Archive for August, 2010

The Next Ronald Reagan?

By James T Hackett for The Washington Times

Ronald Reagan was an American original and a unique political phenomenon. He combined unusual charm and personality and showed common sense that connected with the average American. He was attacked viciously by the political elites, who saw his popular appeal – and his opposition to big government and high taxes – as a threat to their domination of the nation’s politics.

Conservatives have been searching for a new Ronald Reagan, so far without success. But perhaps the Gipper’s heir is in sight. Sarah Palin is remarkably similar to the late president. The Mama Grizzly from Alaska is certainly an American original, and her success in picking political winners against the odds has shown that she is no less a political phenomenon. And the policies she supports are similar – small government and low taxes, plus energy self-sufficiency and a balanced budget.

Just as Reagan was denigrated as an ex-movie actor with limited education, Mrs. Palin is portrayed as an ex-model with limited education, which means she did not go to Harvard or Yale, like most recent presidents and much of the liberal elite. The fact that elites from those institutions have nearly destroyed the economy and bankrupted the country does not reduce their arrogance or diminish their efforts to hold onto power.

Mrs. Palin was roundly criticized when she left the office of governor of Alaska, but since then, she has been riding a populist wave accompanied by Tea Party activists who want a return to common sense and responsible spending. President Obama promised change, which many sought after the budget excesses of the George W. Bush years and the pork-obsessed Republican Congress. But candidate Obama was unclear, telling each audience what it wanted to hear.

Now we know what he meant by change – a much bigger federal government, excessive government spending, harsh new energy and environmental regulations on business, spending in support of labor unions and the bailout of profligate state governments. Under Mr. Obama, the environmentalists are running amok, spending billions on windmills, electric cars and other green-energy schemes while blocking oil drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

The administration does not care that giving money to the states only perpetuates their overspending while doing little to help unemployment. At the same time, their anti-oil bias and excessive regulation are reducing jobs in the all-important private sector. The Keynesian economists in control will not accept that their policies are aggravating the problem.

Most Tea Party activists are grass-roots Americans who see what Washington elites cannot, which is why they keep winning. Sarah Palin has become a political power by encouraging Republican women to run for office and by her amazing ability to pick winners – and often help them win – even against heavy opposition spending. With Mrs. Palin’s support, Republican women are becoming politically successful in growing numbers.

Mrs. Palin has endorsed more than 20 winners in Republican primaries this year, many underdogs who were given little chance against the party’s chosen candidates. Among her notable successes have been the nominations of Nikki Haley, an Indian-American woman, for governor of South Carolina; Carly Fiorina, a former corporate executive running against Sen. Barbara Boxer in California; Rand Paul, a maverick candidate for U.S. Senate in Kentucky; and Susana Martinez, running for governor of New Mexico. Now she is supporting another maverick, Sharron Angle, in her high-profile race against Harry Reid, the Democrats’ Senate leader.

But Mrs. Palin’s biggest success has to be the amazing turnaround in last week’s Alaska election for the Republican Senate nomination. It is very hard to oust an entrenched incumbent such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski, daughter of a former senator and governor, with eight years in office. Her opponent, a virtually unknown lawyer, Joe Miller, was considered a hopeless candidate, with polls showing him far behind and practically no one picking him to win, except Sarah Palin.

Yet, with Mrs. Palin’s endorsement, he came from behind to win the Election Day count by 1,668 votes. The final result waits for the counting of absentee and contested ballots, but the turnaround has nonetheless been spectacular. Mrs. Palin has shown she is a force to reckon with, which is why the left is attacking her so relentlessly.

The question is whether she can apply her keen political instincts and the grass-roots support she generates to become the next Ronald Reagan. The liberal powers clearly fear that she can.

 

-James T. Hackett is a former Reagan administration official and Heritage Foundation writer.

Two With Ties To Detroit Area Held In Terror Plot

By Nathan Hurst, Robert Snell and Mark Hicks for The Detroit News

Two men with ties to Metro Detroit are being held in Amsterdam after one was suspected of making a trial run in preparation for a terrorist attack, federal authorities said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said suspicious items were found in the checked luggage of one passenger, Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi of Tuscaloosa, Ala., flying on a United Airlines flight Sunday night from Chicago to Amsterdam. Another man, Hezem al Murisi of Memphis, was also detained.

