Category Archives: activism

anti-muslim bias post 9/11 – bayoumi on npr

my friend ruth peck urged me to listen to moustafa bayoumi’s interview on npr today.

bayoumi, who is professor of english at brooklyn college, the city university of new york and co-editor of “the edward said reader”, has written a book called “how does it feel to be a problem? being young and arab in america”. in mostly bayoumi’s own words, the book is a collection of stories about the lives of young arab and muslim americans post 9/11, about how they are forging lives for themselves in a country that often mistakes them for the enemy. arab and muslim americans are the new, largely undiscussed “problem” of american society, their lives no better understood than those of african americans a century ago. under the cover of the terrorist attacks, the wars in afghanistan and iraq, and the explosion of political violence around the world, the vilification of islam and muslims has become socially acceptable in america. no other group can be as easily maligned, with absolutely no protection from hate-speech or blatant racial profiling.

much of what bayoumi said in his interview is similar to the issues i discuss in my film “the muslims i know”. what surprised me were the questions that were directed at him. it still shocks me to find out what people really think about muslims – much of it is small-minded and ignorant, so generalized that it is quite meaningless, and so opposed to basic common sense that i do begin to feel “politically fatigued”. how many times can you answer the same vapid, stereotypical questions that are being constantly bounced around and kept alive by the media without despairing of ever being actually heard? for how long can you defend your humanity when the very language you are asked to use is slanted in favor of your interrogator? is it possible to make any kind of headway?

maybe the very fact that bayoumi was on npr is a step forward. it is good that we are airing our dirty laundry and that one in every four americans is admitting to anti-muslim bigotry. maybe confessing is a necessary prelude to change. maybe tolerance is the norm in america, we’ve just strayed too far away from the mean.

bayoumi’s book

anti war rally in rochester

saritajudy

like someone said at the rally, if 70% of americans oppose the war in iraq then where were they today, the 5th anniversary of the war in iraq! organized by rochester against war and supported by numerous organizations, the rally at liberty pole in downtown rochester included some speeches, many slogans, a diversity of signs and banners and a few arrests. sarita and i weathered the rain and cold and showed up with our signs. sarita was interviewed by the democrat and chronicle. she mentioned the billions of dollars that we have paid to support this atrocious war. we marched to the little theater and back.

here are some pictures:

crowd at rallyspeechessarita with reporter

trash edenslogansmara

1984, the patriot act and eliot spitzer

big brother is watching youfew know that george orwell’s “1984” is in part a depiction of england circa 1948, when the economy was weak and the british empire was faltering yet newspapers carried upbeat stories of triumph and success. orwell had worked for the bbc and was well-acquainted with censorship. he despised totalitarianism and knew that propaganda forms its very core. “1984” was a warning, a possible metamorphosis of the anglo-saxon state (including both england and the united states). in his book orwell presents some of the ideas embedded in a totalitarian state:

1) war is essential for sustained consumption and the survival of a hierarchical society (check out my post titled “consumption – the path to happiness?”)
2) when war becomes continuous it ceases to exist – it becomes so much background noise (how many times a day do we american taxpayers think about our trillion dollar wars in iraq and afghanistan and a possible upcoming one in iran? how can a war on terror – which is an emotion, not a tangible enemy – ever be concluded?)
3) there is an emotional need to believe that big brother will succeed in the end – generally speaking, dogmatic belief eclipses rational thought
4) the separation between different economic and social classes is maintained: the system of ownership and control of the means of production and distribution by the people collectively, under the supervision of a government, doesn’t ensure equality – it only keeps wealth restricted to the upper class
5) whereas the ruling elite or party members are not allowed a single independent thought and are mentally trained to toe the line through doublethink, the common people or proles are free to think because the system guarantees that they do not have the ability to think!

an important part of living in a state where big brother is watching you, is to lose your individual rights and freedoms and be happy to part with them out of fear or ignorance. the right to privacy is one such individual right and the patriot act has gone a long way to whittle it down.

the spitzer scandal, instead of becoming another prime example of a society that “anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses”, should have elicited questions about privacy and the unsettling reach of the long arm of the law. how many of us are talking about how the patriot act was used to get spitzer? do we even know that banks are spying on their own clients by using computer programs to generate “suspicious activity reports”? can we parse the conflict between the right to privacy (a necessity for free, empowered citizens) and the hope, on paper, of possibly catching terrorist money laundering? let’s focus less on the myspace.com profile of spitzer’s paramour and more on how we got here…

for more details on how the patriot act caught spitzer, check out this newsweek story.

