Does Pakistan have a chance at democracy?

Is Pakistan truly a democracy?Nawaz_Pakistan_Thumbnail

In order to answer that question, one has to explore what democracy means.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, democracy is defined as: “a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”

So, for Pakistan to truly be a democracy, it 1) has to have supreme power vested in the people, or the majority, and 2) have periodic free elections.

But is that the case? Or is Pakistan actually a bureaucracy, with a few privileged elite running the country and the majority being crushed?

Pakistan was founded in 1947, after independence from the British and partition from India. In the bitter fight over land and resources, landowners in Pakistan hoarded as much land and wealth as possible, trying to preserve their way of life. These landowners would later become involved in the political process of the country and continue to accumulate wealth and power. Pakistan’s legislature is composed of a 100-member Senate and a 342-member National Assembly (or House of Representatives). Most of the representatives of the National Assembly are part of the landowning class. Not only would they control the farmers or poor working class populations of their constituencies through economic subjugation, they would further assert authority by making sure they alone had political power. Never will you hear about a poor farmer in Pakistan’s history who was able to become elected as a minister or state representative. As long as the landowning class flourishes in Pakistan and rises up by stepping on the backs of the poor, how can economic or political equality ever be a possibility?

The landowners or zamindar own hundreds, some even thousands of acres of land, mainly in the states of Punjab and Sindh. While they do little work on the land themselves because of an elitist mentality, their farmers or serfs do backbreaking labor for a few dollars a day. More than half of these farmers are in debt, most of whom have had to borrow money from the landowners themselves. Some spend their entire lives trying to pay back the debt, but dismally low wages and lack of supplementary income prevent these farmers from ever breaking free. Furthermore, as almost all of the farming class is illiterate, they have no other opportunities for progress. The mentality that farmers have no need for a proper education still prevails in Pakistan, with trade and agricultural know-how taking priority over a conventional degree. An added social stigma that they are from the farming class follows them everywhere even if they are educated, making it difficult for them to secure jobs in business, the civil service, or other industries.

Can such a fractured and troubled nation be democratic? The answer is not until the power-hungry landowning class’s power is checked. Not until the zamindar class pays the millions of rupees it owes in taxes. Furthermore, not until the average Pakistani is equipped with political awareness and an education, will they be able to vote for the right candidates to represent them in the government. As long as the literacy rate of Pakistan remains a dismal 56%, how can we expect Pakistanis to vote independently or freely in a fair election?

The people must take matters into their own hands and start with their communities. It is an uphill battle but with dedication and commitment, as well as time, it can be won. There are examples of regular Pakistanis who became inspired to truly build their nation and succeeded in causing positive change.

For such change, most importantly, tax evasion and corruption must be challenged head-on and those responsible must face consequences, no matter how many acres of land they own. It is because the zamindar class believes it is above the law that it is able to buy its way out of every situation. This mindset of entitlement is not exclusive to Pakistanis but it has succeeded in permeating every part of the country’s social structure and must be challenged if democracy is to be attempted. Until poor farmers from villages “owned” by landowners stop being subjugated and told who to vote for, democracy cannot become a reality. There must be an overhaul of this elitist system of government with distribution of power if elections and votes are to have any real meaning.

Until then, democracy will be an ideal, not a reality in Pakistan.


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

Original article:

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.


Fear and Loathing in “Homeland”

Original article: Fear and Loathing in “Homeland”

I started watching Homeland, knowing that the high-energy political thriller had won critical acclaim and several Emmys last month. I got hooked right away – pulled in by the fast-paced story, compelling performances, and the unrelenting tension between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” – as they are so aptly called in the show. As a viewer, I could never put my finger on what was coming next, or how the story would shift. However, as an American Muslim and keen observer of international politics, I could not ignore the troubling and reoccurring factual errors about Islam, Muslims, and the Middle East. These manifest in the dialogue and plot, making it difficult to discuss the show without addressing its problematic narrative which required suspension of disbelief about the Muslim community.

