Friday, July 27, 2007

A Rocker, A Blogger, a Comic Book Maker; Muslims One and All

I can't help saying it this way, so please forgive the pretentiousness:

What are Muslims like? some folks wonder. Well, remember that nursery rhyme that listed some common folk, as "a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker"? Well, the "cover" story on WireTap. "a national online magazine by and for young people", in the current edition, profiles three of a different kind of Muslim--a Punk Rocker, a Blogger, a Comic Book Maker:
The only thing I'd have changed might be:
"In fact, Ashraf's politics differed greatly from his father's, but, he explains..."
to say
"Ashraf's politics has moved to the Left over the years, away from his father's, but, he explains, ..."
Otherwise, Tanzila "Taz" Ahmed and the editors seem to have done a pretty good job. Besides the personal recognition, for which I am grateful and humbled by (despite the tone above ;)), giving air time to Muslims who are going about being who they are in an alternative, confident unapologetic, way is cool. Who'd think that in this day and age, when a magazine sets out to find Muslims who are just like anybody else in society--and isn't that what everybody that wants to humanize Muslims does?--they'd end up profiling a punk rock band called "The Kominas".

Let me respell that for South Asian audiences, the word is one you will be very familiar with; only, you'd most probably just say "Kaminay"--yes, the word we use when we want to say either "scoundrel" or, more literally, "bastards". They have quite a following in punk circle and claim, along with the book that is their inspiration, "The Taqwacores", to be only the first budding in a Muslim Punk spring...

And a couple of things before I stop:

And I have to say, I loved the description of Wire Tap Magazine: "a national online magazine by and for young people". It resonated. I started my writing career as the editor of The Teenager, Pakistan at the age of 17 and at that point, it was one of very, very few outlets for Pakistani Youth (and about the only one in English).

And a shout-out to Eteraz, who pointed Ms. Ahmed to the MPV and me when she reached to him looking for a Progressive Muslim blogger to profile.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Can a Muslim treat a Non-Muslim like Brother?

I first came across the sentiment I want to talk about in a video of a lecture by Zaid Shakir or someone, in which a young person asks him, after his lecture, if he heard him right when he said that it is our duty, as Muslims, to be kind and just (I forget the exact words) in our dealings with people. The young man's question was whether it was a duty to deal well with Muslims or all of humanity.

And now there's a quite a discussion going on at the Muslim Bloggers Alliance blog (and a cross-post at the author's own blog) about a very similar issue.

The question, in this instance, is whether a hadith (a report of something The Prophet said or did) that says "No one truly believes until he wants for his brother what he wants for himself." applies only to fellow Muslims or to any human being.

While that hadith in itself, since it refers to a "brother", and is easily interpreted to mean a brother in faith, the question is important.

It is very exasperating for people like me to hear things like "we Muslims have far too long advocated an exclusivist philosophy".

Funny thing is, most young American Muslims often dismiss the way Islam was traditionally interpreted and practised (Hanafi, Shafi'i, Maliki, Hanbali, and the two Shi'a schools) as either "medieval" or "bid'a-ridden". I am not a scholar so I can't speak of whole schools, but I am a person brought up by traditional Hanafi parents (South Asians--who make up a good 30-50% of the Ummah) and who had my early education in government schools in (then traditionally Maliki) Northern Nigeria. And I have always understood "brother" in the hadith in question to mean "the next man". Man. Not Muslim.

And the curriculum in Northern Nigeria, my parents' upbringing--all of that was not put in place because "political considerations have come into play". It was what a *lot* of very traditional Muslims held to be their faith.

I know WHY he did it, but it is very vexing that my brother Naeem has to say things like "...this otherwise excellent posting..." and "Before somebody accuses me of reinterpreting this hadith for my own purposes, they should know that this is the understanding of the scholars from centuries back."

I say that in a lot of these matters, we only need look back half a century to what the conventional wisdom was in the Muslim world. And I am not defending the misogyny, illiteracy, and corruption that a lot of Muslim cultures were ridden with. I am an activist who grew up in Northern Nigeria and Pakistan and have worked in the field of human rights on the ground in Pakistan. I follow affairs in India very closely and have friends and relatives there.

But American and Western Muslim friends have often asked me in the last few years, as I got involved in organizations and efforts that carried the "progressive Muslim" label, "..but, but Islam is progressive in its nature; why do you need to say 'progressive Muslim'?" This kind of issue is exactly why.