in pakistan, islam needs democracy

my friend pacho lane sent me this excellent article by waleed ziad. he reiterates many of the facts my husband and i tried to explain in our “open letter to our senators and congress people about the crisis in pakistan” (post filed under “activism” dated 11/21/07). here is the article:

in pakistan, islam needs democracy
WHILE it’s good news that secular moderates are expected to dominate Pakistan’s parliamentary elections on Monday, nobody here thinks the voting will spell the end of militant extremism. Democratic leaders have a poor track record in battling militants and offer no convincing remedies. Pakistan’s military will continue to manage the war against the Taliban and its Qaeda allies, while President Pervez Musharraf will remain America’s primary partner. The only long-term solution may lie in the hands of an overlooked natural ally in the war on terrorism: the Pakistani people.

This may come as a surprise to Americans, but the Wahhabist religion professed by the militants is more foreign to most Pakistanis than Karachi’s 21 KFCs. This is true even of the tribal North-West Frontier Province — after all, a 23-foot-tall Buddha that was severely damaged last fall by the Taliban there had stood serenely for a thousand years amid an orthodox Muslim population.

Last month I was in the village of Pakpattan observing the commemoration of the death of a Muslim Sufi saint from the Punjab — a feast of dance, poetry, music and prayer attended by more than a million people. Religious life in Pakistan has traditionally been synonymous with the gentle spirituality of Sufi mysticism, the traditional pluralistic core of Islam. Even in remote rural areas, spiritual life centers not on doctrinaire seminaries but Sufi shrines; recreation revolves around ostentatious wedding parties and Hollywood, Bollywood and the latter’s Urdu counterpart, Lollywood.

So when the Taliban bomb shrines and hair salons, or ban videos and music, it doesn’t go down well. A resident of the Swat region, the site of many recent Taliban incursions, proudly told me last month that scores of citizens in his village had banded together to drive out encroaching militants. Similarly, in the tribal areas, many local village councils, called jirgas, have summoned the Pakistani Army or conducted independent operations against extremists. Virtually all effective negotiations between the army and militants have involved local councils; in 2006, a jirga in the town of Bara expelled two rival clerics who used their town as a battleground.

The many militant outfits in the frontier regions are far from a unified popular movement. Rather, they are best characterized as ethnic or sectarian gangs, regularly changing names and loyalties. More often than battling the army, they engage each other in violent turf wars. For many of them — some with only a handful of members — “Taliban” is a convenient brand name that awards them the status of international resistance fighters. It is not uncommon for highway bandits to declare themselves Taliban when stealing tape decks from vehicles.

The Taliban franchise that has battled the army for months in the Swat Valley is held by an outfit whose founder marched thousands of local youths to their death in a campaign in Afghanistan in 2002. Upon returning, he virtually solicited his own arrest by Pakistani authorities to escape the vengeance of the victims’ families. The group is now led by one “Mullah Radio” who, armed with an FM station, preaches that polio vaccinations are a Zionist plot and that the 2005 earthquake was retribution for a sinful existence. A worrisome crank, yes, but hardly Osama bin Laden.

The big problem — as verified by a poll released last month by the United States Institute of Peace — is that while the Pakistani public condemns Talibanism, it is also opposed to the way the war on terrorism has been waged in Pakistan. People are horrified by the thousands of civilian and military casualties and the militants’ retaliatory attacks in major cities. Despite promises, very little money is going toward development, education and other public services in the frontier region’s hot zones. This has led to the belief that this war is for “Busharraf” rather than the Pakistani people.

Naturally, Washington must continue working with Mr. Musharraf’s government against extremism. But we also need a new long-term policy like the one outlined by Senator Joe Biden last fall that would strengthen our natural allies and rebuild faith in the United States at the public level.

This isn’t just wishful thinking. Interestingly, the Musharraf era has heralded a freer press in Pakistan than ever before. Dozens of independent TV channels invariably denounce the Taliban, while educational institutions are challenging the Wahhabist ethos. My conversations with Pakistanis, from people on the street to intellectuals, artists and religious leaders, only confirmed that after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, anti-militant sentiments are at a peak.

This is where the lasting solution lies. As Donya Aziz, a doctor, former member of Parliament and prominent voice in the new generation of female leaders, told me: “Even now, as the public begins to voice its anti-militancy concerns, politicians across the board are seizing the opportunity to incorporate these stands into their political platforms.”

What can America do? Beyond using our influence to push the government to expand democracy and civil society, we need to develop close ties with the jirgas in the violent areas. The locals can inform us of the best ways to infuse civilian aid. (According to Ms. Aziz, “the foremost demand of the tribal representatives had been girls’ schools.”) We should also expand the United States Agency for International Development’s $750 million aid and development package for the federally administered tribal areas.

