Are Muslims the New Niggers of America? – My Comment on Roger Ebert’s Post

Rogert Ebert is probably the most famous film critic in the world, who has also become a twitter sensation. But of late, Roger Ebert has been the center of attention for completely different reasons. Ebert is a noted critic of the Republican politicians like Sarah Palin who are opposing the Park 51 Muslim Community Center, dubbed incorrectly as the “Ground Zero Mosque”,  and sees the controversy as a missed opportunity to show to the world the Constitutional freedoms that Americans can enjoy.

But in relation to his opinion and comments about the Park 51 controversy, the right wingers have actually resorted to criticize Roger Ebert for his views, for supposedly sympathizing with the “terrorists” and for accusing Sarah Palin to be resorting to tactics from Mein Kampf, the autobiography of Adolf Hitler. Despite the criticism on Ebert, his mention of Sarah Palin in the context is correct, since it was her initiative, along with other politicians like Newt Gingrich, which fueled the controversy.

And this post will further illustrate why this controversy is encouraging the notion of hatred against Islam among Americans, which is the most dangerous part of the story.

One of his very recent posts for his blog for the Chicago Sun-Times “10 Things I Know About the Mosque” offer a very balanced and common-sense perspective on the issue and I felt compelled to comment on the post myself.

“Brilliant piece. The correct reaction to this blown-out-of-proportion issue is common sense really. So are American values and the rights offered by the American constitution. While those who oppose Park 51 maintain that it is not about the religion, they maintain that mosques are “monuments to terrorism” and that Muslims are terrorists. The simple translation to that is: “We don’t like you Muslims, and you can get the hell out of here.” Which is fine, but unAmerican. Given their viewpoint, there should not even be a single mosque in the NYC because the World Trade Center was located in the city, which suffered the 9/11 attacks, leave alone building Park 51 on the proposed spot. I just hope that feeling does not spread out to the rest of the America, although I have a feeling it already has, with anti-mosque protesters rising voice in other states like Tennessee. If things get too worse, this could be the beginning of the end of the religious freedom of Muslims in America. I hope not, but if that happens, then America would need to consider a fact: Are we not resorting to the same values for which we bomb other countries?”

August 26, 2010 4:25 PM

While I won’t go explaining my comment, which really was made on the spur of the moment, I would just like to reflect on a few things here. The location of the Park 51 Community Center, which just contains prayer halls and is not a mosque, has certainly stirred a controversy, which in my opinion is absurd, but nevertheless respecting the sentiments of the families of the 9/11 victim, I would consider it to be an issue in the first place. Probably the sanest analysis of the issue which I have come across so far comes from Keith Olbermann of MSNBC and pretty much reflects what I think about the issue.

Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment: There is No Ground Zero Mosque

However, in the wake of the opposition to the proposed community center, many people who opposed the very idea of a Muslim place of worship found an excuse to spew out their hatred for the Muslim community. Most of these anti-Mosque protesters hold that “Mosques are monuments to terrorism”. While they have all the right to think in that way, preventing the construction of mosques is denying Muslims their religious freedom and civil rights, which is unAmerican, which would be paradoxical since the opponents of Mosques are patriotic Americans.

Even states like Tennessee, which are miles away from either New York City or Washington D. C., which were the cities that became victims of the 9/11 attacks, and have no apparent connection to the attacks except for the fact that they are located in the same country, people have started voicing their opinion against a local Islamic Center, which is well elaborated and covered in his usual satirical manner by Jon Stewart in the Daily Show.

The opposition to the proposed community center has also revived the sentiment of hatred against the Muslim community among the American public, which like most of the non-Muslim world is already suffering from Islamophobia, with incidents like a Bangladeshi Muslim cab driver getting stabbed in New York City after the passenger asked him if he was a Muslim, and went on to stab him on learning that he was, and one drunk man entering a New York Mosque, abusing Muslims and urinating over the prayer mats.

We are talking about the United States of America here, the Free World, not Afghanistan, not Iran, not Iraq, not Pakistan, but America. Still they say it is not about religion. To those who consider these mild episodes, I would just say that let us hope that it does not get any worse.

But then again, it is Americans who have to decide whether they want to offer Muslims their rights in the country, or whether they want them out of the country altogether. Because given the theory of the opponents of the Mosque, who are clearly more concerned about Islam itself than the 9/11 victims or their families, given the example of the opposition to the Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, TN and other examples quoted above, then not only should there not be a single mosque in the New York City, but in the entire country.

It could even be implied by this opinion that they also do not want any Muslims living in America altogether, since Muslims supposedly are terrorists, which is fine if the majority of Americans agree with it, which is not really the case. Just the problem is that all those Muslims living in America are “Americans”, and are somewhere in between 3 to 9 million in numbers. And you know we are not talking about illegal immigrants here and obviously it does not matter if most Muslim Americans are immigrants. Besides, America was built by immigrants anyway.

