Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Name is Islam...

I keep my mouth shut. I really do. 99.99% of the time I keep my mouth shut. When I hear the media blasting Islam and Muslims, I keep my mouth shut. When I hear pundits spinning events to make oppressed people appear as the oppressors, I keep my mouth shut. When I hear people talking in Islamophobic overtones, I keep my mouth shut. When I hear shock jocks creating fictitious pictures of how Muslims "really" are, I keep my mouth shut. What I do is pray within my heart that these people will see the light.

However we all know that is a weak response. At times you have to speak up. I hit an impasse when I read this post. I could not sit back and allow this mockery of human decency to continue. I had to say something less I lost my mind. As you read the comments you will see that despite my rational and valid points, (points that have to be acknowledged as ground realities if the US wishes to create effective policies in Iraq) I was rudely insulted (what a way to win hearts and minds). Apparently highlighting the truth is not in vogue. Also despite my repeated claims about being for Humanity and America, about being non-violent, about being moderate I was called a Taliban sympathizer. Furthermore I was dangerously accused of being in the Terrorist's camp and an Islamist Radical who could potentially do damage.

If voicing your opinion gets you in that kind of trouble then we are doomed ladies and gentlemen we are doomed. When we deny our citizens their right to freedom of speech then we are doomed. When freedom of speech equates to bad mouthing a religious figure and not criticizing the war effort then we are doomed. As we slowly hand over our rights claiming oh its for our security. Or oh they are only taking the "Moslems" away or oh they are only taking the hippies away. Or oh they are only taking the Liberals away. Pretty soon you will find that you have no rights and are living in a police state.

I highly doubt any one would take the accusations made seriously. I do believe they were made as a bullying tactic to keep me on the defensive. But one thing is clear the ugly response that I got was a case of sealed hearts and deaf ears being impervious to the pleas of the oppressed. I knew this to be true and wasn't going to speak on the matter but then a friend of mine sent me an article which I really liked. The issues raised rang true for me. I just had to have it on the blog! So without further ado I give you Dr. Islam...

"Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain felicity". (Surah Al-Imran,ayat- 104)

"The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing."-- Albert Einstein

My name is Islam —Mahjabeen Islam

It seems to me that the American vision will be forever jaundiced and my regular self will be painted and attired and then sneered and shouted at. And worse yet, my Pakistan has no place for me

Mine is a name that causes virtual whiplashes. I can hear them say “Dr Islam? Are you kidding me?!” The sophisticated ones bite their tongues; the bold ones, when I introduce myself, extend their hand and say, “Then I am Dr Christian!”

One would have expected tolerance and interfaith harmony to have plummeted post-9/11, with gradual improvement thereafter. But the tincture of time is not working here, quite the opposite; catalysed by the Great Recession, emotions are a-simmer and thin veneers fall fast.

I have partially borrowed the title of this article from the Bollywood production ‘My name is Khan’ in which megastar Shahrukh Khan does a terrific representation of Asperger’s syndrome. The refrain in the film is ‘My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist’ and not only is Asperger’s syndrome detailed accurately in the film, it successfully addresses issues such as home-grown terrorism and the steadily escalating antipathy toward anyone remotely resembling a Muslim.

And it resonated with me. For now, on an almost a daily basis, there is thinly veiled contempt, a poke or a jibe. Time was, even after 9/11, that people were pleasantly surprised that I was a Muslim. Expecting horns on my head, flowing robes or at least a headscarf, I know I evoked surprise for being so boringly average. But now I seem to be responsible for the Iraq fiasco, the Afghanistan invasion and of course the shooting at Fort Hood — to name only a few American and Muslim misadventures.

A 70-year old elderly white female, a patient of mine for the last 20 years, while checking out after her visit and planning her next appointment, wags her finger (I was standing right next to her) and says, “No fighting, no fighting, you stay in your country and I will stay in mine.” I know that somewhere along the genealogy line I am linked to Job. Not a word did I breathe; not for paucity of thought or fury.

How many people do I advertise to that I have lived in the US longer than my native Pakistan? What will it take to convince non-Muslim Americans that I do not spend my evenings and weekends participating in hot domestic-terrorism meetings? How many columns and events does it take to repeat that terrorism is roundly condemned by Islam, both the religion and little me?