If next week’s elections are free and fair, it will be an encouraging sign for Pakistan. But as far as Washington is concerned, this should constitute only the first stage of a broader policy intended to make average Pakistanis see the United States as a long-term partner. In the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake, American popularity soared as American aid helicopters — widely called “Angels of Mercy” — soared to the rescue. If we can bear in mind that our long-term interests are the same as those of average Pakistanis, the challenges of fighting the militants and rebuilding credibility may not be as daunting as they seem.

Waleed Ziad, an economic consultant, is an associate at the Truman National Security Project.

is there no accountability?

munir a. malik, former president supreme court bar association of pakistan (scba), has been at the forefront of the the judiciary’s confrontation with the pakistani dictatorship. this is munir a. malik addressing the scba in islamabad, earlier this year:

this is munir a. malik now, after he was mistreated in jail (and possibly poisoned) and then quickly rushed to the hospital when he suffered renal failure:

flowers for mr malik
who will be accountable?

many lawyers arrested under martial law are still in jail or missing, but now that musharraf has taken off his uniform the world has lost interest.

is human rights a “western” idea?

through the process of organizing a rally asking for democracy and the restoration of justice in pakistan i have come to a new understanding of how “human rights” are viewed by many in the pakistani community. it is astounding to me that those who have immigrated to the united states and enjoy freedom and at least some recourse to a somewhat independent judiciary in their new country, can rationalize that people back home might not need similar freedoms. i am shocked to hear statements such as “many in the community support martial law” or “if musharraf goes the taliban will take over, therefore let him stay”.

how easy it is for us, sitting here in our half-a-million-dollar suburban homes and driving our mercs and oversized SUVs to dismiss a grassroots movement asking for justice and human rights, halfway across the globe in pakistan, where we only go to attend lavish weddings and shop for clothes and jewelry. are we not guilty of the same racism immensely popular with western governments? that human rights and democracy are only good for people with a certain skin color. that in countries like pakistan military dictatorships are more conducive to stability – even if it is always at the cost of human rights. that the people of pakistan cannot be trusted to make their own decisions and therefore decisions must be made for them by the likes of musharraf – kept in power by american military aid and so answerable to america, not the people of pakistan. i guess that we ourselves have bought into the ridiculous idea that human rights are not for us – we can’t handle them.

in the letter we sent to our senators and congressmen (posted 11/21/07) my husband and i talk about the people being sent to jail and house arrested by the pakistani government. we describe the lawyers, retired justices, journalists and activists who have been musharraf’s prime targets as “secular-minded, liberal, tolerant, middle class professionals”. one pakistani found that offensive and asked what we meant by that label. three words: muhammed ali jinnah! the founder of pakistan was a secular-minded, liberal, tolerant, middle class professional so what’s so repugnant about it? why do we translate these words to mean “american sellout”? since when has education, professionalism or tolerance become counter-culture in pakistan? the same man then takes a jab at pakistanis asking for human rights in pakistan by proclaiming that they have “misplaced identities”. since when has religious radicalism, conservatism, intolerance and being either lower class or upper class (as opposed to middle class) been more in line with being pakistani? that’s absolute bullshit.

for those who think that it’s all about american sellouts pandering to the west’s spiel about democracy, watch this documentary by ziad zafar called “missing in pakistan”. a lot of the confrontation between the judiciary and musharraf started with a case filed by amina masood and others demanding that their disappeared husbands and sons be accounted for. shockingly enough, the case was taken up by the supreme court chief justice iftikhar chaudhry. this is when musharraf summarily fired him and the country, led by its legal community, erupted in violent protest. look closely at amina masood’s face – that’s the face of pakistan and that is who we should be siding with. amina masood is a teacher. she is middle class, educated, articulate, strong and in your face. in the west she would be called an activist, a feminist. yet should we turn away from her because she embodies all the great ideals we absurdly attribute to the west? is she an american sellout too?

granted the west’s spiel about democracy, as it applies to less developed countries, is insincere and used to window dress its own selfish economic and political interests, but there is nothing wrong with the ideology itself. there is nothing wrong with human rights, individual freedoms, democracy or justice. people in pakistan know that and they are fighting for it with their lives. we don’t have as much to lose, sitting comfortably on our asses out here in the land of plenty. is simply supporting that struggle from your leather armchair too much to ask?

documentary “missing in pakistan” by ziad zafar:

also watch this pbs documentary on the same subject.

open letter to our senators and congress people about the crisis in pakistan

To: Ours Senators and Congressional Representatives

Dear Representative,

We are Americans who support freedom and democracy. We are writing to share our concerns with you regarding recent events in Pakistan.