Showtime’s runaway hit Homeland focuses on Nicholas Brody and Carrie Mathison, played by Damian Lewis and Claire Danes respectively. Brody is a sergeant in the US Marine Corps – recently returned to his wife and two children in suburban Virginia – who had been stationed in Iraq. During a mission, he was captured by Al-Qaeda and held in an underground torture chamber for eight years. Carrie, a CIA agent who has also worked in Iraq, has received intelligence from an Al-Qaeda member after months of interrogation that an American who has recently returned to the US from Iraq had been “turned.” Carrie suspects Brody is now actively planning a terrorist attack on American soil while working with the head of Al-Qaeda, a Bin Laden-esque figure named Abu Nazir.

Homeland is based on the Israeli TV series Hatufim (Prisoners of War) which was created by Israeli screenwriter, director, and producer Gideon Raff. The series is about a group of Israeli soldiers who are captured as POWs in Lebanon in 2008 and the difficulties they face trying to readjust to civilian life. It is not surprising that the series would be easily adaptable for U.S. audiences as Israel and the U.S. share a similar stance when it comes to Middle Eastern affairs.

In another instance, Beirut is shown as a dusty, medieval bazaar, instead of the bustling metropolitan city it is, where armed militias in jeeps terrorize dilapidated neighborhoods and Hezbollah commanders leave their top-secret battle plans at the kitchen desk. Iraq is shown as a demonic hell-hole where Americans are tortured and killed. Needless to say, any American watching the show will not be inclined to think well of Muslims, much less visit a Middle Eastern country. This type of scene is recycled time and time again in mainstream media portrayals of Muslim-majority countries.

Sure enough, the Israeli series’ influence on Homeland is indubitable. Interestingly, the scenes representing Lebanon and Iraq were shot in Israel. What was even more fascinating was that six supporting actors, who are not of Arab ethnicity, play Arabs in the show. The actor playing a Saudi prince is an Israeli American named Amir Arison. Why was a Saudi actor not hired?

Yusuf Swade, who plays Hasan Ibrahim, Abu Nazir’s bomb-maker, is also Israeli. And what about Abu Nazir, a Palestinian being played by an Iranian actor named Navid Negahban? Raquim Faisel, another Saudi national in the show, is also played by an Iranian, actor Omid Abtahi. Hrach Titizian is of Armenian descent but is playing Danny Galvez, a character of Guatemalan and Lebanese origin. Zuleikha Robinson, who plays Roya Hammad, a Pakistani-British character, is of Burmese-Indian and English descent.

As I researched the characters’ backgrounds, I couldn’t help but question why Arab or Pakistani characters in Homeland are not being played by Arabs or Pakistanis? Wouldn’t it be more authentic, honest, and believable if Arab voices were heard in a show about Arabs? Is it that Arab actors refused to be part of Homeland or that the people behind Homeland purposely chose to not have Arab actors portray significant characters in the show? This could be comparable to actors who are not black playing African Americans on television, which is considered deeply offensive to the African American community today. Or could it be that the Arab American narrative is considered un-American and unpatriotic in popular culture, so much so that we require non-Arabs to tell us what Arabs’ lives are like?

This was not the only problem I have as a fan of Homeland; I also have trouble accepting Carrie and Brody as entirely credible characters.

I enjoy watching them play off of each other as Homeland’s crux is the dynamic between Carrie and Brody. The writers intelligently construct the entire show around a single relationship; to simply call it complicated would be an injustice to the show itself. Lewis plays Brody with a delicious duality, lying without a second thought to Carrie, his wife, his children, and even to himself. He keeps everyone under the dark about where his loyalty truly lies and yet maintains a respectable appearance, wearing a military uniform ironed to perfection. He is vulnerable yet dangerous, a loving father yet a terrible husband, claims to love his country yet actively assists Abu Nazir (who reportedly hates America) undergoes severe emotional and physical trauma, yet does not think twice about inflicting said trauma on others when necessary.

Furthermore, Carrie champions American nationalism with a self-righteousness that is frankly nauseating. She has no problem installing video and audio surveillance in Brody’s home to gather evidence against him, but does not forgive him when he lies to her about his identity.  Her strongest conviction is that she, and only she, must defend America from all threats, internal and external, the foremost threat being Abu Nazir, whose name Claire Danes mispronounces with relish. Keep in mind that this character is a CIA agent, fluent in the Arabic language. As someone who has studied Arabic, it was annoying to hear Carrie speak as if she did not know the pronunciation of Arabic names. Surely, could the show afford an accent coach?