“Suspicious items were located in checked luggage associated with two passengers on United Flight 908 from Chicago O’Hare to Amsterdam last night,” department officials said in a statement Monday.

“The items were not deemed to be dangerous in and of themselves, and as we share information with our international partners, Dutch authorities were notified of the suspicious items.”

Dutch authorities arrested the two men at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on charges of preparing for a terrorist attack.

A Transportation Security Administration official said al Soofi had originally booked a ticket from Birmingham to Chicago and onward to Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International and then to Dubai and Yemen.

In Birmingham on Sunday, al Soofi’s checked luggage drew the attention of TSA screeners, who found a taped bundle of watches, a similar bundle of cell phones, multiple knives, a box cutter and a cell phone taped to a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, among other suspicious items that were thought to be nonthreatening, allowing him to continue to Chicago.

Al Soofi was also carrying $7,000 in cash when boarding the flight in Birmingham.

His brother, Murad al Soofi, said the charges were so ludicrous that family members “were laughing about (the incident) when we heard it.”

“It’s ridiculous,” said Murad al Soofi, who owns a convenience store in Tuscaloosa, Ala., about an hour west of Birmingham.

He said his brother moved to Michigan from Yemen in 1997 and has a wife and five children — three boys and two girls — in his homeland. He moved to Tuscaloosa earlier this year in search of work after losing jobs in Detroit and Monroe, his brother said.

Murad al Soofi said his brother was flying to Yemen to visit his family, but had no explanation for why he wanted to change his flight in Chicago.

Al Soofi’s luggage made it to Chicago and to Washington, despite the fact he did not board the flight from Chicago to Washington.

Instead he changed his ticket at United’s hub at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for the flight to Amsterdam. Normally, baggage and ticketed passengers must travel together, but it appears United officials didn’t notice the diverted baggage until the luggage arrived in Washington.

It was at Dulles where Customs and Border Patrol authorities stopped a Dubai-bound United flight and had it brought it back to the gate after it was discovered that al Soofi’s luggage was on board but he wasn’t. The luggage was off-loaded and the wide-bodied Boeing 777 arrived in Dubai about an hour late Monday morning, flight records show.

Both of the detained men are friends who lived and worked in Dearborn, said Imad Hamad of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The al Soofi and al Murisi families are prominent within the Yemeni-American community in Dearborn, Hamad said.

Both men worked at area restaurants and grocery stores, and it is typical to spend several months working in Michigan and travel home once or twice a year to visit relatives in Yemen.

“When the news broke, people were surprised because they knew them as good people, respected people who always worked and worked hard,” Hamad said.

Al Soofi was believed to have recently lived at the Hidden Trail Apartments in Monroe.

Neighbors said he hadn’t been at the complex for at least a year. They remember him as a quiet man who associated with other local laborers. They said he sometimes covered his windows with cardboard.

Learning of his alleged involvement in preparing for a terrorist attack is “very upsetting,” said resident Stacy Louks, 32, who has lived in the complex for several years.

The incident echoes the Christmas Day bombing attempt of Flight 253 over Detroit’s skies.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is being held at the federal prison in Milan awaiting trial on terrorism charges related to that flight, which authorities say he failed to blow up using improvised explosives strapped in his underwear.

The incident sparked intense scrutiny of U.S. homeland security and border control policies and procedures. Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian native, was able to secure and retain a multiple-entry visa for the United States despite being denied entry by the United Kingdom and warnings from his own family to U.S. authorities that he was a potential terrorism risk.

His trial is slated to begin next year in Detroit.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– If found guilty, these two individuals should be thrown in jail for life with no possibility of parole at the very least. Individuals like these do not really even deserve the rights and freedoms enjoyed by all Americans, but nonetheless should get their due process and if found guilty, deserve to have the book thrown at them and put away for life. Also, we are thankful that the authorities foiled this potential attack and request everyone to be vigilant as the September 11 anniversary approaches and we pray no acts of violence take place in the US or anywhere else taking innocent lives.

