Posts Tagged ‘ Pakistani Americans ’

Khan’s Jaguars lure Urban Meyer to NFL

The billionaire owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the richest Pakistani origin person in the world, Shahid Khan.

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Shahid Khan, the owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, has hired Urban Meyer, one of the best coaches in college football history, as the next coach of his team.

Urban Meyer has won multiple national championships at Florida and Ohio State and has one of the best winning records of any coach in college football history.

The Jaguars are also expected to draft the projected number one pick in the upcoming NFL draft,Trevor Lawrence of Clemson University, to be their starting quarterback.

With the addition of coach Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence as quarterback, the Jacksonville Jaguars should be a contender once again in the AFC south division.

The Jaguars are coming off of a 1-15 season and can only expect to improve from that record. Although Gardner Minshew had flashes of brilliance at quarterback, he did not ultimately turn out to be the long-term starter for this team.

It will be interesting to see if Minshew will be kept as a back-up to Lawrence who is presumed to be the starter right away.

Urban Meyer is replacing Doug Marrone who the Jaguars fired after he went 1-15 last season.

“This is a great day for Jacksonville and Jaguars fans everywhere,” Shahid Khan proclaimed in a statement. “Urban Meyer is who we want and need, a leader, winner and champion who demands excellence and produces results.

Indeed Urban Meyer has been a winner everywhere he went in college football. Meyer has a coaching record of 187-32 with an unbelievable winning percentage of 85.3% in as a head coach at Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04), Florida (2005-10) and Ohio State (2012-18). He won two national championships at Florida and one at Ohio State before health concerns saw him leave coaching in 2018.

Meyer is one of three coaches along with Pop Warner and Nick Sanan to win a major college football national championship at two different universities.

Pakistani American billionaire owner Shahid Khan bought the team from Wayne Weaver in 2012, and since then the Jaguars have gone 39-105 with only the unexpected run to the AFC championship game in 1996 being the one bright spot during this tenure.

Khan and Meyer have been friends for years and Shahid has been working behind the scenes for a few months to lure him back to football and for the first time to the NFL along with his coaching talents.

The addition of 2020 Heisman trophy runner-up Trevor Lawrence and with Urban Meyer now as head coach, the small market NFL team of the Jacksonville Jaguars are primed for the national spotlight in 2021 NFL season and their fans couldn’t be more excited.

Pakistan is a Nation at Odds With Itself, U.S.

By Stephen Magagnini for The Sacremento Bee

KARACHI, Pakistan — On a moonlit Thursday night in February, a television network executive hosted an elegant affair for journalists and diplomats at his villa above the Arabian Sea.

Karachi’s privileged dined on lamb, shrimp, chicken, mutton and fettuccine in mushroom sauce, and were surprised by a quartet of wandering minstrels, soulful Sufi poets who serenade for their supper, uncorking ballads about love.

On the south side of this city of 18 million, a group of Afghan refugees, who scrape out a living collecting cardboard and other recyclables in a slum straddling a swamp of open sewage, were mopping up gravy with roti – Pakistani bread.

About 900 Afghans live in this fetid slum, down the street from poor Pakistanis and water buffalo. They earn about $60 a month and survive on bottled water, chewing tobacco and roti.

“We’re happy in Pakistan,” said 33-year-old Shaezhad, leader of a cardboard collection station. “We get food and respect.”

At the party across town, talk-show hosts and other Pakistani elites blew cigarette smoke into the faces of U.S. journalists, criticizing U.S. foreign policy and the toll the war in Afghanistan has taken on their country.

Many Pakistanis resent American aggression in the region and want more respect from U.S. policymakers, but they don’t hold individual Americans responsible. Yet everywhere we went, we were held to answer for U.S. wars and Americans’ deep misunderstanding of Pakistan.

“You are arrogant, playing video games with our lives,” Abdul Moiz Jaferii, political analyst for CNBC Pakistan, said over lunch one day in Karachi. He was referring to U.S. drone attacks that have killed Pakistani and Afghan civilians.

“And we hate America because the U.S. has always been the biggest, closest ally of the military dictators. You have done nothing to help democracy.”

The impact of the war in Afghanistan has permeated nearly every pore of this country of 180 million. More than 2 million Afghan refugees have fled to Pakistan, and some have brought a culture of violence. Since 9/11, 35,000 Pakistanis have been killed in terrorist attacks by suicide bombers and other war-related violence, according to Pakistan’s intelligence agency. The victims include 6,000 soldiers and 29,000 civilians.

The unpredictable violence and the kidnapping of foreign workers have created a climate of fear in this country. We weren’t allowed to visit villages outside urban areas, where 40 percent of Pakistanis live. Two shotgun-wielding security guards protected our buses in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. We entered our hotels through metal detectors and were rarely allowed to interact with average citizens in public places.

Pakistan – strategically located between Afghanistan, India, China and Iran and influenced by Saudi Arabia – remains an enigma to many Americans, who aren’t sure whether it’s friend or foe, democracy or military dictatorship.

Pakistan has provided critical support to NATO troops in the Afghan war – drones are launched from here, NATO supplies are sent through this country, and Pakistani troops have helped recapture terrorist strongholds along the volatile Afghan border.

But distrust of the United States in the wake of deadly drone attacks and the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a cross-border battle in November is such that rather than calling for more U.S. aid to build needed power plants, schools and hospitals, a growing number of Pakistanis want nothing to do with the United States. The government of Punjab – Pakistan’s most powerful state with about 90 million people – has decided to reject U.S. aid.

The killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs in Abbottabad in the heart of this country embarrassed and angered the Pakistan military and made Americans question why bin Laden was allowed to live in essentially a resort town. Some U.S. politicians have called for an end to the $18 billion in financial aid pledged since 9/11.

An Islamic republic?

Some of the world’s largest, most beautiful mosques are here, and to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday on Feb. 4, 10,000 people named Muhammad gathered in prayer in Karachi.

We saw few women wearing hijabs, or head coverings, except those at Islamabad’s Faisal Mosque, which can hold 10,000 people for Juma, or Friday prayer.

Professional women drive cars, dress like their counterparts in U.S. cities and run government ministries, clinics and newsrooms. Women, who constitute 52 percent of the population, are increasingly getting advanced degrees. There’s a Pakistani proverb: “Every girl who goes to university gets a husband.”

Despite Islam’s ban on liquor, at a party in Islamabad guests of both sexes repaired to a speakeasy in the basement to drink wine or Johnny Walker Black and smoke cigars.

Though most marriages are still arranged, as many as 20 percent are “love marriages,” said Samina Parvez, director general of the government’s external publicity agency. “The divorce rate is also increasing – it’s about 10 or 15 percent,” Parvez said. “The majority of us are not practicing Muslims.”

