Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sorry, ‘legal’ Muslims aren’t safe… even if they’re doctors

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This one’s for my doctor family members/friends.

The topic of the Muslim ban has been a rollercoaster for American Muslims. The 9th circuit shot down its reinstatement after Trump saw them in court (heh), but there’s talk of it going higher up and people are concerned about being asked about social media passwords, more countries being added to the list, wedding shopping being put in jeopardy, CBP officers just being all around jerks (seriously, click on that link, you need to hear it). In my own neck of the woods, there were reports of people being harassed for proof of legal status in certain neighborhoods that were clearly racially targeted.

Regarding all of this, a relative of mine stated that those who haven’t done anything wrong have nothing to fear and that if the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is giving someone with a green card trouble, then there must be a reason.

It’s always so, so hard to see your loved ones forget where they came from.

The fact of the matter is that no, this country does not treat us all equally and with liberty and justice for all. No, working hard is not enough nor is it the monopoly of those who “came here legally.” (Why, this entire country was founded on “illegal immigration,” my dears.) Undocumented immigrants work just as hard as the rest of us, and often times, harder than many of us. That being said, doing things the legal way, the right way, following orders and keeping your head down is. not. a. guarantee. Especially when you are a person of color.

Just ask the hundreds of unarmed black people shot by police, the dozens taken down by a bullet in the back.

Just ask the 26 (confirmed) people wrongfully detained after September 11th when their only crime was being Arab/Muslim.

I’m not one to beat the “If you’re a doctor, you’re a paragon of citizenry and humanitarian good” narrative (sorry, Mom, you tried), but one must admit that most immigrants who come to this country and break their backs putting themselves through the physical, psychological, and financial torture that is residency tend to be good people. Whether or not there’s parental pressure involved, once you go through a few months of getting coughed on and yelled at and sticking your fingers in places you’d rather not stick them, you can’t help find yourself in it for the long haul. The men and women that go through the grueling process of immigrating here and then dedicate themselves to serving their new countrymen and saving their lives… well, those are the kind of the people who help make our country great (although, I guess we could blame them for keeping the Baby Boomers so healthy and able to destroy our economy and morale, but that’s another blog post). We’re all agreed on that, right? Right.

Well. Not all.

 

Are all immigrant doctors fantastic people? Nope. (Sorry, Mom, some of the people I’ve met in your social circles suuuuuck.) But they’re not going to waste their time going through medical school, taking the USMLEs, getting a visa/green card/spouse, going through immigration, going through the hell that is the match process… to plan a terrorist attack or spread Sharia law. (Although they won’t say no to a new halal joint close enough for them to grab a late night snack on call.) Speaking of that hell, the match process is like the Sorting Hat on Steroids Even Lance Armstrong Would Not Go Near. Cleveland Clinic, one of the best hospitals in the country, probably knows this woman’s childhood cat’s middle name and what her dad ate for breakfast (and how all of that will affect her ability to practice medicine). Basically, the fact that she’s even a doctor at Cleveland Clinic means she’s been vetted and she’s a good enough person to stick her fingers in patients at one of the toughest places to get a residency.

Unless her dad ate the plain Cheerios over the Honey Nut, she didn’t do anything to be forced out of the country except be a Muslim. And we’d do well to remember that.

Trump rumored to add more countries to ban list, including Pakistan, Egypt, and Afghanistan

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Hearing through the grapevine (the immigration lawyer grapevine, to be exact) that there is a draft of an executive order which adds the following countries to the current ban:

  • Egypt
  • Lebanon
  • Afghanistan
  • Pakistan
  • Colombia
  • Venezuela
  • Southern Philippines
  • Trans-Sahara (Mali)
  • Sulu/Sulawesi Seas Littoral

Rumor is that this executive order is to be given tomorrow. It is uncertain whether this will affect green-card holders (as in, permanent residents who have already been extremely vetted) and dual citizens. The last executive order did/does not apply to dual citizens who hold US citizenship, but no word on whether this one will be the same. (This is of particular importance to my family and me, as most of us are dual citizens of the United States and Pakistan.)

Note that a few of these are not Muslim-majority areas (the Southern Phillipines do have a sizeable Muslim population, however). I’m not sure whether this is specifically designed to make it seem as though this is not targeting Muslims, but Rudy Giuliani has already confirmed for us that a ban on Muslims has always been Trump and his administration’s intent. There is also the fact that the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv has assured Israel that its (Jewish) citizens holding dual nationality with one of the banned countries would be exempt.

I hope these rumors are mistaken. But as my fiancé just noted, “it’s starting to feel like Trump just executed Order 66.”

Making America racist again (even though it never really wasn’t)

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Trump’s Muslim ban is having consequences for more than visa and green card-holders from the seven listed countries. My best friend and cousin, Faiza, was returning from her honeymoon in Belize Saturday evening, when she was held for hours at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. I caught sight of her husband’s Facebook post while at a birthday party (her brother’s 40th, incidentally):

I saw the post not long after he put it up, so my jaw dropped when I saw how widely it had spread the next day. What amazed me even further was how many people in the comments were accusing Javad of lying. I know the people involved personally… Indeed, very closely. I can assure you that they are both U.S. citizens; Javad was born here and Faiza lived here her entire life (the only reason she wasn’t born in the US is because her mother was visiting family at the time of her birth). Both of their families are from Pakistan, a country that is not even part of the executive order.

I’m not sure what part of this does not “add up,” as I saw multiple people on the post claim. Muslims and people of Arab and/or South Asian descent have been harassed and intimidated at airports consistently for the past 15 years (yours truly included). What happened to Javad and Faiza isn’t surprising to me in the least, but it’s alarming all the same. While speaking with Javad, he pointed out how the customs personnel did the maximum they possibly could to harass these two and get away with it. The CBP kept Javad and Faiza long enough to cause them distress, but not long enough for them to miss their flight. Had they missed it, the airline or airport would have been forced to accommodate them for a new flight as well as lodging, which would have required a report as to why they had been held so long (the reason being none).

While my cousin did make her flight in the end, this isn’t something to be brushed off. Children were detained at these airports, and I can’t tell you how many petitions I’ve seen for international students being kept from returning to complete their studies (many of them on scholarships). Even if your country of origin (or your family’s) is not on the list, what’s to stop Trump from adding them overnight? What’s to stop him from adding all Muslims, regardless of nationality overnight? Honestly, what’s to stop them from escalating it to camps? A Trump crony did mention the Japanese-American internment camps as precedent back in November.

Just as an executive order like this emboldened those customs personnel to harass my cousin, the executive order— indeed, Trump’s election itself— has emboldened bigots all over to harass, intimidate, and even attack Muslims. Take the shooting at a Quebec City mosque last night. Richard Spencer, despite being punched in the face twice already, had this to say in response to that tragedy:

Don’t kid yourself by thinking that Spencer or those who shot up the mosque are outliers. The fact is that they’re not not, and that there’s a reason the alt-right movement is taking so much power. You need to take that power back (yes, you). Figure out how to contact your representatives and tell them about your concerns. Demand they take action. Here are a couple different scripts you can try if you’re stuck on what to say (along with some good ideas from Laura Silverman’s Twitter feed):

It’ll only take a few minutes of your time, but it could affect us all for far longer.

Eid Interning

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September 21st was my first day as a reporter assistant intern at News 12 New Jersey.  News 12 New Jersey is the local 24-hour cable television news channel, reaching more than 1.8 million homes in northern and central New Jersey and is part of News 12 Networks, the first, largest and most watched regional news channel in the U.S.

I work weekends. I’m a sucker who’s got classes Monday thru Friday, and my nights tend to be busy anyway, so it works out. Last Sunday, I suggested a story which I wanted to come in on Tuesday (yesterday) for. And the assignment editors took it.

A few years ago, my friends and I got ourselves into the fight for AlFalah Islamic Center’s mosque in Bridgewater. It was yet another case of people going, “Not in our town!,” although they cleverly backpedaled and presented the building of the mosque at the former Redwood Inn as a “traffic concern”. Mind you, we’d been having holiday prayers and I think some Friday prayers there for years.

On September 30th, U.S. District Judge Michael A. Shipp ruled that Bridgewater Township can’t enforce a zoning ordinance that effectively meant the mosque could not be built at the site, as the ordinance was not passed until after AlFalah had submitted their application to build there. So after three years… victory! And guess who’s sitting in a newsroom when this happens?

I suggested to an assignment editor a story on Eid al-Adha for Tuesday, because Muslims are such a significant community in New Jersey, the state with the 2nd largest percentage of Muslims in the nation, population-wise. I wrote up the proposal and gave them the background– how Eid al-Adha is a major Muslim holiday in which we celebrate Prophet Ibrahim (aka Abraham)’s willingness to sacrifice his son (either Ismail [Ishmael] or Ishaq [Isaac], as it is not specified in the Qur’an) in submission to God’s command as well as his son’s willingness himself to be sacrificed. (For those of you who don’t know, don’t worry, God intervened and replaced the boy with a lamb, hence another Eid al-Adha tradition of sacrificing goats/lambs/cows/etc and distributing the meat to family, friends, and the poor.)

Now, stories aren’t decided on at News 12 until the morning of, so I had to call in around 7 o’clock in the morning yesterday and was connected to the reporter on the story, Sally Ann Mosey. She gave me the green light, and I met her at The Days Inn in Bridgewater, NJ where she covered the story quite spectacularly. It was only a vosot (short for “voiceover/sound on tape”) rather than a fully packaged story. I have yet to see any of it, but from what I heard, they showed the actual Eid prayers, people hanging out afterwards, and also an interview with a woman explaining the significance of the holiday that happens to be my mother. (I actually wasn’t there yet for that, but needless to say, she is now more okay with my career choice than ever.)

News 12 New Jersey speaking with AlFalah Center board member Omar Mohammedi. Photo courtesy of Arif Khan.

News 12 New Jersey speaking with AlFalah Center board member Omar Mohammedi.
Photo courtesy of Arif Khan.

Sally Ann Mosey speaking with Arshad Jalil, a member of AlFalah Center. Photo courtesy of Nelson Tun.

Sally Ann Mosey speaking with Arshad Jalil, a member of AlFalah Center. (You can see part of yours truly on the right edge of the photo.)
Photo courtesy of Nelson Tun.

Photo courtesy of Nelson Tun.

Photo courtesy of THE Nelson Tun.

I’m only an intern, but this is basically me setting into motion one of my career goals as a journalist. Not only did I bring more media attention to AlFalah’s fight for freedom of religion, but seeing Muslims pray and celebrate a holiday that commemorates an event familiar to Jews and the Christian mainstream points out what should be apparent to the average American, but isn’t: we are a faith just like any other, people like any other. We are nothing like those extremists who have hijacked our religion and brought terror to our world through their attacks on innocent people.

I took this one.

I took this one. Sally Ann speaking with Jalil.

One of the questions that I’ve heard or been asked the most by skeptics of Islam being a non-violent religion is Why don’t Muslims come out and condemn these terrorist attacks? Because, as you can see, we are busy living our lives.

I have heard many other Muslims say that it is not our job to speak up and say what should be obvious, that we shouldn’t have to answer for those who are distorting our religion beyond recognition. But I disagree. I think we should, as an ummah, come together and take offense to those who take the name of God and Islam in vain. If people can riot over an idiotic cartoon, then we can speak out against a suicide bombing or a plane crashing into a national landmark. I personally feel sick to my stomach every time I hear of a Muslim being connected to an attack– Mohamed Atta, Hani Hanjour, Richard Reid, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Faisal Shazad, Nidal Malik Hasan,  Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev. These people are nowhere near being the majority, and yet we are letting them be our representation in the media. The rest of us are going on and living our lives, and I personally think we should stop and try to find ways to contribute to the name of Islam. We are the legacy of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions, and we are not taking it seriously.

So this was my contribution. Eid Mubarak, everyone.

Ab imo pectore,

Syjil

New Year’s note for friends and family– old, new, and lost

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I can’t really explain 2012– it was confusing, both amazing and horrible at different times and in really intense ways. But I can say that this year absolutely solidified for me who is and who isn’t true to me, true to others, true to themselves. And rather than discovering, I clarified for myself just who I am and what I’m here to do.

I finally came to terms with the demons that have taken me under for the past four years, with the things that haunted me for far longer.  I realized that pursuing a career in medicine was a waste of my time and that my delusions of grandeur and being someone that I’ve had since childhood are perhaps not simply delusions. I realized that I have a talent for a reason, and that I want to live every day of my life being in love with it.

As usual, however, this year I lost some friends. There have been those that had already drifted who fell off the radar completely and some who went from ‘friend’ to following suit. Quite honestly, it bothered me not on my own behalf but on theirs. The irony here, the sad part, you see, is that many did so because they believe me to be judgmental and/or untrustworthy… when the truth is that the people they spend time with now are the ones with a history of spreading gossip, and my mouth has been shut to the point where they themselves aren’t even aware how much I know of all their dirty little secrets. (Of course, perhaps they now have an inkling as I’ve recently dropped a few hints to some of their in-the-loop friends.) I earned the Lois Lane title for no reason other than my knack for always finding out without much effort. Yet people think I’m an unaware gossip, ostracizing me or– in some cases– using me even though I know and don’t judge a thing. The people you care about so often don’t seem to realize how genuine you are… And how disingenuous are the ones they’re surrounded by. It seems that being fake is what gets people to think that you’re a true friend, and that’s one of the harshest realities I’ve realized this past year.

2012 made me realize that public opinion, popular demand, the majority mindset is often mistaken, misled and that working to change it rather than conform is worth doing. For once, I actually tried the whole being overly nice and holding back from saying what’s on my mind thing, but I was miserable. It made me realize being brutally honest is how I work best, popular opinion be damned.

Freshman year of college had me feeling so alone and like an outsider, something I haven’t felt for years. I’ve begun my sophomore year with an effort to make new friends, and through classes and a certain new organization I joined as a board member this semester, I’ve found people willing to talk about more than gossip, drugs, alcohol, partying, trashy and ridiculous shows, the opposite sex, and other mindless, mind-numbing topics. I’ve met guys who have no problem with a girl holding her own in an argument or hitting them with a sharp verbal jibe. I’ve met girls who don’t need my constant gushing upon every reunion or to compete with me for approval, popularity, boys. Have I made any extremely close friends, relationships that will definitely last a lifetime? Not yet, but I’m hoping all of these are headed in a direction where they will become so. I really do.

Do not mistake this post for an “ahh, here’s the end to The Great Story of 2012”; those are written far too often. Every year is just a date. They all run together, flowing in a linear fashion and in many ways, the story’s just beginning. Every new year I have a feeling as to what the next 12 months will bring, and 2013 is going to be a big one for me. I say this out of prior knowledge and anticipation of certain things, and just gut instinct about all the rest. We always think that our future is so far off and then one day, all of a sudden, you’re right at its door.

2012 was insane. I got into the biggest fights of my life with my mother. I had new kinds of conversations with my father. One of my best friends was off at sea or busy at military school, and it made me terribly lonely and forgotten until he finally visited with a buddy who confirmed my fears were for naught. I got back in touch with an old best friend who’s steadily coming back into my life, although it honestly feels as if she never left. I spent the year working through issues from the past with my closest friend of these three, getting further than I ever thought we would, and our friendship is stronger for it. I’ve come to accept the fact that there are some family issues that will never be resolved, that some people will never realize that there is another side to one story or a different perspective to another. I’ve realized just who my crew was in high school from the way we’ve kept in touch and missed each other in our odd, subtle ways. And I never stopped reading Harry Potter.

My resolutions are never new for the year. They are what I’ve already been working and improving on: writing more blogs posts, articles, poems, and fiction; getting back to my normal weight;  getting my shit together with MakeWaves; getting more politically and socially active; bringing the grades up; improving on all my relationships; making SJP bigger on campus than anyone could have thought; and reading a hell of a lot more. I will calmly but surely show those who do not see how much they’ve been mistaken that I’ll always have their back and that I’ve never faltered from being true to them… that I care more than they know. I will prove that my journalistic ambitions are far from small and ordinary.

I’m pulling myself out of a four year rut for good. And I’m going to make waves and take everything and everyone by storm… just the way I like it.

Just watch me.

Ab imo pectore,

Syjil

Getting the Peter Parker treatment

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The Express Tribune was launched over two years ago as Pakistan’s first internationally affiliated newspaper. Owned by the Lakson Group (think the Murdochs of Pakistan… or 2nd to the Murdochs of Pakistan), the Tribune is in partnership with The International Herald Tribune, the global edition of the New York Times. Today was my second day interning at its Karachi office.

I work at the City desk and my boss, the City Editor, is… Well, let’s just say I feel she’s taken the whole tough editor stereotype from movies a little too seriously. Sure, a good editor’s a Perry White, but this woman is channeling J. Jonah Jameson. Of course, having picked out five errors in the leading front page story (Pakistani English isn’t very strict) while waiting in the lobby before my interview a few days before, I’m too cocky to be anything but amused. Seeming to not realize she’s dealing with a kid who’s been going to school in New Jersey for eight years, she’s been throwing the F-word around like it’s a whole new thing. And while I slightly and silently agreed when she called my mother over-protective to her face the day before when Mommy Dearest wanted to come in with me to see where I was working, I couldn’t help but wonder if the woman had ever heard of Daniel Pearl. Turns out my boss hadn’t realized I not only studied in the States but lived there as well until she asked to clarify what I meant when I called in earlier to check whether I should come in today because the Consulate had told us to be extra careful. ( As usual, there’s been some violence on the streets after an assassination attempt of a local political/religious leader which freaked my mom out and led to her forcing me to call ahead.) But all this wasn’t until after my darling boss had already managed to tell me I shouldn’t be in journalism if I was going to be a pansy. Needless to say, I’m no longer involving my mother in any of this. And even more needless to say… I’m definitely going to show her how much I’m not a pansy.

Still, I’m learning some new things, and I like it. After Miss Congeniality made some changes to a piece I had edited, I went to fix it on my desktop when she took the print out she had marked up, turned it over and told me to make the changes from memory. I had to translate Urdu quotes into English and remember to stick to British spellings. (Thank you, Inkheart and UK versions of Harry Potter.) The power went out a few times, and I was handed chai without being asked if I wanted any. Typical Karachi in a typical newspaper office.

Being a journalist,– a proper one, at least– you want to see the world, meet all kinds of people from all kinds of places, experience different cultures, and learn that which you cannot from textbooks and lecture halls. Actually working at a media outlet on the other side of the world is the perfect experience. You learn a different language, different lifestyle, immerse yourself in another culture, see another viewpoint of media (a much more objective one at that). Journalists record history as it happens. We tell stories in the eyes of those who were there. And being in another country, the story is one that never fails to intrigue.

My name is Ashraf and I am not a terrorist

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Since my last post, my blog has seen nearly 300 hits.  Wow.  I have to say thank you to everyone who’s willing to listen to what I have to say and passing it along… For a Jersey chick with a template-blog that works for no one, 300 is a lot.

In fact, I’m starting to think about maybe turning this into my one and only job in life.  Writing, informing.  Of course, that remains to be seen as my Pakistani mother is currently acting as if Karachi is under siege… Perhaps I shouldn’t have told her what I’ve been thinking.

But to follow up on a few things people have been saying… Invisible Children is not a scam.  Does a significant chunk not go to Africa? Yes. But it goes to their films.  IC is not primarily a charity– their main goal is to raise awareness.  That money goes to their films which, as you can see, have made a big impact.

In fact, give Invisible Children a chance to address all criticism here.

One thing the latest viral video you’re all watching did not address is that while Kony may be now just doing everything he is for power, in the beginning the LRA did have a purpose.  Pretty much, Uganda’s seen a lot of ethnic conflicts and civil war… A woman by the name of Alice Auma started the Holy Spirit Movement, which pretty much advocated Acholi (an ethnic group in Uganda) interests by saying she was a prophet receiving the word of God… Kony came along and kind of started copying her, adding violence into the mix and thus bringing about the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Hold the phone there. Lord’s. Resistance. Army. The Lord. As in Christ. Kony and his men portray themselves as a Christian movement, fighting for their people in the name of God… Sound familiar?

But you never hear anyone call all Christians terrorists, now do you?

Ab imo pectore,

Syjil