If We Scrap Religious Freedom, Terrorists Win

By Sloan R Piva for South Coast Today

I must remind readers that this is the United States of America.

In the United States of America, the supreme law is the Constitution. The Constitution is the framework for the organization of the United States government. Within the Constitution, the first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, specify the inalienable rights afforded to all American citizens.

Among those rights is the freedom of speech, which allows me to write this letter. Freedom of the press allows publications like The Standard-Times to communicate news, and opinions like this, to communities. And of course there is freedom of religion, which protects each individual American citizen’s right to free exercise of religion.

This means that any American citizen, including the men and women behind the Islamic center in New York City, may practice their religion anywhere on American soil without prejudice or interference.

To interfere with these freedoms is to defy the laws of the land, shamelessly shunning the doctrines assembled by the nation’s forefathers.

America was attacked nine years ago by cowardly and radical religious zealots. It was a devastating tragedy that affected all of us. But the proposed mosque simply cannot be regarded as a “radical Islamic” center. To say that a small, radical percentage of a religion’s members represents the entire religion is unfair. To disallow American Muslims a place of worship, on any available land in the country we share, is unjust.

If Americans truly think it is acceptable to negate the Constitution because of 9/11, then the terrorists have already won. If the nation is divided, and the freedoms associated with our flag are abolished, then we too have become radical.

On Tuesday night, Aug. 24, a 21-year old white man attacked and stabbed a cabbie in New York after asking if he was Muslim. Maybe he thought he was following in the endless line of so-called Americans suddenly claiming that certain religions are allowed in certain places in this so-called “free country.” Ever think so-called debates like this send the younger generation mixed messages about religious tolerance in America?

And shame on the citizens attacking the president for supporting the freedoms of the land which he serves. It would be much more troubling if the president of the United States of America denounced the Constitution and dictated who is allowed where and what religions can be practiced.

To me, that sounds a bit like Nazi Germany. I’m so glad that we do not have a leader enforcing “no Muslims here!” because a group of radicals committed a horrendous crime against our nation. The answer is not to now disallow our citizens their rights. Just because the planners of the Islamic center are Muslim does not make them radical terrorists. Such an assumption would be ignorance and bigotry.

To combat a related issue, the president’s middle name is completely irrelevant to any debate regarding any subject! Here are the main facts: He was born in America, and he is our president. Stating his whole name in support of some ridiculous conspiracy theory is petty, naive, and downright un-American.

My grandfather’s name was John. My mother’s stepfather, whom I also call Grandpa, is named Lee. Does that mean that, because they share the same common first names of John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, my grandfathers are presidential assassins? By the same theory that Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim that supports terrorism, I suppose my grandfathers John and Lee are killers.

What about non-Muslim terrorists like Timothy McVeigh? He was Irish, and he came from an Irish Catholic family. Does that mean that Catholic churches are disallowed in the area of the Oklahoma City bombing, and Irishmen in the area may not practice their beliefs? No, because he did not act on behalf of all Irish-Americans, and his terrorist motives were not the motives shared by his family’s religion.

Again, this is the United States of America. It’s a land of freedoms. Go against those inherited freedoms, you’re un-American. Attack the president of the United States with slanderous fallacies, you’re out of line. I applaud my fellow Americans who have taken the right and just stance on these issues, and shake my head in shame at the bigots who are just as hypocritical as the cowardly and radical religious zealots.

-Ms Piva is a resident of Dartmouth and this is her letter to the editor for a local paper in Massachusetts.

The American Debate: Where Has All The Love Gone?

By Dick Polman for The Philadelphia Inquirer

As we navigate the waning days of our xenophobic August, with so many opportunists in high dudgeon about Muslims in our midst, perhaps it’d be wise to quote a notably tolerant Republican – somebody whose words might possibly shame the fearmongers who currently pervade his own party.

For instance: “America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms, and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect. . . . They love America just as much as I do.”

On Sept. 17, 2001, so said President George W. Bush.

Hey, I’m starting to miss the guy. Notwithstanding all the disastrous aspects of his presidency, his generous, inclusive attitude toward immigrants of color – particularly Muslim Americans in the wake of 9/11 – was always in the finest American tradition. We could use a sustained dose of his tone today.