Kamoran Sani, sales and marketing director for the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi, declared, “What you’ve heard about the Islamic Republic of Pakistan’s a big farce. There are orgies, voyeurs’ lounges, raves.”

A diverse nation

Pakistan didn’t become a nation until the British sliced India into Muslim and Hindu majority states in 1947. Pakistan – an Urdu acronym for Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh province and Baluchistan (“stan” means nation) – varies wildly from region to region.

“There is no such thing as Pakistan,” Jaferii said. “First comes your family, then your clan, third your region, fourth your province – the nation comes a distant fifth.”

Much of rural Pakistan is a feudal society dating back to the 13th century. Mullahs, or religious leaders, still invoke blasphemy laws exacting punishment against those accused of insulting Islam. Last year, the governor of Punjab was killed by his bodyguard for criticizing the law as he sought a pardon for a Christian woman sentenced to death.

But Pakistan has tremendous religious and ethnic diversity. Muslims include Sunnis, Shiites, Ismaelis, Ahmadis and Sufis – each practicing their own brand of Islam. At Lahore University of Management Sciences, I chatted with Muslims, Hindus and Christians who were all friends.

From the Sufi love poems to Pashtun folk songs about social justice, music plays a key role in Pakistani identity.

In the center of Karachi there’s a Catholic church – St. Patrick’s Cathedral, built by the Jesuits in 1931. There’s a Jewish cemetery. Sikhs worship throughout Pakistan. The ancient city of Taxila was occupied by Alexander the Great and reflects Persian, Moghul, Buddhist and Christian traditions.

Pakistan’s future

Sixty percent of Pakistan’s population is under age 30; half is under age 20. Half the kids haven’t been to school, and fifth-grade students are reading at a second-grade level, said Nadeem ul-Haq, deputy chairman of the government’s planning commission.

“We have 2 million kids a year entering the labor force. What are these kids going to do?” ul-Haq said. There is no building boom to provide jobs, and foreign investments have been scared away by terrorism.

“Entrepreneurship is the key thing we need to focus on,” he said. “Overseas Pakistanis have been very entrepreneurial, sending back $13 billion a year to their poorer relatives.”

From 7-Elevens to Silicon Valley firms and venture capital funds, ex-pat Pakistanis are thriving in the United States. The 500,000 Pakistanis in the United States, including 100,000 in California, send $100 million a year to charities in Pakistan, said Ahson Rabbani, CEO of I-Care, which connects donors with 30 nonprofits.

In Northern California, Pakistanis raised more than $100,000 for Pakistani flood relief efforts spearheaded by cricket star Imran Khan, who may lead the country if his party wins the next election. Khan has gained credibility by building a cancer hospital for the poor in honor of his late mother. His party includes a women’s wing that has direct access to him.

Philanthropy is playing a growing role in Pakistan, financing schools in poor villages and slums. The Citizens Foundation is educating 100,000 students.

“I mentored six girls,” said Karachi journalist Samia Saleem. “One was 13 and said she didn’t want to get married – she wants to be a teacher.”

Ali Shah Haider, 17, wants to be a commercial pilot. “I sleep from 2 p.m. until 4:30 p.m., then go to work at the textile factory from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. to support my family – there are 12 of us. I do my homework between shifts.”

A nation’s dreams

Though life seems cheap in Pakistan, the people are upbeat survivors who often describe life as bo hat acha, which means “great!” in Urdu, their main language.

Last year 1,575 people were killed in Karachi, where 2 million weapons are in circulation, said Francisco Quinones of Arcis International Security. A doctor was killed in Karachi the day before we landed. Violence has been blamed on the Taliban, rival political gangs, Sunni and Shia militants, rogue security forces, and Afghan refugees.

Some refugees have been recruited by the Taliban. Others like Shaezhad, who collects recyclables in the slums of Karachi, are glad to be alive under the green and white crescent flag of this country.

Still, he wants to go home to Afghanistan. “We want our land back, we want to live with respect and we want employment.”

Azhar Abbas, the managing director of Geo TV news who hosted the party in Karachi, said that “democracy is taking hold” in his Pakistan despite the violence many here believe followed the U.S. war on terror.

The business editor of daily newspaper the News, Amir Zia, said the United States can still play a positive role in Pakistan. “If Americans pull out without getting the job done, the Islamic extremists will say it’s a victory and will become much more organized.”

But at the National Defense University, business and technology expert Bilal Munshi called Pakistan “a psychologically scarred nation suffering from a mass form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).”

If the 4 million young people entering the workforce each year get jobs, “we will be a power … but if they don’t see a future they’re going to pick up the gun, and you’re going to be in real trouble.”

The U.S. can help develop Pakistani schools, Bilal said, “but don’t interfere in our internal affairs – let us do things our way.”

Jacksonville Jaguars- Allah’s NFL Team?

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

The last few days have not been easy ones for me. I have had to watch as my adopted homeland, the United States, is accused by Pakistan, the nation of my forefathers, for being responsible for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers by “friendly” fire.

So it wasn’t hard to imagine that once again I would be hurting for being both American and Muslim as I was on 9/11, and now I am once again feeling the pinch of being both Pakistani and American as well. Believe it or not, you can love two countries; just ask Italian or Irish Americans. I am sure you know that this is not the first time and certainly will not be the last time that as a Pakistani American I will be reeling from news concerning Pakistan. Yet the covert attack and neutralization of Osama Bin Laden in May of this year in Pakistan, a country long suspected to be his hiding place, have all but shattered any remaining doubts to the American public regarding which side of the fence Pakistan finds itself. As President Bush so famously said “You’re either with us, or against us” to President Pervez Musharraf immediately following the attacks of September 11, 2011.

At least since Bin Laden’s killing on May 2, 2011, as far as the average American, John Q Public is concerned, it appears that Pakistan was against us all along, and merely only was paying lip service the last 10 years. However staffers at the US State Department, all the way up to Secretary Hillary Clinton and President Obama will rightly admit, that this simply is not the case. Pakistan has been a difficult ally to be sure, but the country has been an ally nonetheless and has proven time and time again to be invaluable not just in this current fight for the strategic direction of Afghanistan, but also was critical in the last great fight involving this land against the former USSR in the ‘80’s.

One can go even further back and talk about the historically strong US and Pakistan relations that go all the way back to at least President Eisenhower and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), a security pact similar to NATO, but for Asia and parts of the Pacific, it was an organization of which Pakistan and the US comprised membership, along with six other nations namely Australia, France, Great Britain, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Thailand. This was an eclectic bunch of nations to be sure, but a defense pact tying Pakistan and the US, this once brought the two together in a treaty of mutual defense and cooperation going back as early as 1954.

