Our blinkers, biases and boasts

These good Samaritans had nothing in common with the people they served, except the bond of humanity. Everything, other than this common bond, set them apart: language, culture, religion, lifestyle, cuisine, costume, standard of living, everything. Can I think of any Muslim – Arab, Central Asian or Pakistani – or, for that matter, of any Indian Hindu, who made a comparable sacrifice to serve people of another faith, ethnicity or race in a distant land, regardless of any consideration except humanitarian?

(Published in the Daily Times, 8 Dec 2019)

It was reported a few days ago that 73 year-old Dr Tetsu Nakamura was shot dead in eastern Afghanistan on his way to work. A native of Japan, Dr Nakamura had relocated to Pakistan in 1984 to treat patients with leprosy. Two years later, he shifted to Afghanistan, where he had lived ever since, establishing a medical charity as well as helping improve irrigation.

In recognition of his selfless service for the people of Afghanistan, he had been conferred honorary Afghan citizenship by the government. “I’ve tried to make no enemies. The best way is to befriend everyone, even if that makes people think I lack principles. Because the people are the only thing I can depend on there,” Dr Nakamura had said in an interview to the Japan Times in 2014. “And that’s surprisingly more effective than carrying a gun.”

But neither this friendly attitude nor his lifelong devotion to the Afghan people saved him from those who choose faith above humanity, although they vociferously claim that their faith teaches them humanity, that killing even one person is tantamount to killing all humanity.

Then there was Dr Edric Baker, born in New Zealand in 1941. Devoting himself to the service of humanity, he first worked in Vietnam, then moved to Bangladesh in 1979. Here, he established a medical center in a rural area, serving poor people and earning their love and affection, in recognition of which he was granted Bangladeshi citizenship in 2014.

Fluent in Bengali and popularly known as “daaktar bhai” (doctor brother), in 2015 Dr Baker died where he worked. As per his wishes, he was buried in the compound of his beloved charity, which has now been named after him.

The void created by his death has now been filled by a dedicated young American couple, Dr Jason Morgenson and Dr Merindy Morgenson with their two children, who go to the village school. They have sacrificed the comfort and luxury of their home in America to serve the wretched of Bangladesh.

Surely worthy of mention here is Dr Ruth Pfau, Pakistan’s Mother Teresa, who died in Karachi in 2017.  Moving from her native Germany to Pakistan in 1961 as a young doctor, she devoted herself to treating leprosy patients in this country. Dr Pfau spent her life in a distant land, serving patients who were shunned not only by society but also by their own families.

As for the legendary Mother Teresa, she was born in Macedonia but spent most of her life serving the destitute and the sick in the slums of Calcutta, India.

I can cite scores, even hundreds, of such humanitarians from other countries and religious persuasions. They left well-paid jobs, bright futures and comfortable lives in their own countries to dedicate themselves to serving poor and helpless people totally different from themselves in terms of race, ethnicity and faith. And in regions as distant and forbidding as South Asia, Africa and Middle East.

These good Samaritans had nothing in common with the people they served, except the bond of humanity. Everything, other than this common bond, set them apart: language, culture, religion, lifestyle, cuisine, costume, standard of living, everything.

Can I think of any Muslim – Arab, Central Asian or Pakistani – or, for that matter, of any Indian Hindu, who made a comparable sacrifice to serve people of another faith, ethnicity or race in a distant land, regardless of any consideration except humanitarian? The answer, sadly, is “no”.  At best they serve members of their own community or followers of their own religion, particularly the latter.

That brings me to a related matter, about which the more I think, the more I am amazed. This is our remarkable ability to be nakedly biased and discriminatory, while claiming to be extraordinarily righteous and humanitarian.

In terms of humanitarian concerns, the two constants in the Pakistani Muslim psyche have been Palestine and Kashmir. Palestine is Sunni Islam’s third holiest site and with Kashmir we share mountains, rivers, religion, language and a common grievance against India. Our hearts bleed for both Palestine and Kashmir.

So focused on Palestine and Kashmir are we that most have forgotten Bosnia, Chechnya and Kosovo even exist. It wasn’t so long ago that our hearts were bleeding for the suffering of Muslims in these distant lands. But thanks be to Allah, America and NATO, Bosnia and Kosovo are now safe for Muslims.

But Chechnya? The Chechens have taken some hammering from the Russians. America can do nothing to change President Vladimir Putin’s behaviour, but we too have chosen to leave Chechens to their fate, no longer even praying to Allah every Friday to have mercy on them.

Why distant Chechnya, we haven’t ever uttered a word about the other Muslims next door, the Uighurs in Xinjiang? Not much is said about the wretched Rohingyas of Myanmar either.

Our hearts now cry out for Indian Muslims, living in fear of the cow vigilantes unleashed by Hindutva. But ask any Muslim Pakistani about the situation of our own minorities, Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis, and they wonder why you even ask. Minorities in Pakistan are doing just fine, you would invariably hear them say. All minorities are happy citizens of our blessed Islamic Republic.