Unfortunately, the conservative movement that he twice led to victory now seems to have shelved that pluralistic tradition, preferring instead to sow fear to reap short-term political gain. And not a single prominent Republican politician has had the courage – heck, it’s not even courage, it’s a duty – to step forward and denounce the roiling irrationality that currently infects our political discourse.

So we’re stuck with the faux issue of a “ground zero mosque” that’s actually not just a mosque (it’s a proposed community center with an interfaith board of directors) and not at ground zero; with Newt Gingrich equating all Muslims with Nazis; with myriad attacks on mosques in Florida (pipe bombs, bullets); with Sarah Palin Twittering her simplicities; with an evangelical pastor who plans to mark the 9/11 anniversary by burning copies of the Quoran (when asked what he knew about the Quoran, he replied, “I have no experience with it whatsoever”); with a tea party blogger who writes that all Muslims are “animals” who worship a “monkey god,” and whatever else the haters are doing in our name.

Since no elected Republican dares to utter a peep, let us try to quell the hatred, however briefly, by skimming the cream of the Bush ouevre. What you’re about to read was mainstream Republican thinking just a few scant years ago.

From the president’s second inaugural address, on Jan. 20, 2005:

“In America’s ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character – on integrity and tolerance toward others . . . . That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Quoran . . . .”

From remarks on June 27, 2007, at the rededication of the Islamic Center in Washington:

“We come to express our appreciation for a faith that has enriched civilization for centuries. We come in celebration of America’s diversity of faith and our unity as free people. And we hold in our hearts the ancient wisdom of the great Muslim poet Rumi: ‘The lamps are different, but the light is the same.’ ”

From remarks on Sept. 17, 2001:

“Both Americans and Muslim friends and citizens, tax-paying citizens . . . were just appalled and could not believe what we saw on our TV screens. These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that. The English translation is not as eloquent as the original Arabic, but let me quote from the Quoran itself: ‘In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil. For that they rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule.’ The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.”

Compared with what we’re hearing on the Republican right these days, Bush sounds like a “Kumbaya” folkie in the tradition of Peter, Paul, and Mary. But even at the time, he was no starry-eyed naif. Aside from the fact that his calls for tolerance were in the best American tradition, there was also a dash of calculation. He and his advisers knew that al-Qaeda wanted to frame the war on terror as a clash of civilizations. Therefore, it ill-served America to behave as though it were at war with Islam. It was smarter to embrace the followers of Islam, as a way of isolating the violent extremists who had perverted its tenets. Basically, this was a national-security priority. It still is.

Bush’s former chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, understands that. He’s one of the only Bush alumni who has spoken out; in a recent newspaper column, he reiterated the Bush credo: “A president not only serves Muslim citizens, not only commands Muslims in the American military, but also leads a coalition that includes Iraqi and Afghan Muslims who risk death every day fighting Islamic radicalism at our side.”

In other words, Americans who attack their fellow Muslim citizens – and politicians who inflame such attacks or remain mute – are weakening America. As Gerson put it, treating Muslims as bogeymen, and assailing their Lower Manhattan project, will “undermine the war on terrorism. A war on Islam would make a war on terrorism impossible.”

Of course, it’s easy to understand why the post-Bush GOP has done nothing to quell the Muslim-bashing. Its priorities are decidedly short-term. Forget the war on terror; this party is primarily focused on the war for control of Congress. Its conservative base is angry, fearful, and ginned up for November. Muslim American voters are far less numerous, and the liberals and moderates who lament the current hysteria aren’t likely to vote Republican anyway – or even to vote at all this year.

So it’s probably futile to wave the flag and quote George W. Bush again, but let’s give it one last try. Six days after 9/11, he warned his fellow citizens that Muslims “must be not intimidated in America. That’s not the America I know. That’s not the America I value.”

Is that really so hard to agree with?