One would also be remiss if we forget that the famous US Air force pilot Gary Powers flew on a U-2 secret mission from Pakistan’s Peshawar airbase at the request of Eisenhower and at Pakistan’s acquiescence. He had been doing a reconnaissance mission against the Soviets at the height of the Cold War when his plane was shot down causing the then famous 1960 U-2 incident. Amazingly, it was less than just a couple generations ago when President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously called Pakistan America’s “most allied ally in Asia. Wow, as the old Virginia Slim’s cigarette ad tagline used to go “ You’ve come a long way baby!” Haven’t you, Pakistan?

I suppose before we get lost on another few paragraphs on US-Pakistan alliances of old and their longstanding history of cooperation and friendship, whether from the days of the Cold War or the far more recent war on terror, let me get back to the original purpose of this article. So, there I was, in my now seemingly regular funk, on account of all the rapidly downward spiraling US-Pak relations, and then, there it was, a glimmer of hope for a bit of positive news. Maybe a chance for something unrelated to terror, bombs, Taliban, Shiite-Sunni violence, blasphemy laws, honor killings or anyone of the myriad of utterly negative topics that so easily and regularly grace the top of the headline news on any cable news channel on any given day regarding Pakistan.

So here finally was some positive news regarding this nation. Initially I wondered if perhaps this feel good story would be along the lines of the usual sports filled beacons of hope for the otherwise unfortunate Pakistani masses such as in the form of when an Amir Khan gains world boxing glory or when an Imran Khan led cricket team of old wins a Cricket World Cup or maybe it was similar to the legend of the Khan boys, Jahanghir and Jansher Khan who were busy conquering the world of squash (racquetball) for decades. Perhaps this news I so eagerly awaited to get me out of this rut was related to a scientific or professional endeavor that highlighted Pakistani achievements and success stories such as that of Pakistani born neurologist Dr Malik M Hasan, the man who single-handedly helped change the medical industry in the US for the better, when over the course of a few years through a process of mergers and acquisitions, he helped eventually form HSI, a multi-billion dollar healthcare provider that in 1993, which was an organization with about 1.4 million members, 40,000 doctors, and nearly 400 member hospitals! His innovative and entrepreneurial management style led to the very first modern Health Management Organization (HMO) in the United States, and thereby brought more affordable healthcare to the vast majority of Americans in the 1980’s. Dr Hasan eventually grew the business to be worth more than $10 billion dollars and countless thousands jobs for professionals through many midwestern and western states.

Maybe a boldly similar idea or solution in today’s rapidly increasing costs of healthcare and lack of insurance for over 40 million Americans can come, if not from a Pakistani American like Dr Hasan, then perhaps from another of the world’s brightest who still yearn to come to these shores with their dreams and aspirations for success and achieving a piece of the American Dream that millions of their countryman from Europe had done years before them. Along the way, people like Dr Hasan employed hundreds and thousands of Americans and become a mega job creator, kind of like the ones that Republicans say they love.

It could be that the Pakistani American feel good story bringing much needed good news to the Pakistani global diaspora, and indeed by that realization, at the very least, to a Pakistani American like myself was going to be similar to a fellow Lahore born compatriot like Tariq Farid, the founder of the wildly popular Edible Arrangements, a US based international franchise that specializes in fresh fruit arrangements for special occasions and gifts. With nearly a 1000 locations in the US and a few countries abroad, I am sure many a Congressman from both Red and Blue states would love to attract job creators like him to their state and lure his growing and profitable company, during these economically depressed times, to their state from their Headquarters in Connecticut.

I suppose I could go on and on at the long list of distinguished Pakistani Americans from the renowned NASA physicist, Dr Bashir A Syed, to Gibran Latif Hamdan, the first person of Pakistani descent to play in the NFL. Other major contributions not in the field of science, sports or business, yet still as inspirational to Pakistani Americans could have been the story of the American hero of Pakistani descent, Sgt. Wasim Khan, the first Purple Heart winner from that nation who won the award for valor during Operation Iraqi Freedom, costing him numerous injuries while fighting for our freedoms.

Certainly no one to date has better demonstrated a greater sacrifice to this nation than the story of Cpl. Kareem R Khan, another Pakistani American, one who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his beloved country, the United States, when he gave his life for American freedom, liberty and ideals dying on Iraqi soil during combat there. He also earned the Purple Heart and has the honor of being buried at the resting place of fallen American heroes, the venerated Arlington National Cemetery. One can do their own Google search for a list of Pakistani Americans to find out that this list comprises far more accomplished and good citizens of Pakistani descent than the occasional delusional individual like Faisal Shahzad, of the Times Square bomb fame.

So you bet it was good news for me to hear a few days ago that a successful and hard working American businessman and multi-millionaire from the midwest, Shahid Khan, a Pakistani American owner of a large automobile parts manufacturer, Flex-N-Gate, had just bought an NFL team, the Jacksonville Jaguars! My rare good optimism however seems to perhaps been ill placed though because it seems that even a positive and notable news story like this can quickly turn into something far more twisted and sinister as witnessed by the scores of Islamophobic and racial comments being left on the Jacksonville Jaguars Facebook page and other sports blogs and boards, hours since the sale and the origins and national background of the new owner became public. The deal which still has to go to an NFL owner’s vote would only then be complete and final. Whether the NFL owner’s vote affirmatively on the deal or not, the rancid and clearly Un-American comments on the team’s fan page demonstrate that a majority of the local fans of this NFL team seem only to care about his Pakistani background and not of the fact that he is committed to staying and keeping the team in the small Jacksonville market and that he is a genuine fan of football and by all accounts would make a great manager/owner of the franchise.

The sad fact remains that there is a possibility that despite all the countless contributions to this great nation made by Pakistani Americans, many of these die hard football fans have no problem with risking losing their team to a different owner who would take the team out possibly west to the vacant Los Angeles market than to have a “Paki” keep the team in Florida’s small Jacksonville market and try and build a contender there.

Maybe its his IRS troubles that Shahid had a few years ago that prevented him from buying the St Louis Ram’s majority ownership stake last year or maybe it really is his very interesting moustache that scares people away. Regardless, I will gladly take either reason for his bid not being approved than anything that points to his national origin or racial makeup. Afterall, us Americans should never forget the words of the late great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr when he said that we should ”not judge a man by the color of his skin, but rather by the content of his character.” All I know is that this Pakistani American still keeps alive Dr King’s dream. So no amount of paranoia should let the die-hard Jaguar fans fear that Muslims and Allah are on their way to taking over their beloved NFL franchise. Now gentlemen, let’s play ball!

Manzer Munir, a proud American of Pakistani descent, is a former US State Department Foreign Service Officer Management Selectee, and the founder of Pakistanis for Peace. He is also an often tormented fan of the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL as well as having the good fortune of being a lifelong fan of Kansas Jayhawk Basketball.