I know sane Americans like Ebert, Olbermann, President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Bloomberg believe in American values and don’t agree with those suffering from Islamophobia. But the broad public opinion matters more than that. Because if this trend strengthens, I will not really be concerned about the religious freedom of Muslims in America, but their very security. The question to ask is: Are Muslims becoming the new niggers of America? If that is the case, America certainly needs another Martin Luther King Jr.

There can be a thin line between hating terrorism and becoming a terrorist yourself.

Note: If you are still wondering why some people are insane enough to support Park 51 even after watching the video clip with Olbermann’s comments, read this.

A Message to the Punjab Police et al

Everyday I find a new story of violence in the news and find myself amazed at how hard-hearted people are. Another achievement of the Punjab Police was reported on August 21, 2010 when they baton-charged protesting female student doctors of the Quaid-e-Azam Medical College, Bahawalpur. The  report also talks about the cops taking off their head-scarves, which is clearly seen as an act of humiliation and disrespect. I just thank god they didn’t rape and murder them, or torture them to death, like they did to the two brothers in Sialkot, because they have proved that they are fully capable of doing so.

Courtesy: The Nation

It seems to me that the selection criterion of the Punjab Police is such that the most brutal, cruel and cold-hearted people, who are completely indifferent to human suffering and to inflicting physical pain on another, are selected among the masses to fill up their positions.  It seems to me that these cops are frustrated sadists, who actually love their job and enjoy beating people with their dreaded batons. They really have seemed to enjoy themselves on this occasion, beating women with the full force of their arm and dishonoring them in public. Would have been satisfying right?

Doctors and Medical Students have condemned the Bahawalpur Medical College incident and have demanded the registration of an FIR against the Principal of the College Dr. Ejaz Shah, who summoned the police in the first place to curb the protesters, and against the local DPO Babar Bakht, who according to them, had ordered the baton-charge. I hope the Chief Minister Punjab Mr. Shahbaz Sharif looks into the matter in due time.

I have not the slightest of ideas how these brutal criminals-in-disguise are trained, but I am sure the way they act do not speak well of it. And this has just not been the only incident. The reason this one caught my eye was that these cops were so brutal that they did not refrain from injuring young women. How very shameful! If the state and law-enforcing institutions resort to behavior like this, what to expect from the anarchists and the criminals?

Here, I must say, that this criticism is not aimed at the Punjab Police alone, but the Police operating in the entire country. I know that law enforcement authorities of other countries do not act in a different way, as many have witnessed in the case of the Indian law enforcement authorities in the State of Jammu & Kashmir, in the wake of recent protests there. But I will remain focused on the Pakistani police, although anyone can consider the message I am trying to convey in this post.

This is not the first time at all that such reports of violence has been reported by the police. In fact, only recently six women were injured in a police-baton charge in Sukkur, which was meant to control the flood victims while aid was being distributed among them, on the occasion of the visit of Mr. Nawaz Sharif to a relief camp there. Now if you almost beat them to death, what is the point in offering aid to them in the first place? I am aware that the crowd can really become a nuisance at times, but the police must not forget that the baton-charge is meant to bring things into order, not to murder or injure people. And they should watch who they are hitting too: Women, for crying out loud!

The Police must understand that they are public servants after all and that they should be thinking twice before they mean to harm innocent citizens. It is true that the nature of their jobs demands them to be tough on people in general, but this does not mean that they are offered carte blanche to resort to any violent act against anyone they like. It is due to the same cruel and violent tendencies, which make them abuse their authority and to commit acts as hideous and shameful as the brutal murder of the Butt brothers in public, which occurred in Sialkot a week ago.

They must understand that they are trusted with the responsibilities of ensuring the security of the people and the rule of law and order. If they will start harming people without any discrimination between a common citizen, not just a woman or a child but anyone, and someone who is clearly a miscreant, an aggressor and a criminal, then they will cease to be the guardians of the law and order, and will become criminals themselves.

They should stop taking pleasure in violence as well. However, I do not criticize them just for the sake of it. I know there are many honest and dutiful police officers and constables out there, who recognize their responsibilities, care for the public and perform their jobs with valor, dedication and courage. However, incidents such as the Bahawalpur Medical College baton-charge and the Sialkot torture and murder case certainly show that there is something terribly wrong with some of the personnel in the police force.

I just hope those who are responsible will look into the matter and will start educating the police against violence and will make them realize that their responsibility is to protect the general public and their security, not to beat them to death and resort to violence on innocent people themselves.

The Sialkot Carnage: Are Pakistanis Becoming a Savage Nation?

While the nation was busy dealing with the destruction and devastation of the flooding, yet another tragedy was unfolding in Sialkot on August 15, 2010. Two brothers, named Moiz Butt, aged 18, and Muneeb But, aged 16, were brutally tortured and were beaten to death in public in a village near Sialkot. Not by the Taliban, but by the general public. It was just not murder, it was something much worse. It was a slow, torturing, painful and horrific death. They made them suffer for hours, brutally beat them with metallic rods, stones, bricks and canes and God knows what else.