It’s Not Just Cricket

By Alan Black for The Huffington Post

The English in their empire conquests to India and Pakistan brought the game of cricket in their armory, best understood as complicated. With the pavilion hosting tea, the sound of the leather ball on the willow bat soon spread across the verdant lands of the subcontinent. The locals embraced a game played by spectacularly white men with unimpeachable manners, in spectacularly white clothes.

Today, India and Pakistan are as mad for cricket as they are for being at each others nuclear throats. Cricket has helped keep the peace by allowing Indians and Pakistanis to throw cricket balls at each other. But while democratic India has become a stage for Western capital and its values, Pakistan sinks deeper into a sticky wicket of terrorism, biblical style floods and now something disabling and disastrous for the nation’s identity — the Pakistani national cricket team, the pride of the nation, have been caught red handed in a betting scandal that has knocked the tea cups off the saucers, spoiling the cucumber sandwiches.

Currently, Pakistan is playing England at the home of cricket in London, a sporting venue grandly named Lords. Over the last weekend, a national UK newspaper revealed a sting operation conducted by undercover journalists, who paid a man around $250,000 for information on when certain Pakistan players on the field were going to cheat. The operative, it is claimed, is linked to illegal gambling syndicates. Sure enough, the players cheated on cue and the sounds of the London bobbies running to catch the villains came shortly after. Now, the Pakistanis require something slightly stronger than tea — high powered lawyers will be a start, maybe a stolen plane to make their getaway.

For years, Pakistani cricket has been suspect. Investigators in the past were stumped and failed to prove what seemed obvious to any sentient viewer — Pakistan was cheating, throwing games to cash in on payments from gambling crime, the cricket version of baseball’s Black Socks. Pakistan has been on the back foot over the claims denying it as a conspiracy against them. But this scandal has bowled them out. The News of the World has all the evidence on videotape. It’s irrefutable — in flagrante delicto.

The London police and cricket’s governing authority are using much diplomatic nuance at this stage of the criminal investigation, Only recently, the British Prime Minister David Cameron insulted Pakistan while he was visiting their enemy, India. And now this! Cheats at Lords, the home of English cricket. This stain on the linen will provide more ammo for the prejudice merchants loading another flare to fire at poor old Pakistan — how can you trust them?

Should Pakistan be banned from international cricket, somewhat unlikely but possible if the poison goes all the way to the top of their game, the impact back home will be enormous. For millions of Pakistanis, cricket is more important than life or death. It is Pakistan’s rope to the world. A chance to show how great they are at a tremendously demanding and skillful sport. Add one more disaster to a nation seriously down on its luck.

Cordova Christians Put Out Welcome Mat For New Mosque

By Lindsay Melvin for The Commercial Appeal-Memphis, TN

When pastor Steve Stone initially heard of the mosque and Islamic center being erected on the sprawling land adjacent his church, his stomach tightened. Then he raised a 6-foot sign reading, “Welcome to the Neighborhood.” The issue for Stone and the 550-person Heartsong Church in Cordova, came down to one question: What would Jesus do if He were us? He would welcome the neighbor,” Stone said.

The Memphis Islamic Center, a nonprofit organization formed three years ago, is two weeks from breaking ground on the first phase of a multimillion-dollar complex. While plans for Islamic centers across the country and just miles away have triggered vitriolic responses and divided communities, here in Memphis it’s been a peaceful process.

On a 31-acre stretch at Humphrey Road and Houston Levee, Memphis Islamic Center leaders plan to build a massive gathering place during the next several years. It will include a mosque, youth center, day care center, indoor gym, sports fields, medical clinic and retirement home.

While the 4,000-square-foot worship hall is being completed, Heartsong has opened its doors to its neighbors throughout the monthlong observance of Ramadan. Under a gigantic cross constructed of salvaged wood, nearly 200 area Muslims have been gathering each night to pray.

“I think it’s helped break down a lot of barriers in both congregations,” said Islamic center board member Danish Siddiqui. Yet, only a four-hour drive east of Memphis, Murfreesboro saw intense protests, with billboards going up to try to block plans for a similar Murfreesboro Islamic Center.

Even televangelist Pat Robertson weighed in against it.

