Monday, February 15, 2010, Safar 30, 1431 A.H   ISSN 1563-9479
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Opinion Archive
The News International Pakistan

 Rich Muslims advising poor Muslims
By Ayesha Ijaz Khan
Pakistan has, without a doubt, had its share of troubled times. Successive governments have made their mistakes and it is the people who have suffered. But in spite of all the hardships the Pakistani people have an uncanny ability to laugh at themselves and tolerate both criticism and unwarranted advice from others. On balance, this is a good thing as willingness to listen and introspect, instead of taking offence at criticism, can only mean that Pakistanis are a secure people who are not affronted easily. Yet, we should not be so willing to self-censure that we become the punching bag of those who have plenty wrong with themselves.

A few days ago, I opened my inbox to find an email from Mr Tariq Al-Maeena. Mr Al-Maeena had sent me his article, "Pakistan's forgotten ghetto residents," which outlined the plight of the Biharis in Bangladesh and faulted Pakistan for having forgotten about them. The article itself taught me nothing new. A piece by Raza Rumi on the same subject that I had read on earlier was far more insightful.

At the bottom of the article, however, it stated that "The writer is a Saudi socio-political commentator and lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia." I wondered if he was any relation to Mr Khaled Al-Maeena, editor for life of Arab News, Saudi Arabia's most widely read English daily. As a child, I lived in Saudi Arabia and recalled reading Mr Khaled Al-Maeena's patronising editorials on Pakistan. Since the Saudi press was very controlled and he could not dare speak out against his own government, the editor of Arab News had focused his energies on other parts of the world. Pakistan was very high on the list of problem cases and incessant unsolicited advice was offered on how to correct Pakistan's problems. My family having left Saudi Arabia several years ago, occasionally, I still glance at Arab News on-line, and although its focus has rightly shifted inward, with young journalists like Ebithal Mubarik bringing to the fore important issues of forced divorces and gang rapes, as well as the plight of foreign workers within Saudi Arabia, the old guard's attitudes towards developing countries like Pakistan have changed little.

Reading Mr Tariq Al-Maeena's article in my inbox, then, was a whiff of the past, and I wondered that if a socio-political commentator sitting in Lahore wrote an article, for instance, on Saudi Arabia's flawed policies and offering her share of "benevolent advice," what chance would that commentator have of being published in Arab News, or even any on-line Saudi blog? Fat chance, is the answer. Yet Pakistanis, of course, are ever willing to hear others out and accept advice from every corner of the globe and Mr Tariq Al-Maeena finds himself published on, a popular source of information for expatriate Pakistanis.

Perusing the comments to his article, written by Pakistanis, I was disappointed that no one pointed out the fact that though Pakistan has bungled up in the case of the Biharis, it has taken in excess of three million Afghan refugees. As a poor country, this has not been easy for its coffers or its people.

This does not mean, of course, that the Biharis should not be rehabilitated (either in Pakistan or in Bangladesh) at this late stage, but the fact remains that in spite of limited resources, the Pakistani people have not shied away from the refugee burden that confronts the Muslim world today.

Iran too has taken in Afghan refugees, but a fewer number than Pakistan and with stricter controls. Syria and Jordan have taken in large numbers of Iraqi refugees, close to 1.5 million and 750,000, respectively. And Jordan, in particular, remains mired in a refugee crisis, having accommodated innumerable Palestinian refugees earlier.

Unfortunately, it seems that the resource-stricken countries of the Muslim world have been far more generous in taking people in, while the rich countries of the Gulf have, despite rhetoric, entirely absolved themselves of shouldering the burden of Muslim refugees. Mr Tariq Al-Maeena, for instance, suggests in his article that were Pakistan to take the Biharis, the Gulf countries, "facing a shortage of semi-skilled labour due to an unprecedented building boom, could offer them meaningful employment." How convenient.

Why is it that the rich Muslim countries, like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar, are only able to offer "meaningful employment" (far more meaningful for the employer than the employee, mind you) to the economically disadvantaged, falling short of full-fledged immigration offers or rehabilitation, leaving that burden to be shouldered by their poorer cousins, namely, Pakistan, Jordan, and Syria.

Syria is home to the largest number of Iraqi refugees. And Jordan is home to the largest number of refugees per capita anywhere in the world, as a result of the plight of the Iraqi and Palestinian people. Meanwhile, the citizens of the Gulf countries sit comfortably with their small local populations, inviting the poorest of the poor to work as construction workers and add to their "building booms," but not share in the wealth that is generated, denying even family status to most workers.

As a matter of fact, Sweden hosts the largest number of Iraqi refugees after Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt. Sweden has a small population and is economically secure but has been the most forthcoming of all Western nations in taking in Iraqis who are less fortunate, even if they are a different religion and a different race. Journalists in the Gulf countries should ask their own governments to emulate the likes of Sweden as opposed to pointing out the shortcomings of over-burdened and economically challenged Muslim countries that have in any case done far more than their richer counterparts in dealing with the acute refugee crisis facing the Muslim world.

The writer is a London-based lawyer turned political commentator. Website:

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