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Thursday, April 22, 2010 08:54:43 PM, Aleem Faizee, ummid.com
Washington DC - Brief Overview
Washington DC, the magnificent US capital, was founded on July 16, 1790. The city of Washington was originally a separate municipality within the territory of Columbia until an act of Congress in 1871 effectively merged the city and the territory into a single entity called the District of Columbia.
Located on the north bank of the Potomac River and bordered by the states of Virginia to the southwest and Maryland to the other sides, Washington was designed by a French Architect. A good combination of age-old and contemporary art, the city has its streets named alphabetically and roads named after the 50 states of the United States.
Unlike New York where high-rise buildings and towers are common, in Washington a building cannot be taller than George Washington Memorial Tower- the 6000 ft tall monument built in the memory of the first President of United States.
House to the White House - the official residence of the US President and Capitol Building - the US Parliament, Washington is among the few cities in America, where a large number of Afro-Americans reside.
I was the last minute inclusion in the 3-member team that was visiting United States as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program sponsored by the US Department of State. Honestly, the only thing that was haunting me ever since I was informed about my visit to United States beginning March 22, 2010 was to face ‘the Muslim only whole body scanner’ supposedly installed at every US airport. Hence, I remained totally unperturbed even when I found the immigration officers at Mumbai’s Sahar International Airport unable to ‘digest’ a Muslim from Malegaon – a place predominated by Muslim population and known to them as one of the breeding grounds for TERRORISTS - going to United States on a valid visa and as a guest of the US Department of State. It was only after wasting more than the normal time and few rounds here and there that they were convinced the documents I had were not forged. Unlike this - and of course contrary to my apprehensions - the security-men at the Dallas International Airport, Washington DC in United States and later at other US airports were friendly and cordial. The much publicised ‘whole body scanners’ were also nowhere in sight. It may sound surprising but the fact is that I really found myself lucky to be spared from meeting with the fate Bollywood ace Shahrukh Khan recently and a former Union Minister couple of years before had met.
In the next seven days while criss-crossing Washington DC amid the claims of ‘the United States has the freedom of this’ and ‘the United States has the liberty of that’, it soon transpired that successive governments in the United States howsoever damaging for the rest of the world they might have been, for the Americans they have really built a perfect place for living. Commenting anything on the infrastructure, development and town-planning would be meaningless. But the way the entire Washington DC is beautifully decorated with ‘Cherry Blossom’ trees – gifted by the Japanese government perhaps in return of the bombs that the United States had dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – is an art in itself. Combined with these trees are a chain of memorials, monuments, museums, cultural centres and religious premises, each having historical significance to the United States and to the world and wonderfully built to suite the particular moment. Then there are the buildings depicting excellent combination of contemporary and hundreds of year old art, the statues of US veterans and world leaders stalled at prime locations, including our own Mahatama Gandhi right in front of the Indian Embassy, and what not. The exemplary US Capital has everything to attract people not only from various places in the United States but also from every corner of the world.
Farha Pandit - US President Obama's Special Representative to the Muslim Communities, for the reasons best known to her, could not throw much light on these issues. She, however, sounded optimistic and relying on various initiatives taken towards finding solutions of the issues pertaining to the Muslim World including the crisis in Palestine, she was hopeful that something positive would come very soon. Yet, watching Farha, a Muslim lady of Indian origin in the power corridors and speaking with remarkable command, authority and sense of power – something the Muslim leaders in India are miserably lacking in – was a pleasant experience.
Beyond the beauty of the magnificent US Capital, our program in Washington DC included meetings with various Non-Government and Non-Profit Organisations – there are an estimated 1.7 million such organisations in Washington alone. Some working for inter-faith programs, some for the issues pertaining to the immigrants and ethnic minorities, some working for lobbying and other lobby groups, and some busy in research to generate the required data and survey reports for the policymakers. Every NGO and Non-Profit Organisation would have their own agenda – sometimes even secret and hidden – and own source of funding. Besides these organisations, we also had meetings with Government agencies and officials. Deliberating with them on the pre-decided topics relating to their areas of operation was interesting. But it was the very first meeting that we had at the Meridian International Centre with an expert on the US Federal System that set the tone of our upcoming meetings with the US Government officials.
The man in question was well-versed in his subject. But the moment the discussion shifted towards the US foreign policy – believed by many as one of the primary reasons behind most of the evils in the world - he immediately switched to the back-foot. Be it the Israeli-Palestinian issue, US invasion of Iraq – that by now a vast majority even in the US believes as illegitimate, US policy on Afghanistan, and US double standard and attitudes of the successive US governments towards regimes and people when they and when they do not serve the US interests, he tried to defend everything. He was a man to watch especially when in reply to a question, he began defending ‘Crusade’ and finally ended in defending ‘Jihad’.