Edible Arrangements–A Pakistani-American’s Success Story

By Riaz Haq for RiazHaq.com

Tariq Farid is the founder and CEO of Edible Arrangements, a successful international franchise business that specializes in delivering gifts of beautifully arranged bouquets of edibles like fruits and candy on holidays and various other special occasions.

Currently in its 11th year of operation, the company boasts 883 franchise locations in the United States, the United Kingdom and Kuwait. The company earned $300 million in revenue last year, according to published reports.

Born near Sahiwal in Pakistan, Tariq Farid has founded several other companies. One is Frutation by Edible Arrangements, which includes salads and fruit drinks. They’re sold in Edible Arrangements stores and stand-alone stores. He also created Netsolace, which provides software for the franchise industry. Another, BerryDirect, offers containers, vases and other products to our Edible Arrangements franchisees and other companies. His latest start-up is Farid Capital Corporation, a financing company that helps franchisees buy equipment.

The key to Farid’s success, he says, has come from paying attention to often overlooked details such as the website, order tracking and follow-up customer service, the logo and branding, and employee training.

The economy may need more entrepreneurs like Farid – according to the International Franchise Association, every $1 million lent to franchise small businesses creates 34 jobs and $3.6 million in annual economic output, cited Reuters.

Here is Farid in his own words describing his journey:

I was born in Pakistan and came to the United States in 1981, when I was 11. My grandfather owned a farm in Pakistan and we had been fairly well-to-do. We started at the bottom when we came here. My father found a job as a machinist during the day and worked at McDonald’s and Burger King at night.

All five of my siblings pitched in. I delivered newspapers to 300 houses. Instead of putting the paper into the mailbox, I’d deliver it to the door. I got great tips. When I was 13, a flower shop hired me to water the flowers. Soon I was taking care of orders. By 16, I had learned a lot.

One day my father found a flower shop for sale in the paper. The owner wanted $6,000. My dad asked me if I could run the shop, and I said sure. We got a cash advance and a loan from a friend. I thought I’d negotiate, and asked the owner what terms he was offering. He looked at me as if to say, “What can this kid possibly know?”

We opened a week before Easter and earned about $50 a day. I stayed open until 7 p.m., seven days a week, because few other flower shops did. I thought $350 a week was wonderful. Soon, sales doubled, and I was shocked. Five years later, we had three shops and were making close to $1 million a year. I said we needed to make more, about $5,000 a day. My mother asked me if I remembered when I was making $50 a day and she suggested that I relax. I told her that it never really ends, and that I could achieve that goal.

It was a lot of work. I didn’t really have a social life. We stayed open on holidays. On my way to high school, I’d drop off my mother at the shop. She spoke no English, so I told her what to do to supervise the two employees. After school I’d make flower arrangements and deliver them myself until I could hire a driver.

I attended college part-time, but I started weighing the benefit against what I was making. I decided to put off school, and I never finished. I was so young when I started a career that I blindly jumped into it.

Edible Arrangements, which I started in 1999 with my brother, Kamran, goes back to our roots. In Pakistan, my father always brought home tons of fruit for us. When we started the company, we created basic fruit arrangements that included fresh pineapple, strawberries, cantaloupe and more, and later added extras like chocolate and cinnamon toppings.

We got 30 orders the first day. We had learned from our flower stores, so this time did everything right. A stranger asked about opening a store, which gave us the idea to franchise them. I knew nothing about the franchise industry, so I contacted an association for the names of experts and found Michael Seid. He gave great advice.

I’ve started several other companies. One is Frutation by Edible Arrangements, which includes salads and fruit drinks. They’re sold in Edible Arrangements stores and stand-alone stores. I also started Netsolace, which provides software for the franchise industry. Another, BerryDirect, offers containers, vases and other products to our Edible Arrangements franchisees and other companies. I just started the Farid Capital Corporation, a financing company that helps franchisees buy equipment.

When I was starting out, I used to give my mother $50 a week. When I wanted to buy a building for our second Edible Arrangements location, I needed $40,000 more than I had. My mother had saved the money I gave her over the years and handed it back to me. She asked only that I do something in her name someday and give her $20,000 for my sister’s wedding.

When my mother passed away in 2000, I started a foundation in her memory. The organization built a hospital in Pakistan for needy people and an Islamic school in the United States.

Originally published in The New York Times as told to Patricia R. Olsen
.

30 Mosques in 30 Days: An American Ramadan Roadtrip

By Bassam Tariq and Aman Ali for The Huffington Post

It was an impulsive and half-baked idea that changed our lives forever. During Ramadan 2010, Islam’s holy month of fasting and reflection, we hopped in a car and drove across America, stopping each evening to break our fast at a different mosque in a different state. We drove over 13,000 miles during the trip and blogged about it daily on our site, http://www.30mosques.com. We prayed in the infamous “Ground Zero Mosque,” got pulled over by a cop in Mississipi and stumbled upon one of the first mosques ever built in the United States when our car broke down. Along the way we also met the protagonist of Dave Eggers’ bestselling book Zeitoun, Cambodian Muslim victims of the Khmer Rouge, a Pakistani-Mormon couple, and many, many others, all of whom are part of the diverse Muslim-American community.

Our journey explored what it means to be Muslim in America today and served as a powerful counter-narrative to the media’s image of a monolithic Islam.

The project gained widespread coverage on several national media outlets including CNN, ABC News, NPR and even the Huffington Post, but the success really should be credited to our thousands of readers using Facebook and Twitter to buzz about the trip. Thanks to them, we were able to finance the entire project on individual contributions instead of large corporate sponsors.

Outside of this project, we are both respected in our professions as storytellers – Bassam as a cultivated filmmaker and an award-winning ad writer and Aman as an animated writer and standup comedian. When we came together as friends for this project, we told stories about Muslims in ways that nobody ever could. We spent time rolling down slides with kids in Jacksonville, laughing with Bosnians in Idaho – all in hopes of sharing intimate moments with Muslims in America that is seldom seen.

This year’s Ramadan, we’re finishing what we started. We will be back on the road visiting the 20 states we didn’t get a chance to visit – including Alaska and Hawaii. The remaining 10 days will have us revisiting some of the most compelling communities from last year. We felt we’ve only scratched the surface when it came to telling compelling stories about Muslims in this country and it is a no brainer for us to continue this journey.

Anthony Weiner: Sex, Lies, and the Pakistan Connection

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

On Monday night’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the host, a former roommate of the congressman, confessed that Weinergate and the entire episode involving pictures of his friend Rep. Anthony Weiner of NY, was “killing” him.

Jon Stewart was clearly not sure how to react to his friend’s confession that he had indeed himself been responsible for sending sexually suggestive photos of himself via Twitter.“I don’t know what to do anymore! It’s killing me, “he said on last night’s “Daily Show”, which was taped in New York after the congressman had already given his press conference earlier in the day admitting to the indiscretions after having denied them for a week.

