The APPNA Summer 2008 Rumpus
By Dr. Syed Ehtisham
Bath, New York
I had not attended any major APPNA meetings since mid-eighties, due to other pressing constraints on my time and the perception that it was, to borrow from Marx, a professional bourgeois body whose members had to a great degree given up on their past ideological affiliations with ‘right’, ‘left’ and ‘center’.
Their moots were distinguished by ostentatious display of 'high fashion', mod culture and waste of resources which the country of origin of the country of these 'Docs' lacks conspicuously.
I only went this year because my retirement from active work facilitated my return to the arms of my first love - political activism and reading and writing that go with it.
I must say that my observations did not make me change my opinion to any great degree.
I arrived at the hotel (Marriott) in the afternoon on June 25, 2008, only to be greeted by earlier arrivals preparing to go on the 'Dandy Cruise Dinner' on the Potomac River where I understand a good time was had by all, among activities such as Namaz and the less saintly ones. (This reminds me of a wedding invitation I once received which read "arrival of Barat", Namaz Maghrib, "Nikah" and hold on to the side arms if you are sitting in a chair and to a handy pillar or a wall, if you are standing, "dance by the bridal party, to be followed by a dance by the groom's party and to top it all by a joint dance by both parties. I have saved the card). Now that is what I would call amalgamation of culture.
The next morning, bright and early there was breakfast and registration for CME (continuing medical education), every 'medical organization’ worth its name has a few such sessions. The big advantage is that the participants can deduct expenses from their tax, though, to be fair, considerable number of attendees does pay attention to lectures. (CME has become big business since its introduction as a requirement for keeping one's privilege of treating patients in hospitals. Doctors go on cruises around Greek Islands, visit the pyramids in Egypt, all in good cause) and for Day on the Hill-meeting congressmen and lobbying for causes close to medical and Pakistani concerns.
Both CME and the day on the hill were from 9 am to 12 noon. The Day on the hill was sponsored by Muslim Advocates, Center for Voter Advocacy and PAK-PAC. The last is a group, which is distinguished by its steadfast support of every government in Pakistan, military, democratic or a hybrid.
There were parallel sessions on "Briefing on Advocacy for Civil Rights and Profiling from 7.30 am to 9 am.
APPNA council meeting open to all was from 3 pm to 5 pm where organizational issues were discussed.
Evening was devoted to a banquet with Zia Mohyuddin in attendance and a multi-cultural mushaira. The last event was dominated by Punjabi poetry and humor.
Day two started with the usual breakfast and CME sessions to follow till 12.30 pm.
The group of children of physicians called SAYA held a seminar from 10 am to 1 pm on "Should Future of Pakistan be of concern to Pakistani-American Youth?
In the afternoon was a seminar on "Uplifting our Families" jointly organized by ZAYTUNA FOUNDATION and SOUND VISIOD VISION and co-sponsored by APPNA and APPNA Alliance. It was addressed by such luminaries of Islamic movement as Dr Jamal Badawi and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. . This was proselytization, pure and simple.
There were assorted other programs in the afternoon on "Universal Human Right to Education" addressed by Mr. Ahsan Iqbal, member national assembly Pakistan and a former education minister; Mr Sam Pitroda, Chairman National Knowledge Commission of India; and Mr. Ahmad Bilal Mamboob, Chairman PILDAT.
The most notable session of the day was the one organized by DOW and Allama Iqbal alumni in collaboration with Asian American Alliance Against Abuse (AANA). Aitzaz Ahsan; Hussain Haqqani, Pakistani Ambassador to the USA; Lisa Curtis, a former state department official; and Anees Haroon, a human rights worker from Pakistan addressed an overflowing audience.
It was a lively session especially the question-answer segment. Aitzaz sidestepped queries on Nawaz's role in sending goons to CJ Sajjad Ali Shah while the latter was hearing a case against Nawaz in Lahore and evasive about the cracks in the NS/Zardari alliance. He was also defensive to pointed questions on what the long march had achieved, why was there no 'dharna,' and why had he not broken with BB when she made a deal with the President and why did he not break with the Co-Chairman of PPPP now as the gentleman was openly ridiculing the long march.
Hussain Haqqani tried a patronizing tone with one questioner who had recited a quite pertinent couplet (shair) asking the latter to grow up. He met an avalanche of protest, asking His Excellency to withdraw his words and apologize. H.E. tried, unsuccessfully, to recover ground.
The evening was devoted to SAYA and Alumni dinners. Of note was the keynote speaker at the DOW dinner, a Dr Teepu Sidddiqi, quite distinguished in his profession, but who spoke only on religion.
Saturday was the last major day of the meeting. APPNA Alliance had organized a seminar on domestic violence, which proved to be very informative and instructive.
The highlight of the day was the second seminar on Democracy and Justice organized by APPJD (Association of Pakistani Physicians for Justice and Democracy) and Doctors for Democracy. On the panel were Aitzaz Ahsan, President Pakistan SC Bar Association; Ahsan Iqbal, MNA of Nawaz League; Farooq Sattar, MNA of MQM; Husain Haqqani, Pakistan Ambassador to the USA; Salman Butt of Jamaat e Islami; and a representative of Imran Khan's party.