Elsewhere in Middle Tennessee, plans for a Brentwood mosque were defeated in May after residents mounted a campaign raising suspicion over mosque leaders having ties to terrorism. The most publicized of the debates has been the furor over an Islamic center proposed near ground zero in New York. “I’ve got fear and ignorance in me, too,” said Stone, referring to his and some of his congregants’ early apprehension toward the Memphis center.

But as members of the Christian congregation take the opportunity to sit in on Ramadan prayers and meet people at the nightly gatherings, much of that mystery and fear has dissipated.

“People in Memphis appreciate faith, even if it’s not their faith,” said Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, the Islamic center’s scholar in residence and a Rhodes College professor. The peaceful tone in the Bluff City has been refreshing for Qadhi, 35, who recently moved to Memphis from Connecticut, where early this month his Bridgeport mosque was descended on by angry protestors yelling slurs at families as they arrived for evening prayer. “We’re living in a climate of Islamophobia,” he said.

The Memphis project hasn’t been entirely free of criticism. Bloggers and religious publications have speculated that the Memphis group is receiving funding from Saudi Arabia, which the local Islamic board says is completely false.

“If the community can’t put it together, it’s not worth it,” said Siddiqui, a Germantown resident. Other accusations have been lobbed at Shaykh Qadhi for anti-Semitic comments made a decade ago.

“I made a very major mistake,” said Qadhi, adding that he has spent years apologizing for the statements he made as a young student discounting the importance of the Holocaust.

The Islamic scholar’s track record since has been one of promoting peace. He recently returned from a trip to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he joined other Islamic and Jewish leaders to draw awareness to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

“I’ve learned one of my biggest lessons since that time. We have to separate our theology from politics,” he said. The overarching fear being voiced in protests going on across the country is that Islamic centers will become hubs for teaching extremism.

But Islamic center board members say it’s to the contrary. Islamic community centers help form solid Muslim-American identities and keep young kids and adults from feeling marginalized, they said.

Without a place to call home, young Muslims are more likely to seek more radical interpretation of the Quran online, says Arsalan Shirwany, a board member and father of three.

When it is finished, the new facility will be a center for the whole community, and a place for interfaith cooperation, Shirwany said. “This is what we need to fight extremism,” he said.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Pastor Stone and The Heartsong Church in Cordova  Christians deserve applause and praise for their very generous acts of kindness to their fellow God fearing American citizens. And this especially at a time when the country is experiencing clearly an uptick in Islamophobia and acts of both violence and hatred towards a whole group of people over the handful few. On this weekend where a “popular'” cable TV host held a march on Washington asking to Restore America, it is important to remember that Dr Martin Luther King Jr  stated that we should be “judged not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.”

Judging the millions of patriotic, decent and hard working American Muslims by the content of their character rather than their religion or ethnicity is the true beauty of a wondrous place called America. This good neighborly act of kindness goes to show that despite all the hate and negative news one hears towards Muslim Americans recently, there are also acts of kindness and fellowship that illustrate the goodness in many every day Americans towards their fellow citizens of an alienated faith.

Aging Philanthropist is Pakistan’s Mother Teresa

By Chris Brummit for The Associated Press

The aging man in mud-splattered, frayed clothes has barely lowered his body onto the sidewalk when the money starts piling up. Heeding his call for donations for flood victims, Pakistanis of all classes rush to hand over cash to Abdul Sattar Edhi, whose years of dedication to the poor have made him a national icon.

He thanks each donor, some of whom ask to have their photo taken next to him. Four hours later, the crowd remains — and the equivalent of $15,000 is overflowing from a pink basket in front of him.

Edhi has been helping the destitute and sick for more than 60 years, filling the hole left by a state that has largely neglected the welfare of its citizens. Part Mother Teresa, part Gandhi, with a touch of Marx, he is the face of humanitarianism in Pakistan.

Funded by donations from fellow citizens, his 250 centers across the country take in orphans, the mentally ill, unwanted newborns, drug addicts, the homeless, the sick and the aged. His fleet of ambulances picks up victims of terrorist bombings, gang shootings, car accidents and natural disasters.

Pakistan’s corruption-riddled government acknowledges Edhi and other charities do the work that in other nations the state performs. The country has no national health service, insurance program or welfare system, and few state-run orphanages or old people’s homes.