“Crusade has the same significance in Christianity that Jihad has in Islam. But, like Jihad, Crusade is also a misunderstood word”, he said in a tone exactly similar to that of the Muslims when they defend Jihad. “The invasion of Iraq was not a Crusade against Islam but was a different ‘war-game’ altogether”, he added. Interesting! In an attempt to defend the US policy, he disclosed, perhaps, more than he was supposed to. The focus of the meetings was set and it remained part of the discussions the entire tour.
Against the Nuclear Arms since 1981...
Concepcion Picciotto - Connie and Conchita to her friends - is protesting in front of the White House - the official residence of the US President - against Nuclear Arms and ugly conspiracies of the Zionist forces against world peace since August 1, 1981. "Israel! Israel is supplying arms to India - India, the land of Gandhi, the symbol of Peace... Israel is the enemy of peace...", she screamed as soon as she was introduced to us.
During the meeting with the US Department of Homeland Security, it was surprising to note that the entire effort of the department is still on the so called MUSLIM TERRORISTS. They could not reply to the query that at the time when their entire effort is to combat the terrorism purportedly conspired by ‘Muslim Names’ and those ‘with beard’, ‘Muslim sculp’ and ‘Muslim look-alikes’, people having the names like ‘David Coleman Headily’, ‘Col. Prasad Prohit’, ‘Sadhvi Pragaya Singh Thakur’ and people associated with other militant and extremist groups could also be involved in the terrorist activities, and taking advantage of the ‘Muslim Terrorism’ euphoria, they remain unnoticed, leaving poor Muslims to face the wrath of the ‘War against Terrorism’.
The question was raised because ever since Barack Hussein Obama has taken the reins of the United States in his hands, it is widely publicised that – and this is what we had been informed on several occasions – he is ready to go an extra mile to engage with the Muslim World. But nobody had any clarification to the questions that the ‘War against Terrorism’ almost everywhere in the world had virtually been transformed into an all-out ‘War against Muslims’. And unless immediate correction is made, the entire efforts to engage the Muslim World - if they are really based on honest intentions - would be fruitless.
The Rally in front of the Capitol Building ...
Incidentally, the first thing that we encountered after arriving in Washington DC was the mammoth gathering at the huge ground in front of the Capitol Building. The rally - attended by more than 100,000 people was organised to press the Obama Administration for Immigration Reforms. Interestingly, unlike other places in the world where organisers have to struggle hard to gather the people, we saw people from all across the United States voluntarily coming to the rally and raising slogans and placards in support of the Immigration Reforms.
While meeting with Farha Anwar Pandith – the high profile lady of Indian origin in the Obama Administration who has been appointed as the Special Representative to the Muslim Communities with much fanfare - we thought the gaps would be filled and we would get satisfactory clarifications from her at least on some of the burning issues. We found her worried about the educational backwardness of the Muslim community throughout the world. We found her very keen to invest in Scientific Research and other such fields. We also found her eager to do something urgently to eradicate poverty. The importance of what Farha Pandith has in her mind – and also the urgency to work on these issues – no sane individual would disagree with. However, what she fails to understand is that the Muslim world at the grass-root level wants to see major changes in the US foreign policy – which for many is anti-Muslim. The Muslim World wants to see something concrete to be done urgently on the Palestinian issue. The Muslims throughout the world want to see US President Obama delivering on what he had promised while addressing the Muslim World from Cairo University. They want the US Administration – as it has the long history of doing in the Muslim and other parts of the world – to interfere when France bans Hijab and Switzerland brings ban on Minaret. And, they want to see tangible shift in the US War against Terrorism that has virtually converted the Muslims in different parts of the world convenient scapegoats at the hands of hostile regimes.
Farha, for the reasons best known to her, could not throw much light on these issues. She, however, sounded optimistic and relying on various initiatives taken towards finding solutions of the issues pertaining to the Muslim World including the crisis in Palestine, she was hopeful that something positive would come very soon. Yet, watching Farha, a Muslim lady of Indian origin in the power corridors and speaking with remarkable command, authority and sense of power – something the Muslim leaders in India are miserably lacking in – was a pleasant experience.
Meanwhile for the people in Washington DC, the only thing other than the Health Care Bill that was the topic of the discussions was ‘Cherry Blossom’. When we started packing after staying seven days in the US Capital, the Cherry Blossoms were already blooming and the entire Washington DC appeared to be under pink and white colors. It was an indication for the Americans to gear up for the weeklong annual vista.
PS: While in Washington DC, we also visited the magnificent Vietnam Memorial. Written on the black marble wall – the black marble specially brought to US from India for the purpose - the memorial has the names of 58,000 American soldiers killed during the infamous war. We could not stop ourselves asking the officer who was accompanying us, where does the US Administration plan to build the memorial for those being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reply was an angry gaze…
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