Friday, January 22, 2016

How I See the American Society

January 22, 2016
By Saeed Qureshi

America is the most prosperous and strong nation. It is an abode of civil liberties, human rights, unalloyed democratic culture and individual freedom. In this unique country there is a galore of social and humanitarian perks and privileges for the citizens. 

One can find in America the best model of grassroots governance which is sustained through the county and city governments. The utilities like water supply and electricity never stops or disrupted. The environmental cleanliness is preserved like an article of faith.
Here in place is one of the best health systems for the low income groups or the senior citizens with none or meager income. These services are provided through Medicare or Medicaid systems. The social security system provides monetary relief to the senior citizens who have no means of income. They receive the money amount throughout their life span.

The people can call 911 either for safety or for health emergencies. The police is always there to reach within the shortest possible time for help. In case of SOS calls for sudden health emergencies like heart attack, road accident or else break-in; police and the medical staff reach the spot in minutes. There is no intrusion from anyone in one’s house. As such the lives of the citizens are well protected. The road and highways network is within cities and between cities is amazing.
But there is another side of this most alluring and glittering picture. The American society bears ethnic or color based racial tinge also. While the American constitution guarantees equality for all citizens, there is a semblance of racial aversion between the white Americans, black population or so called African/American citizenry, the Latinos and the immigrants from rest of the world with different socio-cultural backgrounds. 

This society is law abiding but equally law breaking. In social and human relationship, it is very moral but on matters such as sex and use of drugs it is immoral and relaxing. It debars the teen-agers from drinking and sex indulgence but ironically chunk of crimes on these counts come from the youth.

The people go simultaneously to the Church, sex dens and the night clubs. It is the most caring for its citizens yet the old age on the whole is stressful in this country. Apparently the majority harbors a sense of being very secure and behind this feeling of security is always a hidden and lurking dread of insecurity and fear of attack or assault from the invisible enemies or terrorists. This phobia has become trenchant after the 9/11 colossal tragedy.

The countless cars, the posh malls, the big departmental stores with teeming shoppers exude the glimpse of a highly prosperous society. But with many people underneath is tension running to pay off the bills on time and to keep the credit unblemished. 

Most of the commoners hanker after more hours, double jobs or shifts to cover the escalating and inflating bills which deprive them of the due share of sleep and lead to psychological disorders. It would not be an exaggeration to maintain that a sizable segment of the American society remains psychologically upset and disgruntled.

There is pervasive liberty but there is rampant crime too. The crime rate in the poor and run down communities and neighborhoods is high due to a host of factors such as poverty, ignorance, and unstable socio-economic conditions and last of all easily available guns. 

There are sporadic outbursts of pent-up anger, frustration or depression by unstable individuals who resort to shooting in educational institutions, at work and public places and shopping malls.

Universally, poverty leads to thefts, larceny and other crimes of minor and major nature. In America it is equally true. Individuals with criminal tendencies and from less privileged sections of the society bug rob or break in at places like convenience, food and liquor stores or other places of small businesses.

Granting that it is not an ideal society, yet we cannot ignore the sordid fact that despite watertight statutes, people tend to by -pass, temper with and cheat in tax payments as well as in deriving their social benefits. 

The lawyers or the attorneys especially the upstarts try to prolong the litigation for constant flow of fees and remunerations from their clients. They pursue and induce their clients to claim for ill health, injuries, violations of contracts and similar claims.
Several cases have come to light about doctors who falsify and exaggerate medical bills to draw more money from insurance companies and the Medicaid and Medicare. Some medicos keep their patients hooked up to them for months and years for prolonged treatments. 

It is in public knowledge that the injury or disease seldom heals up and all the three participants in the game i.e., doctor, attorney and the claimant keep making the ill gotten money for years together. Quite a few doctors who made millions through bogus billing from the Medicaid or private insurance companies are under trial of fraud or languishing in jails.

They would dream of a glorious and luxurious life once they win a big prize in the lottery.
The dream seldom comes true. They remain tied up in a vicious cycle of taking debts and paying them back. The majority of people in American nurse high expectations, bloated hopes and hyped wishes but these are seldom realized.

The police is vigilant and professional but on occasions resorts to excessive force without any justification. Several cases are pending in the courts against police officer for exceeding the bounds of restraint. In one case a police officer lobbed 18 bullets in the body of his target.

Politics in America is the exclusive pastime of the highly wealthy and super duper rich people. It is unthinkable for common people to step into the arena of politics, which requires huge funds and a very prominent social status and network. The ordinary people have the right to vote and choose their representatives and their role ends at that. 