There can not be a good enough or an encompassing post on this tragic incident, and maybe this is not the first time that such a barbaric and brutal act has taken place in the sub-continent, given the rich history of the region in riots and mob attacks. But still, there is something about this incident which is very tragic, and more shameful than the similar ones occurring in Karachi, for example, in which angry public mobs burnt three robbers alive, who were caught red-handed. I hope I am just not overreacting in publishing this post.

They were just two young boys, who were somehow alleged to be “robbers” by the self-righteous local village mob, and were later confirmed not guilty of any crime at all. I won’t go into details of the case history, neither do I know about them  too much like most people, and it does not matter anyway, since murdering someone like this in absolutely unacceptable. This not only shows how barbaric and insensitive the general public have become, but also how inhuman, morally corrupt and ineffective the state institutions and law enforcement authorities are.

Even video clips were recorded of the incident, which is why everyone can feel its intensity. The media crews arrived and documented the incident. The Punjab Emergency Rescue Service 1122 arrived at the spot for help, but the police and the security administration of the corrupt bureaucrats working in the area prevented anyone from interrupting the carnage. The boys were totally innocent and belonged to a law-abiding and noble family living in Sialkot and were the sons of one Sajjad Butt.

First of all, let me apologize for posting these clips of this incident, but I need to document them in order to present the evidence of the case under discussion and also to convey the intensity of this incidence and why am I so upset about it.

I recommend you not to watch these clips at all if you are sensitive to violence or have a weak constitution. If you have to watch, then maybe you should not go through the entire length of the clips. These clips will only offer you an idea about the intensity of this savage, brutal and barbarian act and are only posted here to offer an evidence to this tragic incident. If the description of the incident is enough for you, I advise you to skip them altogether, if you are not one of those curious types.

The incident as reported by Geo News.

The incident discussed in Dunya TV talk show Hasb-e-Haal, through which I learned about it.

This is the most graphic video, so you can choose not to view it. However, as an evidence I am posting it anyway. Apologies to anyone who considers it offensive, but viewer discretion has been advised.

Yet another graphic and horrific depiction, which goes to show how brutal were the mob. Viewer discretion advised. If the description suffices you, you can choose to avoid the pain of watching this clip.

They were brutally beaten, bathed in their own blood, with almost everyone putting in their “contribution” to make them bleed even further, which shockingly even involved old men and little children. Then they were dragged on the roads and were finally hanged and humiliated. They even tell me that they finally put their bodies outside their homes transported to there by putting them on a truck. I have a feeling these brutal savages knew who these boys were and that they were specifically targeted.

The account in the media, that the boys were thought to be “burglars”, since there had been a burglary in that neighborhood just earlier, does not convince me at all. Maybe it is true, but if it is, only shows how cold-hearted and cruel those people were. The people were really beating the boys, as it is evident from these clips. I have a feeling that there is more to this story, which is being covered up by the people, the corrupt DPO, the local administration and the criminal police of the area.

The Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary has taken the notice of this incident and has slammed the Sialkot DPO Waqar Chauhan over this tragedy. As a matter of fact, all of the civil servants operating in the area  should step down after this incident, and the “criminal” police should take responsibility for this carnage. In fact, almost a weak is about to elapse and the police  is still unable to submit a report for this incident.

A Word on the Morality of the People

This incidence occurred during the Holy Month of Ramadan, which is still continuing as I write these lines. A Muslim is even forbidden to verbally abuse someone, leave alone beating anyone or harming physically. And this tragedy occurred in broad day light, when people were supposedly fasting. I wonder about their faith in Islam, God and Ramadan when they were resorting to such a brutal act. They should be ashamed to call themselves human beings after doing so.

At least I am ashamed to be a Pakistani and a human being after learning this.

If you refer to my article about educating yourself against prejudices, I had talked about how people have no problem with murdering human beings and watching violence, as their minds get conditioned for it, when they approve of little acts of violence, such as killing an insect. I am not saying that I am a perfect human being, but I am just referring to the fact how little intolerance to violence can lead to greater acts of violence.

The people who were so brutally beating the poor boys did not think for a minute how it would feel if they were beaten up by everyone in their place. How it feels when a metallic rod hits you, how it feels if everyone kicks you when you are already bleeding to death and cannot take it anymore, and how it feels to be humiliated and killed by a slow death in this painful and inhuman way. I bet that coward mob would not even be able to take a single blow.

Again, people are as brutal as they can do something as horrific and savage like this act is simply because of the fact that they have no concept whatsoever about the importance and the sanctity of life. They neither have any regard for the life of other and neither for their feelings. They can gather and kill two innocent young boys and make an exhibition out of it, and no one was there to stop them.

At this point, I must say that I have never felt more disgusted and disappointed at the Pakistani nation ever before in my life. But I have never known of a more brutal and violent incident in my life as well. The nation certainly has fallen to a new low with this act, and shame on the state, the bureaucracy and the ever-corrupt police, who are nothing but a bunch of criminals.