I must admit, I am also deeply saddened by this story as it too is killing me. No I didn’t room with Anthony Weiner in a summer house in Delaware in the 1980s as did Stewart. However I was a fan of the representative from New York who was the first Democrat in a long time that seemed to have balls in Congress when it came to speaking his mind and standing up to the other guys across the aisle. He didn’t have to go and practically show them to prove it though.

Sending salacious pictures of yourself to strange women across the country while being married, in itself, is not a crime. But had he fessed up to his martial indiscretions and not gone about for a whole week giving interviews to the national media denying everything and claiming to have had his twitter account hacked, might have been enough for him to be forgiven by many of his constituents. Perhaps he would not have been so easily forgiven by his American born Pakistani wife, Huma Abedin. Needless to say, the congressman would surely have saved himself a great amount of grief and further humiliation.

Instead after a week of denials, and as new pictures and allegations surfaced regarding other women, Rep. Weiner finally came clean and called a press conference on Monday afternoon and confessed to having sent the pictures himself.

Congressman Weiner is not the first politician to have been involved in a sex scandal and God knows he certainly will not be the last. And yet, of all the politicians I have followed over the years, Anthony Weiner of New York seemed like the only Democrat who had the wits to match the guts when it came to fighting for his party’s principles in Washington. A few months ago when he showed great anger on the House floor arguing for healthcare benefits and a fund for the 911 First Responders, he further cemented my belief in him as an outstanding up and coming member of the House of Representatives.

Weiner’s chutzpah and boldness in many interviews and House sessions had indeed endeared many Democrats across the country of all faiths and backgrounds who have been clamoring for a Democrat with a backbone. Rep. Weiner seemed to fit the bill. His recent marriage to long time top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, a Muslim American of Pakistani decent, only further solidified him in my eyes as one of “our own”. The marriage of an up and coming Jewish Congressman from NY and a Muslim American top aid to, arguably one of the most powerful women in the world, in Hillary Clinton, certainly seemed like an odd pairing.

By all accounts the couple was in love and a long happy union seemed destined for them as President Bill Clinton officiated their wedding almost a year ago last July. Now one of the brightest stars of the Democratic party is facing a House investigation into ethical violations as well as a tremendous fallout from his lies and infidelity.

To many people, including myself, I am not only upset that we have lost one of the stars of the Democratic party to this scandal, but I am also upset for Huma, as she is the one who is suffering the worst end of the entire situation. For her to be dragged into this mess like this will surely test their nascent marriage. As a one time supporter of Rep Weiner, I hope that his career, and more importantly, his marriage survive this entire ordeal.

However, as has been the case with other scandals, there is usually more information that will come out that will be damning to Rep. Weiner. I only hope that at some point the representative from the great state of New York realizes that it is foolish to further humiliate his spouse and all his former supporters by resigning from his office immediately.

Manzer Munira proud American of Pakistani descent, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

Florida Men Accused of Aiding Pakistani Taliban

By Gardiner Harris for The New York Times

The F.B.I. on Saturday arrested three Pakistani-Americans, including father and son imams from South Florida mosques, charging them with providing financing and other material support to the Pakistani Taliban.
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Three people living in Pakistan were also charged in the indictment, which was made public by Wilfredo A. Ferrer, the United States attorney for the Southern District of Florida. The F.B.I. said that the indictment grew out of a review of suspicious financial transactions and other evidence and not from an undercover sting operation. The arrests seem to be unrelated to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden a week ago.

The four-count indictment charges that the six sought to aid the Pakistani Taliban’s fight against the Pakistani government and its allies, including the United States, by supporting acts of murder, kidnapping and maiming in Pakistan and elsewhere in order to displace the government and establish strict Islamic law known as Shariah.

“Today, terrorists have lost another funding source to use against innocent people and U.S. interests,” said John V. Gillies, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Miami office.

Five of the six people charged are related. Arrested in the United States were Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan, 76, of Miami; and two of his sons, Izhar Khan, 24, of Miami; and Irfan Khan, 37, of North Lauderdale.

Hafiz Khan is the imam at the Miami Mosque, also known as the Flagler Mosque. Izhar Khan is an imam at the Jamaat Al-Mu’mineen Mosque in Margate, Fla. Hafiz and Izhar Khan were arrested Saturday in South Florida, while Irfan Khan was arrested in Los Angeles. All three are originally from Pakistan.

The three people residing in Pakistan who were charged were Amina Khan, Hafiz Khan’s daughter, and Alam Zeb, her son, as well as Ali Rehman, also known as Faisal Ali Rehman. A statement from prosecutors said that the defendants were assisted “by others in the United States and Pakistan.”

The indictment said that the six transferred money to the Pakistani Taliban that was intended to buy guns and sustain militants and their families. Hafiz Khan is also accused of supporting the Pakistani Taliban through a madrasa, or Islamic school, that he founded and controlled in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan. He was charged with using the madrasa to provide shelter and other support for the Pakistani Taliban and sending children from his madrasa to learn to kill Americans in Afghanistan.

The indictment does not charge the mosques with any wrongdoing. The Muslim Communities Association of South Florida announced that that Hafiz Khan had been suspended indefinitely from his mosque.

“Our organizations, together through the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations, has been working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Miami F.B.I. office,” the association said in a statement released Saturday afternoon, “and appreciate the efforts of law enforcement to root out potential sources and supporters of terrorism.”

“We stand together with the U.S. attorney, Wilfredo Ferrer, and the men and women of the F.B.I., and have been and will be cooperating with law enforcement to our fullest ability,” it added.

The F.B.I. news release took pains to describe the charges as reflecting only the actions of the defendants, not of their mosques or Islam. “Let me be clear that this is not an indictment against a particular community or religion,” Mr. Ferrer said. “Instead, today’s indictment charges six individuals for promoting terror and violence through their financial and other support of the Pakistani Taliban. Radical extremists know no boundaries; they come in all shapes and sizes and are not limited by religion, age or geography.”

“The indictment does not charge the mosques themselves with any wrongdoing,” it continued, “and the individual defendants are charged based on their provision of material support to terrorism, not on their religious beliefs or teachings.”

The inclusion of those statements were “well appreciated” by the Muslim community in South Florida, said Asad Ba-Yunus, who is a legal adviser to the Muslim Communities Association of South Florida.

“We have been working with the U.S. attorney’s office over last few months” to improve relations, Mr. Ba-Yunus said, adding that he had spoken with the office Saturday morning before the indictment was announced.

The charges against the Florida men accusing them of supporting the Pakistani Taliban but not actually carrying out operations themselves are the most common types of terrorism prosecutions that United States authorities have pursued since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Of the 50 leading terrorism cases since those attacks, about 70 percent have involved financing or other support to terrorist groups, according to the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law.

