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

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A national sellout

It’s like being newly orphaned. Or as though in one clean sweep our self-respect as a nation has been decapitated. Columns, rantings and protests now serve only as eulogies to our national grief, for the deed is done.

Raymond Davis himself probably sits disbelievingly somewhere in Afghanistan or the US that he actually got out of cold-blooded murder, none the worse for the wear of Koth Lakhpat jail.

For a nation famous for its foot-dragging and the aap kal aa jaiye (please come tomorrow) mantra, changing the lawyers for the Faheem and Faizan families at the last moment, completing the blood money transaction in court with 19 survivors individually and whisking Davis to a waiting US Air Force jet in Lahore airport, all within two hours, is indeed nothing less than a miracle. Shows the amazing efficiency that is buried deep within our Pakistani bones. And how it can be genie-released with just the right stimulus.

The self-flagellation of columns such as this can continue ad infinitum but these stimuli and the actors are important to examine.

The US steadfastly held on to the idea of diplomatic immunity and the Vienna Convention but along the way it appears that this defense might not hold water or the situation would derail quickly if heard in the Lahore High Court. Shah Mahmood Quraishi was also fired as foreign minister for not toeing the line and the situation got even more uncomfortable when he took his tell-all to the television.

A hint of behind the scenes machinations appeared in public in a Washington Post article by David Ignatius three weeks ago about using an Islamic ritual of blood money. And Foreign Policy Magazine now reports that the deal of invoking the law of diyat was orchestrated by Pakistan Ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani, Senator John Kerry, President Asif Ali Zardari, CIA Director Leon Panetta and ISI Director-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha.

Many conflicting reports are surfacing about the families and it is heartless to add insult to their injury by examining their motives.

As a supposedly democratic nation the people have the right to transparency in every governmental and judicial proceeding. The PPP and the PML (N) play musical chairs and the nation is used to this tacit understanding. But despite all past disillusionments there seemed hope in the judicial system. And now that too lies in tatters. Feeling orphaned is right.

Speaking of insult to injury America claims that it did not pay the blood money of 20 crores or $2.34 million to the survivors of the murders committed by Davis. “The understanding is the Pakistani government settled with the family and the U.S. will compensate the Pakistanis one way or the other," a senior Pakistani official told The Foreign Policy magazine.

Our sellout is so wholesale that we are even keeping American niceties and protocols of not creating a precedent of paying blood-money in mind and paying the blood-money ourselves! After all what is $2.34 million in contrast to the billions we get in charity? And of course Lord and Master America said, didn’t they that they would pay it one way or another? And they also said that they are initiating criminal proceedings against Raymond Davis. Really?

In an archaic calculation blood-money for the murder or grievous injury of a person is the equivalent of thirty thousand grams of silver. The heart-breaking photo of Faizan’s widow on her deathbed asking for justice and “blood for blood” makes this so much more difficult to accept for it appears that she too was the recipient of compensation. How torturous for her soul! The Faizan and Faheem family members have disappeared en masse and rumors as to their location now are rife. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah spoke of the whole diyat proceedings as though they were as natural as your morning walk. For a nation jaded by the incredible he expects belief, hook, line and sinker. Are blinders a prerequisite to serving in any governmental position in Pakistan? It is this disconnection and blasé statements that send the country reeling and Imran Khan is right, dramatically increase public humiliation and anger and increase extremism.

And oh the sad and mad people that we are we will kill our own people, the innocent ones that just went to school, pray or shop. All the while the Raymond Davises of the world will be sipping margaritas in the anonymity of some Colorado backyard.

Pakistan is a recipient of a large amount of American aid and has not always accounted for it honestly. But its sacrifices in the war against terror have been above and beyond any aid that has and can be given. Its leaders had an incredible chance at greatly improving Pakistan’s diplomatic and strategic stature if they had handled the Davis affair appropriately. Corrupt to the marrow, recognizing greed alone they bargained with money and left the nation’s self-respect in smithereens.

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

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Complicit in cowardice

The last shred of possible Pakistani pride has left me. Incontrovertibly we are a nation of cowards and conspiracy theorists, always copping out and shifting blame.

Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in broad daylight and immediately all police wirelesses came alive. The killers were not just on a quickly hidden and weavy motorbike but a white car. Islamabad teems with police and it is astounding that a clearly described Mehran could not be apprehended. Perhaps it is this rampant enabling of such heinous crimes that engenders the conspiracy theories that the nation loves to employ when faced with tragedy. They conspire themselves and so everyone else, they figure, must do the same.

How does a car just vanish into thin air in a populated area overrun by police? And therein lies the issue. Pakistanis have become inured to blood and gore. Be they retired generals or the common man, the economy and the national code of greed make each man take the most profitable option. How do armed extremists just appear from nowhere and perpetuate attack after attack especially since 2008? No one cares to find out who this out-of-towner that wants to rent their home is; their main concern is to get the maximum rent.

It is not possible that pockets of the population are not aware of their terrorist neighbors and acquaintances. Aided and abetted by the vitriol of the mullahs and their out-of-context and, at times, blatantly false interpretation of the Quran and Hadith, Pakistanis have lost their sense of justice and are totally comfortable settling mullah-imagined scores with blood.

And the mullah-180 degree switch is mind-boggling. From Munibur Rahman to Liaquat Baloch and all in between the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti is not related to his efforts to protect his community from the reaches of the Blasphemy Law. Excuse me? According to Baloch the religious parties have been very responsible in stemming passions and since the Prime Minister sent a letter saying that nothing would be done with the Blasphemy Law, the issue was over! I want to do the drugs that Liaquat Baloch is on these days; what a lovely delusional state!

On the one hand you have the Pakistan-plundering PPP in high office; the Prime Minister’s son importing his own bullet-proof Land Cruiser and not paying a paisa in tax. On the other Shahbaz Bhatti, though of the PPP and the recipient of multiple death threats for a protracted time but who did not get adequate security, leave alone a bullet-proof car, and whose farewell words speak of dying for the sake of principle and protecting his community. Principles? What an un-Pakistani concept!

Weaving convoluted conspiracy theories is a finely refined Muslim art. And all things horrid emanate from the hunood-yahood-Amrika trio. Just prior to his death Shahbaz Bhatti recorded a video detailing the death threats he’d been receiving. Governor Salman Taseer’s murderer Mumtaz Qadri stated repeatedly that he had killed him because he felt he had disrespected the Prophet (PBUH). However the mullahs believe that Shahbaz Bhatti’s killing is part of a deep conspiracy to destabilize Pakistan after the Raymond Davis affair!
They have condemned the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti quoting the “if you kill one innocent person it is like killing all of humanity” verse of the Quran 5:32. Whatever had happened when Mumtaz Qadri killed Governor Salman Taseer? Should murderers be showered with rose petals and given Valentine’s? That too by custodians of the law? How does questioning a man-made law indict you for blasphemy? Why did the mullahs hold the nation hostage, threatening anyone that blessed Taseer’s soul or read his funeral prayer as equally blasphemous?
Islam has the concept of individual and collective sin. Imams and scholars will be called to account on The Day of Judgment for their own deed inventory and will also be held liable for the sins that they incited in their congregations or students. Pakistan’s poison filled air has caused a flight of intellectual and spiritual capital as well. Jealousy and death threats have deprived Pakistan of the amazing persona and rational, evidence-based knowledge of spiritual greats like Javed Ahmad Ghamdi.
A war with India for decades would have been easier for Pakistan than the wild jungle that is its streets now. Why have journalist Wali Khan Babar’s killers not been apprehended? What was Governor Taseer’s security detail doing while Qadri changed the rifle magazine? Despite repeated requests and being on the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s hit-list, why was Shahbaz Bhatti not provided security?
Most importantly what face will we show to that most magnificent of all men, Muhammad (PBUH)? How will each Pakistani exonerate him/herself and prove convincingly that we had no part to play, by omission or commission, in the murders of thousands whom we felt were disrespecting him?
“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once” said Shakespeare. We are complicit in the murders of Governor Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and thousands of other for harboring, enabling and protecting the fanatics that have overtaken Pakistan. Instead of pushing for the repeal of the Blasphemy Law Pakistan’s mullahs bullied the nation. And in their cowardice of threats and intimidation, they die, inside, everyday.

