“Haq Maujood” by Sanam Marvi and Amanat Ali


I was really surprised this morning when I signed into my WordPress account and found so many comments awaiting moderation. At first, I thought I was getting spammed, but then I checked my blog statistics and noticed that my previous post, “And They Call Me Barbarian,” was featured on WordPress’s main page (or “freshly pressed” as it’s called, I’m told).  I’m a bit overwhelmed with the number of comments, likes, and followers I received in one day, but I would like to say a sincere thank you – to my regular readers and to my new ones – for your support and solidarity! I am truly grateful. :)

This post is inspired by the “Ramadan Mixtape” series over at Aslan Media. Music is such a powerful form of expression and I think it’s great that the website is collecting songs that inspire Muslims about faith, good action, and compassion. This Punjabi song by Pakistani singers Sanam Marvi and Amanat Ali is a Sufi devotional piece and one of my favorites. Marvi and Ali both have amazing voices, masha’Allah, and I absolutely Love how they sing this song in ecstatic praise of the Creator and Imam Ali (peace be upon him). All of the musicians performing this song make it a deeply moving experience. Click on “cc” in the video for the English translation.

Below are some of my favorite lyrics in the song. I hope everyone is having a beautiful Ramadan! :)

گھوم چرخڑا چرخڑا
Ghoom charakhra charakhra
Spin, spinning wheel!

گھوم چرخڑا سائیاں دا تیری کتن والی جیوے
Ghoom charakhra saainyyaan da teri kattan waali jeewe
Spin, Lord’s spinning wheel, long live the one who spins You

کتن والی جیوے
Kattan waali jeewe
Long live the one who spins You

لڑیاں وتن والی جیوے
Lariyaan kattan wali jeevay
Long live the one who spins Your strands

مینڈا عشق وی توں مینڈا یار وی توں
Mainda ishq wi toon mainda yaar wi toon
My Love is You, my beloved is You

مینڈا دین وی توں ایمان وی توں
Mainda deen wi toon imaan wi toon
My religion is You, faith is You

مینڈا جسم وی توں مینڈی روح وی توں
Mainda jism wi toon maindi rooh wi toon
My body is You, my soul is You

مینڈا قلب وی توں جند جان وی توں
Mainda qalb wi toon jind-jaan wi toon
My inner heart is You, my spirit and life is You

مینڈا کعبہ قبلہ مسجد ممبر مذہب تے قرآن وی توں
Mainda Ka’ba qibla masjid mimbir mazhab te Qur’aan wi toon
My prayer direction, mosque, pulpit, canon and Qur’an is You

میڈے فرض فریضے حج زکاتاں صوم صلات اذان وی توں
Maide farz fareezze hajj zakaattaan saum salaat azaan wi toon
My sacred duties, my pilgrimage, fasting, prayer, and call to prayer are You

مینڈا فکر وی توں مینڈا ذکر وی توں
Mainda fikar wi toon mainda zikar wi toon
My contemplation is You, my remembrance is You

مینڈا ذوق وی توں وجدان وی توں
Mainda zauq wi toon wajdaan bhi toon
My pleasure is You, my ecstasy is You

Orientalizing Pakistan in Cricket Commentaries


By now, every Pakistani and Indian knows about the epic Pakistan vs. India Cricket World Cup semi-final that will kick off Wednesday in Mohali, India.  Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has already accepted an invitation to join Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to watch the match and discuss India-Pakistan relations, while 5,000 visas have been authorized by the Indian home ministry for Pakistani fans to enter the country and cheer on their team (though a recent report claims that Pakistanis are having a hard time getting tickets for the match). Despite the friendly gestures from politicians and the peace messages I’ve seen Indians and Pakistanis alike post on their Facebook walls, a disturbingly popular and growing acceptability of anti-Pakistani rhetoric plagues online cricket commentaries.

Trash-talking, fierce debates, and impassioned displays of nationalism are expected, especially in the case of a Pakistan vs. India semi-final.  It isn’t unusual for Pakistani Captain Shahid Afridi to make competitive remarks about how Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th international century “will have to wait until after the World Cup to reach the landmark,” nor should it be of any surprise when Indian commentators say Tendulkar “sends shivers down Pakistani spines till date.”  Competition is an essential element of sport and from past cricket matches (which I will mention later in the post) we have seen how the sport can bring people together, regardless of the boasting heard on either side, but there’s a fine line between competitive spirit and super-patriotism fueled by jingoism and sheer bigotry.  The harmful anti-Pakistani rhetoric that I’ve found in some of the cricket commentaries are unsettling for a number of reasons.  For one, the articles seem to exploit tragedies in Pakistan to make it s0und as if the nation is undeserving of a World Cup victory.  Secondly, the anti-Pakistani commentaries fit very neatly into the narrative used by the Obama administration to justify its Orientalist war in Afghanistan and deadly drone attacks in Pakistan.

Consider Soutik Biswas’ piece for BBC News where he took harsh, one-sided shots at the way Pakistanis reacted to cricket losses in the past.  What’s astonishing is how Biswas essentially tries to present Indian and Pakistani fans as polar opposites, i.e. the former are respectful, while the latter are violent and take the sport too seriously.  After expressing his hope for Indian fans to be generous to Pakistani fans, Biswas writes:

Who can forget the time when Pakistan lost to India during the 1996 World Cup? Fans in Pakistan smashed TV sets, a college student fired a hail of bullets from a Kalashnikov into his TV set and then on himself, another fan died of a heart attack, captain Wasim Akram received death threats, a fan filed a petition in the court against the “disappointing performance” and a cleric said Pakistan would never win at cricket so long as a woman – Benazir Bhutto was the prime minister – ruled the country.

While Biswas tries to sound unbiased and respectful by later saying, “surely such passions have abated with the passage of time,” the punch at Pakistan was clearly thrown. In fact, earlier in the article, Biswas oddly cited some random Indian scholar (oh snap, a scholar!) who stated the following: “Indians don’t take failure as national humiliation. Perhaps they consoled themselves that the country surpassed Pakistan in all spheres. It had better scientists, better writers, a more vigorous film industry, and was a democracy besides.”  Biswas’ point is clear: Indians have never overreacted to cricket losses in the same way Pakistanis have, therefore Indians must be better than Pakistanis!

No.  Fail.