The alarming fact is that would people treat anyone like this who they consider as criminals, even without confirming it? Does it not make them criminals themselves? I don’t think there is a single criminal offense in the world which deserve such a brutal punishment, which is a clear violation of human rights. And by the way, why did the authorities let the people take law in their own hands and did nothing to stop them? In fact, they protected the mob.

As far as the culture of public punishments go, it is not a new concept in the region at all. People are stoned to death regularly in countries like Iran, Afghanistan and the Tribal Areas in North Western parts of Pakistan, particularly the areas controlled by the Taliban. But unfortunately, many Muslims approve of such inhuman and barbaric methods of punishment.

It is because of such religious concepts that the masses are encouraged to resort to brutal and violent means in “punishing” whosoever they think is “wrong” by their sub-human standards. What these people really need is an education. Not only should they be taught the importance and sanctity of life, but they should also be cured of the prejudices and hatred which plague their hearts.

This tragic and horrific incident should get every Pakistani worried and thinking. It is not an everyday incident or act of crime at all. For if they do not speak out against it, and talk about it, so to educate the unaware masses out there, many of them could find the same treatment on the streets.

After this incident, I will never be able to defend Pakistani people again, ever.

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DISCLAIMER: None of the video clips have either been recorded or uploaded by the author, or owned by him. They have been taken from YouTube, where there are even more clips available for the same incident, and can be accessed by anyone.  The author only came to know about the incident on the day of the publishing of this post, that is, August 20, 2010.

Pakistan Flood Damage – How To Make the World Realize?

A lot has been written about the Pakistan flood damages and a lot has been said about the flood relief effort. Despite the pressing statements made by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon declaring the 2010 Pakistan floods to be the worst natural disaster in a century, requiring no less than $460 million in aid for reconstruction and rehabilitation of the homeless and displaced, the world is yet to show an enthusiastic response.

Wait a minute. This figure was not demanded by Pakistan. It was independently suggested by the UN Secretary-General, who had actually been overwhelmed by the extent of devastation in the flood hit areas on his visit, which involved about 1,600 deaths and millions becoming homeless. These are the words of the Secretary-General as quoted by the New York Times.

“I will never forget the destruction and suffering I have witnessed today. I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this.”

Those friends, who spend the entire lengths of their days spewing hatred against Pakistan, can demand an independent inquiry commission whether the UN Secretary-General was bribed by Pakistani officials to make the statement mentioning $460 million or not. They are most welcome to do so.

In my opinion, there are four kinds of people right now around the world outside Pakistan with respect to how they have responded to the tragedy.

1. Those who are really shocked by this tragedy and are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster and would like to donate, even if $1, if they knew where to donate.

2. Those who are not really aware of the extent of the tragedy, but would donate if they knew.

3. Those who don’t want to know and don’t really care about the news.

4. Those who know about the extent of the tragedy, and the almost apocalyptic magnitude of the disaster, and who are sorry that people are dying, but are glad that it is a Muslim country, and especially  Pakistan, which certainly deserved it.

For the Type 1 people, I am really grateful to them as a Pakistani, and they certainly are the hope which is making the world go round. As for the Type 2 people, the people who are already aware of the extent of the tragedy need to educate them about it and to convey to them how they can help, which is why I felt compelled to write these lines. As for the Type 3 people, they would hardly know what human suffering is unless it befalls them one day, but maybe they would care if they came to know about it somehow.

The Type 4 people are the spice of the world, which really make being a Moslem, and especially being a Pakistani a fun job. They are the ones who are fast trying to turn the concept of Secularism into an Anti-Islamic ideology. By the way, I am a great believer in Secularism and an advocate of its importance myself, so none of this should be taken as a criticism on it. However, somehow I feel that many who claim to uphold secular values are more Anti-Islam than Secular.

These are the kind of people who would hate Muslims and Paksitanis even if there really were not terrorists among them, and have been hating them ever since they learned that they existed, even before 9/11, but of course, after the 2001 tragedy, that became fashionable. These are the hopeless types, and there is no use even talking to them because they can support causes as hopeless as opposing the construction of the NYC Ground Zero Mosque. How absurd can you get? Many of them would be cheering. I would just wish them luck and would tell them to enjoy the party. Just mentioned this, for many uneducated prefer politics over humanity.

Many countries have announced the aid, but there is a huge difference between announcing and delivering it. But of course, the process is not as simple as many consider it to be. However, the people who have been affected by flood are racing against time for their lives and people are dying every day. Those who are not swept away by flood waters, are dying of hunger and, most importantly, of thirst due to the lack of clean drinking water.

Those who succumb to the temptation of drinking the unclean flood water, since the hour of survival can be desperate, end up suffering from diseases like cholera, hepatitis and diarrhea, and that can speed up their demise. A few of such cases have already been reported by the local media. There are also a lot of other potential health threats, since such areas have no sanitation at all, and it is only left to chance what sort of diseases originate from the mess.