Mr. Haqqani, quite unnecessarily and out of context, demanded that Asif Zardari be called Mr. Asif Zardari and not simply Zardari. I do not think he was just being officious. He was being deliberately provocative and sycophantic, as I firmly believe; he was hoping that his slavish behavior would be reported to Zardari.
Organizers of the session tried to SHIELD Aitzaz, Ahsan Iqbal and Salman Butt by censuring pointed questions - one question to Aitzaz was why he did not break with BB when she made a deal with Musharraf and why did he not break with Zardari after the man ridiculed the 'long march'?
The question to Salman Butt that was suppressed was that in view of his current denunciation of dictatorship, did he think collaboration with Zia was a mistake?
The question to Ahsan Iqbal was how could he demand restoration of the judiciary when his boss Nawaz Sharif had sent gangsters whose ranks included sitting ministers and members of the Punjab Assembly and advisers to the PM, to assault the CJ Sajjad Ali Shah when the latter was presiding over a case in Lahore. The poor man (CJ) had to seek shelter in his chambers. (When asked the reason for suppression of the questions by organizers of a group which ostensibly stood for Democracy and Justice, the patently lame excuse was that the questions were redundant, as some one else had asked similar questions. The fact of the matter is that nobody had).
Aitzaz was asked this question in the FIRST SEMINAR and had waffled his response. Aitzaz and Ahsan Iqbal both indulged in a pathetic display of semantics when asked to comment on the state of cooperation between Nawaz League and PPP, much like Clinton's handling of the Monica Lewinsky affair. This too was in the FIRST seminar.
The audience in both seminars was partisan, crying hallelujah for Aitzaz, lauding Ahsan Iqbal, friendly to Salman Butt, tolerant of Imran Khan's man, but openly hostile to Farooq Sattar and Haqqani after his outburst.
The evening brought good news for Zeelaf Munir who won the President’s office by a landslide. It was her third attempt. In the second bout she had gone to a court and had the elections nullified. In the last one she had tied with the current president and had conceded after she was assured by the other candidate of the support of former Jamiat Talba Islami members and the conservative element in APPNA. She had finally found the winning combination, her own DOW Alumnus, which is the largest in APPNA and her erstwhile opponents.
The evening was devoted to banquets - the main one was attended by about 3,000 persons. A Mushaira followed. There was a bit of the usual confusion, the room changed at the last minute, and proceedings announced for 10 pm started at about 11.45 pm-par for the course in Pakistan, but a bit too much for this country.
The organizers were promoting a book on health problems of Allama Iqbal by one of their colleagues. This was no doubt a worthy undertaking but out of place in a mushaira. They audience was already annoyed by the delay and one person loudly protested that had the organizers started on time, they could put up with such scholarship for a brief time.
Fortunately both the organizers and local poets, poets among doctors and a few visiting ones took the hint and kept their presentations short.
The mushaira came alive with the recitation of a 'revolutionary' poem by Aitzaz Ahsan. Patience was rewarded by Ahmad Faraz who offered several ghazals and nazams.
The hour being late, it was past 3 am, most of the audience had left when it came to the turn of Gopi Chand Narang who was supposed to give a talk to boost the book on the health history of the Allama. The Allama, we were told, had more faith in Hakeem Sahiban than in the skills of practitioners of Western medicine.
Activities besides meeting sand politicking merit a brief mention. The whole underground floor of the hotel was occupied by vendors of clothes, jewelry, bookstalls nearly all on Islam, insurance and investment merchants, some art work and a food dispenser who did the most roaring business. The food merchant offered his wares on the main floor as well and a late supper and breakfast were also available.
With family members and registrants, I would estimate about 4,000 persons attended and food cost alone must come to over $ 200,000. Add airfare, gasoline cost for the many who had driven to DC, hotel charge, registration fee, shopping and sundry expenses, the total would, at a conservative estimate, be well above a million dollars which even with the current sorry state of the value of American currency is a considerable amount of money.
I noted a thick overlay of religiosity. I have no problem with religion per se, it is a private affair, but APPNA is a secular organization and has, besides Muslims, Hindu, Christian and Parsi members. The glossy summer meeting program had devoted a full page to Prayer services. It did mention that 'Harding Room' was a multi-faith prayer room and members of all religious groups were welcome, then it went on to give times of Fajr, Dhuhr, Jummah-incidentally all Arabised- etc, with nary a mention of Hindu, Christian and Parsi services.
I am not quite sure if promotion of a religion falls within the purview of the organization’s 501c3 status as a professional body, but the current president was a prominent member of Jamiat Talaba Islami in Lahore. Not too long ago, this group was reportedly instrumental in getting some Ahmadi students expelled from a medical college in Pakistan.
Besides the "Uplifting Our Families" session mentioned above, religious offerings among exhibitors were beaten only by clothiers and actually came ahead of jewelers.
APPNA offered a free copy of Jimmy Carter's "PALESTINE, PEACE NOT APARTHEID" which could only be justified by the nebulous concept of a Muslim "Ummah" as Arabs have generally favored India over Pakistan, in its disputes especially the one over Kashmir.
Incidentally, it is curious that American politicians develop a conscience only after they leave office.