I have often had to say to people: Islam told us to be nice to our neighbours. Not to our *Muslim neighbours*. The Prophet and Awliya and Ulema down the centuries have set an example of good conduct and actively looking out for the welfare of even their Jewish neighbours. A story is told of one aalim, of how he had a neighbour, who just happened to be Jewish, who would intentionally disturb him, especially during worship. Then, for a few days, the disturbance stopped. The aalim took it upon himself to find out and discovered that the man was ill or something--I forget the exact details--and took it upon himself to help. THAT was the Islam I was brought up in. And I am thirty-six. My upbringing was not changed because of events in 2001 or since. Today, do most of us even know the names of our non-Muslim next door neighbours?

Islam is by definition progressive and humanistic; but how we often understand it, especially how we have come to understand it in the last 2 or 3 decades, and how Muslims have come to practise it, is not at all humanistic, humane or compassionate. Looking out for your own tribe is not compassion. It is not Ihsan. It is parochialism. Being just only to members of your own tribe is not adl. It is discrimination.

Wa Allah Aalam, but in my very "naqis" opinion, one thing should be pretty obvious to anyone who reads the Qur'an--and most of the folks on that site seem much more formally educated in what we called "Islamic Religious Knowledge" in in the Nigerian educational system. Where the Qur'an wants to refer or address Muslims, it says "Ya Ayyuhal Momineen", or "Ya Ayyuhal Muslimeen". But in other places, it refers very clearly to "Rabbin Nas, Malikin Nas". Do go back and read the verses on compassion. For example:
Surah 60, Verse 8: 8. Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just.
Tell me He is not telling you that he will love you for being kind to non-Muslims--who are not belligerent towards you.

In my late 30s, and having lived under more than half a dozen military dictators, all forms of corruption in the Third World, and at the receiving end of the American Media, there is little that surprises me. But I have to admit that it amazes me no end that whether a Muslim should be kind and humane towards non-Muslims is even a question.

Wa Allahu Aalam, indeed!

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter in K-Town!

Here's where the two biggest stories of the day merge; the Harry Potter launch festivities in Karachi, Pakistan get cancelled due to a terror alert:

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Pakistan's Legal Fight: The Players

Two things. First, take a look at the lawyer in the upper right hand corner of this graphic (from Dawn, the "senior" of Pakistan's two major English dailies):

This is the man who actually led the legal battle to reinstate Pakistan's Chief Justice. I don't know, just something about his gesture of thanking The Almighty says so much. And that he's quite a dapper-looking gent doesn't hurt either.

Second point: who's this Chief Justice of Pakistan? Here's the AFP report, via Dawn:
Even detractors beginning to admire Iftikhar Chaudhry

ISLAMABAD, July 20: With his rambling, legalistic speeches and his lazy eye, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has become an unlikely hero for opponents of President Gen Pervez Musharraf.

The 59-year-old judge, in his signature black suit, has been showered with rose petals by tens of thousands of cheering supporters on a series of road shows since President Musharraf suspended him for alleged misconduct in March.

On Friday, the Supreme Court reinstated him and overturned the charges against him, sparking jubilant celebrations outside the court.“This man has shown a lot of courage,” said political commentator Shafqat Mahmood.

“If he had any personal mistakes in the past they have been superseded by his exemplary fight back against Musharraf.”

Justice Chaudhry’s journey began on March 9, when television footage showed him being summoned to meet Gen Musharraf, in army uniform, at his residence to answer the charges against him.

It was an unprecedented moment in the country’s 60-year history and sparked outrage among the lawyers’ community.

The charge-sheet against the Chief Justice included claims that he abused his position to land a top police job for his son and get cars he was not entitled to. He was also accused of ordering intelligence agents to spy on other judges.

The judge later said he was detained for five hours and pressured to resign by top intelligence chiefs, but refused to do so. He was kept under virtual house arrest for several days.

Ironically, Mr Chaudhry was one of the judges who validated Musharraf's takeover and dismissal of the civilian government of former premier Nawaz Sharif after a bloodless coup in 1999.

President Musharraf appointed him as chief justice in 2005 and personally swore him in -- providing the only other picture of the two men together, with Mr Chaudhry in ornate ceremonial robes and judge's wig.

But his backers say Mr Chaudhry started to anger the government by breaking with precedent and taking notice on his own jurisdiction of some 6,000 cases, particularly on human rights.

