Why Do I Want to be a Journalist?

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s note:  The TMO Foundation conducted a scholarship essay contest and TMO is now printing the essays of some of the entrants to the contest.

This is the second place essay, by Aysha Jamali, on the subject “Why do I want to be a journalist?” She received Second Prize, a $1,000 scholarship.

By Aysha Jamali

Aysha Jamali-photo A journalist strives, researches, listens and educates. A journalist’s role is vast and has been a necessary ingredient in society throughout the history of the world. Media influences what we know about the world around us, how we form our opinions on issues and which issues are the most important to us. A journalist’s responsibility is to report with the intention of being honest and fair in representing what goes on in the world. That is my interest: to uphold the duties of media’s mediators.

Wickham Steed, an editor of The Times of London, said that journalism is “something more than a craft, something other than an industry, something between art and a ministry.” It’s a field that requires skill and creativity, but it also requires a sense of obligation to the people. And there are several obligations.

One obligation of the journalist is to keep a check on those in power. Governments and corporate organizations are often in a position to abuse their power. They serve the larger population, but are often run by a smaller elite circle. “Melvin Mencher’s News Reporting and Writing” says that “democracy is the healthiest when the public is informed about the activities of captains of industry and chieftains in public office.” It is the journalist’s responsibility to scrutinize those captains and chieftains in the elite circle, so that the common people can have a say in their policies and the actions affecting them.

Journalists also look out for those who can’t look out for themselves. The minority always needs a spokesperson whether it’s a daughter who lost her father because of hospital malpractice, a school in a low-income district with no money for textbooks, or hundreds of upset and recently unemployed workers from a billion dollar company.

A journalist’s responsibility is also to provide the public with unbiased information on current issues. A decision is so difficult to make when both sides are white-washing and sugar-coating the truth. Journalists are there to investigate and determine accurate from inaccurate. They provide not only facts but the scoop behind the facts. Journalist T. D. Allman said, “Genuinely objective journalism not only gets the facts right, it gets the meaning of events right.” It’s with this type of fact-finding that people can make rational decisions.

Another role of the journalist is to bring to concern issues that are otherwise not discussed. In the book “Don’t Shoot the Messenger,” Bruce W. Sanford said that “most people would not see that they were being denied information about the world around them.” This requires the journalist to hunt for these hidden stories, and it can put the journalist at odds with bosses and peers. Stepping away from the mainstream is difficult but something a journalist should remember is often an obligation.

My background has taught me about the need for such responsibilities. My family and my Islamic faith have taught me that judging others is the wrong path to take since you don’t always know the whole story. I learned that what you hear is not always the truth, so you need to stay skeptical. I learned that there is always another opinion about a situation, so you need to stay open-minded. It’s because of this that I read about a war, a robbery or a movie release and I want to know what else is there that the media isn’t telling me. Did those people really initiate the shooting? Was that person trying to feed his family with the stolen money? Is this actor passionate about his role in the movie?

Beyond finding out the truth, I want to share the new ideas and incidents I discover. My question is always: why didn’t I know this before and why isn’t anyone spreading this around? I love a chance to sit down and hash out the day’s news. I relish the idea of communicating information to get myself and other people to think in different ways. It’s my inquisitive attitude and my itch to share information that attracted me to journalism.

Getting people to think in different ways is also a significant reason to have a diverse media. You can’t have variation if everyone thinks the same way. In “Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite,” Bernard Goldberg said, “It’s past time that we moved from a newsroom that simply looks like America to one that thinks like America – a newsroom that better reflects America in its highly varied beliefs and values and passions.”  A diversified newsroom is an atmosphere that permits the contribution of unique experiences and attitudes.