We are greatly disturbed by General Musharraf’s crackdown on civil liberties, decimation of judicial independence, muzzling of the media, indiscriminate arrests and reported torture of lawyers, human rights activists and politicians.

As Americans we cherish the values of civil liberties, an independent judiciary, freedom of speech and freedom of association, and when we see these values being trampled on in Pakistan we feel we must speak out. This is especially so since General Musharraf’s continued hold on power and the acts committed by his government are supported in no small part through lavish aid and funding provided by us, the American taxpayers.

We feel that for too long the United States has shirked its responsibility toward promoting freedom and democracy in Pakistan by expedient alliances with a string of unpopular military dictators for short term objectives, while ignoring the long term dangers of such unsavory alliances. The history of our foreign policy is replete with instances of our support for dictators of all stripes coming back to haunt us in the long run. We say that for once America should side with the people of Pakistan, not their oppressors.

We recognize that the United States has great strategic interests in ensuring the stability of Pakistan, especially regarding the specter of the government falling under the influence of radicals and militants. We wish to point out the great irony that in fact General Musharraf’s biggest supporters in the current Pakistani parliament are the very same religious parties that make no secret of their support for the radical militants. On the other hand, the people being oppressed by the General are secular-minded, liberal, tolerant, middle class professionals who would be our best bulwark against the further spread of radical religious ideology in Pakistan.

We hear that General Musharraf is a key ally in our war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, yet we would submit to you that in fact the very survival of General Musharraf in perpetual power is contingent upon the existence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. We are aware of the US Government’s unhappiness at the Pakistani government’s performance in the fight against terrorism. Yet we wonder why no one in our government sees that it is in General Musharraf’s own best interest never to wipe out the terrorists completely, because he knows once that happens there will be no reason for him to continue receiving US support to stay in power.

We support ongoing help given by the US to Pakistan, NOT to buy more F-16 fighters or line the pockets of army generals but to fund programs to rebuild civil society in Pakistan, improve the standard of living particularly in the tribal areas, facilitate education and better healthcare, preserve human rights, and restore true democracy, free media and an independent judiciary.

US involvement in Pakistan must be uncoupled from support for dictators, who we predict will end up as major liabilities and hindrances to our foreign policy goals in Pakistan.

We are presented with doomsday scenarios of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling in the hands of radical Islamists if the present military dictatorship comes to an end. These are fanciful ideas dreamed up by think tank types who live in a fantasy world. In fact quite the opposite is true. The army in Pakistan is capable of guarding the sovereignty of the country, fighting extremists, and protecting its strategic assets, if only its tasks could be refocused on purely military matters rather than having it permanently embroiled in ensuring the survival in power of an unpopular dictator.

We wish to ask you, our government and representatives, to please stop being afraid to engage with the people of Pakistan. They deserve more credit than is generally given them for their ability to elect their leaders democratically. The religious and fundamentalist parties have historically never received more than three percent of the popular vote in any free election in Pakistan. It is only under General Musharraf’s rule that they hold the second biggest share of seats in Pakistan’s parliament, because he needs them to maintain his hold on power and has systematically excluded popular political parties that represent the hopes and aspirations of the Pakistani masses.

We wish our government to deliver a clear ultimatum to the Pakistani establishment that our ongoing support for them is not open ended but is contingent upon the restoration of Pakistan’s constitution, an end to martial law, complete freedom of the media, holding of truly open and fair elections, and an end to all military dictatorships.

Above all, we wish to have the judges who bravely stood up to tyranny and dictatorship in Pakistan released and returned to their jobs, for we are all very proud of them. Notable among lawyers and judges who have been placed behind bars are Mr. Aitezaz Ahsan (Barrister and co-founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan), Mr. Muneer A. Malik (President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association), Mr. Ali Ahmed Kurd (former Vice-Chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council), and Justice (Retired) Tariq Mahmood. Pakistan’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry (recent recipient of Harvard Law School’s Medal of Freedom) is still under house arrest.

