Neither of them were economically disadvantaged, though talk has it Shahzad’s home was foreclosed a year before the event.

Islam is a deeds-based religion and for those of us so inclined it is necessary to do a quick inventory and see how we fit on the world stage and what it is that we can do to prevent the crazies from wresting our religion. Umar ibn al-Khattab advised to “do your hisab (accounting) before it is done for you”. On a collective level, as an ummah we need to make it mandatory on ourselves to determine the causes of this lunacy and develop ideas to deal with it.

No imam holds divinity in the eyes of God. Imams serve the mosque and are answerable to mosque councils and boards. Their job descriptions should be documented, their sermons prepared in advance and reviewed and each sermon should clearly state that terrorism is haram and that “killing one is like killing all of humanity” (Quran, Maidah, 5:32).

On July 17, 2005, 500 imams in Britain issued a fatwa (religious decree) condemning the use of violence and destruction of innocent lives, saying suicide bombings were “vehemently prohibited”.

On July 28, 2005, the Fiqh Council of North America together with 120 religious organisations and leaders in North America issued a fatwa that unequivocally labels terrorism and cooperation with its perpetrators as haram in Islam. And with each insult this condemnation chorus continues.

What is needed by the Fiqh Council of North America and imams the world over is to go a few steps further. They, Muslim governments and congregations themselves, should do some house-cleaning of imams that are equivocal about violence or openly promote it. And use the Friday sermon to wash the brains of the flock of any extremist ideology that might be taking root.

Allama Iqbal poetically translated verse 11 of Surah Ra’ad that “God does not change the condition of a people unless they themselves make the decision to change” with: “Khuda ney aaj tak us qaum ki halat nahin badli na ho jis ko khayal khud apni halat key badalney ka.”

Muslims in general and Pakistanis in particular have been brought to a precipice it seems. We need to de-escalate quickly. The message in the Friday sermon can be effective and powerfully reverberating, being all the while clothed in the beautiful tranquility of Islam.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

King witch hunt failed

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain wrote an article on the King hearing on March 21, 2011. My response to the article and the article itself are appended below. My response below is the unedited version, The Toledo Blade did print an edited version as a letter to the editor on March 29, 2011.

King witch hunt failed-Mahjabeen Islam
Amjad Hussain’s article on the King hearing was simply brilliant, not just in how well it encompassed the situation, but its dispassionate solution-seeking approach.

Islamophobic propaganda is so widespread now that suggestions like his for Muslims to engage and take charge that do occur seem to get lost in the cacophony.

Like many mosques that dot the landscape of America, the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo has had a wonderful record of organizing conferences and events that promote education and understanding within its congregation as well as the larger interfaith community.

Each Friday sermon and Sunday lecture educate the congregation and just this past October Rabbi Moshe Saks, Father Tom Doyle and Prof. Ovamir Anjum spoke to a packed Islamic Center on “Terrorism in the name of religion”. The remembrance of 9/11 by the Islamic Center went way past its scheduled hours due to attendance by both Muslim and non-Muslim community members.

The situation of American-Muslims is unenviable. Muslims in Southern California had a great relationship with the FBI until the advent of Craig Monteilh. He converted to Islam, prayed five times a day in the mosque and vehemently called out for jihad, entrapping a Muslim and building a case against him. Deeply concerned by his actions the Islamic Center of Irvine got a restraining order on him. It was only after the case against the Muslim collapsed in court and Monteilh sued the FBI that it was made public by the FBI that Monteilh was a paid FBI informant. Citing this case and the increasing pattern of FBI surveillance, a large group of leading national Muslim organizations has essentially suspended contact with the Bureau.

During the King hearing Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D. Ca) rejected the suggestion that American Muslims submit to FBI questioning without legal presence based on the high possibility of self-incrimination.