Media diversity is also important for avoiding cultural taboos and clearing up misconceptions. This brings to the mind the controversial shooting of Luqman Ameen Abdullah, imam of a local Detroit mosque. Local news stations reported on broadcast and on their Web sites that he was the ringleader of a group called the “Ummah.” Actually, all Muslims consider themselves to be a part of an ummah, which is an Arabic word roughly translated as community. It’s similar to Christians belonging to a church community. The mainstream media failed to clarify whether Imam Abdullah’s “Ummah” was just confused with the general concept of the Muslim ummah. If there were more people with that type of knowledge and background present in the newsroom, then confusions like that wouldn’t happen as often. When there’s less confusion in the media, the public is getting accurate information and putting its trust back in its sources.

The need to keep a check on bias by representing all sides of a story is also a reason why the media should be diverse. It only makes sense for the media to be as diverse as the people and the views they are representing. With the melting-pot that is the United States, we should be seeing people of all backgrounds in our media. In “Arrogance,” Goldberg said that “despite the overwhelming evidence, despite all the examples of bias that were documented in my book and others, despite the surveys that show that large numbers of Americans consider the elite media too liberal … the elite remains in denial.” Diversity breaks down that elite circle to allow for proper representation.

These roles are a part of the backbone that holds up a journalist as someone who strives, researches, listens and educates. I believe it should be every journalist’s goal to uphold the field’s values. I hope to make my career as a journalist by internalizing these values. I hope to use my Muslim identity and first generation immigrant background in striving for fair media representation through diversity. This should be the journalist’s drive. This is my drive.

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Indo-Iran Diplomacy: Women As ”Cultural Ambassadors”

February 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding all the noise being made against Iran over its nuclear program, Indo-Iranian ties have not backtracked. What is more amazing is the definite impact made by women in this field. This month began with Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao visiting Iran, during which she held extensive discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Economy and Finance Minister Seyed Shamseddin Hosseini and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili. It was Rao’s first visit to Iran as Foreign Secretary. During her visit, both sides emphasized the need for expansion of economic ties. Besides, Rao laid stress that both countries should also give more importance to tourism in keeping with their rich history and tourist attractions.

Rao’s visit is, however, just a minor indicator of the importance India and Iran are giving to strengthen their ties. This point is supported by cultural diplomacy playing a crucial role in bringing the two countries closer. The ministry of cultural diplomacy in the present Indian cabinet setup is one of the few ministries exclusively headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It has not been allocated specifically to any cabinet minister. This also implies that diplomatic steps being taken forward in the cultural field have the direct consent of the Indian Prime Minister.

Interestingly, Iranian women are playing a crucial role regarding cultural diplomacy. The Iranian puppetry troupe- Apple Tree- performed a traditional puppet show, The Bald Hero in New Delhi, Mumbai and Gurgaon. The all-women troupe was invited to the annual Ishara International Festival, which began in New Delhi on January 27 to continue till February 15 in Mumbai. Majid Giahchi, head of Apple Tree group, said: “The group includes four sisters who have been awarded for their brilliant performance of the puppet show throughout the world.” “The traditional play has been forgotten for years, but the Apple Tree troupe was able to revive the art form after carrying out research on it in 2005,” Giahchi said.

Giahchi adds a diplomatic importance to such puppet shows as well expects them to help promote these arts financially. “When a troupe attends an international event, it acts as an ambassador of the art and culture of Iran, so it needs to be supported financially,” Giahchi said.

Against the backdrop of a largely negative image projected about status of women in Iran, The Bald Hero prompts Indians to naturally think otherwise. By visiting India to participate in the puppet show and also other countries of the world, the Iranian women have not simply played the role of diplomatic ambassadors. They have also conveyed the message that Iranian women should not be presumed to be as suppressed as presented largely by the international media.

In an attempt to change this impression, a silent movement has begun. Though there is no denying that women in Iran still face considerable discrimination and are yearning for more rights as well as greater equality, several facts cannot be ignored. Women across the world, including in the so-called liberal, democratic countries, have not gained much prominence in the political arena and similar areas, which continue to be dominated by men. However, their numerical position in Muslim countries such as Iran is tended to be projected negatively as a sign of their being kept backwards by religious extremists. Yet, if facts and statistics released by reliable sources are studied, they convey a totally different picture.