A lynching here or the burning of a village there, the kidnapping and forced conversion of a Hindu girl in Sindh or the burning of a Christian church or village in Punjab, these are isolated incidents, Pakistanis insist. But the lynching of a Muslim in India is a serious matter, enough to make our anger boil over and make us wonder why the UN and US don’t intervene vigorously.

Conversely, Indian Hindus give an identical answer when asked about the oppression in Kashmir or the current drive to turn Indian Muslims into virtual second class citizens. What? Kashmiris and all Muslims in India are not just happy, they had been spoiled with favours at the expense of Hindus, Indians would say. Narendra Modi is just recalibrating to restore the balance and accord Hindus the respect they deserve but hitherto were denied in their own country.

Pakistan and India now not just deserve but also complement each other. As Sashi Tharoor, a member of the Indian Parliament and former minister of state, said: India is now becoming a Hindu Pakistan. There is blood on the hands on either side of this border, a border that was born and bathed in blood.

by Razi Azmi

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6 Responses to Our blinkers, biases and boasts

  1. Sayed Chowdhury says:

    In his well-written and incisive piece, Razi Azmi has exposed the hypocrisy of the vast majority of believers of major religions in our part of the world. He has posed a number of questions and the responsibility of finding answers to those questions now lies with readers of this piece – who now need to do some soul-searching and use their conscience. Dr Nakamura (73) from Japan, who treated the ailing Afghans for 30+ years was killed by the Afghans.

    Dr Edric Baker (74), who was providing health care to poor people for 36 years in a remote village in Bangladesh, when he fell terminally ill, he had urged one or two doctors from hundreds and thousands of Bangladeshi doctors to come forward and run his village hospital but his appeal fell on deaf years. Seems like they have no obligations to the poor in their own country and they did not take the sacred oath (written by Hippocrates) all doctors take, to treat the ill to the best of their ability. And who responded to Dr Baker’s appeal? An American doctor couple. You may not be able to follow the language but please watch the video in the link below and see how the American couple and their two kids have adapted to the life in rural Bangladesh.


    I was born and brought up in the Eastern wing of Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and during my teenage years (1960s) incidentally came to personally know and admire more than a dozen European and American teachers, doctors and nurses, who had already been working in remote areas of the country for 40-60 years, adapting to the poor and difficult life in villages, learning the language and loving the culture of the land and displaying love for humanity. However, I was always shocked to find most of my contemporaries, instead of admiring, used to suggest that these foreigners are either spies for their countries or having a secret agenda, including converting Muslims to Christianity, although no evidence was at hand.

    Razi Azmi has also written about the communal hatred and mistrust planted eternally in our psyche by our ‘great’ politicians, pre and post partition of India. These ‘father-e-millats’ or ‘shaheed-e-millats’ or ‘mahatmas’ did this as part of their criminal game of partitioning India, simply to grab power for themselves, at the cost of millions of lives, blood baths and the most horrible exodus in human history.

    The question is – how many more lives will be lost in perpetual wars and skirmishes, how many trillions will be spent buying weapons, and how long it will take to make these actual villains of history face trials, even if posthumously, to strip them of the honour shown to them!!!!! The wait has been long enough.

  2. Nazar Naqvi says:

    Dr. Azmi has written an excellent article as usual and has raised several important questions. Even when we prioritize religion on other considerations, we don’t act as per religious teachings. We say one thing and do other things. Persons like Dr. Tetsu, Dr. Edric and Dr. Ruth Pfau served humanity and made considerable sacrifices. I wish we may serve the humanity and make this a livable world for us and our coming generations.

  3. Tariq says:

    Dear Mr Azmi how can you say he was killed by a muzlim but not some black water mercenary raw agent mosad or CIA operative did it. I was once my self told by a CIA operative to put a bomb in grand central station NY

  4. Pradeep Kalra says:

    This article makes you think and one is inclined to agree what the author has written. Politicians of the third world countries are using religion to stay in power and a good Samaritan is a non-existent term. It is sad but a harsh reality as we tend to do the opposite what our religion teaches us. We claim to be peace loving but don’t contribute anything towards it by way of words or actions.

  5. Carl says:

    This seems a brave and apposite article. However, few in the west today can afford to take comfort from Razi’s praise of these devoted servants of humanity, while so many in the west turn in progressively less intolerant directions. I am reluctant to forward this article as I have many of Razi’s other articles. Sadness reigns in the west as well. Or to paraphrase a sentence of Fred Rogers, ‘it’s a dark day in our neighborhood too’. And yet, and yet, . . . Razi points to these exemplary, inspiring ‘Samaritans.” We can do better.

  6. Khalid Pathan says:

    Very articulate, inspiring and thought-provoking.

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