What most people do not realize is the fact that this humanitarian crisis could have its ill effects on the region. There is a risk of epidemic break out in the flood affected areas, which could even prove to be serious and contagious ones, which could spread to the major cities of the country with the mobility of victims, and which could also possibly spread to different parts of the region, or even all around the world, depending how worse things get. And no, this is not a terrorist threat from a Pakistani, which many Type 4 people read as “terrorist”, but simply a sincere warning of a probable danger. (Although the disease will reach me first before any one outside Pakistan)

The countries situated around Pakistan can take as many measures, in collaboration with the Pakistani authorities, to control the harmful effects of a possible pandemic breakout, restricting immigrants and visitors from Pakistan, but due to the number of people affected from the disaster and due to various other natural reasons, the risks could be greater than what we can imagine at this point. Let us just hope at this point that the aftermath of the flood does not give rise to an even worse humanitarian crisis.

Referring back to the $460 million mark required, not even half of that can be arranged for any time soon enough. Here, it is important to mention that this is merely a figure put forward by the UN Secretary-General and it is not absolutely mandatory to reach the target. Those who want to help should completely forget figures and simply offer whatever is comfortable to them, and this applies to both individuals and countries.

Of course $460 million is a large sum and it is not easy to arrange for it even for the largest and most advanced economies of the world, but as I said, the sum is immaterial, but not the intention and passion behind the aid. This is the spirit with which many people around the world are working in countries like the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, Norway, France, China and many others. It was especially good to see the aid offer from India.

Here I find necessary to mention that many people, particularly Type 4 people, are worried about the fact that Pakistan would request the international financial bodies, the United Nations and the United States to write off their external loans, so that they are able to fight this disaster. As a Pakistani, I personally hope that does not happen and that the loans stand the way they are. Pakistan should stop acting as if it is a liability to the world and must show character in such an hour.

But What You Should Not Forget

The thing that I want you to take away from reading these lines is the fact that whether you want to donate or not, or whether you are able to do so or not, just realize the extent of this tragedy, which is greater than the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake and the Haiti Earthquake all put together, if nothing more,  for that is the duty of every human being with a heart to those suffering this calamity, which could have affected anyone, anywhere around the world.

I don’t really blame anyone who finds it difficult to realize the extent of the tragedy, because I am right now comfortably sitting in my room typing these lines, living comfortably myself, while hundreds of miles from my home, this tragedy is taking place. Had I not learned about it consistently, and had not followed the damage, I would have been as unaware while living in Pakistan as anyone else would have been in another part of the world. But at least I can help more people to know about it, other than taking action in my personal capacity.

That is why I cannot appreciate enough the spirit of empathy and humanity already shown by people from around the world, but this post is meant for a Pakistani as much it is meant for a person who is not one. It is just a matter of seeing the matter with the right approach.  And yes, I would have spoken out in the same manner, had the disaster struck in any other part of the world. Because like many of you, I believe in humanity, not politics.

It is not just flood damage to Pakistan, it is a loss of the entire humanity. Just like the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina tragedy, the 2005 Kashmir Earthquake or the Haiti Earthquake.

In the end, I would just like to share with you a pictorial journey through the flood devastation, the most heart-breaking one that I could come across, and some images from which you may have already seen in the media. Please do follow the link below, if you feel compelled to take a look.

Boston.com – The Big Picture – Continuing Pakistan Floods

Thank you very much for your time.

Apology Note: If you were, in any way, offended by my commentary on the Type 4 people, I apologize to you with sincerity, but if you were offended and really want to help the cause, then there is no reason to take the offense because you are not a Type 4 person anyway. I don’t hate the Type 4 people either. I just think they can be a little unreasonable. I actually like them. They make the world an interesting place. And hey, all I did was to congratulate them on the disaster. What’s so wrong with that? I just don’t want to depress them. If you have taken offense for the whole post anyway, then that was certainly not what it was meant for. Just read the Donation Tip then.

Donation Tip: Those who don’t trust the Pakistani Government, and who would be rightful in thinking that way, can offer their aid to the WFP, UNICEF, International Red Cross and a number of other international institutions, which will ensure that the money is not just handed over to the Pakistani authorities, in order to prevent abuse, and which will ensure that the necessary supplies reach the flood victims.

As for the local efforts of provision of supplies to the flood victims, a lot of local groups and individuals in Pakistan are mobilizing to deliver as many people as they can reach given their resources, while the Pakistani Armed Forces, along with civil government officials, are controlling the main relief effort in all four provinces of the country.

For detailed information about the flood relief effort. Please refer to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) http://ochaonline.un.org/

The Independence Day Post

So, we have completed 63 years, and what have we done?

Was this the dream? What have we become?

Although things may not look good, for we’ve lost a lot on the way.