One landmark decision was the overturning of a lucrative sale of the Pakistan Steel Mills to a private consortium last year, which embarrassed its brainchild, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, and sparked allegations of corruption.

Another significant development was the way the Supreme Court used its powers to delve into the forced “disappearances” of hundreds of people, taken away by the all-powerful intelligence agencies as part of the “war on terror”.

Many of the missing people were linked to a three-year insurgency by autonomy-seeking tribal militants in Balochistan, Mr Chaudhry's home province.

The Chief Justice's crusading stance raised fears that he would cause trouble for President Musharraf ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections that are due in the coming months.

President Musharraf hopes to get himself re-elected as president-in-uniform by the outgoing parliament this year, defying the Constitution which says he should quit as head of the military by the end of 2007.

Long-term friend Hadi Shakil Ahmed said Mr Chaudhry had shown the same independent streak when they were both lawyers in Balochistan, where Mr Chaudhry joined the profession in 1974.

“He is a crusader against corruption and a staunch supporter of people's rights,” Ahmed said. “He is a workaholic and totally self-made.” Even some in the government have been won over by his stand.—AFP
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Friday, July 20, 2007

Pakistan Twenty Oh Seven, Twenty Oh Seven

I could start today, given the events in Pakistan, with what Iqbal, one of the greatest thinkers and poets South Asia has produced, said:
Sulthani-e-Jamhoor ka atha hai zamaana
Joe naqsh-e-kuhan thum koe nazar aayay mitaa dho
[Comes, now, the era of the People's Reign
What signs of oppression you see; erase them]
But being the Pakistani elitist liberal that I am, caution and paranoia are my first reactions. What I am reminded of is a poetic piece by a friend of mine, which includes the lines:
Dhar-Dhar shehnaa'ee baajay gee
Jamhoor paree yaan naachay gee
Yehi bhanshanr ab sarkaree hain...
[Everywhere the flutes of joy will ring
Fair Fairie Democracy will dance, here, with joy
These speeches now are the official line...]
and goes on to say
Hum bheek kay ghandhum kh-aathay hain
Hum apnee sohni dharti maain
Apnon kee laashain ugaathay hain
Haan sharm-e-hayaa say aaree hain
Hum pandhraa crore bhikaari hain...
[We live off grain we got as beggars
In this fair beloved land of ours
We reap the corpses of our own
Yes, we are devoid of shame
We are a a hundred and fifty million beggars]
The same friend, having come up politically in a religio-political party in his student days, now says that each of these things (Lal Masjid, the CJ, May 12th...) are distractions from the neo-liberal selling out of the country under an international banker's supervision. Of course, he didn't use the phrase "neo-liberal selling out", but was talking about things like Mr "Shortcut" Aziz's government's total neglect of the sector that is the backbone of the country's economy: agriculture. We Pakistanis used to pride ourselves in the 70s and 80s that no one was dying of hunger in our country--we had our first few farmer suicides (a phenomenon that's been going on in India for while) in the last year or so.

So now the people have a victory. And the rule of law is big in the words of leaders.

Never mind that when the coup originally happened the whole current crop of folks chanting "Rule of Law!" "Rule of Law!!", from New York Times best seller Mohsin Hamid to every Silicon Valley Yuppie were either being supportive or equivocating. The gentleman just reinstated, at some point, took an oath under the constitutional scheme currently in place. One media darling, and especially popular with young yuppies, is Imran Khan. Don't ask me why; he's never won a single parliamentary seat fair and square--the ONE seat his party has was a gift from the establishment; his opponent, the incumbent/natural candidate from that seat and who carries the same family/clan name (Khan Niazi) as him, withdrew in his favour the last weekend before the election] was doing. He's leading a chant of "Rule of Law!", "Rule of Law!!" Here's what he was doing right after the current coup:

The only clear voice for constitutional integrity was the "liberal"s everyone's bashing nowadays:

The full statement from the Human Rights Commision of Pakistan (HRCP) is at right.

That's who we should all be working with and supporting. But what do I know? I am just an elitist liberal from Pakistan.

Having said that (as I did in email, earlier in the day) a friend chastised me for a negative note on the one day that Pakistanis can feel proud.

Thing is, I already wrote a blog post expressing my pride in things Pakistani just a couple of days ago:

I take time out regularly to be proud of things Pakistani--and I often do it "off-season", too, not just when the whole crowd has deigned to join us; see here, here, here, here, and here, for example.

