Words Count

Words Count

The first op-ed came about by chance. Someone in his high school wanted a Muslim student to respond to the September 11th attacks, and Hamdan Azhar, MS ’10, volunteered. The effort revealed a side of himself he hadn’t seen before. “I found I had a somewhat unique voice to contribute—as a Muslim-American child of immigrants, writing about my experiences and perceptions.”

He’s been blogging ever since: at Penn State, where he majored in economics; at Michigan, where he earned an MS in biostatistics; and now at the University of Chicago, where he’s a doctoral student in neuroscience.

“I am very much driven by the belief that scientists and researchers should be fully involved in public life,” says Azhar, who was born in Pakistan and emigrated to New York City with his family when he was two. “In public health we learn about statistical models to quantify the effects of smoking, obesity, etc., but when I walk outside and see children starving, hunger, people who don’t have water, it behooves me to say something about that.”

As a young Muslim-American, he adds, he hopes his opinion pieces will help foster tolerance and understanding in his adopted country—especially among his fellow Americans “who might not be close to a diverse society.”

What He Says:

“I was returning home on a Sunday evening from a leisurely drive to Canada two weeks ago, and the Customs and Border Protection officer in the booth had a blank look on his face. Biostatistics, I explained, is the application of statistics to medicine and public health. ‘I think that’s a bit above my pay grade,’ he chuckled. I laughed and assured him that he wasn’t alone in his confusion. Moments later, my car had been surrounded by heavily armed agents dressed in black and I was being asked to hand over my keys and step out of my vehicle. I had entered the legal netherworld of the border, and it would be an experience to remember.” —“White Rivers, Brown Skin, and Black Deeds: Into the Rabbit Hole of Border Detentions and Racial Profiling,” The Huffington Post, September 3, 2009

“‘Muslims are terrorists,’ we were told. ‘They want to destroy us.’ Paralyzed and in shock, we asked, our voices full of trepidation, ‘We are Muslims. Do we want to destroy us?’ We were told to keep quiet and be good citizens—not asking too many questions and submitting to authority. And so, the war generation came of age.”
“A Generation Defined by War,” Counterpunch, May 14, 2008

“So many in our society remain mired in archaic notions of ‘us’ vs. ‘them,’ of ‘the same’ vs. ‘the other,’ failing to realize how useless these constructs are in this day and age.”
—“‘Ground Zero Mosque’: Islamophobic Extremists Are Fueling the Controversy,” The Christian Science Monitor, August 4, 2010

“Religious intolerance poses a much greater threat to the United States than external terrorism. America must understand that Osama bin Laden is not representative of Islam, but of himself. While terrorism can destroy our biggest buildings, it is intolerance that will destroy the spirit of liberty upon which this nation was built.”—“What about Me?” Science Survey, October 2001

“[Gen Pervez Musharraf’s] eight years in power have been a hallmark of vicious dictatorship … Human rights organizations have struggled to bring Pakistan’s dismal record to the fore for years but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.”
—“Pakistan and the American Dream,” Columbia Spectator, November 9, 2007