Any honest cricket fan knows when Sri Lanka played India in the 1996 World Cup semi-finals, sections of the Indian crowd was so furious over the loss of the 8th Indian wicket that they set fire to the stands and threw water-bottles on the field.  The outburst from the crowd prompted referee Clive Lloyd to stop the match and award Sri Lanka with an automatic victory.  If Biswas is going to mention the Pakistanis that smashed televisions after a 1996 World Cup loss, he should also mention how an Indian mob attacked Indian wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s house and burned effigies of Rahul Dravid in the streets after a loss against Bangladesh.  If Biswas wants to mention a Pakistani college student who shot himself, he should also tell us about the 25-year-old Indian farmer who committed suicide after India’s loss to Sri Lanka in 2007.  What about recent reports regarding Shiv Sena, an extremist Indian Hindu nationalist political party, making threats against the Pakistani cricket team and declaring that it “gets to decide if Pakistan can play in the final” ?  One could also point out that Shiv Sena killed a parrot that predicted Pakistan would win the World Cup.  Poor parrot. Killed for making a prediction.  Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (Surely we belong to God, and to God we shall return).

Commentaries like Biswas’ are more than just one-sided jabs at Pakistan, they are part of an Orientalist depiction of Pakistan that has become increasingly and widely acceptable.  The Orientalist description of Pakistan is as follows: Pakistan is a country that “harbors terrorists;” Pakistanis are violent, backward, and uncivilized people; Pakistani women are veiled and oppressed; Pakistanis suffer from all of the above because of the religion of Islam.  Because Pakistan is a Muslim-majority country, it is often perceived as a Middle Eastern nation, not a South Asian one.  Furthermore, all of the virulent Islamophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric that continues to spread at rapid rates, particularly in the west, also runs parallel with the Orientalist attitude and perception of Pakistan and Pakistanis.

A good example of how the above plays out can be found in a post titled “Why India-Pakistan World Cup Semifinal Will Belie the Hype.” The author, Sajid Huq, starts with usual trash-talking and says “India will school Pakistan” on Wednesday (interestingly, the author seems to have deleted the remark today).  I don’t have a problem with Huq’s opinion nor am I offended by it.  However, the commentary suffers from the same anti-Pakistani rhetoric found in Biswas’ piece.  I must say that it is interesting how Huq lists Edward Said as one of his favorite authors and yet presents Pakistan through the dirty lens of Orientalism.  Huq paints a glorified image of India while depicting Pakistan as a country “housing terrorists.”  No historical or political context is given on how turmoil and violence has escalated in Pakistan nor is there any mentioning of how US invasion, and occupation in Afghanistan continues to have a disastrous impact on Pakistan.  Huq goes on to boast about India’s scientific and artistic achievements:

India is perhaps at a stage when the international community is more bullish about its markets, more excited about its culture, and generally more pro-Indian than at any stage of the nation’s history. And of course, this has not been a result of plain luck. Indian businessmen have distinguished themselves at an international stage, and noticeably so in the last decade. Indian engineers, doctors, scientists, and even investment bankers have made news and brought tremendous glory to the nation. Bollywood is increasingly an industry that has caught international imagination, as have Indian philosophies, literature, music, and last but not least, the fortune of the cricket team, which has successfully held on to top rankings in most forms of the game.

In sharp contrast, this is all Huq has to say about Pakistan:

Pakistan, as has been said so often, is an embattled cricketing nation. More pertinently perhaps, it is an embattled nation, dealing with perhaps its most troubled phase in history, at a time when brand Pakistan has been muddied, sullied, and then some more – through domestic turmoil, political unrest, and visceral anger from the international community for housing terrorists that then spawn and attack nations near and far.

Ah ha, I get it, India = happy, friendly, advanced, mystical; Pakistan = gloomy, hostile, backwards, dangerous.  This very narrow and unfair representation of Pakistan not only polarizes Indians and Pakistanis, but also plays into the hands of a hurtful narrative that vilifies Pakistan for imperialist purposes (after all, vilifying Pakistan as a “haven” for terrorists makes it easy for US war crimes to go unchallenged).  If we choose to talk about India’s Bollywood industry, then why not also include the Pakistani musicians that are not only popular among Pakistanis, but also among Indians because of their contributions to Bollywood songs?  Atif Aslam, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Nouman Javaid, Kamran Ahmed, and other Pakistanis have produced popular Bollywood songs.  I would take it a little further and acknowledge Pakistanis in the west who have made creative and artistic contributions, such as Pakistani-Canadian filmmakers like Zarqa Nawaz, Pakistani-Canadian actors like Zaib Shaikh, or Pakistani-American singers like Nadia Ali. Canadian actress Sitara Hewitt and British lead singer of “Bat for Lashes,” Natasha Khan, are of Pakistani descent as well.  Surely anyone who has seen the Pakistan-based Coke Studio sessions would recognize the immense amount of talent in Pakistan.

The point is not to gloss over the serious problems that confront Pakistan.  Indeed, it is important to address the country’s struggles on so many issues. However, presenting a singular and Orientalist image of Pakistan as dark, violent, and brutal in contrast to a bright and blooming India, almost to taunt Pakistanis, does very little to help us recognize Pakistan’s diversity, as well as its very complex history and contemporary challenges.  It also overlooks India’s struggles and makes it very easy for us to lose sight of the Pakistani activists, leaders, and organizations that are making strong efforts on so many levels by speaking out against injustices, standing up for human rights, improving education, helping those in need, etc.

Instead of hearing about these Pakistanis, mainstream western media depicts Pakistan solely as the aggressor and India as the victim.  Most of the cricket commentaries I’ve read, including the two I critiqued above, have mentioned the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and point out that the upcoming match is the first time the two teams have met since the attacks.  Other articles argue 26/11 is still the “biggest hurdle” for India and Pakistan talks, characterizing Pakistan as suspicious and untrustworthy.  As horrible as the attacks were in Mumbai, what continues to alarm me is how mainstream discourse on India and Pakistan seem to forget that Pakistanis suffer from terrorists attacks, too.  The bombing of the Islamabad hotel, the bombing of Sufi shrines, the bombing of girls’ schools, sporadic bombings in Lahore and other parts of the country – all of these attacks were made against Pakistanis by militants and extremists.  However, where are the dates for these events and why aren’t we expected to remember them?

26/11, like the 9/11 attacks, is treated as an epoch-making event.  The Indian government’s former Secretary of Security Shyam Mehra stated in October, “The events of 9/11 in the U.S. and 26/11 in India mark defining moments with epoch-making consequences. Implicit in these attacks is an assault on the larger idea and essence of free societies. Both countries need to work in a common endeavor to meet these challenges.”  Establishing this link with the US has significant strategic and political purposes.  Not only is 26/11 considered “India’s 9/11,” but it also identifies a common enemy for the US and India and strengthens their alliance.  Even though it was reported last year by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) that a total of 3,021 civilians were killed in terrorist attacks in 2009, a 48% increase from 2008, media coverage on these attacks have never characterized them as “Pakistan’s 9/11.”