But on today's events, I think it is the duty of those of us cursed with memories to be the ones urging caution. All I can say is that , for example, progressive activists must have felt as proud as all of Persia the day they overthrew the Shah. And the feeling must have lasted, what? a few months? It was just a few days ago that William Dalrymple was saying that "Pakistan today in many ways resembles pre-revolutionary Iran...." and "...[s]ome fear that Islamists could hijack the protests of the lawyers’ movement, just as they hijacked the civil-rights protests against the Shah in Iran in 1979..." [You can read the full article here.]

I don't want to be the wet blanket on happiness. I celebrate today, a victory for the people. Sulthani-e-Jamhoor ka athaa hai zamana and all that. I love it!

But tempering joy with some of what we have learnt in the last 3-6 cycles we have gone through might not be a bad thing. But then, like I said, what do I know? I am just an elitist liberal from Pakistan.

PS: A shout-out to the Teeth Maestro for providing the inspiration for the subject line by pointing out the uniqueness of the date.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Who is a Muslim?

I just had reason to say this in reply to a comment on this blog by a blogger I really respect and like:
It is really odd--about 50 years ago, the government of Pakistan convened a council of Ulema to decide "Who is a Muslim?" Having declared ourselves an "Islamic Republic" the matter was legally pressing. Their decision in the end was that the State and community must recognize anyone who claims to be a Muslim to be a Muslim. That was the official position of the 2nd largest Muslim nation in the world--then the only "Islamic Republic"around--and that of its Ulema. Today, only the most progressive of organizations--who you, it seems, do not want to consider properly Muslim--holds that position.
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Robert Jensen, Farid Esack, and Junaid Ahmad on The Lal Masjid and Pakistan...

The Robert Jensen article keeps coming up...where, as I saying earlier, we have Farid Esack, Junaid Ahmad, and Robert Jensen telling us that Pakistani liberals, it seems, "[i]nstead of talking about these fundamental questions of justice" "might ignore ... movements [like the Lal Masjid brigade] and conflicts in the outer provinces" ... and yet "found it offensive that such an embarrassing incident could happen in the capital, where the world eventually would pay attention."

What I get from this article is that there are two, and quite reminiscent of George Bush, only two possible ways to look at the phenomenon of this fanatic, militaristic manifestation of Islam coming out of Pakistan. You either caricature it, or you give it the sympathetic hearing these respectable---and I mean that without sarcasm--want to give it on the premise that what Abdul Rashid and his cohorts are about is those "fundamental questions of justice".

All of which amuses this Pakistani liberal/progressive/whatever no end. (As a friend of mine just put it over the phone from Pakistan, "when it comes to Pakistan, the definition people seem to have is that if you're not a mullah, you're liberal"--a definition these gentlemen seem to subscribe to.) Especially since I am FROM one of those "outer provinces". And the descriptions of the bullet-marked madarassah in Islamabad that everyone is wringing their hands about could very well have been a description of any of the colleges and universities we went to in the 80s and 90s in Karachi. We've been living at the business end of the firefights between the mullahs, the military, and the militant ethnicists for a few decades now. And I am sorry, but my personal experience--and I guess it is biased by my dealings with the "moderate Islamists" that I keep hearing about (the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba was our local manifestation)--is of exactly us "liberals" having been the only ones actually working on human rights, and freedom of speech and the like, when these Mullahs were in government with the last military dictator we had. Was it these Mullahs lining up to take on General Zia or Asma Jehangir?

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pride and Human Rights in Pakistan

Yes, pride in Pakistan. In something uniquely Pakistani. Not a word you will hear often given the news coming out of that country.

We have heard about Mukhtaran Mai. And if you are a regular reader of this blog, you will remember my quoting Dr. Adil Najam about how Mukhtaran Mai is the one Pakistani he's most proud to have met. And, if you are more in touch with Pakistan, you know about Edhi, Faiz, Dr. Abdus Salaam...but the one thing that makes me more proud than anything else, is the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the HRCP. This is the organization that gave the world it's first UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. This is the organization Dr. Amartya Sen mentions when asked about Pakistan and how it's doing as a country.