Of these, perhaps the most significant is that the health minister in Iran’s cabinet is a woman, Marziya Vahid Dastjerdi. Besides, Iranian women acquired the right to vote and started becoming members of the Parliament more than fifty years ago. Since then, even though their representation is fairly small, they have managed to secure entry into the Parliament defeating all the speculations raised about the command of fundamentalists in Iranian society. The same point is also proved by women’s population in Iranian universities being 52 percent, more than that of men’s 48 percent.

Several figures also defy the impression that Iranian women’s role – behind the veil- is restricted to being home-makers. The number of women employed by the government in 2006 was 788488, which was 14.53 percent more than in 1997. In addition to Iranian women being employed in government departments, they have moved forward in other areas also. There has been in 2007, 80 percent increase in the number of books published by Iranian women writers in around a decade’s time. During the same period, there has been a 58 percent increase in number of women film makers whose work has been recognized in international film festivals outside Iran. Similarly, the number of women athletes has increased by 47 percent. The last point is further supported by the formation of women’s football team in 2006. The team visited India to participate in Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for the first team in October 2007.

Women must certainly be credited for playing a major role in taking forward Indo-Iranian diplomatic relations, culturally and in other areas, including sports. Indian Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to Iran is a symbolic indicator of Indo-Iranian ties being on the upswing.

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Karzai to Pay Taliban to Lay Down Their Arms

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Waheedullah Massoud (AFP)

2010-01-27T192506Z_1489401820_GM1E61S09H201_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

Afghan President Hamid Karzai waves as he leaves 10 Downing Street after his meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, London January 27, 2010.  

REUTERS/Kevin Coombs 

KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai unveiled an ambitious Western-funded plan Friday to offer money and jobs to tempt Taliban fighters to lay down their arms in an effort to quell a crippling insurgency.

His comments to the BBC came as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates described the Taliban as part of Afghanistan’ s “political fabric”, but said any future role would depend on insurgents laying down their weapons.

Karzai’s plan echoed similar proposals by Washington to try and bring low and mid-level extremists back into mainstream society, but the leadership of Islamist insurgent groups remain hostile to negotiations.

Militants led by the Taliban movement have been waging an increasingly deadly rebellion against the Afghan government and foreign troops since a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime from power in late 2001.

“We know as the Afghan people we must have peace at any cost,” Karzai said in the television interview aired Friday ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan in London next week, where he will present the plan.

“Those that we approach to return will be provided with the abilities to work, to find jobs, to have protection, to resettle in their own communities.”

The Taliban gives its foot-soldiers higher salaries than the Afghan government can afford to pay its forces, and the president said his project would have international backing to provide the necessary funds.

Hardline Taliban supporters, who were members of Al-Qaeda or other terror groups, would not be accepted in the scheme, Karzai added.

The Taliban leadership have repeatedly rebuffed peace talks in the past, and on Friday a spokesman for the militia, Zabihullah Mujahid, reiterated that they would not negotiate with Karzai’s government.

“Our only and main goal is the freedom and independence of our country. We cannot be bought by money and bounties. The Taliban will not sell themselves off for cash,” Mujahid said, reacting to Karzai’s comments.

“We insist on our previous stance that we will not negotiate with this government. Any negotiation now would mean accepting being a slave of America. Our goal is enforcing an Islamic government and withdrawal of foreign forces.”

Insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who commands another radical Islamist group Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, would come to the table with the US and Afghan government, but only under strict conditions, his spokesman Zubair Sediqi said.

“All the foreign forces must leave Afghanistan unconditionally. A permanent ceasefire must be enforced. All prisoners from all side must be freed. An interim administration must take charge for one year,” Sediqi told AFP.

Karzai has in the past urged the United States to back talks with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar but Washington has resisted negotiations with any figures linked to wider extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda.