Beyond where decision making is involved, it is only the rich elite who have complete sway. What to speak of the national elections, the local elections can be beyond the wildest imagination of an ordinary person. The reason is the same. Every one doesn’t have neither clout nor the money to go into the election arena.

While there is a layer of a material prosperity laid over the society, underneath there is a simmering discontent and an overriding tension arising out of a host of factors most outstanding being the economic hardships and a running tussle between what they have to earn and what they have to pay. 

The people are well fed; they can buy cars, houses, furniture and anything under the sun they aspire for. The key is the credit card. You can pay a fraction of the actual price and keep paying throughout your life albeit with interest. It is a blessing for many but nightmarish for those who cannot pay their monthly installments of the loans and go into default.
This is a pure and ruthless capitalist system thriving on the interest attached to purchases done on the credit. Yet it is a blessing in disguise as even with meager means, one can have access to a good life. But the only condition is to pay back the loan.  

The majority of the populace instead of direct cash payments makes use of the loans and credit for fear of IRS (tax collection department), which ruthlessly deals with those dealing in cash transactions.  There is tendency to deviate and dodge the payment of high tax by concealing the actual wealth.

The overriding notion is against smoking but not drinking although drinking is equally injurious for health. The promotional advertisements on the electronic or print media for smoking are forbidden. Yet the cigarettes are one of the most sought after and expensive commodities. 

Despite a mounting and continuous vigorous awareness national campaign about the risk in smoking, still a huge population lavishly smokes. The smoking and drinking is increasing like an epidemic with serious health hazards for the normal or chronic smokers.

More than the drinking and tobacco smoking, it is the use of drugs, dopes and a variety of intoxicants that are fast spreading among the people of all ages and social strata. Although there are punishments for use of contraband drugs yet their use is escalating in all sections of the society. 

But these punishments have seldom produced the desired results of curtailing not to speak of completely stopping the use of drugs like marijuana, Hashish, Cocaine and Heroin? As such some states have now allowed the use of some drugs.

Keeping in view the rapid proliferation of drugs, may be one day the government allows the use of all these lethal drugs openly. That will be the pinnacle of civil liberties but at what cost: a whole nation falling into the pit of drug addiction .

Who is going to work if every second person would remain doped and therefore become mentally or physically unfit for work. It sounds a worst case scenario but only a miracle can restrain the people from drug addiction. It would have a snowballing effect.

The sordid perversion if one could imagine of is, the bizarre deviation from the natural course of matrimonial bond .One may admit or bear the occasional homosexuality as has been rife in churches for ages. But what about a big revolt against the nature and for that matter against God in shape of marriages between a man and man and a woman and woman? 

The number of such males and females who have strayed the unnatural frontiers runs into millions. This issue has now been given constitutional protection and thus no questions asked anymore.

This is a sheer and sordid perversion and a kind of immorality that cannot be condoned, forgiven or justified in the name of human rights, fundamental rights or social freedom. The religion and the Holy Scriptures are not allowed to come in the way of practicing this abominable trend.

The American society is an ideal example of a paradoxical society where contradictions abound. There are mega and super duper rich and there are miserable and scum of the earth. The only difference is that the rich are a few while the poor are numerous. The poor are content by going to cheap fast food restaurants and common clubs.

Bi-polarity is ingrained in the very nature of many Americans. They are immigrants themselves but they call themselves the real citizens. They call themselves the nation of immigrants but then they hate or at least dislike other immigrants. The basis for such a behavior could be color, race, region, religion or simply being an alien.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

President Obama’s 8th State of the Union Address

January 16, 2016
By Saeed Qureshi

Let me start first of all, by maintaining that President Barack Hussein Obama has crafted a unique niche for himself as the first Non-white president of the United States elected for two consecutive terms.  On January 12, he delivered his eighth and the final State of Union address lasting for an hour before a galaxy of the congressmen, military top brass and important representatives from various strata of life.

He would be ranked in history as one of the outstanding and brilliant presidents of the United States. In his address he exuded tremendous candor, a deep spirit of sincerity, profound honesty and indeed earnest outspokenness. He demonstrated that how deeply and steadfastly he is wedded to the supreme interests of the people of this great country. 

The central theme and vision of his address both for the American political leadership and the world at large is to work together for a better future of mankind. He pleaded transformation of the planet earth into an abode of peace and progress for all people and nations in a spirit of cordiality and togetherness.

His administration effectively combated rampant terrorism, revitalized the moribund and sick industrial sector, reformed health care system, reinvigorated energy sector, resurrected a shattered economy and recovered it from the worst economic crisis in generations. Besides, 14 million new jobs were created during the last seven years.

