My Experience at EastWest Link

Original article: My Experience at EastWest Link

I first heard about East West Link (EWL) when a family member met Mr. Masood Farooqi, who heads the organization and was looking for Muslim youth to work as leaders in the community. As I had already worked as a communications and grant writing intern at the Council on American Islamic Relations in Chicago, I had experience writing news articles, editing and proofreading articles and publishing them on the organization’s website.

After Mr. Farooqi conducted my interview, I started working on an article titled, “NATO Supply Routes to Pakistan – Reopened”. As I am Pakistani, I have a keen interest in South Asian history, politics, religion, and culture, which is reflected in my writing. My second article was also based on Pakistan, in which I wrote about the injustices and societal issues in the country regarding lack of education, gender inequality, and implementation of law.

The next article I wrote was titled “The Institute of Social Policy and Understanding – Taking a Lead”. For this particular piece, I researched the think tank’s website and familiarized myself with the scholarly staff and fellows who conduct important research on Islam and Muslims in America, and are featured in various publications. As I aspire to be a professor one day, research and analytical writing on civil rights and policy making issues piques my curiosity. I am looking forward to working with ISPU through the EWL-ISPU Joint Internship and increasing my knowledge about how the institute affects American policies regarding Muslims.

Taking a break from political topics, I next wrote an article based on a tafseer of Surah Furqaan from the Quran. I learned the distinctions the Quran makes between good and bad attributes of believing people. As is evident in the surah, Allah (SWT- subhanu wa ta’ala – may He be glorified and exalted) favors humility, dignity, sacrifice, and moderation over arrogance, pride, selfishness, and extreme behavior. Even though the lessons are deceptively simple, they serve as reminders for us, advising us to rethink our impulses and purify our intentions.

The article I wrote next was probably the most interesting I have written yet. Strangely, it took me only a short time to come up with all of the points I wanted to make as I already had my thoughts in order on what I wanted to write. This article stemmed from a documentary I watched called, “Bowling for Columbine” which was based on gun violence in America and directed by Michael Moore.

 

The documentary’s main focus was the 1999 Columbine shooting in Colorado, in which two high school students went on a murderous rampage and killed 13 students and injured 21. I chose this topic because in the aftermath of the Oak Creek tragedy in which 7 Sikh Americans were killed by a white supremacist, I had many questions and concerns about these events. I wanted to learn about how these incidences happened with such ease and how much psychological trauma they caused for Americans.

I also wanted to understand what the reasons were for such violent and hateful tendencies in seemingly every day Americans, what role gun control played in this issue, and what could be done to prevent such crimes and senseless cruelty in the future. Today, as I write this article, another “deranged gunman” has gone on a shooting rampage in New York City, killing his boss who he apparently held a grudge against.

Finally, I wrote about Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh, who garnered national attention when he made controversial and false remarks about some Muslims in America wanting to and succeeding in killing Americans “every week”. I felt compelled to write about this issue because it hit close to home; I am from Chicago, Illinois. Such Islamophobic comments coming from a man who represents the state of Illinois were deeply disrespectful. They also proved dangerous as hate crimes against Muslims in Illinois, and in the county at large, are rapidly growing in number.

Besides writing articles, I also publish all of the interns’ work on EWL’s website in order to promote the writing of our talented youth staff. While reading my colleagues’ articles, I was struck by how informed and opinionated the Muslim youth is and convinced that their voices need to be given center stage in any dialogue about Muslims in America.

In the future, I hope to continue learning at EWL and using the skills I learned here in future job opportunities. I would like to thank Mr. Farooqi for giving me this wonderful opportunity, and Nabila Ikram and Sara Khan for their guidance and training. It is a dream to work with you and as a team member of EWL!

Islam: A Reactionary Religion? US Foreign Policy and the “Muslim World”

Original article: http://chicagomonitor.com/2012/09/islam-a-reactionary-religion-u-s-foreign-policy-and-the-muslim-world/

I would like to start off by stating that there is no excuse and no justification for violence against innocent civilians. I am not here to act as an apologist for violence or criminal behavior of any sort whatsoever. This is an attempt to gain understanding of the supposedly inexplicable and largely violent reaction from so many Muslim countries in response to a badly made film on the internet.

The American Muslim community condemns the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his staff and expresses condolences to their families. Though they may claim it, those who participated in this crime are not true followers of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who taught forgiveness and mercy and lived his life as an example of these lessons. The only purpose of the film, “Innocence of Muslims”, was to incite hatred and violence. Unfortunately, this is exactly the reaction rioters in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen gave as a response to the film, although many countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, and Afghanistan reacted with largely non-violent protests. Critics argue that the film in question is so terribly made that it should not even have seen the light of day, much less have caused such violence and tragedy. But could the film have been the only reason that so many Muslim countries felt enraged, protested and burned American flags? Or is the underlying answer a little more complicated, and is the truth a little murkier, as it always is?

