Turmoil throws up dilemma for Pakistani-Americans

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden used his Ramazan message to emphasise the need for rebuilding communities shattered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Besides, Secretary of State Antony Blinken regretted that the pandemic was still forcing some Muslim communities to continue virtual gatherings and digital interactions during the holy month.

President Biden noted that in Ramazan, Muslims in America “come together … to show compassion and generosity of spirit to those in need” and to “celebrate the many blessings of life with loved ones”.

Usually, such messages are welcomed by Muslims across America with the respect and appreciation they deserve. But this year, the Pakistani-American community — which is the largest Muslim ethnic group in Washington — paid little attention to these messages.

PTI supporters don’t want to be seen as US enemies

They were too focused on events back home to bother about other things happening around them. In the first week of Ramazan, they held several small rallies to show their support to former prime minister Imran Khan and his party.

They followed it up with a large protest outside the Pakistan Embassy in Washington and this week they held another rally outside the White House. Similar protests were held in New York and other cities as well.

The protests, however, highlighted an issue that many do not pay much attention to: “Who are we, Pakistanis or Americans?  What comes first, being a Pakistani or being an American?” At these rallies, local PTI leaders dealt with this issue by constantly reminding the participants not to raise anti-American slogans. They also asked the participants not to condemn the Pakistani army.

“We are Americans and we are proud of the United States of America,” said an announcement played repeatedly at such rallies. “We are also proud of our Army.”

So, some participants started chanting slogans against the judges. But they too were stopped. Instead, they were asked to “focus on our demands: Hold elections now. Bring Imran Khan back.”

When a journalist reminded the organisers that the PTI leadership was blaming the Pakistani establishment and America for toppling the Imran-led government, he was pushed around and a PTI leader also tried to snatch his camera.

Local PTI leaders reminded other journalists that the American constitution gave them the right to protest peacefully against anyone.

But this right too was put to test when a PML-N supporter displayed a portrait of Nawaz Sharif at a PTI rally. He was kicked around but the local police made a ring around him, reminding the PTI workers that he too had the same right. The lone protester stayed there for two hours, chanting: “Wazir-e-Azam Shehbaz Sharif.”

As PTI plans more rallies in the US, its local organisers have started worrying that PTI Pakistan’s anti-American rhetoric can create problems for them.

“We do not want other Americans to see us as enemies of America. Khan Saheb must understand this,” a rally organiser said. “We are already feeling the pressure.”

One way to release this pressure is to go back to the Ramazan routine: hosting iftars, at homes or restaurants, and spending the evening at mosques.

One of the largest iftar and taraweeh gatherings are held at ADAM’s mosque in Virginia. But this correspondent’s visit to the mosque showed that other ethnic groups and nationalities — Bangladeshis, Indians, Arabs, Africans — are leading these gatherings now.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2022

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