AMT, The American Muslim Task Force is an umbrella organization of several mainstream American-Muslim organizations. AMT’s Chair Dr. Agha Saeed summed up my impression of the King hearing well. "We thank fellow Americans, notably Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca, Rep. Bennie Thompson, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, Rep. Laura Richardson, Rep. Al Green, Rep. John Dingell, and Rep. Danny Davis, for their courage of conviction in rejecting Congressman King's religious McCarthyism. His agenda-driven hearing was a planned assault on the U.S. Constitution that failed.
***
Muslims should speak up to prevent witch hunts by S. Amjad Hussain
THE congressional hearing conducted by Rep. Peter King into Muslim influence in this country had supporters and detractors. Surprisingly, not all those who opposed the hearing were Muslims.

Representative King (R., N.Y.) said he wanted to expose the menace of radicalization of Muslim communities in the United States. He said the hearing wasn't a witch hunt and that he, as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is obligated to investigate threats to the homeland.

It appears that when Mr. King thinks of terrorism, he sees only Muslims. He also has an extremely short memory.

Mr. King was at one time an ardent supporter of the Catholic terrorist organization the Irish Republican Army and its leader, Gerry Adams. Asked about his ties to the group, Mr. King said the IRA never attacked the United States. As if blowing up innocent civilians, including children, was acceptable as long as it was done away from our shores.

According to the British newspaper the Guardian, in the 1980s Mr. King said that if civilians were killed in an attack on a military installation, it would be certainly regrettable, but he would not blame the IRA for it. In 2005, the New York Sun reported he had been thrown out of a Belfast court during a murder trial because the judge deemed him an IRA collaborator.

Terrorism is not new to our country. America's history includes many incidents of terrorism committed by homegrown groups. Long before Muslims became the favorite targets of right-wing Republicans and their evangelical Christian bedfellows, the Ku Klux Klan terrorized the South, burning churches and lynching blacks.

Congress has not extensively investigated militia groups in America, despite terrorist acts such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and, more recently, alleged terrorist activities by the Hutaree militia in Michigan. Most people think of militias as grass-roots efforts to safeguard the misconceived notion of the right to bear arms.

When ordinary militia members take to the woods to play at war games, they are not training as terrorists. But the Timothy McVeighs and Hutaree members did move on from seemingly innocent activities to mortally or potentially dangerous ones.

Then there is the Jewish Defense League, characterized by the FBI as a right-wing terrorist group, which has been involved in plotting terrorist attacks in the United States.

Mr. King's self-serving and selective focus on American Muslims is ill-timed and ill-conceived. His hearing adds fuel to an already incendiary situation in which Islamophobia is sweeping the country.

In America, almost every ethnic and religious minority has gone through similar discrimination and witch hunts. It was no different for Catholics, Jews, Italians, Irish, or Japanese. Often, the driving force was a political or religious demagogue who capitalized on popular fears for selfish gain. One wonders whether the King hearing is a prelude to the 2012 elections.

In 1953, Sen. Joseph McCarthy's Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations conducted its infamous quest to unearth communists in the U.S. government. The Wisconsin Republican saw a communist under every American bed and behind every cupboard door in government.

In the end the senator was discredited and disgraced, but not before he destroyed many lives, reputations, and careers. He was censured by the Senate. His name has become synonymous with personal attacks and indiscriminate allegations based on unsubstantiated evidence. Yet the philosophical and political heirs of McCarthy are still at work.

That does not absolve Muslims of their responsibilities. Simply saying that Islam is an inherently peaceful religion is not sufficient.

Why don't Muslims enter the public debate about the evils of terrorism? Why don't they have programs in their mosques to address the real and perceived grievances of Muslims worldwide?

Why don't they try to change the narrative from one of victimhood to one that is honest, open, and self-critical? And in the spirit of that openness, if there are Muslims who espouse ill feelings toward this country, the leaders of their communities should boot them out of the mosques.

Do all ethnic and religious groups practice such openness? Hardly. But this is the only way to confront bigotry head-on.

Mr. King's hearing was a wake-up call for American Muslims. There are forces that are bent on discrediting not only Muslims, but also Islam. They will be countered only when Muslims begin talking openly about potential problems within their communities and take charge.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

Contact him at: aghaji@bex.net