But we must not give up, to rise and fight another day.

We had gained independence from the Imperial rule in 1947, but the question to ask ourselves is whether we are still independent or not? As in the lives of individuals, the independence of states comes with their financial power and freedom, and unfortunately, this has been an area in which we have been doing poorly. Currently, Pakistan is in a gross external debt of more than $42 billion offered by institutions such as the World Bank & the IMF. No wonder why Pakistan has largely been an instrument in the hands of the world powers.

This means that not only Pakistan needs to follow the instructions of the international financial body, but also is unable to maintain its assertiveness as a state due to its financial weakness. While Pakistan struggles to repay the IMF debt and debt to many other donor countries, we need to ask ourselves what are we doing to improve financially. Unless, Pakistan becomes economically strong, it will not be able to make a meaningful impact diplomatically as well.

The events in the recent years have been nothing short of a disaster. Probably the worst power crisis in the history of the country has paralyzed the remnants of manufacturing industry in Pakistan. One of my friends and ex-colleagues, Umer Farooq, had once pointed out to me how Pakistanis are neglecting the importance of manufacturing industries, and how the recent economic policies have only been focused on developing the service sector, that too, under foreign investment.

It is nothing else but the power of manufacturing industries, which has made China a global economic power, and which is why it is dominating international markets, including the Pakistani consumer market. Unfortunately, Pakistan is even losing grip on its existing strengths in the manufacturing industry, such as textile. Unless we are able to produce things we are able to sell, we will never be able to add to our income as a nation.

At the same time, we also need to check our lifestyle as a country under debt, under a financial crisis and as a nation struggling to maintain its position among the international community. While the war against terrorists  have been a hindrance to progress for Pakistan, our attitude has been an even greater one. We need to check the way we our running statecraft and ask questions of our priorities.

Millions of rupees are spent every month on the expenses incurred for the maintenance of the Prime Minister House and the President House. Similarly, millions have been incurred on the expenses of the serving ministers and parliamentarians, who whine all the time and demand for more raises in benefits. How much of this money could have been spent on other areas, which desperately need the attention of the government.

The ruling elite lives in comfort in Islamabad, while their supposed “employers”, which are the People of Pakistan, are suffering every day of their lives. A person in a rural area may face a power outage of 18 hours straight and may not even have access to clean drinking water, education and medical facilities, while the rulers of the country roam around in the most sophisticated and expensive motorcades.

The purpose of this post is not to bring a bad image to the name of Pakistan, but is just to point out that we need a reality check on the completion of yet another year of the country’s independence. That we need to realize what problems are we encountering and how can we work towards a solution. Even if we are able to change our approach in a matter such as curbing expense, which is totally in our control, we can make significant progress.

Even if we compare ourselves to India, despite the fact that India is a continent of a country, with far greater resources, their leaders have not resorted to the kind of lavishness that has been enjoyed by the rulers of Pakistan in its 63 year history, probably with the exception of  Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, Khawaja Nazim-ud-din and a few others who were in office in the early days. At least, they are not as ostentatious.

All the three ruling elements, the bureaucracy, the military and the politicians, including the feudals, have been responsible for the development of this culture of extravagance. When an organization is not able to generate additional sources of income, they consider cutting down expenses to maximize their profitability under given resources. This is what Pakistan needs to do.

However, in the case of Pakistan, we are asking for more IMF debt to maintain the lavish expenditure incurred on the ruling class. It is an ironical situation really. The servants of the people of Pakistan are enjoying a lavish lifestyle bought by the tax Rupees of the Pakistani people, who themselves are deprived of even the basic necessities at some places. How can such a nation ever achieve financial independence?

This elitist culture needs to be changed. We need to change the mindset that the bureaucrats, the military and the politicians are superior to the people of Pakistan. They were chosen from the masses themselves. Anyone who thinks in such a manner does not deserve a position in any of the state institutions. The way the civil servants are trained needs to be changed.

Anyone acquiring a position as a civil servant assumes that he or she has transcended the level of being an ordinary Pakistani citizen and  has entered an elite club. Of course, it is true that they work hard for getting their positions, but they must not forget that they are nothing more than paid servants of the Pakistani people.

To me, a tax-paying vendor is the employer of even the highest-level serving bureaucrat or Army officer. Unless this approach is developed, Pakistan may never achieve what its people aspire for. Unless we work to eliminate the moral corruption plaguing us as a nation, we can never attain the discipline necessary to achieve true independence.

Pakistan must work to rely on its own resources to progress. Unless this approach is adopted, it can never escape the vicious cycle of debt servicing. We need to cut down our military expenditure and stop the race of arms with India. We need to concentrate on strengthening the people by offering them easy access to education, so that manpower, which is one of the most important and abundant resource at our disposal, does not go to waste.

On August 14, 2010, Pakistan probably faces the most asking of all the challenges that it has ever encountered. Pakistan is fighting the worst natural disaster in a century, and right now apparently lacks the resources  to build the lost infrastructure as a result of the monstrous flooding that has currently brought a fifth of the country’s area under water.