Why weren’t there such far-reaching riots when Norway published cartoons portraying Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist? Or why aren’t the French embassies in the Middle East being attacked right now as a French magazine has published naked cartoons of the Prophet? Shouldn’t the creators of such disrespectful cartoons have faced the same outrage that the creator of “Innocence of Muslims” faced?

The truth is that much of the so-called “Muslim world” sees, specifically, the US government’s international interests and interventionist foreign policy as counter to the safety and well-being of its people. It sees drone attacks, which are supposed to target extremists as opposed to civilians, but rarely do, in Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan. It sees the unconditional and unquestionable support the American government gives to Israel in the form of military and financial aid even when Israel commits war crimes and human rights violations against Palestinians. It sees President Obama’s claim that Guantanamo Bay Prison will be shut down and the prisoners – many of whom are kept there without many constitutional rights or any hope of trial – will be released as ignored. It tries to make sense of the decades of baffling support for dictators in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Uzbekistan, Jordan, and horror of horrors, Libya and Egypt – the two countries which saw the worst protests as a response to the film. It sees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi and Afghan civilians who suffered unspeakable brutality, the destruction of their economy, infrastructure, and national psyche, and the installation of uncertain and shaky governments. Then, as a final straw, they see “Innocence of Muslims”, a trashy, low-budget and downright spiteful attempt at mocking their revered religious figure, their faith and their way of life.

It is not so difficult to believe, then, that countries around the world with Muslim majorities would confuse and conflate this film’s contemptuous message as a partner in crime to the aggressive military action and intervention the American government has utilized as part of its foreign policy. The above-mentioned countries, albeit wrongly, see the US government’s support of anti-Islamic rhetoric as predictable as they have already witnessed said government adopting questionable practices and policies in regards to the “Muslim world”. This is not to promote the rioters’ burning of public property, attacking civilians, or damaging their own infrastructure or to accept this violent response as practical. It is to attempt to understand the history of Middle Eastern-American relations which extends beyond “Innocence of Muslims”, as the film was only a nudge which caused the deck of cards to crumble.

 

The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding – Taking a Lead

Original article: The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding – Taking a Lead

 

The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding is a think tank and research facility founded in Detroit, MI and located in Washington D.C., that conducts extensive, crucial research, and offers nuanced policy analysis and context to the issues facing the Muslim community in the United States and abroad. ISPU’s research and analysis are performed by highly trained scholars in the economic, foreign policy, national security, and public health fields.

Founded in 2001 in the wake of the September 11th attacks as a result of growing curiosity about Islam and Muslims, ISPU has since established itself as a respected and trusted source of valuable information about Muslim traditions, values, practices, and institutions. Since then, ISPU has published hundreds of articles, reports, and research papers written by more than two hundred scholars, graduate students, lawyers, professors, and various other academics. ISPU’s website has been accessed by people in more than 115 countries; the institute has a budget of less than a million dollars annually, and is the only think tank focused on American Muslims.

More than $42 million have been donated to Islamophobic think tanks since 2001, a frightening fact, which gives even more importance to the work that ISPU does to counter stereotypes and anti-Muslim policies in America. In 2011 alone, ISPU published extensive research on topics including the Arab Spring, Al Qaeda and terrorism, the bullying of Muslim children in schools, the legality of U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, how the media is improving the image of American Muslims, and the effects of the September 11th attacks on European Muslims.

ISPU scholars have been featured heavily in the news, television, online, and print media. The institute has provided ample analysis of the futures of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the U.S. and how the American government might make new policies which could ease tensions between these nations.

With her work at the Center for Global Health at ISPU, Dr. Sania Nishta a Pakistani cardiologist, healthcare reformer, medical academic and writer produced “Through the Health Lens: The Aftermath of the 2010 Pakistan Flood”; a report which analyzed the challenges Pakistan faces as a result of the destruction the floods caused. Currently, ISPU’s Director of Research, Farid Senzai is conducting research on the political and civic engagement of American Muslims in the ten years since 9/11 (from 2001 up till 2011).

Julie Macfarlane, a Fellow at ISPU and a Professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Windsor is writing a report on the use of Islamic family law principles and values in divorce processes conducted by third parties in North American mosques. Two research reports titled “A window into American Muslim traditions” and “Aging Muslim Families” are also under production and are being actively worked on by ISPU’s experienced scholars.

In light of the societal, political, economic, and international issues still facing the Muslim community in America, it is essential that policy research institutes such as ISPU not only function well, but that they are actively supported and promoted on an international stage. Only through dialogue, policy making, civic engagement and developing a deeper understanding of Muslims and Islam will the stereotypes and injustices against them end. To that end ISPU is a much needed and appreciated tour de force of activism and information. Take the opportunity to learn more about ISPU at their website www.ispu.org and their Annual 2012 banquet in Dearborn, MI on September 15th.