Perhaps my patient has some room for misgivings — at least in her mind. Even before 9/11 I used to have copies of the Quran in my waiting room. After all, I figured if the Gideons can place Bibles in every hotel room, I certainly should try to enlighten with the message of the Quran. And of course after 9/11 it became required reading. Many Muslims and marketing gurus would consider it near-suicidal to have Islamic literature in a medical-office waiting room. And yet in my na├»ve activism-cum- spirituality I have this “He will provide for all living things” theory that perpetuates my risk-taking behaviours.

“I went to Vegas and noticed at the airports that there are not that many Arabs wearing Arabic clothes anymore, have you noticed?” asked my 76 year old black patient. I had not noticed, I said, there is a profusion in the mall when I go. “In the mall, but not at the airports!” he bellowed. “I guess they do not want to get arrested,” I tried to explain, illustrating with the imams that had gotten arrested for praying at Minneapolis airport. “So you are trying to shirk your religious duty because you are afraid?” his tone got strident, almost mocking. Well no, a group of South Asian and Arab-appearing men were arrested for praying in a Las Vegas parking lot with police radios saying that “objects were kissing the ground”. So damned if you pray and damned if you do not! Instead of healing I was, yet again, the defence attorney for all the Muslims of the world.

The other very favourite phrase is “why do you not go back to where you came from?” I have not been told that to my face, not yet, in any case, but many Muslims have. To think that all that come to the US come for the American dream is nothing short of arrogant delusion. I for one came for post-graduate training and while I was tentative about staying or returning to Pakistan, years passed and I had dropped roots. Returning to my native Pakistan because the going got a little tough is unfortunately impracticable with American-born children.

And if roots were still pulled, what do physicians face in Pakistan? Especially the straight-laced, honest types, unaware of which palms to grease or what strings to pull — harassment, kidnapping or penury?

And who gets to measure my patriotism and decide that it is deficient? I live in a ritzy Republican neighbourhood; my contemporary home stands out among the wan and conservative beiges and browns. And if that and the intermittent string of brown guests were not bad enough, I was audacious to have been the sole supporter of Obama in the subdivision. The day that I took my yard sign out, my neighbour across the street glared so hard that if looks could kill, the sign and I would have evaporated. He ignored my cheery hello and responded with two McCain-Palin signs and American flags in every square inch of the yard it seemed. And only three days later, the Obama sign was crumpled and flattened — not something I could have relegated to the reckless wind.

I know that I put the casual observer’s brain a bit on overdrive. The English is accented but understandable, the persona regular but the name, oh the name! It seems to me though that the American vision will be forever jaundiced and my regular self will be painted and attired and then sneered and shouted at. And worse yet, my Pakistan has no place for me. Not alive in any case.

Mahjabeen Islam is a family physician, addictionist and freelance columnist with a practice in Toledo, Ohio. She can be reached at mahjabeen dot islam at gmail dot com

This article appeared in the Daily Times.

UPDATE: I just finished watching Green Zone with Matt Damon (man is this guy good, he's been in a lot of great movies). I give this movie five out five stars. Excellent screenplay, superb acting by co-stars and stars alike and most importantly an accurate portrayal of what went down in Baghdad. Shunning the usual middle eastern flicks where the enemy is caricatured into a one dimensional villain. Whose only purpose is to enact violence against the blue eyed blond haired good guy. Who must take out the crazy pants psycho with extreme prejudice.

Rather the producers went with a much more realistic approach. Accurately portraying the Iraqi people as complex and 3 dimensional individuals. Who are not monoliths and have their own viewpoints and Ideas on who to side with. Ultimately they are all trying to come to grips with what is happening to their country. Also I like how American Soldiers are also given many layers. There are some who just want to follow orders and finish up their tour so that they can go back home. There are others who are restless and want to know more. We are taken into the secret world of espionage and cover ups. Based on what we find "Political thriller" sells it short.

Perhaps what I like the most is that half of what I argued on the post in question was confirmed. A systematic campaign to subjugate the Iraqi population was afoot (Abu Ghraib, disbanding the Iraqi Army rather than working with them and the general heavy handed approach when it came to grunts dealing with the local population). Intelligence provided to the US military was falsified, a betrayal of the highest order. These documents came from the highest parts of the chain of command. There is a part in the movie where the star is told not to be naive. I had to punch the air in excitement. That is exactly what I had said in my comments. Also I was nursing the notion that "brother" had become the new "comrade". I credit savvy script writing and well placed subtitles with confirming my notion. Finally the disconnect between the Green Zone and the Iraqi people was also highlighted in the movie. But that was something that we didn't contest on the post. All in all a very "unAmerican" portrayal of the war in Iraq. And for this I salute you.

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