One must ask why the US, England, and India use calendar dates to commemorate the attacks on their nations and then expect these events to be universally known throughout the world.  What about the millions of murdered Iraqis and Afghans?  What about the massacre of 2,000 Muslims in the state of Gujarat in 2002?  What about Israel’s bombing of over 1,400 Palestinians in December-January 2008-2009?  What about the drone attacks in Pakistan?   What about the violence, oppression, and Indian military occupation in Kashmir?  What are the dates of these events, what are the casualties, what are the names of the victims, what are their stories?  Why aren’t these attacks expected to be universally known as attacks on non-Muslim majority countries like America, England, India, and Israel?  If we’re taught that all human life has value, then why these double standards?  Excluding the atrocities in Pakistan and other Muslim-majority nations only perpetuates the construction of Muslims as antithetical “others” and “enemies” of “the free world.”

Cricket commentaries shouldn’t participate in continuing the vilification and misrepresentation of Pakistan and Pakistanis.  As mentioned earlier, cricket matches between Pakistan and India have shown us inspiring displays of friendship and respect for both nation. One article makes note of how Indian journalist and author M.J. Akbar recalled:  “one of the most moving moments of my life came in Lahore in 2004, when the joy of an Indian victory in a one-dayer soared at the sight of young Pakistani fans waving the Indian flag as a gesture of friendship.”  I also remember watching those matches and seeing Pakistanis give standing ovations to the Indian players, Indians and Pakistanis holding signs that read “India-Pakistan friendship” and wearing face-paintings with the flags of both nations.

No doubt that Pakistanis and Indians will be cheering on their cricket teams on Wednesday.  Cricket has a way of boosting the morale of the general public.  As my cousin pointed out in an online discussion, amidst the political turmoil, the stereotypes, the exclusion from IPL and hosting in the World Cup, and being so “broken and dejected over the country’s pathetic state of affairs,” a victory for Pakistan would give the people something to smile about.  Perhaps it could also help break the Orientalist stereotypes that continue to tarnish the nation’s image and fuel western imperialist projects.

Smoke Screening President Obama’s War Crimes

Last Friday night, my Facebook news feed lit up with updates about President Obama’s support for the hotly-debated Cordoba House Islamic Center in New York. My Muslim-American friends, especially, applauded the President for his “bold leadership,” “preservation of American values,” and “defense” of Muslim civil liberties. Somewhere, amidst all the excitement of expressing how “grateful” and “proud” we should be of President Obama, Muslim-Americans and others forgot about the horror stories of US war crimes and complicities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine.

I have been very outspoken in my criticism of the Obama administration in previous posts and while I strongly support the proposed Islamic Center in Manhattan, I remain astonished at the way many of my fellow Muslim-Americans and human rights advocates praise President Obama and stay silent about his policies overseas.

It is clear that the ugly and seemingly endless controversy surrounding the Islamic Community Center (incorrectly termed the “Ground Zero Mosque”) highlights on the disturbing prevalence and growth of Islamophobia in the United States. Due to the hate-mongering initiated by Islamophobic bigots and propagandists, an enormous body of literature, especially on the blogosphere, exists about what has become a nationwide debate. Muslim-Americans, inter-faith leaders, and representatives of anti-racist organizations continue to speak up and condemn the shameful anti-Muslim smear campaign perpetuated by right-wing Republicans and others.

Former speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich recently called supporters of the Islamic Center “radical Islamists” and likened them to Nazis. Gingrich then went on and stated, “We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor.” Equating the entire Muslim population with Nazis and radical extremists is more dangerous than it is insulting, as it undoubtedly fuels the Orientalist perception of Muslims being suspicious, untrustworthy, and the threatening “Other.” Carl Paladino, Republican candidate for the governor of New York, added to Gingrich’s alarmist assertions with the following ludicrous statement: “The Ground Zero Mosque is not about freedom of religion, as President Obama claims. It’s about the murderous ideology behind the attacks on our country and the fanatics our troops are fighting every day in Middle East.” His ignorant comments are reflective of the countless Republicans who have joined the hate choir in demonizing Islam and linking the religion with terrorism.

But this debate is not so clear-cut either. The so-called “Anti-Defamation League (ADL)”, which claims to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people” and “secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike,” released a statement in late July to oppose the Islamic Center’s construction. The announcement prompted Muslims and Jewish representatives from Mt. Airy’s “Shalom Center” to rally in support of the Islamic Center and condemn the ADL’s hypocrisy. Meanwhile, Democrats such as John Hall, Tim Bishop, and Mike McMahon oppose the project, calling it “insensitive” to the “families of 9/11,” as if Muslim-Americans are responsible for the attacks and didn’t die on 9/11, too.

With such ignorance and nationalistic xenophobia during a time when Islamophobia is becoming more and more deeply rooted in the hearts of non-Muslim Americans, it is understandable and correct for Muslim-Americans to expect their President to defend religious liberty. However, when Obama escalates military presence in Afghanistan, widens drone attacks in Pakistan, and fails to hold Israel accountable for its war crimes against the Palestinians, to what extent are we comfortable with praising the President while disregarding US atrocities? That is, have Muslim-Americans and self-proclaimed anti-racist/anti-war/anti-oppression activists become so self-absorbed that we exclusively care about our civil liberties and not the rights of those victimized by the Obama administration’s military campaigns in Muslim-majority countries?

Before discussing his international policies, I want to address what happened on Saturday, a day after Obama made it “clear” about backing the Islamic Center. The President told reporters, “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a Mosque there.” Aside from wrongly describing the building as a Mosque, Obama once again revealed his attempts to appease both sides of the debate. Though he “supports” the right for Muslims to build an Islamic Center in the proposed location (which is not at Ground Zero), he refuses to endorse it. One must question why Obama doesn’t endorse the project? If he believes Muslims are not responsible for the 9/11 attacks and that the association between “Islam” and “terrorism” is abhorrent, then why refuse to comment on the “wisdom” of building an Islamic Center? Also, why is the Islamophobia surrounding this controversy not addressed? Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah writes:

What the critics are engaged in is collective vilification, delegitimization and incitement against Muslims in the United States and they are doing it deliberately and for political purposes. This is what needs to be recognized and confronted and sadly I do not see the president or any other senior politicians in the United States doing that… Muslims may have the legal freedom to exercise their religion in the US — and they do despite increasing efforts to use laws and regulations to prevent the building of mosques — but what is that freedom worth if they live in a climate of increasing fear, vilification and hatred?

Abunimah also points out that the ADL’s Abe Foxman and even Sarah Palin did not challenge the right to build an Islamic Center, but certainly opposed the idea. Defending civil rights is important, but pretending that Obama has championed the exhaustive and heated debates against Islamophobes ever since this controversy started would be to overlook his vague remarks on Saturday, as well as the hard work of Muslim and non-Muslim activists.

At present, Obama is still upheld as the “anti-war President.” The constant promotion of Obama as someone who “understands” Islam, “reaches out” and offers a “new beginning” to the “Muslim world” replays like advertisement and it serves as a powerful tool to justify and conceal his war crimes. Surely, after citing Qur’anic verses, Persian poets, and Turkish proverbs, Obama must be helping the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan; he’s only killing the “terrorists,” right?