The Pakistani Taliban were officially designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department on Aug. 12, 2010.

The Pakistani Taliban are closely allied with Al Qaeda, and is responsible for a series of attacks against Pakistani police and military targets in recent years. Pakistani authorities believe a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban was responsible for the suicide attack in northwestern Pakistan on Friday that killed more than 80 cadets from a government paramilitary force. According to American officials, the Pakistani Taliban have been involved in or claimed responsibility for attacks on United States interests, including an attack on a military base in Khost, Afghanistan, along the border with Pakistan, and a suicide bombing against the consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan.

American officials say the failed attempt to detonate a car bomb in Times Square last May was developed and financed by the Pakistani Taliban. The convicted bomb plotter, Faisal Shahzad, contacted the Pakistani Taliban via computer to confer with handlers over what he had done, the government wrote in court papers in September.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteAs peace loving Americans of Pakistani descent, we are upset to hear that some members of the US Muslim community would want to do the great nation of the Unites States harm. If found guilty, we hope that they are severly punished and a message is sent to anyone else intending to do us harm. We commend the FBI and the Department of Justice in these arrests and in keeping the American homeland safe.

Muslim American Artists Strive to Bridge a Chasm

By Thalia Gigerenzer for The New York Times

When Wajahat Ali, a young Muslim American playwright from Fremont, needed to build an audience for his work, he produced his plays in cramped Pakistani restaurants in the East Bay and used Facebook to get the word out.

His play “The Domestic Crusaders” went on to open at the Berkeley Repertory Theater in 2005, and then moved to Off Broadway. Now, family members who were initially skeptical of Mr. Ali’s decision to pursue writing see great power in his profession.

Mr. Ali said his uncle had told him that he wished he had “made his son into a journalist,” because “after 30 years of living in this country, I turn on the TV and see myself as a terrorist.”

Mr. Ali is one of a growing number of Bay Area artists who are reimagining one of the country’s most complicated compound identities: Muslim American.

At a time when Islam has been heavily politicized, many Muslim artists say they hope the arts can expand understanding of their faith among non-Muslims as well as bridge American and Islamic traditions.

“We’re at a point where Islam is really being defined in this country, and it’s going to be through the arts,” said Javed Ali, founder of Illume, a Muslim online news, arts and culture magazine based in Newark that serves as one of the central nodes of the Bay Area Muslim American network.

Bay Area Islamic organizations, including the much-heralded Zaytuna College in Berkeley, have embraced the shift toward culture. In January, the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California will open a new gallery in the center to showcase Muslim artists.

The cultural center, in Oakland, decided to increase its arts programs six months ago, said Ali Sheikholeslami, its executive director. The center regularly hosts an event called “Islam and Authors,” which invites authors to discuss topics related to Islam.

“We want to break through common stereotypes and present the whole spectrum of Muslim reality,” said the cultural center’s marketing and development director, Jason van Boom.

Hatem Bazian, one of the Islamic scholars behind Zaytuna College, the first Muslim liberal arts institution in this country, echoed that thought.

“In American society,” Mr. Bazian said, “artistic expression is the way we narrate our story, so Muslims are beginning to draw their own narrative.”

The Bay Area’s Muslim population, estimated to be 250,000, is one of the most diverse in the United States.

Mr. Bazian, who is also a senior lecturer at the departments of Near Eastern and ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said the wide mix of ethnicities and large number of converts in the Bay Area’s Muslim population “creates synergies” that can be seen in new art forms that break ethnic molds.

Some local artists have taken an online entrepreneurial approach to Islam. Khadija O’Connell, a Hayward resident, started her Web-based arts and craft business, Barakah Life, in 2003 as a way to bring a modern, handcrafted aesthetic to Muslim items most commonly found in gaudy, imported styles.

Ms. O’Connell relies on online tools like blogging and Facebook to promote ideas like her pop-up crescent moon cards that would look at home on the popular crafts site Etsy.

“People used to adapt neutral Christmas ornaments, like stars, and hang them up for Ramadan,” recalled Ms. O’Connell, who converted to Islam in college. “I wanted to bring new traditions to Muslims living in the West.”

For local Muslim American artists whose art has been deemed “radical” by more conservative Muslims, the road has not been an easy one.

Audience members walked out of an early November U.C. Berkeley performance of the play “Hijabi Monologues,” which features the stories of Muslim women and contains sexual references. “I’ve spent more time and energy negotiating with the community whether music is haraam [“forbidden”] than putting out content,” said Anas Canon, a convert and the founder of the record label and Muslim artist collective Remarkable Current, which includes the Bay Area MC/spoken word artist Baraka Blue. The label’s music ranges from soul to hip hop and has collaborated with artists such as Mos Def.

When Remarkable Current, which is based in both Oakland and Los Angeles, recently held a masquerade-themed book-signing with a D.J. in an Oakland home, debate erupted online ostensibly over men and women in costumes interacting together. An impassioned Facebook note condemning the event unleashed heated comments from Muslims across the Bay Area.

In the wake of controversies like the one over a proposed Muslim cultural center near ground zero in New York City, some second-generation Muslims’ art is tinged with a sense of urgency.

“Our narrative has been stolen from us,” Wajahat Ali said, referring to the common depiction of Muslims in the American news media.

The tendency of his parents’ generation to push their children to prestigious professions like medicine and business discouraged creative voices, he said.

But Bay Area Muslim artists are fast creating new narratives. Mr. Ali’s play, which depicts a modern Pakistani-American family, is featured in McSweeney’s literary magazine this month.

For many years, Mr. Ali said, he had described the local arts scene as “latent, with a heartbeat.” But now, he said, “it’s dancing.”

Pakistani Peace Builders Turn Cultural Diplomacy to Flood Relief

By Carrie Loewenthal Massey for America.gov

When Pakistani Americans Mahnaz Fancy and Zeyba Rahman launched Pakistani Peace Builders ( PPB ) in May, they did so to bring Pakistani music and heritage to American audiences. An independent cultural diplomacy campaign, PPB aimed to counteract stereotypes and misperceptions of Pakistanis that Fancy and Rahman saw becoming more prominent.

“The only way we know how to make a difference is to show the other face of Pakistan,” she added. “We as Pakistani Americans are very concerned about being misread and misconstrued.”

Exposing Pakistan’s rich cultural roots “is a really important way of explaining that the fundamentalists are a minority,” Fancy said.

In July, New York City delighted in a celebration of one aspect of Pakistani tradition at PPB’s first event, a hugely successful festival of Sufi music. Nearly 25 musicians representing different regions of Pakistan performed a free, outdoor show in Union Square, one of the most popular public spaces in Manhattan.

