a young pakistani doctor blogs...
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
  Food for thought
This is an email a friend wrote to me today. He has lived in the US since 1998:

Abu Sa'id al-Khudri said, "I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say, 'Whoever of you sees something wrong should change it with his hand; if he cannot, then with his tongue; if he cannot, then with his heart, and that is the weakest form of
belief.'" [Muslim]

Some of you know this already: A few weeks ago, the student newspaper on my campus published 6 of the original 12 Danish cartoons. People got mad. Others got mad at those who got mad. We had a meeting at the Islamic Center one night to discuss the whole problem and possible steps to take. I was going to say it, but someone said it first: Muslims only seem to care when something bad happens to them (as a group), and not to others.

I wish that were true, as sad as it is. But the fact is, sometimes they care only if it happens to THEM, as people, and are uninterested if it happens to Muslims elsewhere.

The protests around the world were didn't help matters at all.

Earlier this week, I was looking at the newspaper to see what events were going on that day on campus. Two lectures sprung out: One was discussing the whole cartoon issue. Another, at the same time and building, was a talk on Darfur by a Sudani who had once been a slave at the hands of Muslims there (himself being a Christian).

Darfur, unfortunately, is a case which Muslims seem to quietly sanction. Someone sent an email to the mailing list of the Islamic Center emphasizing the importance of going to the talk regarding the cartoons. After all, people made a big fuss about it - it would seem silly not to bother to show up.

I didn't reply to the list, but just to the person, and said that no matter how important the cartoon issue was, the Darfur talk eclipses the cartoon issue by a long shot. I know he agrees with me, but he didn't want to suggest it to the people in general. Too touchy an issue.

Darfur is a sad living example, among many in the past, that is the hypocrisy of the Muslims today. That which states that something is bad if the US (or this vague "West" ) does it, but everything is kosher if anyone else (including Muslims) are the offenders. We get riled up over Guantanamo Bay, but not over Darfur, or East Timor, or the regular abuses that occur in prisons in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Rwanda? Where's that?

At a local level, here in the US, I've heard and can believe that there was almost total apathy in the 60's and the 70's on the part of the Muslims to the injustices against the Black population here. Why else do people think I say that the Nation of Islam was a great organization for them, despite the hatred that stemmed from it?

There's a question that is often posed to Muslims here. It's one that gives some people sleepless nights. It's this, "Why do you guys march and protest when the US does something wrong, but not when your own governments/people do it? Why don't you condemn their sins?"

When this whole cartoon issue erupted, a bunch of people were stating that as an Islamic Center, we need to send out a press release condemning the violence elsewhere (this was before it was published here). Ultimately, they did, but it should have been stated more strongly. Not a "it is unfortunate that this happened...", but a "We condemn their actions, and hope justice is brought upon them..." After all, that's what they'd say if the Americans were the guilty ones.

This isn't a small problem. The Muslims who were brought up here see the whole hypocrisy of their parents and the Muslim world. They repeatedly ask their parents and the people in the Islamic Center why we're not doing anything about it. When nothing happens, and people continue to protest the actions of Israel or the US, the message to them is clear: it's all politics, and has nothing to do with Muslims. And then the newer generation distances themselves from the rest (majority) of the Muslims here. I simply can't blame them.

In the wake of the local paper publishing the cartoons, we got a representative of CAIR from Chicago to come down and give a talk. For those who don't know, CAIR is the biggest civil liberties group for Muslims in the US. Before, they were smaller and spent most of the time just reporting both positive and negative stories about Muslims in the US (hate attacks against Muslims, etc). Now they're much stronger and have a fleet of lawyers who sue when things go wrong. They're also very good at putting public pressure on groups that discriminate against Muslims. Outstanding organization.

The representative who came down here was asked during Q & A by an American, "Why not condemn the actions of Muslims around the world?". The representative said, "Muslims do condemn it. Just Google for it. My job at CAIR often involves staying up late at night writing press releases for condemning the wrong actions of Muslims in other countries. But you have to understand: I don't have to do this! There are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, and it's silly to ask me to apologize for someone's actions half way around the world. Just as it's silly to ask Phillipino Catholics to apologize for the sectarian violence in Ireland."