In June, United Nations human rights official Philip Alston urged the CIA to cease its drone operations in northwest Pakistan and accused it of potentially generating a “Playstation” mentality towards killing. In his report, Alston concluded that “CIA personnel could be prosecuted for murder under the domestic law of any country in which they conduct targeted killings, and could also be prosecuted for violations of applicable US law.”

While exact numbers of Pakistani causalities vary, all reports agree the death toll is high. According to a study published in February 2010 by “The New America Foundation,” between 413 and 709 Pakistanis were killed in drone strikes in 2009, while 278-465 (and counting) were killed in 2010.  As Pakistani-British author and political commentator Tariq Ali states, President Obama has ordered more troops and drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, respectively, than Bush ever did. Given that no evidence has been provided that these drone campaigns are actually working, let’s ask some human questions: How many of these hundreds are “terrorists”? How does bombing people promote peace and stability? Are people expected to forget the pain and trauma when their family members and Loved ones are bombed?  Is there really no expectation for retaliation?

In Afghanistan, the condition for Afghans, especially women, has worsened under US military occupation. When asked to comment on the controversial “Time Magazine” cover featuring an 18 year-old Afghan woman with her nose cut off, Afghan feminist-activist Malalai Joya stressed that the atrocity occurred under western occupation and that such violence has increased since the US invasion. Joya explained to reporters:

During the Taliban’s regime such atrocities weren’t as rife as it is now and the graph is hiking each day. Eighteen-year-old Aisha is just an example and cutting ears, noses and toes, torturing and even slaughtering is a norm in Afghanistan. Currently, Afghan people, especially women, are squashed between three enemies: Taliban, fundamentalist warlords and troops.

Along with Anushay Hossain, Joya condemned the US media’s exploitation of Afghan women, calling it an attempt to use the plight of Afghan women as an emotional propaganda tool to garner support for an unpopular war. RAWA News claims that Wikileaks published a document in March that outlined the CIA’s strategy to use the condition of Afghan women to counter opposition against the war in Europe and the US. Such images, indeed, provoke strong emotional responses, but if the US media wants us to really care about Afghan women, then what about the US soldiers that raided an Afghan home in February and killed three innocent women – two of whom were pregnant – and then tried to hide the evidence by digging the bullets out of the dead bodies? Will these images be published by “Time Magazine” or are the images only powerful when Afghans commit the atrocities?

Yet despite the predator drones in Pakistan, the troop surge in Afghanistan, the torture and prisoner abuse in Bagram, occupation in Iraq, and the silence on Israeli war crimes, protests against Obama’s wars and complicities aren’t nearly as large as the anti-war protests during Bush’s term. Why? Also, criticism of Obama is often shut down as “hateful,” “anti-American,” and “pessimistic” or “cynical.” As an anti-racist activist, I do recognize the ugliness of racism in our country and how a lot of White supremacists direct their rage at Obama, but my criticism of the President is based on the principles of fundamental human rights and anti-imperialism. It continues to surprise me whenever I encounter people who get incredibly defensive to criticism of Obama. There was one instance when a fellow Muslim told me, “If you hate America so much, then go back to your country! I’m an American, I’m proud of my country and my President!” Not only was I stunned to hear xenophobia from a fellow Muslim, but I also thought about how I heard similar remarks made by the pro-Bush crowd.

Dismissing, vilifying, or even censoring criticism of Barack Obama not only discourages diligent questioning of authority and our responsibility as human beings, but it also works a way to overlook the realities and consequences of US war crimes and complicities in the aforementioned countries. When I am asked, “Would you rather prefer McCain as President?” I find that problematic for many reasons. Firstly, it says Obama was the “lesser of two evils,” and secondly, it doesn’t encourage us to hold our leaders responsible for their wrongs. If we all elected Obama, then wouldn’t it be more productive to speak out against the war crimes instead of smoke-screening them? When someone challenges Obama’s policies, what is the point of getting overly defensive other than seeking to shut that person up? If we believe Obama is the “better President” or the “less racist President,” does that mean we should excuse the people murdered in his wars? Muslim feminist-activist Shaista Patel comments:

With a family in Pakistan, and friends in Northern Pakistan, some of whom have lost their loved ones to the US airstrikes, it’s hard to digest this ‘better’ Obama. I am not appropriating the pain of the people there by sharing this, but I am from there and I am from here too; invested in the hope of my President doing something for us but knowing full well that he’s killing my people across the oceans. We think that better times are here and that we have the support of Obama, a President much better than the last one, which Pakistanis, Gazans, Afghans and Iraqis will tell us is not the case.

Even worse, as I write this now, over 20 million people are suffering from the devastating floods in Pakistan. Mark LeVine of Al Jazeera English wrote a powerful piece yesterday that called for relief boosts in Pakistan and an urgency for Obama to call a ceasefire. Outraged at American and Pakistani officials for pledging to continue war in Pakistan, LeVine writes:

Over the weekend US missiles killed 12 people. Meanwhile, 19 American helicopters are currently involved in the rescue efforts. Precisely what kind of message does that send? “We are not going to give much to help you stay alive, but we will make sure to continue killing you during this time of greatest need.”

What is startling is how the Obama administration spends $12 billion a month to fight the Taliban. Compare that amount to the $460 million requested by the UN to help aid the 20 million Pakistanis. In other words, the money Obama spends on war in Afghanistan and Pakistan is actually 25-times the amount needed to aid Pakistan. When we know our government can help another nation in its time of desperate need, why do we not express outrage the same way we did when Bush was in office?

As Muslim-Americans, Islamophobia is a reality that confronts us at home and it is important for our communities and allies to speak out against it, but at the same time, if we really care about human rights, we should also condemn the war crimes committed by our government. Before we got over-excited about Obama wishing Muslims a “Happy Ramadan,” let us be conscious of the people being killed by US missiles, occupying military forces, and US-funded weapons, tanks and jets in Israel.  I do not deny that Muslim-majority countries are plagued by corrupt governments and aren’t doing enough to help their fellow nations, but since criticism of Obama from our communities is often marginalized, it is important we realize that the US military presence and intervention in the rest of the world is part of the problem, not the solution.

Real “change” means there is always progress to be made. Nothing changes if we stay silent.

Muslim-Americans Getting It Wrong on Pakistan

In no way do I support the Pakistani court’s decision to ban its citizens from accessing Facebook and YouTube. As many of you know, restrictions were put into effect after Pakistani officials learned about an idiotic, Islamophobic event on Facebook called “Draw Muhammad Day.” As much as I strongly oppose the event and find it clearly driven by hate and ignorance, I believe the Facebook ban is not only nonsensical and counterproductive, but also an insult to the Pakistani people, implying that millions of citizens would flock to the group and participate if the site is not prohibited. Without a doubt, the blockade of Facebook and YouTube represents the government’s religious insecurity and mistrust of its own people.

