Spokesman of multiculturalism
A physician, journalist and psychiatrist Dr Tanveer Ahmed feels Islam will ultimately have to address its imagined opposition with the West
Dr Tanveer Ahmed was in Pakistan from April 26th to May 2nd representing UNIFEM Australia to launch the White Ribbon Campaign in Pakistan. Dr Ahmed is a psychiatrist and writer who has worked with South Asian communities in Australia. Trained as a physician, journalist and a psychiatrist in training, he has worked with people who attempted suicides, survivors of domestic violence and maladjusted urban immigrant youth in Australia.
As a medical student at Sydney University, he was conscious of the relevance of the social and human sciences and studied anthropology and political science as part of his double degree. Then he stopped his education for a couple of years to work as journalist and started writing regular columns on politics and society for Australia's major newspapers. After working for about two years as a journalist, he returned to his medical studies and completed his training. His idea of combining medical knowledge, journalism, electronic media, and psychiatry seems to be a great insight for analysing the psychological problems of Muslim immigrants in Australia. That is what this writer felt when he started explaining the communal life of Australian Muslims by using psychological terms at a collective level.
Like every civilisation, Muslims in Australia imagine a Golden Past and feel threatened by the dominance of a non-Islamic system in the public sphere. This produces a sense of neurotic anxiety, Dr Ahmed argues, about the control over the domestic sphere which can often lead to violence against women. His analysis is similar to that of Barbara Metcalf, the translator of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi's book Bhishti Zevar. When the Muslim male feels powerless about his influence in the external world, he can show his anxiety in a neurotic way in the home. These, and many other insights, sound more authoritative when coming from a media-savvy doctor and psychiatrist who has chosen to diagnose the travails his own community in Australia.
He himself has lived through all the problems and distinctions of immigration. After his parents migrated from rural Bangladesh to Sydney, he started attending a public school and then he was awarded a scholarship to study at Sydney Grammar School, one of the most prestigious schools in Australia which functions as the preparatory institution for the sandstone universities of Australia. He was the only Bangladeshi kid in his class and that made him aware of the problems of his community. The Bengali immigrant parents were not preparing the next generation for the knowledge and service industries of the future. He felt they were too busy with the struggle to survive to help their kids attain any privileged intellectual position. Perhaps, that is why, later in his life, he became the most famous media intellectual of his community. He started writing about the psychological problems of minorities and gender hierarchies.
He worked with far-flung aboriginal communities, analysed their drug addictions fuelled by a sense of having been relegated to the wrong side of history. He dealt with emergency room resuscitations of attempted suicides of Muslim women who had been forced into marriages without any regard for their own choices. He witnessed the level of desperation among medical trainees in the Australian medical education system. And he started voicing all these concerns in various newspapers and TV channels of Australia. The government of Australia recognised him as one of the 100 most-influential public figures of the future.
His future plans are to help Islam reconcile with Western modernity without any narcissistic fears and help Muslims deal with the consequences of the encounter with the West. He feels he can apply his knowledge of medicine, psychiatry, and anthropology on Islam as a civilisation. That is why he is planning on writing a book on Muslim immigrants in Australia, especially on their problems of integration in a Western society. He thinks Islam, as a civilisation, will have to ultimately address its narcissistic and imagined opposition with the West.
He becomes passionate when asked about masculine domination in Muslim societies. He starts giving me a long list of syndromes which can be applied to men who are insecure and become violent to assert their dominance in the domestic sphere. Soon he changes the topic to other problems in Australia. Then I ask him about multiculturalism in Australia. He thinks the white people are a minority in Sydney. He gives the example of a high school game "Find the Aussie" in which students has to spot a white Australian kid in the class and it is such a difficult task when one is surrounded by Lebanese and Vietnamese students.
Amid all these concerns, South Asian Muslims remain the focus of his analytical acumen which, though sometimes mercurial, is going to serve the cause of multiculturalism for decades to come.
Published in The News on Sunday
dated May 10, 2009