Very true, if one were to ignore the Hadith on the top of this email. But I won't hold any grudges against someone who wishes to remain silent on all these issues. I will pick on those who selectively condemn people based on their own political agenda. If you're going to criticize the US, then criticize all who do wrong. Don't defend the atrocities back home because they're Muslims.

But that brings out another problem. Those Muslims who come to the US tend to get alienated from those back home. "He's gone to the US and has forgotten us." Making large protests and condemning them will perhaps sever relations (on a group level) with those at home. People simply don't want that. So here's the bind that the Muslims here are in. They want very strongly to remain a distinct group from the non-Muslims here. They get alienated from those back home if they hold views like the ones I'm positing above. And then they're left alone, and sometimes miserable.

Over here you find lots of individuals like this. They more or less "leave" the Muslim community because of too many arguments with the Muslims here on these issues. They still pray and fast, etc. But they don't get close to non-Muslims either. They just live alone. Go to work. Come home. Very little serious contact with anyone. Everyone dislikes them, for doing what is perhaps the right thing to do.

I looked up that ex-slave on Google, and saw some speeches he had given in other campuses. He has an axe to grind with the world for ignoring the whole Darfur situation. He has a bigger axe to grind with Muslims, particularly for the slavery situation. He wasn't exactly diplomatic about it. After reading it, I was depressed and just walking around the building where I work. I bumped into another Muslim, whom I had convinced to visit the Darfur talk. I just told him that I was too ashamed to show my face there.

I didn't go (fortunately, he did). I didn't go to the cartoon talk either. It just seems almost an insult to go there when there's a much more important issue in the same building.

If I stay in this country, I wonder if I'll have any friends here 10 years from now.
  Early bird
There’s something about the early morning that makes one hopeful. The day is stretched out before me - fresh, new and untouched, free to turn into what I make of it. I’ve had problems waking up early these last few days because of I felt uncommonly tired all the time. Whatever it was that was bugging me is gone now and I feel eager to get the ball rolling. I hope I’ll be able to reverse the bad spell of the last few days.

Note to self: always try to start the day early. It’s the best thing for studies.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
  Gift of nature
I went out to get a bulb for my lamp. It had stopped raining a couple of hours ago and the clouds had cleared remarkably fast after what was an unseasonably heavy rainfall. The clouds were cotton-white, the sky a deep blue and the sun was shining brightly and gloriously down on this fair city. The combination of a bright sun, a cool breeze, the Islamabad greenery and the ‘clean’ look that comes from heavy rainfall was very uplifting. It seemed as if you could see the leaves on the trees of the Margalla hills. My mood was down somewhat because of (what else!) my study woes, but as I walked to the market near my house, my spirits lifted and I forgot about my problems for a while. I wonder if there is a place in the world where the weather is always this glorious. I’d think seriously of moving there.
A lot of the times, when my studies seem to overwhelm me and my goals seem unattainable, I fall into the habit of daydreaming of being a rich, famous writer. I’ve already written about this defense mechanism before and I’ve explained how I realized it was a stupid, and counterproductive defense mechanism through writing about it on this blog. I would fall too deep into this fantasy when I’d be having a bad day and it would become difficult to crawl out of that mindset and throw myself into my studies again wholeheartedly.

Recently, I’ve realized that the very idea of being a famous writer is hinged, in a fundamental way on my possible my mental fatigue from all this endless studying and worrying. I’ve been doing this for so long without a break, my fantasies are all about how I’d never have to work as hard at something I don’t like (i.e. studying) again. Of course writing is not easy, but with a good-selling book, I can easily afford to take a year or so off, according to my fantasy. It’s good to deconstruct one’s self and analyze where these feelings are coming from. I suppose this isn’t something a good vacation can’t fix. Unfortunately any real break from studying or planning my career will be impossible for at least another 12 months. If things don’t go according to plan, I might not have a vacation for a looooooong time, in which case I’ll probably have some really serious mind games to play with myself.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Study-wise, I’m doing better than before, my average slowly and steadily creeping up. Yesterday though, I felt lethargic and unmotivated. My energy levels dipped and I didn’t do as much work as I would have liked. Its strange how a single bad day can throw my whole time-table out of whack and send my spirits plunging. I went to bed depressed, having lots of dark thought as I tend to do when I feel this way. I hope today will be a much better day. I don’t feel like studying at all, but I’m just going to forget myself and plunge myself into my book and try to hit double-digit study hours.