The foundation offers an alternative to charitable work performed by hardline Islamist groups in Pakistan, some with alleged links to terrorism. The spread of these organizations has triggered concerns in the West, including their work in the aftermath of this summer’s floods.

Edhi is a devout Muslim, but critical of Islamic clerics in general, not just extremists. He says they focus on ritual, preaching hellfire and defending the faith against imagined enemies, rather than helping the poor — which he says should be the cornerstone of all faiths.

The 80-something Edhi — he and his children disagree on his exact age — lives with his wife, herself a charity worker, in a tiny room in one of his welfare centers in Karachi, a bustling port city. His bed is a one-inch thick mattress on a piece of wood.

“I am a beggar for the poor,” he says, stained teeth showing in a wide smile, eyes sparkling after a week touring flood-hit areas. “Serving humanity is the biggest jihad. It is the real thing.”

___

Edhi deals with birth and death, and almost everything in between.

Just above his bedroom, a maternity ward and an orphanage are home to 18 children, many of them abandoned by their mothers in cradles left outside his centers. They wear hand-me-downs from the city’s rich. Edhi’s wife, Bilquis, tries to get the children adopted, but few Pakistanis want to take girls or older children, she says.

On a recent afternoon, the kids shouted out English nursery rhymes and danced. They then sat cross-legged on the floor, drinking tea from plastic mugs and eating spicy pastries and sticky sweets that an anonymous benefactor had dropped off.

The home was clean and bright, with plenty of toys and loving staff. But there was no place to play outside, and the roar of motorbikes from the lanes below was a constant backdrop.

Across town, workers at the Edhi morgue were dealing with latest influx of bodies. They receive around 25 a day, half of which are never claimed — the city’s unloved and unknown.

Working quickly but carefully, they cut the clothes from the bodies, lather them with a bar of soap from head to toe, rinse them with water from a jug, then wrap them in a white sheet. The bodies are bussed across town, prayed over and buried in unmarked graves.

The body of American journalist Daniel Pearl, killed by al-Qaida terrorists in Karachi in 2002, was picked up by an Edhi ambulance and taken to the morgue, the largest in the city of 14 million people.

The morgue is attached to a hospital for the homeless, a dispensary, a shelter for boys and women and children, even a wedding hall for the marriages arranged for children who have been looked after by the foundation. The smell of baking bread from an oven that churns out 9,000 loaves a day fills the air.

“The poor can come here and get a solution to all their problems,” says Ejal Hassan Zaidi, who had accompanied a neighbor to the morgue to collect the body of his 3-year-old daughter, killed in a hit-and-run incident hours earlier. “From the cradle to the grave.”

___

Born in what is now India, Edhi and his parents moved to Pakistan in 1947 when that country was created as a Muslim state at the end of British colonial rule. The family was quite well off — his father was a traveling salesman — and socially progressive.

In his biography, Edhi credits his mother for setting him on a humanitarian path. She urged him to give half his pocket money to someone poor every day and rebuked him if he didn’t.

“‘You have a selfish heart, one that has nothing to give,'” he remembers her saying. “‘What kind of human being are you? Look at the greed in your eyes. Already you have started robbing the poor. How much more will you rob from them in your lifetime?”

When she was dying, he looked after her, bathing her emaciated body and washing and braiding her hair — experiences that would also shape his life.

“The first night she spent in the grave, I dedicated my life to the service of mankind,” he says.

Edhi started small. In 1951, he bought an eight-foot-square shop in a slum neighborhood in Karachi that he converted into a dispensary. Seven years later he bought a van that he used as an ambulance, writing “Poor Man’s Van” on both sides.

He became intimately involved in the business of caring for the sick and dying. He would drive the ambulance to the scene of an accident to pick up the bodies, administer injections during a flu outbreak and travel across the country to help after earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Edhi’s record of round-the-clock service and frugal lifestyle attracted donations, and he soon had a fleet of 14 ambulances. In the 1980s and 90s, he opened centers and ambulance services throughout the country. He donated $200,000 to releif efforts after Hurricane Katrina, and his workers have also helped out in disasters in Asia and the Middle East.