On a visit to Pakistan — which has come under intense US pressure to do more to wipe out Islamist extremists along its border with Afghanistan — Gates said the Taliban had to prove they wanted a role in Afghanistan’s future.

“The question is whether they are prepared to play a legitimate role in the political fabric of Afghanistan going forward, meaning participating in elections, meaning not assassinating local officials and killing families,” he told reporters.

Gates had said earlier that some lower-ranking insurgents might be open to making peace with Kabul, but warned that the senior-most Taliban leaders would unlikely reconcile with Afghanistan’s government.

In Washington on Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled a long-term non-military strategy to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The strategy aims to to rebuild the Afghan farm sector, improve governance and bring extremists back into mainstream society.

It complements a military strategy in which President Barack Obama announced on December 1 he would deploy another 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan.

Extra troop commitments from NATO allies are expected to take to around 150,000 the total number of foreign troops operating in Afghanistan under US and NATO command in the coming year.

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Woman Serves as Mosque President

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jeff Swicord , VOA

salmenna sedique
Salmenna Sedique prays, at far left.

Toleda, Ohio–05 August 2009–Some in the West have long held negative stereotypes toward the Islamic faith, particularly when it comes to the role of women. But if one woman in Toledo, Ohio has her way, that is about to change. She was recently elected president of a local Islamic center. She oversees the operations of a community center, school, and mosque, including the activities of the Imam. Her goal is to show the non-Muslim world that women of Islam can do and achieve anything they want.

Like many Afghan women, Salmenna Sedique enjoys spending quiet time with her family in their Toledo Ohio home.

But unlike some of her counterparts, Salmenna also plays a prominent role outside the home, in Toledo’s Muslim community. 

She is the first woman president of the Masjid Saad Islamic Center, which includes an Islamic school and mosque.

“It is a hard position for anyone to run, Salmenna said. “It is a responsibility. And every single second I am thinking, am I going to fulfill it in the right manner, in the right way?”

Toledo Ohio is an old industrial city in the middle United States. The Masjid Saad center started as a small prayer area at a local University more than twenty years ago.

It has grown to a community of over one thousand people. Women play prominent roles in all aspects of the center’s life.

Salmenna wants to change the negative stereotypes held by some toward Islam — particularly, the role of women. She says rules that say women cannot be educated, or leave the home without the company of a male family member, or must be covered, are rooted in culture, not Islamic tradition. She says, in Islam, those issues are a matter of choice and points to the role women played in the household of the Prophet Mohammed (s).

“They were not hiding,” Salmenna says, “They were not behind the curtains; they were not behind the walls. They were going to battles, they were in business.”

Salmenna also plays a prominent role in the family business.

She keeps the books and maintains the computer system at her husband Ahmad’s auto dealership. It was her husband who pushed her to become president of the Islamic center. “We needed somebody in our community right now to work and organize it. And she is qualified for that,” Ahmad Sedique says, “And I am fully supporting her for that.”

Salmenna says leading by example is the best way to change perceptions. She encourages young people to get more involved at the center. Today, these young women are planning youth group activities, but were shy about talking with us on camera.

Salmenna wants to see more action from Muslims outside the center.  “We don’t have people in politics, we don’t have people to fill out the social working areas. They don’t look at it as a priority, but to me,” she adds, “it is a priority.”

Her appointment as president is for one year. She encourages women to educate themselves, get involved, and stand up for their Islamic rights.

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Jama Masjid Shahi Imam Remembered For His Legendary Role

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

shahi imam

In this file picture taken on February 14, 2006, Shahi Imam of New Delhi’s Jama Masjid Mosque Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari addresses a press conference at The Jama Masjid.