As we find out over the course of the first season, Carrie is volatile and unpredictable. Even after she finds out that Brody has been turned into a “terrorist”, (as he decides to change foreign policy from the inside out through becoming a congressman than through Abu Nazir-like violent revolution) she does not stop loving him. This was a very difficult pill for me to swallow, as I would expect a CIA agent to be a bit more logical. Even after she undergoes self-imposed Electro Convulsive Therapy after an emotional breakdown brought on by Brody’s violent rejection to her “spying” on him based on suspicion that he is a terrorist, she still goes back to working for the CIA. Even after suffering humiliation by her boss, David Estes, she risks her life to go to Beirut to investigate a link between the Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, which might lead to Abu Nazir.

Because according to the show, there is no other choice to save America; there is no one more skilled or more intuitive or even more emotionally stable in the entire Central Intelligence Agency than Carrie Mathison. As a person who is a critical thinker, this is truly difficult to buy.

One cannot help but question whether Carrie is a sadomasochist, who revels in the pain she actively puts herself through in the name of work because of her disorder or whether this is how the creators of Homeland believe CIA agents would be. Even more worrying, however, is the thought that this is how said creators believe CIA agents should be. And if that is truly their belief, are they selling us near-lies in the name of entertainment?

I agree that the premise is fascinating, designed to keep the audience on its toes, with deeply flawed and still likeable characters, uncomfortably involved in each other’s lives. However, as I quickly realized, and as you might have guessed by now, the show is engineered to appeal to a certain demographic, one which does not require much critical thinking or deep understanding of international affairs, instead requiring the audience to stomach giant leaps in implausibility.

For example, Carrie is not alone in the mispronunciation camp; often, Brody mispronounces the Arabic prayers which he learned from Abu Nazir. Surely Abu Nazir knows the correct way to pray in Arabic, considering he has been Muslim much longer than Brody! In one scene, Brody offers salaah with shoes on, which is a huge blooper. It would only take a quick Google search to confirm that Muslims must not wear shoes while praying. This is not to mention that Isa (pronounced Ee-saa), the Arabic name for Jesus is pronounced Ah-i-sa, repeatedly. In the first episode of the second season, Brody’s wife Jessica throws his copy of the English translation of the Quran on the floor, after finding out that Brody has converted to Islam. Aside from the fact that I flinched instinctively at this disrespect, albeit coming from a fictional character, I was taken aback by what Jessica says at this moment and by her sheer disgust at Brody’s new identity.

“This can’t happen. You have a wife, two kids. You’re in the running to become congressman. This can’t happen, you get that right?”

Yes, because being Muslim and an American politician are incongruous, right? You can’t possibly be human or sane if you’ve converted to Islam. I could only wonder what the writers were trying to say in this scene.

Jessica goes on to argue that Brody being Muslim would jeopardize their daughter Dana’s relationship with her boyfriend because, in her view, Dana would be stoned to death for pre-marital sex if she was Muslim. And let’s not get started on how it would affect the kids’ future if anyone found out their father was a Muslim. Jessica is more terrified at Brody’s new-found faith, than hurt that he has lied to her countless times.

This is what truly makes me nervous about Homeland’s premise, not the mispronunciations or the easily avoidable inaccuracies, but that it actively perpetuates Islamophobia. Carrie and Brody’s relationship is built on fear and distrust; both of them represent the “us vs. them” attitude.

Every Muslim character in the show is suspicious at best, a terrorist at worst. None of the Muslims, according to Homeland, can be trusted to run their households, much less run for political office. This propagates further misunderstanding and fear of Muslims in the minds of the audience. Instead of dispelling stereotypes, Homeland promotes them, actively selling Islamophobia in the name of thrill and action.

As a fan of the show, I feel compelled to discuss these inaccuracies and problems. As an American, I feel it both misrepresents Muslims in America and abroad and promotes Islamophobia to audiences worldwide. I hope that in the future, Homeland’s writers and directors prove to be less concerned with gimmicks than with fact. A nuanced, balanced, and fair representation of Muslims would only add credibility to the show and increase viewership. Who knows, maybe more Muslims like me would even like to watch it without having to criticize every episode.

The Children of Syria: A History of Violence

Original article: The Children of Syria: A History of Violence

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times, titled “Syrian Children Offer Glimpse of a Future of Reprisals”.