Externally, despite stiff opposition from the vested interests, radical Republican lobbies, war mongers, Israel and Saudi Arabia, he brought into the international limelight Iran’s contentious nuclear program with strict watch on its further development. 

In return a host of stifling sanctions and embargoes imposed on Iran were lifted. The removal of excruciating sanctions on Iran would not only benefit the hard-pressed Iranian people but also hold the Iranian nuclear program on a certain permissible threshold. Incidentally the sanctions have been lifted today.

He enunciated that his priority number one has been to protect the American people and going after terrorist networks and keep America safe. He is of the view that America should not involve herself in distant wars unless America faces a threat to its integrity and security. He talked of leading the world without becoming its policeman. “America should not try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis”, he maintained.

He called for dismantling the discrimination and hatred based upon race, religion, cast creed and region particularly in case of Muslims who are under the malicious burden of being labeled en-bloc as terrorists by certain lobbies.

In regard to racial or religious hatred against Muslim Americans he asserted that, “When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn't make us safer. That's not telling it like it is. It's just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country" We the People”
He exhorted the Americans to “see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first bound by a common creed”.

He remarked “When the frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don't look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.”

He stressed that everyone must have a fair shot at opportunity and security in a new economic plan. Americans have to “reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families and hidden interests can't bankroll our elections”. 

The political process should be changed so that it ensures that it is not “just who gets elected but how they get elected”. He called for ending the “practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around”.

He emphasized that “American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world except when we kill terrorists; and occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling. Leadership means a wise application of military power.”

President Obama’s preference for peaceful approach than military onslaughts towards resolution of the global issues has been the most outstanding hallmark of his achievements. He wound up American military presence in Afghanistan and in the Middle East especially in Iraq. Despite pressures he refrained from committing American troops in the Middle East, in Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya and other places involved in civil wars.

Thus he saved American blood to be spilled for others as was done in Vietnam, Korea and later in the Middle East particularly during the post Saddam Hussain era. There was military intervention but a better sense prevailed and the American forces were withdrawn not only from Iraq but also from Afghanistan.

My personal reckoning about Obama’s place in history is that he would stand in the sublime line of such stalwart presidents who were trend setters and served the American people in an exemplary manner. Some of those illustrious presidents, among others, are Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklyn D. Roosevelt.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Execution of Sheikh Nimr and Sunni-Shia Feud

January 8, 2016 
By Saeed Qureshi
The execution of prominent Shia clergy Sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr along with other 46 persons on 2 January 2016 by Saudi government has hyped the centuries old rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. On 15 October 2014, Al-Nimr was sentenced to death by the “The Specialized Saudi Criminal Court” for "seeking foreign meddling' in Saudi Arabia, 'disobeying' its rulers and taking up arms against the security forces”.

Saudi Arabia has snapped diplomatic relations with Iran. Iran in retaliation has placed a ban on imports from Saudi Arabia. The Gulf States have issued statements condemning Iran for attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and interfering in the internal affairs of Arab states.

The latest conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a spillover from the past. The conflict between Arab and non- Arabs or Arabism versus Ajam dates back to the pre-Islamic eras. The Sassanian empires known as Ajam (non Arabs) had always subjugated the Arabs. However after the advent of Islam, 

The Arab Muslims conquered the whole of Persia and Iraq in 633- 651 AD. The Battle of Qādisiyyah fought in 636 AD was a decisive military conquest which paved way for the subsequent Islamic victories completed in 651 CE when the last Sassanid emperor Yazdghard was killed while fleeing.

In later times Persia or Iran also adopted Islam with majority professing Shia brand of Islam.In the post-Islamic era, the main cause of rivalry is not only ethnic and regional but also religious.The Iranians profess the Shia branch of Islam while most of the Arab countries particularly Saudi Arabia are strict Sunnis. The cardinal dispute between Sunnis and Shias arose over the succession of Prophet Muhammad (saw).

The prophet did not nominate a successor during his lifetime. The first three successors or caliphs were not from Banu Hashim: the clan of Prophet Muhammad. The Sunni sects believe that the four successors of Prophet Muhammad or caliphs were legitimate as they were chosen by the community in accordance with the custom of those times.

Shiite Muslims believe that the true leadership comes through the Prophet’s bloodline and Allah and his prophet had clearly designated prophet’s cousin and son in law Ali-ibne-Abi-Talib as the only legitimate successor. They profess that the first three caliphs usurped the divinely ordained right of Hazrat Ali to be the Imam or the caliph after the demise of the founder of Islam Prophet of Muhammad.