NEW DELHI: Fire-brand Shahi Imam of historic Jama Masjid, Maulana Syed Abdullah Bukhari is no more, but memories of his legendary role live on. He is credited for being among the first Muslim clerics who strongly spoke and worked constructively to redress grievances of Indian Muslims. Suffering from illness, Bukhari (87) passed away at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), last week, where he had been admitted several weeks ago. Ironically, he breathed his last on July 8, the very day on which in 1973 he took charge as Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid. Though he passed on the charge of Jama Masjid to his son Syed Ahmed Bukhari on October 14, 2000, he retained the title of Shahi Imam till the very last. He was the 12th Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, a process which began during the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan’s reign. The Bukhari family was invited from Central Asia to take charge of Jama Masjid, with Shahjahan conferring the title of Shahi Imam on Syed Ghafoor Shah Bukhari on July 24, 1656. Since then, Imamat of Jama Masjid has continued in the family, with each Shahi Imam being succeeded by his son.

Bukhari played a crucial role in 1947 in persuading Muslims not to migrate to Pakistan. When he was asked decades later (in 2004) by former Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan on had he ever thought of shifting to Pakistan, Bukhari replied: “India is my country and the very question of leaving it cannot arise at all.” His protest against communal violence in Delhi’s Kishanganj area in 1974 led to his being jailed for 18 days in 1975. Bukhari shot into fame in 1977, when he campaigned actively against the forced sterilization drive pursued by then Congress government in parts of Old Delhi. His anti-Congress campaign played a crucial role in pushing then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi out of power in 1977 Lok Sabha elections.

Remembering Bukhari for fearlessly voicing stand against government’s anti-Muslim measures, Qazi Ayub Hassan Choudhary said: “He was the one who looked Indira Gandhi in the eye.” Bukhari is remembered by Muslims for providing thousands of them shelter in Jama Masjid when they were driven out of their homes by mobs during troubled times. He provided them food, clothes and medicines. In other words, his service to the Muslim community extended far beyond rhetoric, reaching out to actually aggrieved ones. Though Bukhari played an active role in favor of Babri Masjid, Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, it had limited impact.

Among those who knew Bukhari well remember him for his secular credentials too. When a Hindu couple, who worked for the Imam, passed away around four decades ago, Bukhari decided to “adopt” their son, Raju. The little boy lived and worked at Bukhari’s house till his marriage. One of daughters-in-law of Bukhari was a non-Muslim. She remembers him for having never imposed Islamic beliefs and practices on her, which she adopted out of her own choice.

In his condolence message, Vice President M. Hamid Ansari said: “I am deeply grieved to learn about the sad demise of Maulana Syed Abdullah Bukhari.” “A respected personality,” he “had an impressive record of religious service to the people,” Ansari stated. “He would remain a lasting exemplar of selfless service and his death has caused a deep void,” he said.

Expressing grief at his demise, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi said: “He will always be remembered in the history of Jama Masjid and the country.”

Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said: “In his whole life, he served his nation and Islam. Today, we regret that the great scholar has left us. I am sure that after his death his successors will carry forward his tradition of secularism.”

Mourning his demise, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit said: “He worked towards the betterment of all communities.”

“Imam sahab was a dynamic personality. Besides being the Imam, he was always involved in raising social and political issues. He played a constructive role in 1947,” Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan said.

“The Imam was a great personality. He was a fearless man. He tried to pressurize the government to take up issues concerning the community. He had been a fighter for 30 long years. After Emergency (June 25, 1975 to March 21, 1977), he became more involved,” Mufti Mukarram Ahmed, the Shahi Imam of Fatehpuri mosque, said.

In its condolence message, All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM), an umbrella body of Indian Muslim organizations said, that Bukhari played a “leading role” for Indian Muslims for over three decades.

Born in Sambhar, Rajasthan, Bukhari received his religious education in the capital city. He was laid to rest in the family graveyard on the northwest side of Jama Masjid (July 8). He is survived by four sons and two daughters.

Remembering his father, Ahmad Bukhari, the present Imam, said: “Not only did I love my father, I admired him and tried emulating him. He always advised me to fight against oppression and he would tell me that I should never succumb before the cruel. I have tried to uphold his principles.

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