“It was an unbelievable experience. … People needed some way to feel good about themselves as Pakistani Americans,” Fancy said.

And then the floods came.

PPB immediately added a humanitarian angle to its cultural mission following the devastating floods that struck Pakistan in late July, killing 1,800 people, affecting more than 20 million others and destroying crops across the country. Building on the momentum generated by the Sufi festival, the PPB partnered with ML Social Vision, the venture philanthropy arm of Washington-based ML Resources, to start Relief4Pakistan, a grass-roots effort to mobilize funds for relief in the flood affected areas.

“As we were wrapping up the concert and the floods hit, I just kept getting phone calls from people all over [the United States] saying, ‘What do we do? How do we respond?’” said Fancy. “People had ideas of packing food and sending it. [The pace] was insane in that initial moment.”

To give donors some direction, Relief4Pakistan sends donations to Mercy Corps, a Seattle, Washington-based nongovernment organization. Mercy Corps has an established reputation and experience on the ground in Pakistan, according to Fancy. Some of Mercy Corps’ efforts include providing safe drinking water, setting up water filtration units and distributing food and relief materials.

Using Facebook and personal networks to encourage support and raise money, Relief4Pakistan has raised nearly $150,000 in aid since August.

“We’ve had donors from all over the place. We’ve had friends hosting events and sending the proceeds,” Fancy said.

Celebrity endorsements have helped bring in funds as well. Aasif Mandvi, an Indian-born, British-raised comedian and cast member of the popular U.S. television program The Daily Show, hosted a stand-up comedy night to benefit Relief4Pakistan, and Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir — whose credits include Iron Man ( 2008 ) and Star Trek ( 2009 ) — has also joined the campaign.

Relief4Pakistan’s second phase of flood assistance launches in November with a major reconstruction project. The effort will focus on Bangla Ichha Union Council, a four-village area in the Rojhan subdistrict of the Rajanpur district in southern Punjab. According to Fancy, 95 percent of the 40,000 people living in the villages depend on their own crops for sustenance, and their fields remain ravaged by the floods.

“Our first goal is to plant at least 1,000 acres of wheat by the end of November. We want to raise money to get seeds and fertilizer for some of the most vulnerable people, those that own less than five acres of land,” Fancy said.

To complete the project, Relief4Pakistan is partnering with Operation USA, a Los Angeles–based relief agency that “shares our philosophy that development ought to be done by empowering the local community to learn skills and develop a sustainable strategy to take care of themselves,” explained Fancy. Relief4Pakistan and Operation USA are reaching out to local Pakistani organizations to tap their resources and train the community members in necessary skills.

Relief4Pakistan will raise funds through Facebook again, but has also already engaged a wider circle of American philanthropists, Fancy said. Their goal is to build a sort of global village, a network of people worldwide coming together to help, and Fancy hopes the model of “the power of a global village” will set a precedent for other successful relief efforts.

“We’re really riffing off of [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton’s ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ … Our overarching goal is to appeal to the humanity of the wider donor public,” said Fancy. “It takes effort from Pakistani Americans and Pakistanis in other countries … it’s the responsibility of each member of this global village.”

At the height of its flood relief efforts, PPB has not forgotten its mission of cultural diplomacy. In fact, much fundraising continues to come from film screenings, art exhibitions and comedy performances showcasing the talents of Pakistani artists.

“Part of our cultural mission is using culture to humanize [Pakistan] and at the same time putting it into action through these much needed flood relief efforts,” Fancy said.

PPB plans to hold more cultural events beyond those dedicated to flood relief. The organization would like to hold the Sufi music festival annually, expanding it to include artists from other South Asian countries.

“[We want] to show what Sufism is in other parts of the world. Pakistan is a microcosm of a larger issue, which is the whole Muslim world,” Fancy said. “Muslims in [South Asia] have been remarkably liberal and secular in comparison to what people think they are.”

Through PPB, Fancy, who is 41 years old, will keep working to transform the younger Pakistani-American generation’s misconceptions of the Muslim world.

“I find it so distressing that people of our parents’ generation know much more about Pakistan than our generation,” she said.

And she worries that the knowledge the younger generation has gained from the media has left it grossly misled about Pakistani and Muslim identities.

“This sense of being primitive and tribal is not the true modern history of this part of the world,” Fancy said. “It’s only true of the minority that has taken the loudspeaker and is misbroadcasting lots of things they think are collective traits [of Muslims], but they’re not.”

( This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov )

Pakistan Floods: Why Should We Care?

By Ethan Casey for EthanCasey.com

Yesterday a non-Pakistani friend here in Seattle emailed me: “I wanted to ask you which you think would be the best organization to make a donation to for the current crisis in Pakistan. We usually give to MSF, but their website doesn’t seem to offer the opportunity to give specifically for Pakistan. Can you offer advice?”

This friend is British and greatly prefers British media outlets, but I need to believe that there are many Americans who also want to help flood victims in Pakistan – or who would want to, if they knew the scale and severity of the disaster.

Why don’t they know? We can, and I do, blame “the media,” but that’s unhelpful and ultimately a cop-out. Each of us individually has the opportunity and responsibility to be aware of every tragedy in our world, and we should be willing to exert ourselves to redress them. We’re all in this together. But the real problem is that there’s too much tragedy, and it’s happening too fast, and these days Americans are distracted and confused and worried about serious problems close to home, like our own jobs and mortgages.

This is understandable. But you need to know that all indicators are pointing toward an enormous, long-term human tragedy unfolding in Pakistan, and we need to do something about it, for several good reasons. The New York Times acknowledged one of these when – belatedly, in its first significant coverage of the floods that I noticed – it headlined an August 6 article “Hard-Line Islam Fills Void in Flooded Pakistan.”

A related point is that we Americans owe Pakistanis a measure of basic human respect and compassion, as well as gratitude specifically for the sacrifices they’ve made at our behest in several wars in Afghanistan. When we repay this debt, it will also redound to our benefit. “It’s high time we showed Pakistanis the best of America,” disaster relief specialist Todd Shea told me last year. “If you’re a true friend, you don’t run out on somebody when you don’t need them anymore. … Pakistanis don’t trust America anymore. We need to show Pakistanis who we really are.”

Todd Shea runs a charity hospital in the Pakistan-administered portion of the disputed region of Kashmir, where he has been working since the October 2005 earthquake that killed 80,000 people. He also responded urgently and effectively to the World Trade Center attack, the Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake this January in Haiti. He’s currently on the ground in Pakistan, running medical camps and providing drinking water, food, and other relief. An August 11 update on his organization’s website suggests the scale of the challenge:

In a recent statement appealing for more aid to Pakistan, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said: “While the death toll may be much lower than in some major disasters, taking together the vast geographical area affected, the numbers of people requiring assistance and the access difficulties currently affecting operations in many parts of the country, it is clear that this disaster is one of the most challenging that any country has faced in recent years.”