Although there are several scores of sects and denominations within the fold of Islam, the level of animosity and bitterness that exists between the two leading sects of Sunnis and Shias is horrendous. There is no way that their doctrinal rift can be healed and reconciled.

With the exception of a few common beliefs and traditions, Shias and Sunnis differ on a whole range of beliefs with regard to Sharia laws encompassing both juridical (criminal and civil) and ecclesiastical. The Shia and Sunni division in Islam is so drastic and hard that they do not pray together in one place. Shias do not pay Islamic tax Zakat while in Islam it is considered to be one of the five principle obligations. The Shias believe in a lineage of twelve divine imams or spiritual leaders.
The murder of the third caliph Hazrat Osman was followed by a chaotic civil war period in which Ali fought first with prophet’s wife Hazrat Aisha and second time with Amir Muawiyya the Ommyad governor in Syria. In an arbitration held to decide as to who should be the caliph, Ali lost and Muawiyya won. Thereafter the conflict between Sunnis and Shias accelerated. Hazrat Ali died on 29 January AD 661 following an attack no his life two days earlier by a KharjiAbd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam in the grand mosque of Kufa.

The Sunni Shia cleavage further sharpened when Imam Hussain the younger son of Hazrat Ali and his 72 companions were massacred in the desert of Karbala near Baghdad by Yazid the then Ommyad caliph and son of Amir Muawiyya.
For the last 1500 years Islam has remained split into these two branches with some common beliefs though mostly irreconcilably divergent. In history the division of Islam between Sunnis and Shia has witnessed the mutual sack and pillage, annihilation and massacres by both the groups whenever they got a chance. One can find a precedent of the Sunni-Shia ideological conflict and fratricide in the faith based animus between Catholics and Protestants in 15th century and onward.

In the past, the Sunni and Shia dynasties have been taking turns for wreaking havoc upon each other. The Sunni dynasties had been suppressing the Shias in the Sunni regimes.  One such example is that of the Ommyad caliphate from 661-705 AD. Due to oppression and persecution of Ummayd caliphs, the Shia spiritual leaders or Imams took refuge in Iran which later became the spiritual center of Shia Muslims. 

Several Shia Imams are buried in Iran.  Conversely Sunnis have been terribly persecuted during the Shia dynasties in Egypt, North Africa,Sicily, Spain, Arabian Peninsula, Syria and Iraq, Iran & Azerbaijan.

 The pillage and destruction of Baghdad, the cradle of Muslim civilization for seven centuries resulted from the ideological animus between the Sunni caliph Mustaasim and his Shia Prime Minister Mohammad bin Ali Kami. As a result of that rivalry, out of two million population of Baghdad, 1.5 million were massacred by the army of Hilaku Khan secretly invited by Ali Kami. 

The Mongols hordes burned and razed to the ground all mausoleums, museums, institutions of learning and research, big buildings, mosques and libraries.. Baghdad was turned into a ghost city with river Tigris full of books and the human blood for miles.

Presently in the Middle Eastern Islamic regimes there is always a simmering tussle, between Sunni and Shia populations. For instance in Bahrain, the Sunnis are in minority but ruling. Conversely in Syria the Sunnis are in majority and Shias are in minority but are at the political helm. Same division and cleavage prevails in Iraq where Shias have a thin majority over the Sunnis.

In the sectarian vendettas, thousands of Sunnis and Shias have died in Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East. In Pakistan the Shia community observes the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the prophet of Islam, in a nerve-racking environment. They enter their congregational places as if entering a nuclear arsenal. Each and every person is subjected to body pat down by the security staff posted at the entry and exit points.

While in the past they killed each other with swords, in the present times they resort to mutual slaughter by suicide bombing, target killing and bomb blasts. The Shias are branded as infidels by the majority Sunni sects and therefore, their murder is justifiable for the latter as if they were killing a non-Muslim.

The unity of Muslims as one nation would always remain a myth and unattainable goal. The bridging of the doctrinal and theological chasms between these two main sects within Islam would always remain a tall order unless the Muslim clergy of both the sects reconcile on living in harmony despite their mutual differences of faith and Sharia laws. Would that be possible within an Islamic state cannot be fathomed.

However, if the Islamic polities turn secular wherein all faiths are allowed to practice freely without harming each other, this most coveted goal can become attainable.  The example of such religious harmony can be witnessed in western societies where Muslims with divergent faith including Sunnis and Shias pray in the same mosques and never fight.