However, what puzzles me further is how Muslim-Americans, especially those of Pakistani descent, resort to simplified generalizations and misrepresentations of Paksitan and its citizens. I do not know Arsalan Iftikhar personally, but I have always respected his efforts to speak out against Islamophobia and distortions of Muslim-Americans. Whether on CNN or Fox News and talking to right-wing bullies like Bill O’Reilly, Mr. Iftikhar’s work certainly calls for respect and appreciation.

But I must challenge the comments he made about Pakistan in his latest piece on the CNN opinion page. Mr. Iftikhar paints a harsh picture of Pakistan in the very first sentence:

For a country that has produced five military dictators in 60 years, mourned the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and struggles continually against its own militant extremists who have killed thousands in their own nation, Pakistan has absolutely picked the wrong fight by banning Facebook and YouTube because of an idiotic virtual campaign called “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.”

Mr. Iftikhar went further to argue that the country did not live up to its name, pointing out that the word “Pakistan” means “Land of the Pure” when translated from Urdu. “There has been nothing pure,” he writes, “about the downward sociopolitical spiral of this nuclear-armed, Third World fledgling democracy of 172 million people over the last several years.” He cites former US ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlin, who describes the region as terrorized by extremists. Mr. Iftikhar closes with the following:

Instead of conjuring up stupid controversies like the recent bans of Facebook and YouTube because of some silly drawings, the 172 million citizens of Pakistan should focus their political attention and economic resources on educating their women, improving their rule of law system and truly understanding the repercussions that come with ominously naming your country the “land of the pure.”

I will not dispute the social, political, and economic struggles that confront Pakistan. Indeed, they are real. However, what surprises and appalls me is that there is not a single mentioning of the U.S. intervening, exploiting, and attacking Pakistan. Mr. Iftikhar’s article is titled “Pakistan should ban extremism, not Facebook,” but he does not address the root of the extremism. He only touches upon the symptoms of a larger problem. Yes, Pakistan has an unfortunate history of military dictators and while it is important to hold those leaders accountable for their criminal actions, it is also crucial to acknowledge that the US largely supported and funded those dictatorships.

When the United States was hell-bent on fighting Communism, the government subsidized General Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan’s most ruthless military dictator, who was trained in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and later stationed in Jordan to train soldiers during the Black September operations, which resulted in thousands of Palestinian deaths and causalities. The US-Pakistan alliance monetarily and militarily aided the Mujahedeen resistance movement in Afghanistan against Soviet invasion. Not only were extremists and militant groups supplied with US weapons and trained by the CIA, but the jihadi manuals were also printed in Nebraska.

I have repeatedly pointed this out in previous posts, but after September 11th, then President Pervez Musharraf was given an ultimatum from George W. Bush: “You’re either with us or against us.” Pakistani British author Tariq Ali has also emphasized on this next point: former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage threatened to “blow Pakistan back to the stone age.” Pakistan’s cooperation with the US, as well as fighting in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) has resulted in violent antagonism towards Pakistan from tribal groups, militants and extremists.

In other words, the war in Afghanistan is spilling into Pakistan. The invading Taliban groups view the Pakistani government as complicit with US war crimes, not just in Afghanistan, but in Iraq and Palestine as well. This has resulted in devastating attacks on Pakistan, which has caused so much suffering on the Pakistani people themselves – Sufi shrines being destroyed in Peshawar, the bombing of girl’s schools, sporadic bombings in Peshawar, Lahore and other parts of the country, etc.

President Obama, who frequently criticized the US for supporting Musharraf during the presidential campaign, is not only financially backing President Asif Zardari – a man who is reviled by the majority of Pakistanis – but also escalating troops in Afghanistan and carrying out deadly drone operations in Pakistani tribal areas. In fact, it was reported by Pakistan’s Dawn Media Group that over 700 civilians were killed by drone attacks since Obama took office in 2009. According to PressTV, an estimated 300 people (and counting) have been killed in 42 drone attacks in 2010. Not to state the obvious, but that is a lot of people! Zardari and Hamid Karzai of neighboring Afghanistan both welcome Obama’s policies in advancing the Afghan war and continuing the drone attacks, respectively.

Yet it seems that President Obama receives little to no criticism from Muslim-Americans, specifically those who are in Washington or work in civil rights organizations. I often hear peculiar arguments that seek to justify his policies. There are those who even question the number of casualties from the drone attacks (to which author and activist Jeremy Scahill has refuted). Others have argued that leaflets were sent to those areas, so all of the Pakistani civilians should just leave. Funny, because I never heard such excuses when Israel bombed Lebanon in 2006 or Gaza in December-January of 2008-2009.

The reality is that human rights violations still occur under Obama’s administration – in Iraq, in Palestine, in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan. In February, US soldiers raided an Afghan home and killed three innocent women – two of whom were pregnant – and then tried to hide the evidence by digging the bullets out of the dead bodies. Earlier this month, 20 people were killed in another drone attack in Pakistan. With such injustice, how does one expect there to be no violent backlash or retaliation at all? Do people easily forget the murders of their Loved ones?

It would be inaccurate to say extremism and corruption does not exist among certain Pakistani religious leaders and politicians, but excluding US attacks and military operations in the region would be just as misguided. As Tariq Ali has stated in several of his talks, the US presence in Afghanistan is not the solution, it is part of the problem and it is having a disastrous impact on Pakistan. Drone assaults on tribal areas only generates a culture of revenge, intensifies the violence, and endangers the lives of Pakistanis, as well as Americans (see: Time Square).

Extremism does not manifest out of thin air. Ignoring the US as a key factor is a misrepresentation of facts and simplifies the radicalization of extremists and militant groups (similar to how Bush advocates used to say, “They hate us because we’re free”).

Not all of the 172 million Pakistani citizens support the ban on Facebook and YouTube. I would argue that the vast majority of Pakistanis object to it – and I base this on the nation-wide demonstrations that helped reinstate the chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhary, as well as the gathering of over one hundred thousand people who observed the 250th anniversary of the divinely inspired 17th century Sufi poet, Bulleh Shah. Though I doubt Mr. Iftikhar was implying that 172 million Pakistanis weren’t doing anything about educating women and improving their ruling systems, I think it was unfair that he didn’t mention their efforts.

As for Pakistan not living up to its name, “Land of the Pure,” I cannot really disagree with Arsalan Iftikhar. However, I must ask: which country is, if any? Which country in the world is the shining example of justice and liberty for all? Sure, there is enough to criticize about the “Land of the Pure,” but let’s not dismiss the facts, the US-Pakistan relationships, the dynamics of power, and the deadly repercussions of military intervention and exploitation.