Thousands of people are camped out on roads, bridges and railway tracks – any dry ground they could find – often with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and perhaps a plastic sheet to keep off the rain. “I have no utensils. I have no food for my children. I have no money,” said one survivor, sitting on a rain-soaked road in Sukkur along with hundreds of other people. “We were able to escape the floodwaters, but hunger may kill us.” …

There is a desperate need to send more well-equipped medical teams to the flood-hit areas to prevent the further spread of disease. The victims of the flood have lost everything and cannot cope with potential epidemics on their own.

I’m writing this article because I live and work between two worlds: the mainstream North America that I come from, and the Pakistani immigrant community. My job is to help bridge the gulf in awareness and sympathy between those worlds. What I’m seeing right now is that Pakistani-Americans and their admirable and effective nonprofit groups are jumping once more into the breach, as they always do. And, as always, they’re confined – and confining themselves – to soliciting funds from each other.

The flooding is “well timed” in the sense that the fasting month of Ramadan has just begun, and many Muslims will be directing their annual zakat charity contributions toward flood relief. Pakistani-Americans are generally an affluent community, but there’s a limit to what they can do. Wealthy Pakistanis in Pakistan also need to help, and surely are helping. Just as important, we non-Pakistani Americans and Canadians must help. We also must somehow self-raise our own awareness, given the paucity of decent media coverage. This is important both for obvious-enough political reasons, and simply because it’s the right thing to do.

I see troubling contrasts between the outpouring of generosity and attention that followed the earthquake in Haiti and the averting of eyes from the flooding in Pakistan. I see several reasons for this: Haiti is nearby; the earthquake killed 200,000 or more people all at once. In addition, though, there’s the fact that Haiti is not a Muslim country. The earthquake fit right in with the story we were already telling ourselves about Haiti, which is all about poverty and tragedy. Dr. Paul Farmer sums it up pithily in the title of his book The Uses of Haiti. The uses of Pakistan are different. We need to move beyond the uses of both countries and toward understanding them accurately and respectfully, in their own terms. Our awareness of Haiti should be more political and of Pakistan less so, or differently so.

Anyway, back to my friend’s question. The short answer is that, as always, grassroots groups are more nimble and effective, and your money will be put to better use if you give it to groups that are nearer the ground. This is why the nonprofit groups founded and run by Pakistani-Americans are crucially important. I’m including links to several of these below, and I recommend them all.

I was jolted the other day when another friend suggested that being asked to donate to the excellent Islamic Medical Association of North America “could possibly turn some people off.” He’s probably right, but we goras need to get over our knee-jerk aversion to the word “Islamic.” Your doctor might be a member of IMANA. As a Haitian woman told Paul Farmer years ago, “Tout moun se moun” – all people are people. We’re all in this together.

Please contribute to flood relief in Pakistan through one of these organizations (listed in alphabetical order):

APPNA    www.appna.org/

The Citizens Foundation   www.thecitizensfoundation.org/

Developments in Literacy   www.dil.org/

Edhi Foundation    www.edhifoundation.com

Human Development Foundation     www.hdf.com/

IMANA    www.imana.org/

Islamic Relief USA    www.islamicreliefusa.org/ 

Relief International   www.ri.org/

SHINE Humanity   www.shinehumanity.org/

UNICEF    www.unicef.org/

A Pakistani American Celebrates July 4

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Thousands of Pakistani Americans celebrate the July 4 Independence Day holiday with their friends and families across the United States today. As different as Pakistan and the United States may be as countries and societies, one thing they both have in common is that both countries were founded on religious reasons. Unfortunately, that is where their similiarites end as the religious freedom experience in these present day countries varies greatly.

The earliest settlers of these United States were in fact Europeans who felt persecuted in the old countries of Europe for their religious beliefs. Many of these Puritans came to America in search of religious freedom.  Their hope was to escape the religious persecution they were facing in their countries and so the United States was founded on religious grounds.

Pakistan too is a country that sees the basis of its founding for a religious purpose. The nationalist movement for an independent India from British rule also caused communal conflicts between the Hindus and Muslims as there were calls by many Muslim leaders for a separate country for the Muslims of India since many felt being a minority in a Hindu dominated country would come at the expense of their rights. So a separate country for the Muslims of India and for their right to practice their religion gained momentum and indeed on August 14, 1947, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan became independent, a country founded on religious freedom for the Muslims of India.

This is not to deny the fact that Muslims still exist in India and are free to practice their religion under a Hindu dominated country. In fact, there are more Muslims in India than there are in present day Pakistan. However, many Muslims at the time of partition felt that they would be freer to practice Islam in a Muslim country rather than a Hindu one. It is an open debate whether people in Pakistan today have more freedom to practice their religion. If you are a member of either a minority Muslim group as Shiite or if you happen to be a Christian, Hindu, Sikh or Jew In Pakistan today, you have far less freedom of religion than a comparable religious group in present day India. There is absolutely a very low level of tolerance in Pakistan today for other religions or ways of life different than the majority group.

The promise of religious freedom that saw the founding of both Pakistan and the United States has seen the two countries go separate ways in realizing the dream of each countries forefathers. While the American Founding Fathers dream of a nation that respects freedom of religion and honors a separation between church and state held true, Pakistan unfortunately  has become a country that has become intolerant of other religions. Many religious minorities such as Christians, Hindus, and even Muslim Ahmadis are routinely persecuted or attacked by Muslims who see these groups as infidels and heathens and not merely as human beings with different religious beliefs. The influx of Taliban and religious extremists inside Pakistan has further made life difficult for anyone who is not a devout Sunni Muslim. On many occasions, the police does not investigate or prosecute attacks on religious minorities by various extremist groups leading to a constant fear of their lives and properties.

As Pakistani as well as Muslim Americans across the United States today celebrate the the July 4 holiday, they are keenly aware  that their brethren back in their original countries are not as free to practice their religion, speak their minds, and or protest peacefully as they are able to do in the United States. For this nation indeed guarantees freedom and liberty for all and not just a certain religious or ethnic group.

That is why Pakistani Americans such as myself and Muslim Americans across the US are appreciative of the fact that in this, our adopted country, our religious and civic freedoms are safe guarded in that greatest of living documents, the US Constitution. I have long felt that after the three great religious books of the Torah, the Bible, and the Koran, the US Constitution is the next best thing that man ever wrote down on paper. The Founding Fathers of America were indeed some of the greatest minds in history for crafting a document that continues to make the United States the freest country in the world and one that stayed true to its founding of liberty and freedom for all. Happy Birthday America, May you have many more!

–Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American plans to celebrate the July 4 Independence Day with family and friends at a picnic with fireworks and by watching a parade.

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