On another note, the weather in Islamabad is great these days. There’s a light drizzle making everything wet. The trees are clean and green. It’s nice to be in Islamabad.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
  The mullah and the donkey
A donkey strayed into the mosque of a mullah who was known for his highly charged and vitriolic views on most matters religious. Upon seeing the donkey, he quickly grabbed a heavy staff and began beating the donkey out of the mosque. As the donkey ran out injured and frightened with the mullah hot on its heels, the Wise Man of the village chanced to be walking past. He stopped the mullah and asked him what why he was treating the donkey so harshly. The mullah replied that it had entered the mosque. The Wise Man of the village shook his head and admonished the mullah.

“That’s just an animal. Its stupid and has no intelligence, that’s why it entered the mosque. After all,” the Wise Man of the village said, “you don’t see me coming to your mosque do you?”
Monday, February 20, 2006
  Spread the word.
I condemned, as I’m sure most Muslims did, the publication of the offensive cartoons of the Prophet. I believe freedom of speech is a great thing. It’s an essential tool any open society must have in order to retain the capacity for self-criticism and thus continual self-appraisal and correction. However, using this much-cherished freedom to insult and offend runs counter to the spirit of a democracy, where many people with differing opinions, beliefs and values must learn to coexist in harmony. This is an abuse of a freedom that is meant for much nobler end. If a publication released well-argued criticisms of Islam or the Prophet (no matter how harsh it appeared to us or how much we disagreed with it) that would be a different matter altogether - such expression of ideas must be protected vigorously. However the cartoons were just plain insulting and derogatory. If instead of the Prophet, these cartoons addressed issues of race or Judaism and were made in the same spirit, they would be roundly condemned as being racist and anti-Semitic (and rightly so). As such, these cartoons express nothing but ignorant bigotry, a shameful action defended ignobly enough, with cries of ‘freedom of expression!’

Having said that however, I condemn even more strongly the nature of the demonstrations erupting all over the Muslim world. I believe the majority of Muslims are dismayed as I am to see bored, testosterone-pumped young men running around with stones and guns, firing in the air and damaging the property of fellow Muslims. Where does Islam sanction such actions? Do these people think God will not make them answer for the damage they’ve caused or the lives they’ve stolen? Do they believe they have some holy sanction from God to act like this?

And how loud are our good maulvis shouting to condemn the lives lost due to the protests they have organized? Do they care more about an insult made by some obscure foreign country than innocent people dying of mindless violence? Why haven’t they breathed fire on TV strongly condemning the violence and warning those who continue to act this way that they are breeching basic Islamic notions of peace and decency? Instead they make speeches fanning the flames, ensuring that more violence occurs and more lives are lost. I recall a hadeeth by the Prophet where he said that amongst the first people to enter Hell will be religious scholars, because they misused their position and betrayed the trust of their station.

Where is the moderate ‘silent majority’ in condemning this violence? Isn’t it time we spoke out and condemned segments of our own population for its actions? Isn’t it time that we take back our religion that has been hijacked from us? Who is the greater enemy of Islam here? The ignorant cartoonist? Or the violent ones amongst us who act as they do with impunity and with no fear of reproach from fellow Muslims? I think its time the silent majority stopped being so silent. I urge all the Muslim readers of this blog to post the following statement on their own blogs.

I strongly condemn the publication of the bigoted and offensive cartoons against the Prophet. However, I condemn in much stronger terms the violent reaction some Muslims have had to the publication. This reaction runs totally counter to my Islamic beliefs. They must be stopped immediately with an exhaustive investigation launched to arrest and punish the perpetrators. As a Muslim, mindless violence in the name of Islam is far more insulting to me than for an ill-informed, publicity-seeking newspaper to publish cartoons of my Prophet (pbuh).