And surely, that turns our attention to the problems we have here in the “Land of the Free.”

It’s Time to Get Real: Obama is Wrong

Anyone who knows me is aware that I’ve been cautiously optimistic about President Obama for a long time.  Like many, I was devastated by the Israeli attacks on Gaza last winter and I was also extremely disappointed with Obama for not holding the Israeli government accountable.  “He’s not the president yet,” many would say, including some Muslim friends of mine.  I wanted to believe they were right, so I kept my frustration sidelined.  I’ll wait and see what happens after his inauguration, I told myself.  After 8 years of war, profiling of Muslims and Arabs, and rising Islamophobia, who wouldn’t like to believe there is hope for our nation?

After Obama swore into office, I was pleased when I heard his proposal to shut down Guantanamo bay.  I admit it was nice to see an American president reaching out to Muslim-Americans, Muslim majority countries, giving a speech in Turkey, in Cairo, and addressing Iran, all whilst demonstrating an appreciative understanding of Islam.  He cited the Qur’an, the Persian poet Sa’di, and a Turkish proverb that says, “You cannot put out fire with flames.”  He revealed that he had Muslims in his family and then wished Muslims worldwide a blessed Ramadan.  Although I did not fully support Obama at this point since I was still skeptical and, at times, very critical (especially for not highlighting the war crimes in Gaza), I was privately hoping that my uncertainty was wrong.  Maybe this is for real, I thought.  Maybe real change is on the horizon.

But my hopes quickly changed when Obama ordered drone attacks in Pakistan.  As I wrote in my previous post, the senseless drone attacks during Obama’s first 99 days in office amounted to well over 150 deaths.   Drone attacks have continued to the current month of December, claiming the lives of many innocent civilians.  In fact, as Pakistani author and political commentator Tariq Ali points out, on the very day that an Iranian woman, Neda Soltani, was murdered during the election protests in Iran, a U.S. drone killed 60 people in Pakistan, mostly women and children.  The death of Soltani drew international attention and became an iconic image of resistance against Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, while nothing was mentioned about Pakistan.

The loss of one human life is one too many, but based on this contrast of media attention, it reveals a remarkably cruel prejudice that, seemingly, victims in Muslim majority countries are only worth reporting when they are killed by their own people.  Informing people about American atrocities sends the “wrong message” about the Obama administration’s agenda.  Similar to how Bush convinced citizens to support his war in Iraq, Obama cannot win support for advancing his war in Afghanistan if Americans know that innocent people are being killed by U.S. attacks.

When Obama officially announced escalating American troops in Afghanistan, I could not, for the life of me, understand why some liberals, democrats, and my fellow Muslims were still supporting him.  If George W. Bush was giving the same speech and deploying another tide of soldiers into the region, all of us would be flipping out.  It’s different this time, though.  Obama is not Bush, and he has reached out to Muslims in a way that no other American president has.  The majority of Muslim-Americans voted for him and a lot even campaigned for his presidency.  Perhaps people don’t want to admit they’re wrong, or perhaps they don’t want to criticize his policies because, quite simply, they like him.  I know there are a lot of Muslims and non-Muslims alike who are just as conflicted as I was and want to believe Obama is doing the right thing

But let’s get real: his foreign policy is terribly flawed and only calling for disaster.  You don’t “sweet talk” other Muslim majority countries, cite Qur’anic verses, quote Persian poets and Turkish proverbs, and then advocate for war/military occupation in another Muslim majority country.  You don’t exclude the word “terrorism” in a speech addressed to Cairo, but then use it again in the U.S. to reinforce the alarmist and manipulative rhetoric that “terrorism” can only be carried out by militants or extremists who self-identify as Muslim.  This duplicity is designed to simultaneously win the allegiance of Muslims (especially in Arab countries) and many Republicans who want the President to show some backbone in the war against “Islamic terrorism.”

But what happened to our anti-war stance?  “You cannot put out fire with flames,” goes the Turkish proverb Obama cited, so how does increasing violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan result in peace?  What’s astonishing to me is how so many people (who identified as “anti-war”) are now advocating for war in Afghanistan and Pakistan in a disturbingly similar way supporters of the previous administration did!  Remember when you would argue with the pro-Bush crowd about Iraq and they would simply say, “Well, we’re protecting America from terrorists”?  The same argument is being made about Afghanistan by liberals, democrats, and Muslims alike.  It just shocks me at how oblivious many people are about this.

The sad part is that the “terrorism” argument is used as simplistic justification for their support of the Afghan war because, frankly, they tend to know very little to nothing about Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Let’s start off by saying the majority of Afghans and Pakistanis are anti-Taliban, anti-extremism, and anti-Western military occupation.  However, lies such as “Afghans/Pakistanis prefer the Taliban” are being perpetuated in a familiar alarmist fashion.  Where does this information come from and why is it being used to cover up real atrocities committed by the Obama administration?  Last week, about a hundred Afghans protested against Obama’s policies when U.S. special forces killed 12 people in the village.  In May of 2009, an American airstrike mistakenly attacked the village of Bala Baluk and killed over 147 people and resulted in even more anti-American sentiments from Afghan civilians.  How many more of these “mistakes” can the U.S. afford to make?  Why do we behave as if there won’t be any retaliation from the civilians, especially those who lost their family members and Loved ones?  Doesn’t common sense tell us that people don’t forget about these horrible war crimes?

Malalai Joya, an Afghan politician and activist who is often called “the bravest woman in Afghanistan,” is a vehemently outspoken critic of Afghan warlords and the presence of NATO troops in her country.  She highlights on the lies spread about Afghanistan, as well as the major flaws in Obama’s new strategy:

Almost eight years after the Taliban regime was toppled, our hopes for a truly democratic and independent Afghanistan have been betrayed by the continued domination of fundamentalists and by a brutal occupation that ultimately serves only American strategic interests in the region.

You must understand that the government headed by Hamid Karzai is full of warlords and extremists who are brothers in creed of the Taliban. Many of these men committed terrible crimes against the Afghan people during the civil war of the 1990sThe fact that I was kicked out of office while brutal warlords enjoyed immunity from prosecution for their crimes should tell you all you need to know about the “democracy” backed by Nato troops.

Furthermore, she adds that Obama’s war in Afghanistan and expansion into Pakistan is simply adding more fuel to the fire and is no different from Bush’s policies.  Afghan victims of abuse and rape find no justice when the people in power are corrupt themselves, but don’t count on the Obama administration to acknowledge this problem.  After all, the Afghan government allows NATO troops to occupy the country and the U.S. wants to maintain that kind of alliance.

