Wednesday, July 3, 2013

This Is the Land. By Qanta Ahmed.

“Ascending a precipice [in southern Israel], we approach a lone tree reaching upwards to its Maker.” (photo: Qanta Ahmed).

The is the land. By Qanta Ahmed. The Times of Israel, June 26, 2013.

On her first visit to Israel recently, Dr. Qanta Ahmed saw the country “as God sees it.” The Muslim physician, professor at SUNY Stony Brook, and British-born daughter of Pakistani immigrants was smitten by the natural beauty, history and modern achievements that came into vivid focus.

The many faces of Dr. Qanta Ahmed, an unlikely defender of Israel. By Judy Maltz. Haaretz, May 31, 2013.


Her views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she says, have been strongly influenced by her own family’s experiences.
“When India and Pakistan were divided overnight by partition [in 1947], my parents − who were little children then − were immediately relocated because they were in Hindu territory,” recalls Ahmed. “When I lived in Saudi or traveled to other countries in this region, one of the most vociferous things I would hear is that, because of Israel, the Palestinians were dispossessed from their property and land.
“I don’t know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in any kind of detail or with any kind of authority, but I do know what it was like for my parents to move with their parents because there were new borders, and I’ve seen how they’ve created lives migrating again. I also see how people came to Israel, some of them barely surviving the Holocaust, to a land where they were not used to the climate and where they had no family, and yet somehow managed to build this extraordinary, complicated nation. Some people will think it’s an unfair comparison, but both Israel and Pakistan were created to protect a minority that global powers believed was being persecuted.”
Does that justify the Israeli occupation? No, responds Ahmed, describing the occupation as a “terrible burden” both on the Palestinians and on Israel. “Those who are occupied are not liberated and not autonomous, but the occupation is also a burden on Israel for the same reasons it was on the U.S. in Iraq − it involves huge costs, a huge price and huge risks.”
Still, Ahmed admits, she’s not sure what the alternative is: “I’m well acquainted with Jihadist ideology and suicide bombers in Pakistan, so I don’t know what you do apart from building a wall to safeguard the Israeli territory. How do you relinquish control when there’s a virulent Jihadist ideology and many Muslin leaders outside the region who say that not only shouldn’t Israel be recognized, but it shouldn’t be there at all?”
Her professional medical work, she says, has also been instrumental in shaping her political mind-set. In recent years, at her sleep disorder center, she began treating policemen, firemen and other individuals who were first and second responders when the Twin Towers collapsed in New York City on September 11, 2001. “It made me even more committed to distinguishing violent political Islamist ideology and nonviolent political Islam from what I see as my faith, because I can see the suffering caused by this deviant ideology,” she explains.
Ahmed doesn’t draw the line with radical Islam, coming down strongly on her new adopted homeland for its drone attacks on the tribal territories of Pakistan. “I’ve seen acres and acres of patients suffering from PTSD because of these attacks,” she says, “but am I going to abandon the U.S. because they’re using this barbaric technology with impunity? No, I’m going to stay and try to educate. And by the way, that’s how I feel about Israel, too.”
If there’s one thing that’s impressed her beyond all in Israel, says Ahmed, it’s the level of religious freedom and pluralism enjoyed in the country. “One thing you can’t complain about here is the right to worship as you see fit,” she remarks.
When told that many Israelis would find that statement almost laughable, considering the recent battle over the rights of women to pray as they see fit at the Western Wall, she responds: “I’ve heard these arguments in Reform synagogues in Long Island, and I was absolutely agog. But the fact is that at the wall, women are able to pray. In Saudi Arabia, in Mecca, there are now moves to confine where women can pray. American Reform Jews who complain that they’re not recognized here, I invite them to please visit parts of the world that I’ve seen where religious freedom is completely lacking. There’s no comparison. Absolutely no comparison.”