Summary – May 30-2016 /The Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) Annual Spring Meeting was held at the Miami Beach Fontainebleau, presenting a forum to build bridges with elected officials and nurture understanding between Pakistan Americans and the nation’s citizen’s and media.
by Cristiane Roget, PR Global Media correspondent
Miami Beach/FL While Londoners celebrated the remarkable triumph over racial and religious tensions by electing Sadiq Kahn as the first ever Muslim Mayor of a major Western City and President Barack Obama hailed German Chancellor, Angela Merkel as “being on the right side of history” as the EU grapples with millions of displaced, war-torn Syrian refugees ; the United States spirals further down a slippery slope into the embrace of fringe politics. Since becoming the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Mr Trump has double downed on his bombastic promise to “ban all Muslims from entering the US”. Conversely APPNA members met on May 8th at the Fontainebleau Hilton for their Annual Spring Symposium to espouse the principles that have truly made ‘America great’. That is self-government, civil liberties, the culture of democracy, and the ideals of a free and open society.
APPNA Secretary, Dr. Iqbal Zafar Hamid a defacto public relations maestro was the driving force behind the APPNA social forum. He and guests countered the prevailing toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense. APPNA’s message is that of abundant philanthropic initiantives and Pakistani’s contributions to the betterment of communities here and abroad.
Located in the luxuriously appointed Fontainebleau Hotel & Resort the APPNA symposium, conference, trade show, lavish ‘souk’ of couture fashion and a French inspired Carnival produced by Kikimora Studio was chaired by the esteemed Dr. Mian Ahmed Hasan.
The annual APPNA gathering was joined by emerge USA members; a proactive organization that seeks to engage, educate and empower the Pakistan American community. Over 300 physicians, healthcare professionals, business leaders, civic and political outreach groups came together with the conference including three days of panel discussions and certification classes. Among the main topics of discussion was, ‘The Role of the Pakistani Diaspora within the nation rising tide of bigotry and racial tension’.
With Besheer Mohammed of the Pew Research Center putting the domestic Muslim American population at 3.3 million or 1% of the United States 322 million, “the vitriol and hate speech targeting this minute fraction is all the more vexing,” says Amjad Tareen, President and Founder of Physician rxDispensary, a Division of New Horizon RX, Incorporated.
Founded as a non-for-profit charitable organization in 1977, APPNA’s current South Florida Director of Public Affairs, Khalid Minhas, M.D. estimates there are over 15,000 Physicians and Medical Healthcare workers of Pakistan descent in the USA. The organization’s core mission has historically been community outreach, medical philanthropy in the service of the under served here and abroad. With a long standing commitment to continuing medical education for physicians and health care professionals the undercurrent of this year’s gathering was that of a group under siege.
Also attending was a groundswell of grass root organizations and academicians that included the ACLU, emergeUSA, Special Counsel to the US Attorney’s Office and Professors from Florida International University. How to build bridges where there are walls was the overriding theme of many discussions.
Presided over by APPNA President, Dr. Nasar Qureshi, M.D. the panelists included Ghazala Salam, Executive Director of emergeUSA, Dr. Mohammad Homayounvash, Professor at Florida International University (FIU) and Nezar Hamze, Law Enforcement Officer of the State of Florida. Sporting a blond, military sanctioned buzz cut Officer Hamze could be a ‘poster boy’ for dispelling Muslim American stereotypes.
Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU and Norman Hemming, Special Counsel to the United States Attorney , Khurrum Wahid and Moderator Dr Zaffar Ibal spoke passionately about pushing back within the legal framework against escalating indignities and unfounded prejudices most claim to have encountered.
Speaking in a collective refrain they came to Americas seeking freedom in the pursuit of higher education in medicine with family, community and country as their guiding principles.
According to latest census reports; over 55% of all Pakistan Americans graduate with a four year college degree. This is almost double the college degrees awarded Anglo Americans in 2015! Yet, in spite of their status as exemplary citizens; Pakistan Americans are alarmingly finding themselves in the cross hairs of baseless discrimination and prejudice.
The Washington Post conducted a study in 2014 to examine religious identity and workplace discrimination against American Muslim doctors. Findings suggested that, ‘nearly half felt more scrutiny at work compared to their peers and one in four said they experienced religious discrimination’. Almost 10 percent of the physicians said patients had refused their care because they are Muslim,” according to the study.
