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