I can’t go to US; my name is Haq

In a stirring speech in Cairo last year, President Obama had said: “America is not and will never be at war with Islam.”

These were words of conciliation, of setting the record straight, and of hope. Sadly, American diplomatic missions around the globe aren’t doing enough to uphold this commitment of their president to the Muslim world.

US embassies and security agencies still remain wary of Muslim-sounding names. In a word, they seem to suffer from Islamophobia — as much a crime against humanity, in my view, as anti-Semitism is.

The US embassy’s New Delhi consular wing pre-empted my visit to the US as part of a delegation of journalists by not granting me a visa in time.

Officially, reasons are never cited for visa refusals and delays but it ostensibly has to do with who I am, a Muslim.

Here is a fact. While all other journalists in that delegation were promptly granted visas, my case was put on hold.

The visa authorities gave this in writing to me: “We are unable to issue your visa at this time as we require additional information. Further action on your case has been suspended under section 221(G) of the Immigration and Nationally Act until we receive the information indicated below. Your application requires further administrative processing. We shall contact you as soon as the administrative processing is completed. We regret that we are unable to provide with an estimate as to how long this will take.”

Those whose visas were promptly granted include journalists M.J. Prabhu of the Hindu, S. Swain of the Financial Express, Vivek Giridhari of the Lokmat, U. Pandey of the Dainik Jagran, Sudhakara Reddy of the Sakshi and Uma Sudhir of the NDTV.

Since, there was no word from the embassy thereafter, I sent a request through my travel agent to withdraw my visa application. I do not wish to visit a country I am not welcome to. Moreover, if my visa request were to be turned down, it would be an unnecessary taint on my travel record.

The US embassy may well assert that they did not reject my visa outright but only subjected me to additional background checks. I would want to tell them, a visa delayed is visa denied.

I am fully aware of a sovereign country’s express right to decide who is welcome in that country.

However, the arbitrariness of this right as applied to Muslims is undemocratic and runs contrary to President Obama’s gestures to Muslims. Remember, Islamophobia is a racist tendency, just like anti-Semitism.

Mine isn’t a one-off case. Recently, Professor G. N. Qazi, the vice chancellor of Jamia Hamdard University, was denied a visa. Qazi has visited the US on many earlier academic trips, having been a Fulbright scholar.

BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain was denied one despite being an elected representative. We all know what had happened with actor Shah Rukh Khan.

No law-abiding Muslim should be made to bear the brunt of what bin Laden has done to America, just as no innocent American citizen should bear the brunt of mindless terror.

Here is the second ugly fact. Only I was subjected to additional checks. What prompted this? My religion? My faith? My views? Am I to the US what Noam Chomsky is to Israel?

I have never been a consistent, rabid or vocal opponent of America, a country whose founding values and contributions to the advancement of human civilization I admire.

From the barbed wire to the bar code and from air-conditioning to airbags, American inventions have changed our lives. It is because of Americans that we can fly half way round the globe and that we switch on our lights at the fall of dusk.

However, America’s arrogance has caused it to drift from its great founding ideals. Its egalitarian values seem to apply more domestically than internationally.

As a student of literature in English, I chose American literature as my special paper, a choice made over Indian literature in English. I remember reading speeches of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United

I recall Jefferson’s most famous words: “I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.” Jefferson would also keep a Koran in his personal library.

When a Nobel Peace Prize was announced for President Obama, many, including Republicans, had termed it a premature Nobel. I had applauded the peace prize for the President because I was convinced that this was a Nobel for a person’s potential to achieve, rather than for what has already been achieved.

Ironically, in an earlier blog, I wrote: “This is clearly not a Nobel for achievement but for approach. For noble intentions. For peace. And for fighting Islamophobia, if you like. Here is a freshman’s Nobel for changing
the mood in a world where Muslim nations are mired in intractable conflicts, and therefore, singularly contribute to global instability.” Click here

I had also applauded President Obama’s Cairo speech, even though the Muslim world itself was skeptical about any real change. I wrote: “The Cairo speech addressed Islam with sincerity.” Click here

President Obama has a senior envoy, India-born Farah Pandit, specifically to build a bridge with Muslims. It’s one thing to have a special envoy for political problems, such as the Middle-East or Aghanistan; quite another to have a special representative for Muslims in general.

However, it is not people like Farah Pandit who can possibly build that critical bridge as much as US diplomatic missions and embassies. US embassies touch the lives of Muslims in their respective countries at a more personal level than Pandit herself. They aren’t upholding their President’s words sincerely enough.

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