Spread the word.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
  More shit hitting the fan
The Abu Ghraib scandal promises to get much worse. Following the release of new pictures released by an Australian television network not 24 hours ago, salon.com has announced that it has the entire Abu Ghraib file- all the pictures in existence along with many videos depicting abuse. Very significantly, although I don’t know if this will become a big issue, there is also a picture of a file showing that some of the interrogations were carried out by the CIA.

I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. If any good comes from this, it would be a change in the consciousness of the western mind that the universe revolves around them and their own particular morality. Maybe this, along all that has occurred these last few years will convince the American public to take stock of what their country has turned into and start cleaning their own house to prevent something like this from happening again. It’s time for ordinary Americans to step up and take responsibility for this. This is being done in their name. It is their names that are being dragged through the mud.

The full extent of the Abu Ghraib abuse will soon be very evident. If ordinary Americans let this scandal slide as well, then they will really have failed everything they loudly claim to stand for. There will be nothing left to the American experience to admire anymore. Why try to emulate them in any aspect of their lives when this is what it will get you? If American society as a whole does not recoil in disgust and be angered into action by the atrocities committed by their democratically elected government, what does that tell the rest of the world about such a society?
  The new century
A new video showing Iraqi children being brutally beaten by British troops.

New pictures of the Abu Ghuraib showing that the things that went on there were much worse than previously imagined.

Hamas voted into power vowing not to compromise on their stated aim of destroying Israel.

Iraq descending into a deeper quagmire of violence.

Violent protests over the Muhammad cartoon with more western publications republishing them defiantly in the name of free speech.

Iran officially resuming its nuclear program.

Is it just me, or did the world seem a lot simpler last century?
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
  in absentia
It’s been too long since my last post. Initially the reason for my absence was because I was doing very well in my work. I was doing an average of more than 8 hours a day and even went up to double digits once. I thought the ball had finally started rolling and that it would be downhill from here. My stamina was at its peak and my tolerance to this boring life I lead was at an all time high. I was very confident about the future. I was so engrossed with the books; I didn’t have much time to write here.

A few days ago, I started feeling uncommonly tired at odd times in the day. Usually when I get up in the morning and start my day, I’m feeling very fresh and alert all the way till the afternoon at which point I get some sleep. Recently though, I had a lot of trouble getting out of bed and felt impossibly tired at 10 am. My concentration lagged and my study suffered. I didn’t know what was wrong and initially just put the fatigue down to a quirk, because I was following a time-tested timetable- I knew it worked and I knew my diet was fine too. The fatigue got worse the next day at which point I also started feeling a little dizzy and my heart rate also went down considerably. This was followed soon by diarrhea. Then I learnt that my bhabi, my father and my nephew also had diarrhea and felt poorly. There was something we all ate that made us sick.

I didn’t blog anything here because I was feeling so miserable, partly because of my illness and partly because of how it was affecting my studies. I hate studying, and if I must do it, I have to be at my physical and mental peak. I relate it to the kind of condition a professional athlete must be in to perform optimally. I was feeling very tired, very slow and it was difficult for me to get any work done. My study over the last four days has been very poor, breaking my momentum to a screeching halt. Needless to say, I feel terrible about it. I’m at a stage when the performance curve must be going up, not coming down. I had marked 10 hours as the absolute minimum I needed to attain from here on out. I’m about 3 and a half months away till the exam and have an absolute mountain of work left. I need to gather my strength and move forwards and try to overcome all the negative energy that’s been accumulating in me over the last few days. This is definitely not something I needed right now, but I’m going to try my best to get back on track. It takes such a long time to build momentum, stamina and a good degree of self-confidence. I hope I can just snap back to my mindset of a week ago quickly. I can’t afford to feel the way I do now.

I don’t feel better yet, but it’s been 4 days of poor work already and the depression and guilt is building up such that I have to try to make the most of today or I’ll really get messed up in the head.

The USMLE Step 1 is not for the faint hearted. That’s for sure.  
Monday, February 06, 2006
  My fiance is back on board
My fiance’s mother is back from her Hajj visit and it’s a big relief. The care of the house fell to my fiancé in her mother’s absence and this took a lot out of her, causing her studies to suffer. Now that she’s been relieved with her mother’s arrival, she’s firmly back to her incredible study hours and I have no doubt that she will soon not only catch up with me, but also blaze on past and leave me fretting for going too slowly myself.