With about 1,600 deaths and 20 million people left homeless, Pakistan needs to fight this disaster and must work harder than ever before to restore the lost infrastructure and to help out the affected people. While the international community is helping us out to overcome the challenge, for which we should be grateful to them, we need to develop our own resources as a nation as well.

This independence day is not a time for celebration at all, but one of contemplation and self-evaluation.

But the bottom line is clear. The bottom line is that we must work hard, especially even harder on this hour of crisis, to raise to the level of true independence and glory which is worthy of great nations, before thinking about celebrations and making false claims of pride. Pakistan is a nuclear power with one of the strongest military forces in the world, but none of that is helping us right now.

It is true that Pakistan needs to spend on its security to ensure its existence, but we need to shift our focus from military expenditure to improving the living standards of the people and to offer them education and medical facilities in a better way. We should also develop our focus to strengthen the manufacturing sector of the economy, even if we have to resort to drastic measures for doing so.

Why cannot we produce things as trivial as locks and umbrellas in the country, and why each and every single object we use needs to be “Made in China”? Are we so incompetent and resourceless as a nation? Or have we descended to a state of decadence in which we cannot differentiate wrong from right? But I am aware that a lot of other nations are facing this situation as well.

Never expect change unless you act for the change.

I’m concluding the post with the quotes of two of the fathers of the struggle for freedom for the Indian subcontinent from the Raj, and God knows we need to act on this advice more than ever before.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“With faith, discipline and selfless devotion to duty, there is nothing worthwhile that you cannot achieve. Work, work and work harder.” – Muhammad Ali Jinnah

If you want independence, you have to earn it.

Education is the Solution: Emphasizing the Sanctity of Life

There is violence and prejudice in the world due to a very important reason. A lot of people do not realize and recognize the sanctity of life, or importance of it, if you find the word “sanctity” to be related to religion in some way. The value of life can simply be elaborated by a simple fact that when someone dies, you cannot bring him or her back, even with all the money and power in the world.

What does that imply?

It can lead you to think that since you do not have the power to bring the person back to life, then you should also not be responsible for taking his or her life away. Neither did you give life to the person, nor you ever could. So, how can you ever think that you can be good enough to judge whether someone should live or die?

Unfortunately, politics, obsessions with superiority, prejudices and the insecurities that plague our minds have made a lot of us to forget about this simple and self-evident fact. This is why some people can engage in violence and kill each other as easily as they drink water. Violence is the part of the human instinct as animals, but even animals use violence just for their needs.

Some would argue that wars and other forms of violence are used by humans to achieve certain objectives and needs as well. Those thinking in the broader terms would even say that violence is essential for survival, and this is what keeps a species alive and thriving in terms of the competition for the natural selection. But still, no sane person would approve of violence. At least, since human beings call themselves an intelligent species.

But I have often noticed that people are not exactly aware of the value of life, in general. This really comes into focus when you observe how they treat animals. If they consider for a moment that animals are living beings as well, then they would really treat them with care, or should at least not hurt them, if not be affectionate with them. But we can squish a bug without giving a second thought to it.

All you have to do is to take it seriously. The ease with which you can squish a bug is what hardens your heart and allows it to accept violent actions against humans. Often some of my friends complain that people do not react appropriately to the crimes in the society, such as genocide, war crimes, rapes, child abuse and fatal sexual assaults on children. I strongly believe that most people do, but those who resort to such crimes just don’t realize the importance of life.

To some people. money, power, political influence and domination is more important than observing and respecting the sanctity of life, and that is why they think that wasting a human life, or for any other life form, is not a problem at all, especially if doing so serves their purpose, makes them richer or more powerful. Of course, when we talk about caring for life, it involves caring for life in whatever form it occurs and wherever it is found, and not just for your own life.

Just before you see someone else dying, never forget that you will not live forever as well. That you will have to leave the world one day and only if you can imagine the feeling you will experience at the moment of your death, can you realize how precious life is and how it feels when you are dying. Just imagine for a single second what a dying person would be going through and it will be easier to understand this.

When you develop the understanding of the importance of life, you will reject violence without any resistance at all. People like Mahatma Gandhi did not approve of violence even if it was being used for a “noble purpose”. Some people criticize the Mahatma for that, since some thought that abstinence from violence can be seen as a weakness by the enemies.

But then again, the people who resort to violence almost always label it as something done for the good or for a “noble purpose”. Don’t they? Violence and vendetta can only lead to more violence and more bloodshed and more trouble. There are countless examples of that in the history of the world, and it is perhaps one of the most ignored lessons in history.

The truth is that abstinence from violence is the real courage and strength. An educated person will never resort to violence, or would avoid engaging in violent behavior as much as possible.  An educated person will also be less tempted to violence, since he or she would have already curbed his or her prejudices, and would know how to deal with problems in a pragmatic and cool-minded manner.