The media has further inflamed Anti Islam rhetoric. Feeding the vocal minorities’ voracious appetite for the sensational and socially extreme. Veracity and objectivity is sacrificed at the alter of the almighty Nielsen Ratings, the Tweet and the Facebook’s ‘thumbs up’ emoji. Journalistic ethics promising to earn the public’s trust by fact checking and vetting have been further eroded by the notion anything worth saying can be conveyed in 140 characters or less.
Popular media does little to debunk unfavorable Pakistan and Muslim American stereotypes if not exacerbating negative perceptions. Case in point, the Miami Herald news staff including editors on the Health & Education, Metro, Daily News and Investigation desks were contacted and invited to attend the APPNA proceedings. Academics, doctors, business leaders, distinguished members of the community and keynote speaker Jalil Abbad Jilani, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to the United States of America on the dais not one of those contacted felt compelled to return the call, attend or send someone in their stead.
This display of apathy toward a profession that holds American lives in the balance is all the more worrisome given the abundance of headlines devoted to ‘sand box bullying’ and the heated debate about ‘gender differentiation of public bathrooms’ .
Peter Hanna a second generation Egyptian and healthycell (R) representative (founded in part by Nobel Prize nominee Dr. Vincent Giampapa) commented , “Our attention has been diverted in finding ways to resist racism. Indeterminable waits at airport security , being scrutinized or heckled in public places, disparaging comments by the media to outright violence have become commonplace. Regrettably non Anglo Americans of late are prone to keep their heads down and soldier on, which in a way is counter intuitive. To dispel unfounded stereotypes we must have the courage to make ourselves and our good works visible”.
Panelists and audience explored constructive ways to counter prejudice. “Be less inclusive”, said Ghazala Salam, a former homemaker admitted she never thought of herself as a community activist. “Yet as a force of necessity”, she left her comfort zone to join emerge USA while championing voter registration and stressing the importance of being heard where it counts, in the voter booth.” She described a case in one district where there were over a 1000 registered Muslim Americans and only six voters turned up at the polls. “We must take a leadership role and set an example to our community and the nation at large.”
Sarah Cochram in a blog on the emergeusa.org web site, discouraged the use of the term islamphobia saying, “it allows people to deflect the real problem of plain old ignorance about the faith and culture. Perpetuating a ‘them versus us” mentality polarizes rather than offering a compassionate approach to education and reasoning, which is the basic tenet of Islam.”
Pakistan Medical professionals like all victims of racism are beginning to coalesce as a united voice. APPNA members were encouraged to join cross-over civic organizations, Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, Shriners or Remote Area Medical (RAMusa.org). Divisiveness disappears when everyone participates for the greater good or sports the same hats.
APPNA advocates a groundswell of awareness building, grassroots activism and community engagement aimed at countering the prevalence of an especially virulent form of xenophobia. In a report by the Anti-Defimation League entitled Extremism in Florida: The Dark Side of the Sunshine State there is evidence Florida possesses a significant extremist fringe that frequently poses threats to its citizens, public officials and law enforcement officers.
According to M. Nasar Quereshi, MD, PhD and APPNA President, “The Pakistani Medical community and Pakistani citizens excel professionally with an abiding respect for family and community. APPNA Members participate in countless outreach programs that provide education, mentoring and, free primary healthcare irrespective of race, gender, nationality or financial status. APPNA is one of the largest ethnic medical societies in North America. is non partisan and in most in cases goes unacknowledged accept for those on the receiving end of our brand of heartfelt altruism”.
To paraphrase John Adam’s, a founding father and Republican, “it is now that politicians and citizens alike must reexamine the principles and courage that built our nation. We need to regain our capacity for sober second thought and recover our own noblest convictions of an all inclusive government for and by ALL of the people.
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*APPNA is a not-for- profit organization registered in the State of Illinois, and designated as a tax exempt charity under the section 501 (c)(3) of Internal Revenue Code. APPNA is a charitable organization dedicated to fostering scientific development and education in the field of medicine and to delivering better health care, irrespective of race, color, creed, or gender.APPNA members participate in medical relief and other charitable activities at home and abroad. APPNA physicians have actively participated in the relief activities in the aftermath of 9/11, Katrina,the 2005 Pakistan Earthquake, Nepal Earthquake, 2015 Pakistan Earthquake and other natural disasters and humanitarian campaigns aroundthe world. The organization holds conferences in different locations throughout North America and an annual Summer Conference. There are regional chapters for all major parts of the United States and Canada, with some areas having multiple chapters. APPNA has also helped develop North American alumni association chapters for all major Pakistani medical colleges.