Read it here:

In it, David Kilpatrick wrote of the hundreds of Syrian children in Jordan’s Zataari camp who are forced to spend their days in tents, away from home, without the food, shelter, and education they desperately need. Mr. Kilpatrick’s thesis was that all of the Sunni children he met in this camp were overwhelmed by their hatred of President Bashar Al-Assad, his government, his supporters, and most importantly, the Alawites – members of a Shia sect of Islam which makes up ten per cent of its population. In this article, Mr. Kilpatrick repeatedly expressed his shock and concern at the apparently inherent violence and intolerance abundant (manifest) in these children’s nature. He expressed fear for the Alawite population of Syria, which, according to him, “see [Al-Assad] as their best protection against sectarian annihilation”.

Mr. Kilpatrick relates the mindset of these children in a fashion that reveals them to be almost barbaric on an intrinsic level. What he fails to address in his article, however, is the mental trauma these children have experienced at the hands of the Syrian government and its supporters, the result of which is a desire to perpetuate this violence in the form of revenge.

While the Syrian Civil War has caused extensive damage to the country’s infrastructure, economy, society, and global image, it has also irrevocably damaged the collective psyche of Syrian children. Armed militias, such as the government-backed Shabiha, have perpetrated unspeakable physical violence and ethnic cleansing against defenseless women and children. Eyewitnesses have reported that such groups have adopted the “scorched earth” policy; after the Syrian military shells a protesting village or town, the Shabiha further terrorize the residing population by burning homes, firing at families, and destroying everything in their path – whether combatant or civilian, whether man or child, it makes no difference. Air raids and shelling of civilian populations continue despite the United Nations forbidding the Syrian government the use of heavy weapons against civilians.

According to reports, Syrian children as young as eight have been beaten, arrested, detained, used as human shields, tortured and raped in prisons, and killed in an effort to crush and immobilize protesting neighborhoods. Perhaps the single worst incidence of violence committed against children was at the Houla massacre, on May 25th, 2012. The United Nations reported that at least 49 children, younger than ten, had been systematically and deliberately executed in this shameful event carried out by the Syrian military and the Shabiha. Those children that survived the massacre endured armed militia men breaking into their homes and watched their entire families shot point blank, knifed, or butchered by machine guns. Even though the Syrian government denied its involvement in this incident, the UN reported clear evidence that the Assad regime was directly responsible for the attacks. A video posted online of some of the murdered children showed their wrists bound with blue ties, which means that they were tied up before being shot. Modest estimates report that of about 30,000 civilians who have died during the 15-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, about 1,200 are children. Syrian security forces have killed, arrested and tortured children in their homes, their schools or on the streets. In many cases, security forces have targeted children and treated them with the same cruelty as adults.

Jarred and disoriented by the never-ending violence, about 1.5 million Syrians, including women and children, have been displaced within the country and tens of thousands have fled Syria for neighboring countries such as Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon. Some of these are the same children which Mr. Kilpatrick encountered in the Zataari camp of Jordan.

Syrian children display signs of deep emotional scarring, thoughts of revenge and murder, and getting “even with the enemy”, reactions which should not be difficult to fathom considering the history of violence against them. The purpose of this article is not to justify or promote these children’s views. It is to state that violence and hatred are not inherent; they are learned through negative experiences and societal influences. Expecting Syrian children to have an untarnished view of their world is not logical as they were not brought to refugee camps in Jordan from a utopia. They were brought to Jordan’s refugee camps from a country divided against itself, with the all too vivid images of violence and hatred still in their minds. They were taught by their authority figures that violence and hate prevail over peaceful protests and tolerance. Until and unless this young generation is given positive role models and reinforcement, empowerment through a proper education, and most importantly, security for their future, their worldview will be just as skewed and distorted as it is now and they will remain prone to regurgitating what they have been fed up till now; hatred and violence.

The Arab Spring: Its Geostrategic Significance by Mohammed Ayoob, ISPU Adjunct Scholar

Policy Report Summary

The Syrian Civil War includes Iran and Turkey, which have widened the conflict’s reach. Turkey supports the Sunni-dominated opposition against the Asad regime, as does Saudi Arabia, which has sectarian and ethnic differences with Iran. Iran supports Asad because his government supplies the Lebanese Hezbollah with financial and military aid. Saudis supply the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups with weapons.