Despite this information, I’ve seen many, including fellow Muslims, speak so insensitively about Afghanistan and Pakistan, as if the people there are complicit and responsible for the turmoil they’re in!  This is insulting and essentially transforms the victim into the perpetrator.  Pakistan, for instance, is accused of being “the most dangerous country in the world,” which only creates the image of a nation rampant with terrorism.  However, very little is said that the majority of Pakistanis hate the Taliban.  Polls and surveys have consistently found that the majority of Pakistanis consider the U.S. the greatest threat to their country.  This statistic is rarely reported and no one seems to care.

Tariq Ali asserts another significant point:  The situation in Pakistan today is directly linked to the war in Afghanistan.  Speaking as a Pakistani, I don’t ever remember a time when my family was frightened about visiting Pakistan or worried about their Loved ones because of bomb blasts and attacks.  Even after 9/11, my family and I would visit Pakistan and did not have to worry about our safety in the way people do now.  I have relatives who were only five blocks away from a bomb blast in Lahore and I once stayed at the Marriott hotel that was bombed in Islamabad last September.  Many, including some of my Pakistani acquaintances, simply utter profanities about these extremists, which is perfectly appropriate, but I’ve noticed that people overlook the root cause of this problem.  After 9/11, Pakistan was forced into military cooperation, not only because Bush gave Pakistan the “you’re either with us or against us” ultimatum, but also because Richard Armitage, the former U.S. deputy secretary of state, threatened to “blow Pakistan back to the stone age.” No doubt the Pakistani military is not without blame, but its operations against the Taliban and other militant groups only make the Pakistani government look complicit with U.S. war crimes.  Similar to the Afghan government, the Pakistani government is reeking with corruption and its unpopular president, Asif Zardari, permits the U.S. drone attacks.  All of this is causing the war in Afghanistan to spill into Pakistan.

When we simply say “they’re terrorists,” we become desensitized to the deaths of Afghans and Pakistanis.  Associating the majority of Afghans and Pakistanis with the extremist groups or the corrupt officials in the government does a great injustice to their struggles.  In March, the Pakistani people marched in the streets and organized rallies in protest to the government’s sacking of their chief justice.  The government eventually caved in and conceded with the people’s demand to reinstate the chief justice.  This was a victory not only for the Pakistani people, but also for everyone who seeks social justice.  Yet why wasn’t this reported widely in the mainstream western media?  Perhaps because it is contradictory to the image that the media wants to promote, i.e. “the most dangerous country in the world” or a “boiling pot” of “terrorism.”

In several debates with fellow Muslims, I’ve been told that the Afghan and Pakistani people “aren’t taking a stand,” so Obama’s military intervention is “justified.”  Again, this does a great disservice to the efforts of Afghans and Pakistanis who are risking their lives in combating violent extremism.  But it does not help when you’re being attacked by both sides:  The Taliban on one hand, and the U.S. military occupation/drone attacks on the other.  If the people of America could not impeach a president for 8 years of his term, then how can we expect the Afghans and Pakistanis to easily overthrow their leaders?  And why do people expect a miraculous change from Obama’s surge?  Tariq Ali cites the previous head of CIA station in Kabul, Graham Fuller, who made the following points about the Afghan war:

1.  It is impossible to police the Afghan-Pakistan border because it extends over thousands of miles and consists of mountainous territory, which makes it impossible to even construct a wall.  I get the feeling that if we could ask Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan why they couldn’t conquer the region, they would say something about the mountains.

2.  People on either side of the border “often belong to the same tribes, often related, speak the same language, and inter-marriage is common.”  When people suffer on one side, allies from the other side cross the border to help out.

3.  “The presence of the U.S. is part of the problem, not the solution.”

Just by examining these points, one gets a glimpse of how complex the conflict is.  Too often, I’ve noticed that people speak about this war as if Afghans and Pakistanis are not suffering.  As Thomas Houlahan reports:  “Pakistan has lost more civilians in the war on terror than the United States; Pakistan has lost more troops killed in fighting insurgents than every foreign contingent in Afghanistan combined. These facts fly in the face of the misinformation bandied about that Pakistan is soft on terror.”

If people truly and genuinely care about the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, I believe they should listen to the citizens of those countries instead of arrogantly behaving as if they can speak for them or “know” what’s best for them.  There needs to be a better exit strategy and a stronger effort for diplomacy.  The Angus Reid Global Monitor found that 68% of Afghans think the government should hold talks with the Taliban.  If Obama supports diplomacy with Iraq, Iran, and Palestine, why isn’t the same policy extended in Afghanistan?

I can no longer hold back on my criticism of president Obama and, honestly, I am fed up with people making excuses for him.  Muslims worked so hard to campaign for him and a lot of us put so much faith in him, but we cannot overlook the fact that his policies are only going to tarnish relations with Muslim majority countries even further.  I will not be a fool anymore and listen to the false hope that “over time, Obama will change things” or “after he does such and such, he will take a stand for Palestine and Muslims.”  I do not understand how Obama can get away with advancing war while citing historical figures who symbolize non-violence and winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Just like Iraq and Palestine, people do not like being occupied by a foreign invader.  Military intervention and more drone attacks will make matters worse, endanger the lives of Muslims and non-Muslims in many parts of the world, and it will create more enemies.  I don’t need a crystal ball to figure that out.  Recent history (i.e. the last 8 years) says it all.

Congratulations Pakistan!

afridi celebrate 2

I will never forget this day, Sunday, June 21st of 2009 when the Pakistani cricket team defeated Sri Lanka to win the world cup in Twenty20 cricket.  Throughout the tournament, teams like South Africa, Sri Lanka, and India were favored to be this year’s champions, but no one expected Pakistan — led by an unstoppable Shahid Afridi — to power their way through.

This morning, as I sat tensely and cheered Pakistan on, I was reminded when Pakistan went to the Cricket world cup final in 1999 and lost miserably to Australia.  I remembered 2007′s Twenty20 tournament when India defeated Pakistan.  This year, Pakistan had to win.  A country that has been bombed, invaded, threatened, exploited, vilified, misgoverned, ignored, among many other things, can only take so much before the spirit of the people pull them out of the dark.  Indeed, it is a cricket team that has lifted the hopes of so many Pakistanis all across the globe, giving them something to smile, cheer, and even cry in joy about.  The exceptional teamwork and passion of their cricket team proved to the world that Pakistan deserved it.

I didn’t mention this in my previous post, but it bothers me when I see Pakistan and Pakistani people being so openly trashed and insulted around the blogosphere (one friend of mine reading this knows what I’m referring to *wink*).   It hurts me that there are millions of displaced Pakistanis as result of the Taliban invasion of Swat.  Recently, my parents and I watched some old footage that I video-taped in Swat when we visited in 2000.  It isn’t easy for those who make a mockery out of places like Swat (simply to support their Islamophobic views) to understand what it’s like to watch old footage of a beautiful place that you once visited before and realize that there’s a strong chance you’ll never see it again.  I was reminded of Swat while watching this cricket match and it wasn’t hard to tell that the team was winning it for them, as well as for all of Pakistan.