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

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Romancing revolutions

Pakistanis are a poetic people, our literature replete with the fanciful. And from the groundswell of the noble and heroic, the tragic and the blissful emerges a yearning for our own revolution.

The Egyptian revolution is up there with 9/11 for having “changed everything”. With the uprising in Tunisia it caused the domino-effect across Libya, Bahrain, Oman as well as Saudi Arabia. Something in it struck as being magically achievable, for seeing the mass of humanity in Tahrir Square day after day without significant bloodshed resonated across the world to smaller causes and communities. To, of all places, America.

Over the last few years America has seen a crippling recession. Unemployment hit record highs and with the subprime mortgage lending scandal precipitated the home foreclosure crisis. But no street protests occurred. The government bailed out Wall Street and the Detroit auto industry in face of incongruent executive bonuses and personal jets, but aside from media derision, the public let it go.

Over the last two weeks however, protestors in the thousands are camping out in capitol buildings in Wisconsin, Missouri and Ohio protesting the restriction of collective bargaining rights of union workers. The protest of 100,000 in Madison Wisconsin may be the largest since the Vietnam War. Joel DeSpain, spokesman for the Madison Police Dept. said that he had not seen anything like it for the 50 years that he has been in Madison.

It is difficult to prove that these protests draw inspiration from Tahrir Square. But America has seen a lot worse in recent memory, with a nary a peep from the public, so one must wonder.

In Pakistan though we love the tall talk all the way from the media to the politicians. Gilani and his PPP coterie are indignant at the suggestion of an uprising in Pakistan for we have “democratic institutions”. It is true that repression in the Arab world was protracted and heavy and Pakistan does have a democratic government, a legislative and a judiciary, but in essentially all of them there seem to be an infinite variety of foxes guarding henhouses.

With a barely 40% literacy rate, probably less than 5% classifying as the intelligentsia and less than 1% holding the destiny of the nation in their corrupt death-grip; one can’t blame talk show hosts for clamoring for a cleansing.

Yet Pakistan is a land of rent-a-crowd power. With a battered economy and millions below the poverty line, a couple thousand rupees can buy you all kinds of noise. The stakes rise significantly when the mullahs add their blinded bigotry to the chest-thumping and incite to not just protest but kill.

We compare with Egypt in our stark lack of a charismatic leader. But there the comparison ends. The uprising in Egypt was galvanized over a single issue-the overthrow of Mubarak. In Pakistan our causes are as profuse as our colorful culture. “Each man for himself” is the only tenet that can be recognized across all boundaries of ethnicity and education. This translates into the self-before-state premise and defines our patriotism to the passionate singing of the national anthem. And even as the anthem’s notes end we’re planning our next pillage of Pakistan.

In a nation with a collapsing economy, high unemployment, rampant disease and runaway population our protests are shutter-down-strikes. With a poor work ethic that is now embedded in our genes and the default line of “aap kal aajaye” (please come tomorrow) who do we think we are hurting by these shutter-down-strikes? Not the President who is plum with French chateaus and Dubai deposits or a Prime Minister that has divvyed up lucrative contracts to his immediate family. Not a parliament or politicians that would shame US physicians in their net worth. Nor a judiciary that was delivered with difficulty but now sits with typical Pakistani grandiosity but sub-par performance.

It’s suddenly fashionable to out American agents what with the arrest of Raymond Davis and now Mark Dehaven. The death of four innocent Pakistanis is an egregious assault on our national sensibilities and we seem caught in the crossfire of CIA and ISI machinations. The blame though does not just lie with American hubris; mainly with the governmental clowns that we have handed our fate to. Irresponsible elements are already inciting the public to riot if our “honor” is not salvaged by the Lahore High Court decision. What happens to our honor concerns when the elite plunder Pakistan? What happens to our honor when we celebrate murderers like Mumtaz Qadri and shower him with rose-petals for killing an innocent Salman Taseer?

The solution is fixing our mindset, a thought revolution if you will; rearranging priorities, marginalizing bigotry, changing the work-ethic and eliminating corruption from an individual to the community and thereafter the national level.

Till we place state before self we will be dreamily romancing a revolution. Till then in the reality of the cacophonic talk-show hosts and the myriad assaults of life we’ll actually just be swearing, sweating and jogging on the spot.

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