On the other hand, today, we have Imran Khan and his party today telling us that what we need is Rule of Law, and and an independent judiciary. And we have Farid Esack, Junaid Ahmad, and Robert Jensen telling us about Pakistani liberals that ""Instead of talking about these fundamental questions of justice" and "might ignore ... movements [like the Lal Masjid brigade] and conflicts in the outer provinces" ... and yet "found it offensive that such an embarrassing incident could happen in the capital, where the world eventually would pay attention."

But when a military coup last happened in Pakistan, the only clear voice saying it was a bad idea was not The Great Khan, for example, (he was making appreciative noises).. The only clear voice saying "interrupting the flow of democracy is always a bad thing" was the HRCP. [If you can find the press release or a news story about it, please do send it to me; I am franticly looking for it. PS, 9/11/11: Beena Sarwar helped get HRCP dig it up and it is now part of a subsequent post.]

And now they have a blog: and that's a very, very good thing. I have left them a comment saying that if they need any help, they can ask me. I request other bloggers to to do the same--and pass the word around. This is one Pakistani--one Muslim--organization that needs all the support, ink, oxygen it can get. Especially at a time like this.

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The State Department on Pakistan

Video of State Department briefing on CSPAN at:


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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Islamism, Episode 1: "My qualm is with Islamism and not with Islam"

Just a few days ago, someone asked what the definition was of "Islamist". One of things on my "ketchup" list is sitting down and compiling a definition from what I and others have said in conversations online and off. But this caught my eye a few days ago, in an interview on alt.Muslim, and it provides a very good place to start:
You've obviously titled your book "The Islamist," which is a bit of a loaded word these days. What is your definition of "Islamist" as you're using it in this book?

Ed Husain: In very broad terms, three things. Firstly, there's the rejection of 1400 years of Muslim traditional scholarship and re-reading of scripture with political lenses. Secondly, they advocate a world view that's based on eventually at some stage confronting the West. And thirdly, they reject mainstream Muslims and give us all sorts of labels such as 'non-practising Muslims', 'jahils', 'partial Muslims', and so on. Generally it's those three things and all of this is underwritten by the works of particular writers - to be more specific, Sayyid Maududi, Sayyid Qutb, Taqiuddin al-Nabhani and, in our times, Fathi Yaqoun, and so on.

It's a really important question, especially from a Muslim point of view because many Muslims confuse Islam with Islamism. The lines have been blurred and my qualm is with Islamism - the ideology that's been set up in the name of the faith - and not against Islam, the religion that our Prophet left us and which was developed by our scholars of all traditions - Shia, Sunni, whatever. My qualm is with Islamism and not with Islam. I think increasingly Muslims, thanks to Islamist propaganda, have failed to see the difference between the two.
You can read the whole interview on alt.Muslim:

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Hindi Blogging takes off...

Regular readers of this blog and other places I post might have noticed me trying to follow blogging in the Devnagri script, and often wondering why we--or I, at least--don't see more blogs in Devnagri. (See here, for example.)

Now either blogging in that script is taking off, or they're getting to where I am noticing them. See here and, more generally, you can follow it here:
Now on to what I'd really like to see in the blogsophere: Purabiya, Bhojpuri, Avadhi, ... or at least the blogging equivalent of what Inshajee wrote.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

NFP On Karachi, the MQM, and Fascists

I have been hoping to put my thoughts on events in Karachi on May 12th, and the fall-out together. Then I stumbled back into something written by an old, old associate--the man's gone through a lot in the years since I knew him, but his voice and his content is still as clear, as unconventional, and as capable of inducing discomfort in the reader or listener. So for those who comment and go on and on about Karachi, here's something to think about--from one of Pakistan's most acerbic, uncompromising (the Urdu word I am thinking of is "تلخ") voices in Pakistan.
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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

South Asian ("Desi") Immigrants and Immigration Reform

I have been meaning to write something on the topic of immigration reform and that whole hullabaloo. But as often happens while we work together as members the Friends of South Asia, Ramkumar Sridharan, a friend and fellow member steps up and says things so well that I then don't need to. Here's what he's sent around and all I can add is, as we say here in the US "What he said!::
Hi all,

You must be following the immigration reform debate, and the collapse of the immigration reform bill (S.1639) on the Senate floor last week. The primary reason the bill was voted down was because several senators thought it provided "amnesty". However, numerous immigrant advocacy groups also opposed the bill because of the devastating impact it would have had on immigrant communities.