When I went out today, I looked at my Pakistani key chain and smiled at it.  I let it dangle freely when I walked into the mall; I rolled down my windows and popped in a CD of Pakistani music and sang along.  I smiled because I knew, today, my fellow Pakistanis were all happy.  We called our relatives and said “Mubarak (congratulations)” like it was Eid, we posted ecstatic status messages on our Facebook (and Twitter, I’m sure) accounts, and we all knew how important this was for our country, whether we were cricket fans or not.  Something also must be said about Sri Lanka, another country that has been facing challenges and difficulty.  They had a terrific run in the tournament and their country should be proud of them.  I especially liked the sportsmanship that both teams showed throughout the match, especially at the end.

Pakistan world cup champions

I found a great article published on Pakistan Daily this morning almost immediately after Pakistan won the match.  Very similar to my previous post here on Muslim Reverie, the author talks about how this victory was not just a win, but rather a reminder that there is hope.  Here’s one of my favorite excerpts from the article:  “It is crucial to remember why Pakistan’s win is so important. This win is not about winning at all. It is about showing the world that once again, Pakistan has performed in the face of difficulty; death of their coach, attack on their country, bombing of their cities, exploitation of their money. A nation who the whole world had given up on has turned around to come out with a lot more than they expected. But they earned it. These players were working under the pressure of not only the game, but the political games being played with their loved ones in their hometowns. Sometimes, Allah sends motivation from unusual sources.”

As they say, Allah — God — works in mysterious ways.  There are still immense problems in Pakistan, but this win was something that the people needed a lot.  It was beautiful to see the Pakistani players to make sajdah after the victory and then hear the commentators point out how important and special this world cup is to the people of Pakistan.  When I look at the players of this wonderful team and then at the horrible images we see on CNN and Fox News, I see a mismatch.  This is no surprise to me, as a Pakistani and Muslim, but I’m sure that there a lot of non-Muslims and non-Pakistanis in the west who are not familiar with these images.  Surely, these images of remarkably talented and passionate cricketers don’t represent all of Pakistan.  They just represent one incredible snapshot!

Here’s a clip of the winning moment!  Watch it before they take it down (hopefully they won’t!):

This Isn’t Just About Cricket

Afridi South+Africa+v+Pakistan+ICC+Twenty20+World+MxS19XTx9ztl

Scoring 51 runs from 34 balls and taking two important wickets, Shahid Afridi (pictured above) led Pakistan into their second-consecutive Twenty20 World Cup final after a marvelous all-around performance against the favored South Africa team on Thursday, June 18th.  Cricket commentators and analysts are calling this a “fairy tale” story for Pakistan, a country that has been facing immense adversity from the Taliban invasion, U.S. drone attacks, and negative media coverage.  The stunning performance and incredible display of teamwork from the Pakistani cricket team has shone a positive light in the hearts of millions of Pakistanis worldwide, showing the world that there is more to their country than just politics and turmoil.

After the victory, former test captain Moin Khan told Reuters, “Cricket has always been a big binding force in our country and the team’s success in the World Cup has helped lift the spirits of the people.  The last few months have been very hard for the people and many of us carry psychological scars of the innocent lives lost in these terrorist attacks. But for now we have something to celebrate and look forward to.”

Indeed, the last few months have been very difficult for Pakistan, and many Pakistanis who live outside of the country, like myself, feel heartbroken not only because of the Taliban invasion or the bombings in Lahore and Peshawar, but also because there are so many stereotypes and misconceptions about Pakistan and its people.  It’s wonderful when people are able to share and celebrate their culture, but lately, it’s been difficult to speak about my culture without having to deal with questions about terrorism, the Taliban, or even Osama bin Laden.  Being Muslim, the “Islam and terrorism” association is something I’ve been dealing with since 9/11, but now, since I feel more connected with Pakistan, the negative perceptions have worsened.

Unfortunately, most non-Pakistanis, especially in the west, have a very vague and limited understanding of what the country is actually going through.  The general impression seems to be that Pakistan is unstable and that a war is brewing between radical militants (like the Taliban) and the Pakistani government.  The Pakistani public, however, are left out of the picture.  Rather than pointing out that the majority of Pakistanis are very anti-Taliban, most of mainstream media is filled with Islamophobic rhetoric and a lot of misinformation, especially regarding whether or not the Pakistani government has been cooperating militarily with the United States (the fact that Pakistan has lost more civilians and soldiers than the United States in fighting insurgents doesn’t ever seem to be mentioned by the mainstream media or even the Obama administration).  Neglecting the voice that represents the majority of Pakistan is really irresponsible journalism and it’s one of the reasons why so many western stereotypes and misconceptions persist about Pakistanis.

The reason why the latest news about Pakistan’s cricket team is so significant is because cricket receives a lot of media attention in Europe, Africa, South Asia, and Australia, and the fact that Pakistan has reached the final during a time when its country is enduring so many struggles is remarkable alone.  It not only breaks stereotypes, but also helps restore some dignity and respect to Pakistan’s tarnished image.  It’s unfortunate that cricket hardly receives any media attention in the United States (since it doesn’t have a team), but perhaps a victory for Pakistan in the final would inspire (at least some) media coverage of it, considering that the Pakistani athletes have promised to donate their earnings to displaced people in the North West Frontier Province.

As many Pakistanis know, cricket is not just another sport.  It’s almost like the country’s second religion.  When I watched Pakistan defeat South Africa yesterday, I saw Pakistanis rejoicing in the crowd, young boys and girls with Pakistani flags painted on their cheeks and waving their green banners, people of all ages dancing and cheering into video cameras more jubilantly than I’ve probably ever seen them before  — these are the images of Pakistanis that I am familiar with.  Although most of the Pakistanis in the crowd were British citizens, I believe that all Pakistanis, no matter where in the world, knew exactly why they were cheering.  It wasn’t just about cricket.  It was about something more than that.  It was about inspiring hope, answering to the critics who said Pakistan’s reputation was destroyed after the attacks on the Sri Lanka cricket team, and showing the world that Pakistan has a place in the world where the majority of its citizens want stability and peace in their country.

I don’t think I’ve ever been this emotional while watching a cricket game.  Whether it’s Shahid Afridi’s gritty and competitive attitude on the pitch, or Pakistanis marching in the streets to reinstate the chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, or even large demonstrations against the Taliban, it all reveals that despite the problems that confront the country, the Pakistani people have heart and are not the “enemies” as western media often depicts them.  It is something they deserve appreciation and respect for.  May Allah keep Pakistan safe from both internal and external forces that only want to destroy it.  Ameen.

Good luck on Sunday, Pakistan!  In the meantime, enjoy the clip below from Pakistan’s recent victory over South Africa: