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Save Rohingya: A Physician’s Journal, Part 2

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By Tasneem Hoque, MD

This is a continuation of Save Rohingya: A Physician’s Journal, Part 1

January 16, 2018: Day 8, Thaingkhali Camp Block E4

It was quite a busy day as our team saw 612 patients in just about 5 hours. We went deep into Block E, over steep hills, near the back rim of the camp, a little over a mile away from the “main center” of Thaingkhali where our van and ambulance were parked.

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When ill, most of these patients are treated by “Burmese” doctors – local Rohingya homeopathic medicine men with no formal medical training. In Myanmar, the Rohingya were not allowed to pursue education beyond the 10th grade. Furthermore, those who completed 10th grade were not allowed to sit for the formal O and A level exams necessary to pursue any higher education. The local imam for the region today informed us that no mobile clinic had ever visited this area – ours was the first and the community was very excited.

Young girl using nebulizer

It was a special day (they all have been) because we were able to use a portable nebulizer on our younger patients. One of the biggest difficulties we encountered in the days prior was the inability to provide simple asthma management. Albuterol inhalers were present in our mobile pharmacy, however, we did not have spacers. As a result, we had to get imaginative about creating spacers for patients, using cups or bottles. Inhaler compliance and proper use remained lingering concerns. Plus, inhalers were really only an option for adults and older children. Young children and infants with shortness of breath, cough, or wheezing could not use an inhaler at all. To address this, IMANA purchased and sent a small portable nebulizer that could be used to treat these children and provide instantaneous relief.

Out of the 612 patients seen, we had only 3 referrals to the Malaysian Field Hospital. In the last few days, we’ve had many patients whose ailments warranted urgent care but in these dire settings, unless it’s an emergency and potentially life-threatening, the various NGO field hospitals do not have the manpower or resources to manage the less acute cases. It’s a shocking and startling reminder of just how different our worlds are. Luckily, none of the children I saw today were acutely ill. Rather, this group of children was remarkably more social, less inhibited, and more engaged than most of the children I had seen in the past week. I hope the photos convey the innocence of their young lives.

 

January 17, 2018: Day 9, Thaingkhali Camp, Block D11

Each day has been full of surprises – sometimes they are sweet, mostly they are demoralizing. Today was especially memorable for its unexpected moments. Fair warning: the following story and photo are graphic so if you have a weak stomach, I would skip the next section and the picture.

Impossible Choices

The very first patient of the day was a 7-year-old girl named Purwas Begum. She was found sitting on the ground just inside the doorway of the clinic hut, hiding beneath a dusty sheet of tarp, whimpering in pain. Once found, she refused to speak, even to the translator. Her father, an elderly man (though understandably, all the Rohingya appear older than their reported ages) appeared within a few minutes, picked her up, and carried her to the table.

I couldn’t understand why a 7-year-old needed to be carried until her father exposed his daughter’s left foot, revealing a large wound covering the length of the inner left foot, starting at the left big toe and extending to just beneath the inner left ankle.  Pus was oozing from beneath a large scab that was floating atop the wound. She would barely allow me to examine the injury, but the big toe was already turning purple in color. She couldn’t move the toe or the ankle, and there was a small portion where bone was exposed. She was having intermittent fevers. The father informed me that the foot was run-over by a jeep 3 weeks prior. He had taken her to the “Burmese” doctor who gave her an injection for 3000 taka. With no disrespect to the centuries-old practices of homeopathic medicine, these Burmese doctors are Rohingya medicine men from Myanmar with no formal medical education. The father couldn’t tell me what the injection was. When asked how he secured 3000 taka (~$35 USD, but a hefty amount in Bangladesh) he said the local imam had collected it.

Purwas Begum’s left foot

I told the father that his daughter’s foot needed serious medical attention – that I’d like to send them by ambulance to the Malaysian Field Hospital so she may receive IV antibiotics and have the wound cleaned out, likely under sedation, to try to salvage as much of the foot as possible and maybe regain some mobility. He refused to go despite my pleas, stating that if he went to the hospital the Burmese doctor would no longer treat his daughter.

Can you imagine? How many times can one person beg? My brain was firing like crazy trying to stay rational while attempting to calmly convey to the father my concerns for gangrene, possible auto-amputation (at least of that big toe) and, of course, infection that could take her life. I was angry, profoundly saddened, and so worried, but had no option but to comply with the father’s wishes. I gave him a prescription for oral antibiotics (which would do nothing), pain medication, and some clean bandages. I also gave him the number to our mobile clinic’s site organizer in case he changed his mind — that way he could contact us and we would bring her to the hospital.

Impossible choices. Unfathomable conditions. Such is the grim reality of their existence.

A Morning Star

Mr. Tariq Alam

Two patients later, a young woman sat down next to me and presented her infant son. I recognized him immediately as the baby boy with piercing blue eyes whose mother my colleagues had been talking to outside the clinic door. I asked for his name, age, and chief complaint. She responded that he was 1-month-old and she just wanted him checked by a doctor to make sure he was ok, but hesitated to give me a name. When I asked again, she sheepishly grinned and admitted he wasn’t given one yet. As I started to ask her for her name, she interrupted me and mumbled something in the Rohingya dialect (many of their words are quite similar to Bengali but beyond simple phrases, I couldn’t understand what they were saying). I asked the translator what she said, to which he responded, “She wants you to name her son.”

I was taken aback and replied, “Surely, you don’t want me, a complete stranger, to name your first child, instead of the grandparent?”

She shyly smiled again and said she decided that morning, while waiting outside, that she wanted her son to be named by the foreign woman doctor when she heard I was Muslim. She hoped it would mean that her son’s life would be better than this place and that he, too, would grow up to be a doctor.

I honestly didn’t want to acquiesce because it felt like an enormous responsibility and, truthfully, I didn’t think I deserved such an honor. Besides, what if he hated the name he was given? She asked again and my colleague sitting next to me said, “You should do it. Pick a name.”

And so I did. I gave him the first name Tariq (“morning star” in Arabic) for his celestial baby blue eyes, followed by his father’s name, Alam. Tariq Alam. I don’t know if I’ll ever be blessed to have children of my own, but I will be forever grateful to Tariq’s mother for gifting me this unforgettable moment.

The One who cares for an Orphan

As the day progressed, my colleagues and I saw numerous patients – 502 to be exact. The area was yet again a region that had not been reached by other mobile clinics. The lines were wrapped around the hut. The women at one point were on the verge of stampede to get into the hut’s doorway. A young woman and her toddler were knocked to the ground. We had to shut the door and post “guards” to control the flow of patients into the room.

Mother with her adopted 3-year-old

A colleague evaluated a 3-year-old girl who was clearly developmentally delayed, with an underdeveloped head and low muscle tone. She was also deaf and mute. As it turned out, the woman with her was not her mother. This woman told us that she found the little girl on the roadside as she was escaping her own burning home, one of the many in her village that were set afire by the Myanmar military. She found the child crying next to the slaughtered bodies of two people she presumed were the young girl’s parents. She carried the child the entire way to safety in Bangladesh. She told our team she had no children of her own and planned to raise this girl rather than place her in an orphanage. She had come to the clinic with concerns about the child’s delays and refused to believe that the little girl was beyond help, contrary to what others in the village had said. She told my colleague she would never give up on her.

There is a hadith narrated by the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him):

“The one who cares for an orphan and myself will be together in Paradise like this,” and he held his two fingers together to illustrate. (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī)

I can only imagine the immense reward this woman will be getting when she so lovingly took care of this child immediately after losing everything herself.

The stories that lie behind the tired eyes of these people are enough to compile volumes, an encyclopedia of suffering. They are victims of life’s cruelest plots. Violence still abounds. Women and children are at risk of kidnap and rape in the night, as they go to use the latrines. Even within the confines of these vast camps, it can hardly be considered sanctuary. Yet, the Rohingya consistently display the qualities of generosity, patience, and gratitude to a degree I have not witnessed in many others.

January 18, 2018: Day 10, Thaingkhali Camp, Block D9

My last day with the mobile clinic, my last day with the Rohingya.

When I signed up for this mission in early December 2017, I never could have imagined just how deeply attached I would become to the people, their stories, and their plight. It’s as if my very DNA has mutated.

Sunrise in Cox’s Bazaar

Walking to work!

I awoke to a beautiful morning adhan for Fajr. You don’t need to be Muslim to appreciate the hypnotic, lilting cadence of the call to prayer, and this particular morning’s adhan sounded near-ethereal. A glowing, salmony, golden-pink sunrise guided the morning’s 3-mile run along the beach. On any other day, even the car ride to the day’s camp site would have ruined the morning’s zen. A truck lodged itself into a ditch on the narrow dirt road costing us a precious hour. At that point, our team of volunteers (doctors & locals) all agreed unanimously to get out of the car, gather up the medication boxes, and trek to our site, leaving our driver to move the car when the jam was relieved. Some of the group hopped onto traditional rickshaws, some others jumped into tuk-tuks. I chose to walk. I wanted to feel the earth beneath my feet.

It was a brilliantly sunny day. In the many days prior, a dense blanket of fog descended to the ground, lifting a little as the day progressed but impairing visibility throughout each day. Upon reaching the clinic site, the patients were already lined up around the large hut waiting to be seen – women and children on one side, men on the other. I tried to work as fast as I could – to see as many as I could. Being the only pediatric physician and the only female in our medical group that day, there were over a hundred women and children lined up to be seen by me. I wanted to stretch the hours, second by second, see each patient, hear their stories, and not lose a single moment. We had already lost so much time due to the traffic jam and I hated even more that I had to leave around noon to catch my flight back to Dhaka that evening.

Maladies of the Soul

The day went similarly to the others. One learns very quickly in the camps that many of the physical ailments are actually maladies of the soul. My first patient informed me that her husband left one day to get some supplies but never returned. Her home and village burned to the ground nearly two days later. She and her two young children went into hiding in the jungle, and were part of only a few lucky individuals to survive the massacre. She told me Myanmar military locked the mosque with the local imam and his students inside, and set it on fire. She joined a few others who decided to risk an escape. Her 6-year-old son carried his 2-year-old sister for most of the way en route to Bangladesh, so that the mother could carry the few belongings she managed to save.

Mr. Arman

A short while later, a little 3-year-old boy, Arman, who I had diagnosed the previous day with scarlet fever, showed up for a repeat check-up. He was brought by his neighbor because his own mother had just given birth two days before. This woman had kept the young boy in her hut while he was ill so he wouldn’t affect the mother or the new baby. As miserable as Arman was just the day before, within 24 hours of starting antibiotics his fever was gone and the sandpaper rash was much improved. He even smiled a few times (though not for the camera).

One of the last patients I saw was an infant girl named Hasina, believed to be about 45-days-old but the mother couldn’t be sure. She weighed less than 1.5 kg. The mother said her own milk supply was low, the baby wouldn’t latch, and that she was spoon-feeding the baby powdered milk mixed with water. She was now worried because the baby wasn’t making urine as much, and was becoming too skinny. The mother was young, only 17-years-old, and was accompanied by her mother-in-law. My thoughts kept drifting back to the idea that if we could just get these young mothers lactation consultants, so many of the babies would do so much better! Luckily, unlike some prior experiences, this family was willing to have the baby admitted to the hospital (thank goodness!) and I later had the honor of riding in the ambulance with them as I took my final leave out of the camp.

By 12:15 pm, as I was being reminded of the rapidly dwindling time I suddenly froze, staring dejectedly at the line of women and children waiting to be seen at my end of the table. I felt dumbfounded and defeated. How could I just walk away and leave? One of the team doctors broke my trance and gently assured me that all of these people would be seen. As I attempted to say my goodbyes, I became tongue-tied and teary-eyed. I was overtaken by a profound wave of sadness. I would never see or know what happened to all these people whose faces were branded into my memory. They had no cell phones, no addresses. In medicine, we aim for relief of illness, alleviation of pain and suffering, prevention and cures for diseases, all in the hopes of returning the infirm to their health and livelihood.

I couldn’t help but think, what is going to happen to the nearly 700,000 souls that live in these cramped, dusty, dirty, tarpaulin huts with no access to steady food resources, no income, no reliable healthcare access, no education? I get to return to a world of flushable toilets, electricity, computers, excessive food production, and woefully excessive waste. I go back to a world of luxury. What is their future? Is there one? Or am I looking upon an entire generation lost? How to reconcile this dichotomy?

I offered half-intelligible goodbyes, through many tears, to our team of doctors and the Rohingya volunteers. They may all be new friends, but it certainly felt like I had known them forever. I took a few photos outside the clinic tent, posing with the women and the children. Upon leaving the camp, I quietly cried as we drove first to the Malaysian Field Hospital and then back to my hotel.

Miss Hasina

During the ambulance ride with baby Hasina, her mom, and her Dadi (paternal grandmother), I fought through my tears and asked the Dadi if she would be willing to share her family’s story with me. It was a relatively happy one compared to the others. She said she has three sons, all of whom were married, baby Hasina’s father being the youngest of her sons. She lost her own husband in 2012, during the last round of violence against the Rohingya. He, too, had gone out to collect items from the nearest town but never returned. Of all her grandchildren, she was most excited for baby Hasina because she was the first girl of the current generation. She told me she felt immediately connected to the little girl since her own daughter had been killed, and thought this was God’s way of returning her daughter’s spirit to her. After dropping them off at the hospital, the Dadi grasped my hand and repeated, “Dua, dua” (prayers for you).

I am haunted, uplifted, humbled, and re-invigorated by these people. They have taught me more about life in 10 days than my nearly 4 decades of age.

These two weeks with the Rohingya were a welcome and much-needed reminder of why I became a doctor. I am so grateful to IMANA for launching these missions and creating an opportunity to provide essential medical care to an impoverished people. Our team treated over 6,200 patients in my two weeks, and IMANA has evaluated 18,000+ patients to date, purchased a second ambulance, and extended their missions into April.

What can you do?

Monetary contributions and volunteers are always needed by IMANA and the numerous other NGOs listed below, that are on the ground in Bangladesh. In addition, Burma Task Force (BTF) is a coalition of 19 US and Canadian Muslim organizations, under the parent organization, Justice For All, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, dedicated to advocating for the Rohingya and ending the genocide in Burma. BTF encourages you to contact your senators and representatives and urge them to pass the Bill To Promote Democracy and Human Rights in Burma and the Burma Act of 2017. For more information and a specific action plan visit Burma Task Force.

NGOs on the ground in Bangladesh:

Action Against Hunger

Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC)

Doctors Without Borders

International Rescue Committee

UNICEF

Save the Children

UNHCR

UNICEF

World Food Program


Tasneem Hoque, MD was inspired to return to her ancestral home of Bangladesh out of a deep desire to help with the devastating plight of the Rohingya people. Tasneem completed her residency in pediatrics and her fellowship in pediatric cardiology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. Providing care and service to people is her passion, but she is also committed to serving her community through various charity works, humanitarian causes, and by inspiring youth to achieve their dreams. She is a founding board member for the Khan Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization geared at improving college access to low-income and underprivileged youth in New York City.

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1 Comment

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  1. Avatar

    Taoheedah

    March 22, 2018 at 2:28 PM

    So heart breaking and so uplifting at the same time reading about what doctors and volunteers like Dr. Tasneem are doing. May Almighty Allah accept it all from you as ibadah and may He alleviate the sufferings of the Rohingya people. Ameen. Jazakumllahu khayran to MM for publishing this.

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#Society

Beyond 2020: Grounding Our Politics in Community

Kyle Ismail, Guest Contributor

Published

As tense and agonizing as these unending election days have been, it pales in comparison to the last four years.  I plainly remember how it all began on the night of November 07, 2016. I watched as the political map of the US became increasingly red late into the night. All the social media banter, conspiracy theories and left-wing critiques of candidate Hillary Clinton, formed an amorphous blob of white noise as I heard Trump announced as the next president. Now that Trump has run for re-election, half the country was hoping for a repudiation but will have to settle for the fact that despite a small margin, Donald J. Trump will not have a second chance to erode our democratic institutions and divide us. But we can’t move forward until each of us acknowledges our own pathological role in what we’ve become as a deeply divided country. 

We need to grapple with how we can gradually improve the circus-like reality that has become our ordinary, daily politics. We’ll relive more and perhaps improved “Trumps” if we don’t accept our own responsibility in creating a divided America. This starts with being better members of local communities. Here are a few of Trump-induced realizations that I’ve come to accept:

  1. Caring about our immediate neighbors and listening to their challenges and concerns is the part of political engagement that we all have to embrace above and beyond actually voting if we hope to be more than a 50/50 nation.
  2. Social media and its profit-driven algorithms are actually eroding how we see each other but could also be altered to help better educate us about our local social/political landscape.
  3. Local Politics has direct impact on our lives and is also at the heart our religious obligations to our neighbors. It also sets the tone for where the federal level derives policies that prove to be best practices (some examples are included below).
  4. Agitation and protest are not the same as being politically organized on a local level. Protest is sometimes needed, but it will never replace consistent and patient work. We learned this lesson with the Arab Spring as that movement failed to transform into a movement that was able to govern effectively. And the same appears to be true about the Black Lives Matter movement.

The voting is over for now. But voting is really the smallest part of being committed to bettering our communities. It was Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who gave the most specific definition of community/neighbor and encouraged his followers to guard the rights of the neighbor:

“Your neighbor is 40 houses ahead of you and 40 houses at your back, 40 houses to your left and 40 houses to your right” Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

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Why does this relate to being politically organized?? The need for political organizing comes when any group of people want to create change in accordance with their values. We’ve all watched protest after protest that change little to nothing at the neighborhood level. This will continue to happen without organization, which span school boards, block clubs, nonprofits, and religious community outreach.  How can Muslims enjoin right and discourage wrong in any meaningful way? It comes through having authentic relationships with neighbors and turning that into organized and engaged communities.

Rosa Parks

Nothing illuminates the value of such relationships better than the story of Rosa Parks in her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. People often think that she was the first brave soul to defy the custom of allowing whites to sit before African-Americans could be seated on her city’s buses. Nothing could be further from the truth. The difference was that her sets of relationships were so interwoven into her local community that it forced a massive response. Park’s connections spanned socioeconomic circles as she had close friendships from professors to field hands. She held memberships in a dozen local organizations including her church and the local NAACP. She was a volunteer seamstress in poor communities and provided the same for profit in wealthy white circles. When someone with her relational positioning was able to leverage the political organizing ability of MLK and Dr. Ralph Abernathy, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was sparked.

When something happens to Muslims, who can we mobilize to respond? Who becomes angry? Who do we work with in our communities to create policies that reflect our values And what are our internal barriers to such cooperation?

“Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart—and that is the weakest of faith.” Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

Our Predecessors Organized Locally

At some point in time voting became the sum total of political engagement in the minds of many and is now deemed by some as worthless. We quickly forget that the organizations that battled for voting rights were first locally organized to improve communities. SNCC, SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and the Urban League all formed to create change in various ways and the fight for voting rights was a component of these local agendas. So when we’re tempted to believe that voting doesn’t matter, it’s likely due to our lack of engagement in local issues that form the contours of our community life. If you’ve ever heard of Ella Baker or Fannie Lou Hamer (worth researching!), you probably never bought into this type of logic.

One of the many lessons we can pull from this rich history is that we cannot pursue policies, seek alliances, or negotiate a position with political parties (see Ice Cube’s debacle in negotiating with Trump) without first being organized from within. No set of friendships or outside philanthropic support can supplant the need for internal organization. This lack of organized political engagement has weakened Muslims in general but has fatally weakened African-American Muslims as voices within the larger Black community – a voice that gave Islam its first fully accepted and influential place in American society.

Immigrant-based Muslim communities could also benefit from a local approach because despite being several generations in America, their American bonafides are still not set in stone. Concerns about Islamophobia will not change outside of developing authentic relationships with non-Muslims.

This also pushes back against a culture shaped disproportionately by social media algorithms that promote isolation and division for the sake of profit. Our attention to the national news cycle also takes our attention away from local communities where our power is formed. In this type of political malaise, re-engagement in local politics and community relationships can bring us back to important principles that resonate with the values of Islam.

Local politics help shape federal policy

The final word on any law or policy rests with the federal government, but much of what becomes orthodoxy begins with a few concerned citizens in local communities. As with community policing, criminal justice reform, climate sustainability, or any issues that has not caught on, the federal government will often step back to see how a new law plays out at state and local levels. Illinois didn’t wait for Obamacare but has a well-established program to ensure that anyone 18 and younger in Illinois has health insurance through a program called All Kids . Colorado has, in the midst of protests against police brutality, altered their law of Qualified Immunity to make police more accountable. And California has advanced the conversation on reparations  by sanctioning a study to understand how the state could benefit by redressing the descendants of American slavery.

By advancing issues and electing representatives who support the causes we believe in, we insert ourselves into a narrative that would’ve otherwise been forged without us. There’s no shortcut in this process short of rolling up our sleeves to understand our local systems and existing organizations. Moneyed interests are prepare to control the narrative regardless of who the president is and we have to remake this system from the ground up. Our history provides us with a roadmap to do this and it goes far beyond being citizens who only argue over national issues while standing on the sidelines. Remembering our 40 neighbors as advised by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is the best place to start.

Some helpful links:

Local Elections

State Legislatures

School Boards

County Prosecutors

Mayors

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#Current Affairs

Why Boycotting France is the Wrong Response

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“I don’t think it’s safe to come visit you in France with your Aunt…she wears a hijab, and she will have trouble getting around”, my mother nervously quipped as we discussed travel arrangements for their trip. 

“Of course it’s safe! How could you say that? There are women wearing hijab all over this country!”  I protested, as I tried to assuage her concerns.

I was living as an expat in France when my family was planning their visit to the country last year. I was surprised to hear the reservations from my own folk; it went on to highlight the pre-conceived notions Muslims often have about the French. “They hate Muslims!” “They are racists” “They insult our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)!”. The list goes on.  

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Having spent a considerable amount of time in France, Quebec and Suisse-Romande, I’ve developed an affinity towards the French culture, language and people. I’ve never felt marginalized in these lands because of my dark skin, my Muslim faith, or my never-ending struggle with French conjugation. Yes, I am privileged in many ways, but that doesn’t negate the validity of my experiences. 

I was thus naturally taken aback by the recent calls to boycott France in light of the opportunistic and contemptable actions of Emmanuel Macron. If these boycotts made me uncomfortable, I can imagine how much more offended the average French person would have been. Macron’s decision to first politicize an unspeakable crime, and then to insult our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was a deplorable move. It exposed his true colors and showed us that he is just another disdainful politician who seeks to divide, rather than build bridges. 

As pitiful as Macron’s actions are, is the Muslim response calling for boycotts of France justified? Is it fair to hold all of France guilty for the comments made by its President? Are we not only advancing the ‘Us vs Them’ narrative that extremists on both sides want? No one holds all of America responsible for the ridiculous comments that Trump makes – why a different standard for France? 

Collective guilt is a serious disease that we must overcome. We need to stop holding a people accountable for the actions of a few. We need to stop blaming a people for the actions of their ancestors. French corporations, that employ thousands of Muslims across the world, did not insult the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) – so why take them to task? French Muslims have not called for these boycotts, so why are we advocating for them?  If we collectivize and boycott all of France, how are we any different from those who hold all Muslims responsible for the violence perpetrated by a few? 

We need to abandon the ‘Us vs Them’ mindset; this parochial idea of ‘Islam vs the West’ or ‘Islam vs France’. We need to adopt a post-nationalist worldview where we look at all people as one, as our own. There is no ‘Them’ – it is all ‘Us’. It is ‘Us’ against hatred, bigotry, divisiveness, and racism. It is ‘Us’ against those in power, on both sides, who seek to exploit ‘Us’ for political and personal gain. 

As one people, we should never advocate for boycotts which seek to create divisions and animosity between ‘Us’. Blanket consumer boycotts are short lived and have a minimal impact regardless. What lives long past the boycott are the feelings of resentment, hatred and enmity directed towards an entire nation. Our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is a prophet to all people, to the French people – our people. We must not partake in actions which alienate our kin from being receptive to his message.  

Know that paltry cartoons will not take away from the rank of the Chosen One. One of his miracles in these modern times, is that those wishing to disparage him have been unable to succeed. His enemies have caricaturized him over and over again, but none of their images have stuck around or gained acceptance. Despite all of these attempts, the only descriptor with which he continues to be universally recognized is that of prophethood. You read a headline: ‘Artist makes images of the Prophet’, and you know instantly who ‘the Prophet’ refers to regardless of who you are. Unqualified, the word always brings to mind the thought of one man!   

Even those that don’t believe in him call him ‘the Prophet Muhammad’ – lips refuse to utter his name with anything other than his noble epithet. So, fear not about the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) rank – for the one being praised by angels in the Heavens cannot be belittled by lowly men here on Earth. 

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#Current Affairs

OpED: Sri Preston Kulkarni’s War on Facts

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“Things come apart so easily when they have been held together with lies.” — Dorothy Allison (American Writer)

By Ghazala Salam, Founder & President, Muslim Caucus

Elections are a time when stretching the truth is the norm rather than the exception, and “fact checking” an imperative for anyone who wants to make an informed decision about their vote. However, nowhere has the narrative collided as head on with the truth as in the campaign of Sri Preston Kulkarni, Democratic candidate for the Texas Congressional District #22. Such is the brazenness of Kulkarni’s lies that multiple groups that have vowed to vote President Trump out of office believe it is in the best interest of the district and the country if Kulkarni loses his second bid for a place in the US House of Representatives, his purported commitment to the Democratic platform notwithstanding.

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Many are understandably curious about the reason for so many Democrats turning against a candidate from the party they normally support. To be clear, it is not so much Kulkarni’s campaign narrative, as the conflict between that narrative and the truth. To many voters of District 22, Kulkarni’s campaign ostensibly stands for human rights and religious freedom, and against fascism and nationalism. Unfortunately, and as multiple exposes that are now going viral have demonstrated, Kulkarni’s association with fascist and nationalist elements both in India and the US run deep, and indeed are the key drivers of his candidacy.

Kulkarni is no ordinary immigrant success story, having come from a family with deep connections to India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is one of the world’s largest militia, and the ideological fountainhead of Hindutva, a fascist and supremacist ideology that seeks to turn India into a Hindu state, where Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities are relegated to the status of second-class citizens with few rights. In the last two decades, front organizations of the RSS in America have fielded multiple candidates for political office, some of whom have gone on to make significant contributions to advancing Hindutva’s agenda in Washington, DC. It is no surprise therefore, that the RSS’s American affiliate, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), are among the primary backers of Kulkarni’s candidacy. The irony of a man who claims to stand against racism, fascism and nationalism, being backed by the same forces that assassinated Mahatma Gandhi is something Kulkarni would prefer voters don’t pay attention to.

However, the connection with RSS is based on more than just mutual benefit. Kulkarni is the nephew of the late Pramod Mahajan, a highly influential Indian politician and minister, who was an RSS veteran and the BJP’s chief strategist. He held several important cabinet positions including Defense, and until his murder in 2006 by another uncle of Sri Kulkarni, Mahajan was considered the “heir apparent” to the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee. Mahajan was among the key organizers of L. K. Advani’s Rath Yatra, a campaign that finally led to the criminal demolition of the Babri Mosque and the subsequent killing of over 3,000 people in sectarian violence across India.

What is striking about Kulkarni’s candidacy is not just these RSS connections that are now falling out of the proverbial closet, but Kulkarni’s silly attempt at feigning ignorance about the RSS, claiming he did not know it was an organization until two years ago. This is rich, coming from a man who claims to have been a career diplomat, and whose next posting before he quit the Foreign Service was going to be in New Delhi. Kulkarni has gone on record to say that Ramesh Bhutada, the Vice-President of HSS, was “like a father,” to him, and his son Rishi Bhutada was among those without whose support the campaign itself might not have been possible.

Another relative of Sri Kulkarni is the well-known Indian politician Gopinath Munde, who married Mahajan’s sister. Munde was a member of Modi’s cabinet before his death in a road accident, and was once in charge of the RSS branches in the city of Pune. Kulkarni’s cousin Poonam Mahajan, currently a member of the Indian Parliament, was once the national President of the BJP “Youth Wing” and the Secretary of the BJP in 2013.