Given the options on the table at the present moment, the death of the bill might have been the best possible outcome. But it is awkward and unfortunate that the bill was voted down for all the wrong reasons. Clearly the bill was at odds with the demands of the immigrant rights movement; and the failure of the bill only shows the strength of the ultra-right.

I wrote the following Op-Ed (published in the print edition of this week's India-West, dated Jun 29) in conjunction with SAALT before the bill was voted out. I wrote it in response to a general tendency amongst my some of friends and peers (H1-B workers in the tech industry) to view undocumented immigrants as their adversaries; and that policies that attempted to (or appeared to) provide even a modicum of relief to mitigate decades of injustice to undocumented folk (sloppily at that, like the current bill) were "unfair" to H1-B and other "legal" folk.



South Asian Community Urged to Stand Up for Immigration Reform It is time to realize that immigrants of all status are our true allies—and that it is in our interest to fight for fair immigration laws for everyone.
By RAMKUMAR SRIDHARAN. India-West, June 29, 2007 (Page A8)

Immigration reform is a hot topic these days in my circle of friends and peers in the South Asian community– many of whom, like me, are first-generation Indian immigrants on H-1B visas. As the debate in the Senate proceeds again, it is refreshing to note that South Asian immigrants are becoming more engaged in understanding the impact of the proposed legislation (S. 1639) on our community. But while we try to understand how the bill affects immigrants, it is also important to look at the legislation–and immigration reform policy—as a whole to see if it is really fair to everyone across the board.

The proposed immigration bill in the Senate is controversial for many reasons. It contains provisions that would affect families and workers negatively, for example. It also creates a merit-based point system for obtaining green cards. The Senate bill is problematic for a range of immigrants, including people in situations like mine. I am in my seventh year as an H-1B worker, and personally empathize with the call to reform the immigration system. My employers filed an application for a green card on my behalf in 2003. My application languished in the system for four years before the first stage of the process—the labor certification–got approved a few months ago. Ahead of me is a wait of approximately 3 years, perhaps more, given the nature of today's immigration process.

Clearly, immigration reform legislation could improve or worsen the lives of H-1B workers. The Senate bill under consideration right now does not pave a rosy path for H-1B visa-holders. For instance, it offers less flexibility and control for employers over the process, and reduces the overall numbers of employment-
based visas from 140,000 to 90,000, exacerbating the current visa backlog.

As we analyze the impact of the Senate bill, it is also important to keep in mind that green card holders, undocumented immigrants, and workers of South Asian descent all have a stake in immigration reform. We are intricately linked and share common aspirations as immigrants to this country. We also are products of immigration policies that are generally not made with our interests in mind.

The argument thrown around in some South Asian circles is that any immigration reform legislation should benefit skilled workers first and foremost. Some say that immigration reform should not benefit undocumented immigrants, who have "violated the law" and not "played by the same rules" as legal immigrants. Let's examine some of these arguments more closely.

First, the definition of who is "legal" and who is "illegal" has historically been a constantly changing one based on economic needs. We have to realize that a vast majority of undocumented immigrants had no legal means to come work in the U.S. in their job categories, while H-1B workers and other immigrants had that option. If there were legal paths for undocumented immigrants, would they have had a need to break the law?

In the context of the Senate bill under consideration right now, it is clear that undocumented immigrants are actually disadvantaged due to a merit-based point system that assigns a range of criteria to determine who obtains green cards. The merit-based point system would in effect establish an explicit class-based discrimination system by ostensibly preferring"skilled" over "unskilled" workers. The criteria used to determine who gets green cards include education, employment and English-language ability.

Under the point system, working class South Asians such as cab drivers or domestic workers will obtain fewer points than individuals with educational degrees or work experience. Some may argue that this is fair from an economic standpoint–they say that the U.S. economy, to compete and remain a leader in the world, needs more skilled workers than unskilled ones. But is that argument fair or humane?

The bottom line? The Senate bill is antifamily and antiworker. If the bill is passed in its current form, it will have far-reaching negative consequences for all immigrants including South Asians. We, the H1-B workers, were conspicuously absent last year when the immigrant rights movement needed us. Now, as we become more engaged in the debate and the possibility of a new immigration law looms ahead of us, it is time to realize that immigrants of all status are our true allies—and that it is in our interest to fight for fair immigration laws for everyone.

(The author is an H-1B visa holder living in Santa Cruz, Calif. He is a member of the San Francisco-based Friends of SouthAsia and Washington, D.C.-based South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow.)
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