We look forward to a strong, democratic and progressive Pakistan.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
Your Constituents

rally for pakistan

democracy for all!

rally to show solidarity with movement for justice in pakistan

the rally to support justice and democracy in pakistan was a success last sunday, nov 18. about 50 people turned up. it was a diverse group of people from local activists to religious and interfaith groups, from lawyers to teachers and students, from pakistani americans to americans with no ties to pakistan. it was heartening to see that human rights matter to so many. there was plenty of media coverage. here is the article in the democrat and chronicle.

this is the speech i made, as main organizer and spokesperson for the rally:

“we are here to show our support for the people of pakistan in their struggle for freedom and democracy. civil society in pakistan is being dismantled by the present dictatorship. thousands of lawyers, human rights activists, judges and academics have been put under arrest. hundreds of people who have committed no crime have mysteriously disappeared. shameful instances of torture against prominent lawyers have occurred and the government has even arrested the sisters of opposition leaders. freedom of speech has been curbed and independent media have been shut down.

martial law has been declared to supposedly fight terrorists yet the government is actually negotiating with them and every day they grow stronger. and all this after six years and billions of our tax dollars sent to the pakistan army in the name of fighting extremism. obviously, this strategy is not working.

what is happening today in pakistan is NOT to fight terrorists, NOT to preserve law and order, NOT to make pakistan or the world safer – it is a naked power grab. i ask you to send a clear message to your congressmen, senators, the u.s. administration and the whole world: americans will not stand for what is happening in pakistan. human rights violations must be stopped. those arrested must be released, the constitution must be restored, the judiciary must be restored, the media must be freed, and no more dictatorship.”

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thanks to usman for these great pictures!

americans for justice in pakistan, rally on sun nov 18, 2-3.30pm, 12 corners in brighton

Rally to Support Restoration of Judiciary and Civil Liberties in Pakistan
Date: Sunday November 18, 2007
Time: 2.00pm – 3.30pm
Place: Twelve Corners in Brighton
Contact: Mara Ahmed

SOLIDARITY

PLEASE JOIN THE PAKISTANI AMERICAN COMMUNITY IN UPSTATE NEW YORK IN A DEMONSTRATION OF SOLIDARITY WITH THE PEOPLE OF PAKISTAN IN THEIR STRUGGLE FOR THE RULE OF LAW.

WE WILL HOLD A DEMONSTRATION ON SUNDAY NOVEMBER 18 FROM 2:00 PM TO 3:30 PM AT TWELVE CORNERS IN BRIGHTON.

THE PURPOSE OF THE DEMONSTRATION IS TO EXPRESS OUR DESIRE TO PRESERVE THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE JUDICIARY AND TO RESTORE THE RULE OF LAW AND THE CONSTITUTION OF PAKISTAN.

IF YOU CHERISH FREEDOM, LIBERTY, CIVIL RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY JOIN US TO SHOW OUR RESOLVE TO THE WORLD THAT WE WILL NO LONGER ACCEPT TRAMPLING OVER CIVIL LIBERTIES AND OVER JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE IN OUR HOME COUNTRY.

AS A SIGN OF UNITY WITH THE LAWYERS WHO ARE SPEARHEADING THE STRUGGLE IN PAKISTAN PLEASE WEAR BLACK AND WHITE WHEN YOU COME.

pakistani lawyers rally for the return of law
student protest in lahore

mara verheyden-hilliard & answer.org

mara verheyden-hilliard is a civil rights attorney and co-founder of the partnership for civil justice. she is also on the steering committee of the international group ANSWER (act now to stop the war and end racism), the main organizers of the september 15, 2007 anti-war mass protest in washington dc. this woman is amazing. not only is she extraordinarily intelligent and articulate but her weltanschauung has a moral rectitude rarely found today. after all, i believe that we are living at a time when information-fixing and therefore thought-control have reached a new pinnacle. it is already a struggle to see past the smoke and mirrors but then to be able to stand up for what you believe in, even if that is considered “fringe” and unpopular, and to work tirelessly to change things for the better – that to me is the mark of an outstanding human being.

here’s an interview mara did back in 2003 for npr’s fresh air. she talks about her involvement in anti-war demonstrations on the eve of the american invasion of iraq. this interview is a big slap in the face of the theory that npr is somehow liberal. terry gross is as establishment as anyone else, she certainly has her own agenda, which she pushes aggressively to the detriment of her job as host and interviewer.

this is an article mara wrote for globalresearch.ca, june 3, 2006 – it’s called “the logic of war crimes in a criminal war“.

one of the points mara makes is not to get distracted by elections – if you look at the history of our country, no worthwhile, groundbreaking change was ever effected through the election of the right politicians. what we need instead are grassroots movements that mobilize people to come out in unison and decry the war as well as other racist government policies. this is the only way to force politicians, whether they be republican or democrat, to take account of what we think and what we want, we the people they are supposed to serve!

mara verheyden-hilliard