___

Pakistanis are a generous people, required by their Muslim faith to give away 2.5 percent of their wealth each year. The last nationwide survey done in 1998 showed that Pakistanis gave the then equivalent of $820 million to charity, around the same as the government’s health and education budget at the time. There are no numbers on how rising terrorism and a poor economy have affected this philanthropy.

Edhi does not accept donations from international organizations or governments, including Pakistan’s, saying he doesn’t need outside help and it is important for Pakistanis to help each other. He and his wife live simply of the interest from some savings.

The foundation does not produce detailed financial statements or annual reports. Edhi points to a wall of files in one office in which he says everything is accounted for. Donors do not seem to mind, such is their trust in him.

“You ask any Pakistani on the streets, Edhi is total credible with them,” says Anjum Haque, the executive director of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy. “The success of the trust is down to Edhi himself.”

Last year, donations to Edhi-run charities totaled around $5 million, according to Faisal Edhi, the founder’s son and trust member. A significant chunk of the funds comes from overseas Pakistanis, who want to donate to their homeland.

The lack of transparency has caused some concern among others in the charity sector in Pakistan. Faisal Edhi acknowledges that some of their 13,000 employees — who receive very modest salaries — might skim money off donations. There have also been questions raised about the lack of professionalism and efficiency, specially as the foundation has grown.

Edhi Village, a 65-acre complex in the undulating hills beyond the northern slums of Karachi, is home to 300 children, many picked up off the streets, and 900 adults, many elderly or suffering from mental disabilities.

Most wear clean, ironed clothes, and the food is fresh. Yet there are also signs of neglect. One naked youth dragged himself through a puddle. Some had no shoes and begged visitors to buy them a pair.

The adults live in rooms around the size of three tennis courts, bare except for raised sections for sleeping. They are locked inside for part of the day. There are two doctors, four nurses and two ward boys looking after them.

“We do the most we can do with our resources,” says Billal Mohammad, a regional Edhi manager. “They would be living on the pavement under the sky. We give them shelter, food and treatment. You must not see this place throughout Western eyes.”

___

Edhi has made no secret of his dislike of Pakistan’s ruling class. So it was a surprise to see a gaggle of politicians using one of his orphanages in Karachi as a venue to mark the recent birthday of President Asif Ali Zardari.

The visitors spooned cake into the mouths of the children, shouted political slogans for television cameras and asked Edhi to be photographed next to them. He said he only let the politicians in so the children would have a party to enjoy.

“So what if the politicians are using me? They even use God,” said Edhi, who sat by himself for most of the event. “Landowners, clerics, politicians. They are all looters. There is no fear in telling the truth.”

Hardline Islamist groups have criticized Edhi for his progressive views on women and the secular nature of his work. Some have said that by accepting newly-born babies from unmarried mothers, he is promoting premarital sex.

“We meet them and we read their newspapers. They say we are non-Muslims, unbelievers and communists,” says Faisal Edhi. “The jihadi groups don’t like us. They don’t believe in humanity.”

There are questions about what will happen to the foundation when Edhi dies. He says his two sons and three daughters will take over, though without him at the helm, people may not give as generously.

For now, his children appear more concerned about their father’s health. Apart from an afternoon nap, he works just as hard as he did when he was in his 30s, they say.

“We tell him to take it easy, but he doesn’t listen,” says daughter Almas Edhi. “He wants to keep busy.”

On the Net:

  • http://www.edhifoundation.com/
  • http://www.pcp.org.pk/
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    Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– At a time when the Pakistani nation is in turmoil and dismay due to the epic floods, endless bombings and violence, vast corruption amongst the government, the Sialkot killings, and even the match fixing disappointment from the once cherished national cricket team, Abdul Sattar Edhi and his lifelong service to the people of Pakistan is a testament to the awesome goodness found in one Pakistani man. His service to the orphans, the destitute, homeless, and the generally downtrodden of the country make him a shining role model and a beacon of what is good about the Pakistani people. If there is anyone more deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize than Edhi, then we have not found them as of yet. May he continue to inspire not just the Pakistani people, but all people everywhere with his selflessness and humanity.

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