I am really happy this problem has been settled. She’s getting total support from her parents with her Steps and if everything goes according to plan, we’ll take these exams at the same time, get married around September, and go for our interviews and the CS exam soon afterwards. It would be a dream come true for us to match as a couple and work together.
Friday, February 03, 2006
  The Muhammad Cartoons
I am somewhat bemused at the entire Muhammad (pbuh) cartoon incident. I really don’t know what to make of it. I hadn’t formed a solid opinion to the incident although I watched as the controversy grew from a few news articles at the bottom of Google News to front-page headlines.

I am a Muslim myself (in case you have come across this blog through a blog search engine), and I cherish my Muslim identity and think of it as an essential part of who I am. That being said, my reaction to the whole thing has been one of cynicism. I’m always going to be a lot harsher with us Muslims for our weaknesses than the non-Muslims who might make such weaknesses evident.

There is no Muslim economic superpower. No Muslim country holds much real clout in world affairs. Saudi Arabia had the potential to be a leader of the Muslim world if it weren’t governed by a small bunch of corrupt leaders who don’t have a voice of their own in the face of American influence. So when a newspaper of a small European country whose most famous exports are butter and chocolates publishes these inflammatory and outright racist cartoons, they don’t really care what effect it may have on Muslim sensibilities. Do you think if there were a similarly insulting set of cartoons about Jews, that the butter-exporters would have let the matter linger for so long? No, and the reason is not that they like the Jews more than Muslims, but simply because the Jews are far more influential in world affairs. They have enormous clout. Why? Not because they have magical powers, but because as a collectivity, they are the most highly educated and accomplished of people in the world. Even though their numbers are tiny, these people are so ingenious and hard-working that entire governments will be moved into action if someone offends them.

Do you think if somehow the Chinese were pissed off at the butter-exporters, that there would not have been an immediate apology followed by some prompt head-rolling? That’s not because the Chinese have magical powers either, but because they have clout when it comes to world affairs. The Americans can never push the Chinese around, and it’s only because the Chinese have elevated themselves to a level where they cannot be pushed around.

Yes, it hurts to have our prophet insulted, but rather than bring ourselves down to a level where we have to fight with the government of these butter-exporters for an unqualified, no-nonsense apology, without any ‘freedom-of-the-press’ bullshit, we should focus internally and examine our weaknesses. Why is it that there is no credible Islamic voice in world affairs? Why is it that when a 1st world country decides to walk all over us, we are powerless to resist? There must be something wrong with us! How much longer are we going blame our problems on the west before we look to put our own house in order? I guarantee you that if we had economic and military influence today, it wouldn’t take two shakes of a cow’s teat to get an apology from these butter-exporters and a law passed soon after that banning incendiary and racist publication. They don’t care what we think and will never care unless we are as educated, as rich, and as powerful as they are. Then they’ll listen and then they’ll care what we think. Then we’ll be able to tell them what they can do with their damn butter.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
  Paperwork 2
I managed to hunt down my batchfellow. He doesn’t have a mobile and hardly ever uses the net, so this was not easy to do. To my relief, he said he actually did have his ward cards with him, and would give me the dates by tomorrow. I’ll apply online as soon as I get that data. I know it’s possible to apply without this information, and just give my final year clinical clerkship information, as some friends of mine have done, but I don’t want to bend any rules here. Experience has thought me to play it straight, because you never know when some slight discrepancy will come back and bite you in the ass.

The study hours graph is going up. Contrary to popular perception amongst the readers of this blog, I am not studying 8-10 hours regularly a day. The average is less than that although I’m trying hard to get it up and meeting with some measure of success. Nevertheless, I am plagued by my slow progress and need to notch up the hours to regular two digit figures if I’m ever going to be able to finish the material in time.
Recent med school graduate from Peshawar, Pakistan. Started blogging when in throes of final year exams. Currently studying for USMLE Step 1. Aiming for the 2008 Match. I blog about my studies, my worries, and my thoughts on life. I live in Islamabad.

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