As the opposition’s cause is accepted as justified by the international community, and Asad’s Defense Minister and brother-in-law have been killed, Ayoob believes that the Asad regime is coming to an end. Further complications arise with the inclusion of Russia and China, who tolerate Asad’s regime and have vetoed UN Security Council resolutions against Syria

Russia is averse to a Libyan-style military intervention that would damage its role in Syria, its only ally in the Arab Mediterranean. The US, however, which considers Iran its political and ideological foe, sees Asad as a danger also because his support for Hezbollah would cause attacks against American and Israeli targets as retaliation for attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities. Still, the US doesn’t have any plans for a post-Asad Syria and is afraid of creating another Iraq if it invades to intervene. While covertly supporting the disunited opposition groups in Syria, the US has refrained from a military intervention that might cause total anarchy.

Bahrain, which houses the Fifth Fleet, the American naval base in the Middle East, can be used against Iran’s nuclear facilities. The pro-Iranian Shia population in Bahrain complicates issues further; considering a democratic overthrow of the Sunni-led monarchy, it could create another natural ally for Shia Iran. Saudi Arabia, like the US, has been a massive support to Bahrain’s monarchy against Iran and is keeping Iran preoccupied with Syria so that it doesn’t gain an advantage in the Persian Gulf and Bahrain. Still, it is vulnerable as it’s led by octogenarians, lacks genuine political institutions and has to rely simply on cash to influence events.

Egypt, which has been the only Middle Eastern ally to Israel for 30 years, might now change its policy due to democratic change that sees Israel as a threat, which makes Israel nervous. Israel’s gain from the fall of Asad’s regime (Iran’s ally) may vanish quickly if it’s replaced with a pro-Palestinian Islamist government- like in Egypt – which would also cause tensions in the Israeli-Syrian border. The US-Israeli relationship would also suffer as the US has unequivocal support for Asad’s removal.

Egypt will stay fixated on the domestic struggle for power at the expense of expanding its regional role. Iraq has been significantly weakened after the 2003 US-led invasion and war, which leaves it unable to influence the region or the world politically.

Israel’s political position in the region is likely to weaken further given the US’s disengagement from the Middle East after the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most people in the Middle East see Israel as a “pariah” state with no legitimacy in regional politics.

Turkey is seen as a role model for a Middle Eastern democracy and is supportive of the Arab Spring. Iran is also supportive, although for a different reason. Khamenei sees the Arab revolutions as empowering militant groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and other Shia extremists, but is primarily concerned with empowering Shia populations against Sunnis. Both countries would rather avid the creation of a Kurdish state, which could result from a disintegration of Iraq.

DREAM or Nightmare?

Original article: DREAM or Nightmare?

NOTE: This article was written in June, 2011. As of October 2012, I am legally authorized to work in the US because of President Obama’s executive order to act on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

I am a 21-year-old undocumented University of Illinois at Chicago graduate with a Bachelors degree in English literature. As my career goal is to become a professor, I need to attend graduate school. However, because of my immigration status, I am unable to work legally, apply for financial aid or student loans or federal grants. Therefore, it is virtually impossible for me to continue my education until my immigration status is adjusted and I have become legal. I had pinned my hopes on the DREAM Act which would provide undocumented students of a certain age a pathway for citizenship. My hopes were dashed when the Senate rejected the Act last December. I was back to square one.

Support the DREAM act

As is the case with the families of most undocumented students, my parents worked day and night to earn enough money to pay full tuition and fees so that I may graduate from UIC. I did not receive one cent in aid from any government scholarship, any private grant, or any student loan. I worked equally hard as my classmates and earned straight A’s in all of my English classes, almost to prove to everyone and to myself that I was competent enough to go to school in the U.S. If my parents were not extremely dedicated to their children’s education, and I was not doggedly determined that I finish college, I might not have graduated. I would probably be sitting at home in Chicago wasting away my talents or have seriously considered traveling back to Pakistan, where I am a citizen.

I quickly realized good grades are not enough for Americans to back the DREAM Act. There is widespread hostility against immigrants. They are considered leeches who feed on taxpayers’ dollars and take away jobs, only to go back to their home countries and invest in their own economies.