Much to Kulkarni’s discomfiture, his fascist friends are actually flaunting their connection to him, starting with BJP ideologue Subramanian Swamy, hailing Kulkarni’s candidacy as “Hindutva’s hope in Houston.” Yet, Kulkarni wants voters to believe him when he claims ignorance about the RSS.

The struggle with facts continues, with Kulkarni claiming without proof, a lineage from the famed General Sam Houston. Short on facts are also Kulkarni’s claims of expertise on issues of national security, as he has provided almost no details of his tenure in the Foreign Service. Kulkarni’s complete refusal to acknowledge his campaign’s connections to RSS should also be seen in light of the fact that the RSS’s nationalist and Islamophobic agenda finds a natural ally in the Republican Party, particularly in Donald Trump. It is no surprise therefore, that Prime Minister Modi was welcomed in Houston by President Trump and prominent Republicans at a massive “Howdy Modi” rally in September 2019. The same Rishi Bhutada who helped Kulkarni launch his campaign was one of the main organizers and spokesperson for the event. Not to be outdone, Prime Minister Modi broke protocol in giving President Trump a rousing endorsement for reelection during the latter’s visit to India.

None of these would have been uncomfortable truths for Kulkarni, had he been running as a Republican. However, Kulkarni’s candidacy as a Democrat flies in the face of facts, and the support he is getting from many of the district’s Democrat voters is more the result of revulsion against President Trump than a proper vetting of Kulkarni’s politics.

If Kulkarni makes it to Capitol Hill, expect stonewalling on issues of human rights and religious freedom by right wing forces around the world. With Kulkarni as their representative, South Asian voters can forget about any accountability for India, for its egregious violations of human rights and religious freedom. In a “letter to the Muslim community,” apparently conscious of the growing disquiet about his candidacy among Muslims, liberals and progressives, Kulkarni brags about having taken a stand on the “violence in Delhi” and the “situation in Kashmir,” as evidence of his commitment to human rights and religious freedom. In truth, both statements by Kulkarni are ritualistic expressions of standing for peace and human rights, while failing to call out the role of ideologically driven violence against religious minorities. The perpetrators of such violence are widely known to be proponents of the same ideology whose affiliates in the US are among his donors. Such statements are actually a disservice to the victims of sectarian violence for they seek to obfuscate the role of Hindu nationalism in driving such persecution.

Kulkarni’s has apparently promised to take a public position against the use of India’s National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to strip citizenship away from India’s Muslim citizens. Absent from Kulkarni’s narrative is any mention of how the CAA and NRC are discriminatory in their essence against people of the Muslim faith, and a clear violation of India’s secular Constitution. Clearly Kulkarni is not on the same page as respected human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. How Kulkarni is expected to be vocal about civil rights in the US, while actively shielding those who are eroding these very rights abroad defies explanation.

Similarly, Kulkarni has issued a statement on the “situation” in Kashmir that does nothing to shine the light on the historic betrayal of the Kashmiri people represented by the revocation of Article 370, and the enormous human suffering caused by the Government of India’s tyrannical curfew and lockdown, imposed long before Covid-19. In this regard, Kulkarni apparently does not want to displease his RSS supporters by condemning the unprecedented human rights catastrophe in Kashmir, something many prominent Democrats have done, in the form of statements and House resolutions. For Kulkarni to call out the role of the India’s Hindu nationalist government in causing such suffering on Kashmir’s civilian population is unthinkable. In fact, Kulkarni is loath to even call out the Indian military’s tyranny in Kashmir, and instead prefers to advise the Indian government “behind closed doors,” through the “ladder of diplomacy.”

The truth about Sri Kulkarni’s campaign is closely tied to the money trail. Kulkarni has accepted in excess of $80,000 from just 10 families linked to RSS affiliates in the United States. Despite repeated demands by voters in his district to return such tainted donations, Kulkarni has instead doubled down, attacking those raising concerns as “nefarious actors,” while claiming he was unaware of the RSS as an organization.

It is possible that Kulkarni is genuine in his advocacy for the environment and his concern about gun violence. However, his janus-faced campaign is being weighed down by its own internal contradictions and his refusal to come clean on important facts that affect his prospective constituents. Among all the lies of the 2020 elections, Kulkarni’s claim that he is against fascism and nationalism must rank among the most brazen.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.

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