Thursday, 28 October 2010

Life as we know it

By Anjum Niaz

 The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting "Muslims killed us on 9/11,"

Thus spoke the doyen at Fox News Bill O'Reilly. Two of his women co-hosts stood up and stomped out accompanied by loud cheers and claps during a talk show on one of America's best known TV channels. The View as the morning-chat show is called hit the headlines. Only because two women had the guts to stand up and distance themselves from O'Reilly's bilge. But the unrepentant O'Reilly along with his band of bigots at Fox continues to spew out hatred against the Muslims 24/7.

Their Islamophobia reaches millions and millions of homes across America. If I were a white American, I too would hate anything closely connected to the 19 hijackers who flew their planes into the Twin Towers nine years ago; I too would side with those who don't want an Islamic centre built near the site of the bombing in New York; I too would declare that we seal our borders against the Faisal Shehzads of this world who want America destroyed.

But just hold on. Does that mean that all Muslims in America (around two per cent) are killers, murderers and terrorists? If you hear Fox News, the answer is yes. And that's where my tale begins: It's going to be a long, lonely and hard journey ahead for people of colour, especially those with Muslim names. I'm not only talking about America, but Europe today is in the grip of Islamophobia. Again why blame Europe? The Europeans have been warned against terrorist attacks. They can get killed while riding a subway, sitting in a café, going to a theatre or strolling in the park with their kids.

The demon that spreads its deadly wings of death over the USA and Europe is Al-Qaeda.
But what have ordinary Muslims got to do with it? Why should they be penalised and profiled as terrorists as 'Papa Bear' (Bill O'Reilly) paints us? The question cannot be answered in just one column. It's a story as old as the hills of New Jersey or Islamabad's Margalla mountains or the Tora Bora caves in the tribal area of Pakistan. A crash course in political history and social anthropology could give us some cues. Let's look at the various ways the CIA and its operatives have killed, tortured, maimed and overturned governments far, far away from America.
If one has the interest and the passion to explore the 'why' then dive into books of the past and present, even as new as Bob Woodward's to understand how America controls the weak of the world, including Pakistan. In a recent op-ed column titled 'The Wars That America Forgot About', veteran news-anchor Tom Brokaw wonders why Americans are so consumed with "Islamic rage" when the problem is with the White House. "No decision is more important than committing a nation to war," he writes. "It is, as politicians like to say, about our blood and treasure. Surely blood and treasure are worthy of more attention than they've been getting in this (midterm election) campaign."
An American taxpayer is enraged with his government's ninth year of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, "the longest wars in American history," says Brokaw. "Almost 5,000 men and women have been killed. More than 30,000 have been wounded, some so gravely they're returning home to become, effectively, wards for their families and communities. In those nine years, the United States has spent more than a trillion dollars on combat operations and other parts of the war effort including foreign aid, reconstruction projects, embassy costs and veterans' health care. And the end is not in sight."
Pakistan is in the centre of the storm. One day, it's looked upon as a 'back-slapping buddy' and the next moment it turns into a demon according to the American officials. The relationship is so schizophrenic that we have now stopped following what Hilary says or what Gen Kayani remarked or how much money is Holbrooke promising us. As an aside, you must have read in this newspaper the faux pas Zardari and his charming economic maven Hina Rabbani Khar made before Holbrooke who told the two that their math was wrong when they presented him a budget in which $700 million had gone missing.
Our leaders don't know the heartaches of Pakistani-Americans who call their host country 'home' and yet are discriminated against. Ordinary lives trying to make something of their future so that they can lead a more settled and dignified existence surrounded by such stories. And yet, we are blithely unaware of their daily struggle because the media keeps us drugged on tales of the rich and the famous; the corrupt and the evil. Like a magnet we are drawn to these forces of foulness often missing the wood for the trees.
For the four million Muslims living in Germany, it's a similar story. Chancellor Angela Merkel has halted attempts to build a multicultural society decreeing that immigrants can come to her country provided they learn the language and accept the country's cultural norms. Like much of Europe, Germany is gripped by anger and mistrust between ethnic nationals and immigrants. Merkel's crude comments set alarm bells ringing. A damage-control exercise was put in place immediately after Merkel's roiling of Muslims. The German president hopped onto a plane and made a state-visit to Turkey, the first in ten years by a German president, for some handholding. The funniest part was that he was reported to have visited "Islamic sites"!
Burhan Qurbani, 29, is a German of Afghan descent. He has recently won praise for his film "Shahada". And with that has dawned a realisation for the young filmmaker: "I'm seen as the Afghani who made the film about integration, and that hurts a little. Of course, I am German. I have Afghani roots, I can't deny that, but mostly I am German."
He quotes his grandfather who warned Qurbani: "You are like a bird without legs; You cannot land. You will never be at home here and you will never be at home in Afghanistan." This holds good for Pakistanis too. Having renounced their homeland, they now find the environment in their adopted country unfriendly, inhospitable and unreceptive. I have spoken with many Pakistani families here in America who all have tales of woe to relate. Especially those who have failed to pick up the American accent. "You speak English differently; where are you from?" is the common refrain that some who have been here for decades are subjected to.
The state of the union in Pakistan still makes front-page news abroad. While the press, national and international, has been highlighting endemic corruption and misgovernance, and not the least, the Executive-Judiciary war of words, here's what the online Foreign Policy Magazine in its latest issue thinks about us. Pakistan, it says, is "wracked by much more fundamental problems than the intricacies of managing international alliances. After this summer's floods, Pakistan teetered on the brink of failed state-status. The waters have largely receded, but they've left in their wake a landscape of despair. The need for immediate disaster-relief has given way to questions of how to return millions of displaced Pakistanis to their homes, when to begin rebuilding the country's destroyed infrastructure, and how to provide basic provisions like clean drinking water to the indigent."
The Great Flood is a passé topic for our leaders.


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