These ideas are incredibly misguided. Most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are hard-working, proud Americans who raise families and believe in the American ideals of liberty, dignity, and opportunity. Most of them are low-wage, working-class people who need to feed their children and pay the bills like all Americans. Critics of the DREAM Act are quick to point out what immigrants “take” from this country, but why do undocumented individuals’ contributions to this country go unmentioned? Chances are you will see an undocumented student cleaning toilets, picking fruit or flipping burgers, earning less than the minimum wage for years with no hope of a better future.

Has it not occurred to opponents of the DREAM Act that if I was to become a professor one day, which is my life’s dream, I would teach American students at an American university and pay taxes which would ultimately help the economy? Why must I be told “No” when I have worked just as hard as everyone else in my graduating class and have paid UIC four years’ worth of tuition — money which my parents could have used to buy a better home, a nicer car, or saved for retirement? Why must their sacrifices go to waste and my dreams be denied?

The answer is that while the American government is content with exploiting undocumented workers and using them as serfs, it does not want to give them rights. Lawmakers know that even if such an individual acquires a social security number, he or she will pay taxes but never get retirement benefits or social security. They will not be able to drive, or get a state-issued ID or travel outside of the country. Neither will they vote or have any say in electing their mayor or congressman or senator.

So far, the government has continued to turn the DREAM into a nightmare for millions of undocumented people. Ideas like “civil rights”, “liberty”, “justice”, and “freedom” will remain to be merely words to those who are undocumented until they are implemented and made available to us. I urge the Senate, the House of Representatives, and President Obama to back the federal DREAM Act in order to provide undocumented youth who were brought here as children a chance at success – a chance at a normal life.  Let the dream live; do not let it become a nightmare for the millions like me.

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 and their Annual 2012 banquet in Dearborn, MI on September 15th.

Pakistan: A Pandora’s Box of Societal Ills

Original article: Pakistan: A Pandora’s Box of Societal Ills

A man from Khanewal, Pakistan buried his newborn daughter alive after doctors informed him that she was physically disabled. The shocking news, once again, raised questions of law and order, ethics, societal norms, and most importantly, women’s rights in the nation. The incident is a solemn reminder and effect of the basic lack of education in Pakistan, where 60% of the population is illiterate. Girls’ schools are few and far between in villages and even boys are encouraged to take up a trade or artisanship instead of getting an education.

In rural areas such as Kacha Koh, where this heinous crime was committed, such activities are commonplace and perpetrators are seldom punished seriously. A patriarchal society such as Pakistan, which treats men as superior to women in the household, gives husbands and fathers license to subjugate and demean women in their families. Another major factor that creates prejudice against physically disabled people is the lack of infrastructure and facilities, which makes life difficult for people with disabilities and discourages their families from accepting them as active members of the society.

In a culture where young women are considered a drain on the family because of the outdated tradition of dowry, a female infant being buried alive because of a physical deformity is not unheard of. It is a reaction to the larger issues of ignorance and superstition which give way to such behavior. Another problem which faces Pakistan today is poverty and inflation which forces the public to take extreme measures.

If a family of four cannot afford to feed themselves, they will most likely turn to illegal or criminal activity. Without education, without community support, without the planning or resources necessary to survive, they will certainly not be able to earn an honest living. Without a doubt, these are the basic reasons for the distressing rise in criminal activity in Pakistan. It is also expected that going to the police or through the court system will only hurt the family, not help them.

If this wasn’t enough, in many rural areas, contraception is either not available or majorly distrusted. Such communities use religion as a political tool in order to make their own law and order and excuse having more kids than they can afford by giving made-up justifications for their actions. It is also a way of forcing women to stay inside the home and create a separation of the genders so that women stay disempowered.

Moving forward, Pakistan desperately needs to invest in education. Like food, water, and shelter, education is a fundamental human right and if a society does not make a conscious effort to educate its population, it will never succeed. Secondly, it is essential for the nation to focus on implementation of law so that such crimes and atrocities are lessened, if not uprooted altogether. Furthermore, Pakistani society needs to empower and value its women who are just as capable, intelligent, persevering, and strong as women in any other society or country. Without these changes, Pakistan will only regress towards inequality, ignorance, and infamy.