All this is by no means anything which is not in touch with reality. In fact, it is the truth. All you need to do is to allow your mind to accept it and to apply it in your life, and you will see the difference yourself, if you are already not doing so. The choice is yours. You can value life and stay away from violence, or reject it and become the worst life form. An education which helps someone to realize the sanctity of life is the only solution.

The Anti Defamation League, the Ground Zero Mosque and America

In relation to the Islamic Center and Mosque which is to be built on the Ground Zero site in NYC, the Anti Defamation League (ADL) has opposed the idea of its construction, and has urged that the group building the mosque should find a new spot, since the location of the mosque is causing pain to the families grieving the deaths of their loved ones in the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

For those who don’t know much about it, the Anti Defamation League is an organization which has developed the reputation of being the watchdog of antisemitism around the world, particularly in the United States, and claims to promote democratic values while defending civil rights. It works to protect the rights of the Jewish community and is an advocate of the State of Israel.

Although some Muslims who don’t take the Jewish community to be holding any sympathy for them would not have been shocked over the opposition of the Ground Zero Mosque by the ADL, I seriously think they are wrong in their assumption. But while looking at ADL, I appreciate this organization as antisemitism is a behavior which certainly should not be tolerated.  But I have been largely disappointed over its stand on the Ground Zero Mosque.

Let us try to grasp some sanity out of this emotionally charged subject. First of all, I am not a believer in building a mosque or an Islamic center on any particular spot, since Muslims can build it anywhere they choose to, so there is nothing special about building one at the Ground Zero site. I also think that the opposition of the ADL is more political in nature than religious, but still I find no reason to oppose the construction of a mosque anywhere as long as it is legal to do so.

However, the opposition to building the mosque and the Islamic center seems really absurd to me. I thought the United States was a free and democratic country, offering equal rights to every community, so why are they opposing the construction of a mosque? Prominent Republican figures such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich openly opposed the idea.

In fact, the opposition from Republican politicians was a little predictable, but the reaction of the ADL was nothing short of being disappointing to me. To me, opposing the construction of a religious center is un-American and an undemocratic act, and given the values that the ADL holds and promotes, it totally seems inappropriate to their image.

The only aspect about the objections to the construction of the mosque and the Islamic center that I could really make any sense out of is how it is being funded. It is an important question to ask from the group who is responsible for its construction and the approving NYC authorities. But we don’t hear about questions raised over the funding of any other religious buildings, do we? Why? Just because they are building it at the Ground Zero, I think.

The proposed mosque and the Islamic Center is ironically named the “Cordoba Center”, which is probably a reference to life in Cordoba, the capital of the Moorish Muslim Caliphate in Spain in which Muslims, Jewish and Christians lived in harmony, and which was considered a golden period for the promotion of knowledge and sciences, and is also associated with prominent Jewish figures in history, such as Maimonides, a 12th century philosopher and scholar, who had also served as physician to Saladin.

Probably, this is the reason why noted journalist Fareed Zakaria, who is a member of the Muslim community in the United States, has returned the First-Amendment Hubert Humphrey Freedoms Prize presented to him by the ADL in 2005. He sees the move by the ADL as a mistake and as something which will harm their reputation, since he thinks that this could affect their value of upholding religious freedom in America.

While this is Zakaria’s personal act, I cannot help but agree with him in coming to the conclusion that the opposition from ADL of the Ground Zero Mosque was totally inappropriate and inconsistent with the democratic and American values, or even with the values of the organization itself. How can it safeguard the rights of one community when it does not recognize the rights of another? They certainly would have spoken out if the construction of a synagogue were opposed in this way.

What is even more shocking than that is the hatred of mosques among a lot of American citizens, who apparently oppose the constructions of mosques pretty much everywhere, leave alone the Ground Zero site, since many see mosques as monuments to terrorism, has appeared as a result of the debate over the controversial mosque. Unfortunately, secularism these days have become more anti-Islam these days more than anything else, which is not secularism by any means by the way.

It is true that Muslims can sometimes resort to actions which can really make them look ridiculous, and coincidentally the major terrorist organizations in the world such as Al-Qaeda, have their origins in radical Muslim groups, but you simply cannot alienate the entire Muslim community just because of a few terrorists. Doing so will only promote extremism, encouraging the radicals to convince moderates of the anti-Islam views of the West.

In fact, my advice to the American people would be not to alienate the Muslim community in order to curb Islamic extremism, since it would not be realistic to expel every single Muslim from the country. The only way to put an end to Islamic extremism is to accept them, and to allow religious freedom to them. A distinction should be made between Islam and terrorism, a line which has diminished in the perception of many.

In the end, whether the mosque is built at the site or not does not matter really. Even if the group backs off from building the mosque in respect of the opposition, this should not be taken as an insult by the Muslim community. It’s just that the opposition to constructing a mosque sounds unreasonable to me. At least, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks so, who is Jewish himself.

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