NATO Supply Routes to Afghanistan – Reopened

Original article: NATO Supply Routes to Afghanistan – Reopened

Pakistani customs officials have reported that two trucks from Pakistan carrying NATO supplies crossed into Afghanistan through the Chaman border on Thursday, July 5th. This is the first time since last November that Pakistan has allowed the US to use its supply routes in order to strengthen American troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan had refused to let US supplies be brought into Afghanistan through its borders after the Salala check post incident on November 26th, 2011. In the incident US-led NATO aircraft had attacked and killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and wounded 13 others who were stationed near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The Pakistani government’s decision to reopen the supply routes into Afghan territory comes two days after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement in which she admitted that the U.S. is sorry for the losses the Pakistan military suffered during the regrettable incident and offered condolences to her Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar. According to Clinton, Pakistan will also continue to not charge any transit fees for incoming materials, which will save the US hundreds of thousands of dollars in transport costs.

The US relies heavily on Pakistan to supplement its war against the Afghan Taliban, not only to steadily transport supplies across the border, but also to gradually withdraw US and NATO reservoirs from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, when the US plans to leave the country. The closure had forced NATO countries to bring supplies into landlocked Afghanistan through an alternate route to the north; a tedious, longwinded process that costs more than twice as much as shipping them to, and then across, Pakistan.

Several militant groups have threatened to attack supply vehicles in Pakistani territory, which makes this route a dangerous and difficult one. Before the closure, hundreds of supply trucks, which travel in convoys, were targeted in different areas of the country.

Pakistan, which has had a long history of enabling the US to carry out its conflicts against other countries in the name of diplomacy and alliances, is facing domestic backlash. The rampant anti-American sentiment in the country is a direct result of the Pakistani government’s failure to force the U.S. to stop drone strikes targeting militants, but often killing civilians, and agree to other demands made by parliament.

According to modest estimates, more than 2,000 Pakistani civilians have been killed by US drone attacks in the country and more than 5,000 civilians have died because of suicide bombings which were virtually unheard of before 2001, when Pakistan agreed to support the US in its war on terror. Critics of the Pakistani government’s foreign policy say that Pakistan’s leadership is more interested in promoting US imperialist goals and western capitalist interests rather than protecting the interests of its own people: the US has promised to give more than a billion dollars in military aid to Pakistan on the condition that it keeps these supply routes open; an offer that Pakistan is expected to take advantage of.

Simultaneously, President Barack Obama, currently battling for reelection, also faces criticism from Republicans who are angry his administration apologized to a country allegedly giving safe haven to militants attacking American troops in Afghanistan.

CAIR-Chicago Attorneys Help Iranian-American Become Citizen after Years of Delay

Original article:

Massoud Nejad, an Iranian-born American resident, first came to the United States from Iran in 1978 to study at the University of Illinois. He became a permanent resident in 2000 and applied for citizenship in December, 2008.

“My first citizenship interview was in April of 2009 and Christina was with me throughout,” Nejad recalls. The United States Central Immigration Services, or USCIS, told Nejad that he would have to wait four months for the final decision on whether his interview was successful or not. If a candidate passes the Citizenship Test, U.S. law mandates USCIS to naturalize applicants within 120 days.

After waiting for more than a year and never receiving a reply from the USCIS, CAIR-Chicago filed a complaint in federal court requesting that Nejad be naturalized.  The court remanded the case back to USCIS to make a decision, only to result in USCIS denying Nejad’s citizenship application in October 2010.

The main reason given for denial was failure to report an arrest in 1978. Nejad confirmed that he had, in fact, reported the arrest and that the reason was made up as an excuse to further delay his case.

After continuous appeals by CAIR-Chicago to USCIS, the decision was finally reversed in October of 2011, when Nejad, who has been in the U.S. for more than 30 years, was finally granted U.S. citizenship.

Throughout this time, Nejad faced countless judges, was put on probation for five years for being a political activist in Iran, was arrested several times, and harassed by the FBI. Nejad recalls how FBI agents broke into his apartment in 2008 and questioned his wife about his political past.

“I don’t know what I would have done if CAIR-Chicago was not there to help me. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what would have happened to me,” Nejad said.

Litigation Director Vodak appreciated USCIS’s cooperation, “We are glad the USCIS made the right decision of granting Nejad citizenship, even if it took them three years to do it.”

In 2010, 22 Muslims attained citizenship through CAIR-Chicago’s intervention.  In the past four years, 494 such reports have been received by the organization, out of which 317 cases have been solved.