Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cry, Lady Liberty!

CRY, LADY LIBERTY! – Maryam Sakeenah

Shortly after the disappearance of young Dr. Afia Siddiqui and her three minor children from Karachi in 2003, the American news channel NBC reported that she had been arrested in Pakistan 'on suspicion of facilitating money transfers for Al Qaeda.' Both Pakistani and US intelligence agencies, however, have since sworn an oath of silence over the issue. Senior Pakistani ministers have denied knowledge of her whereabouts. The Pakistani authorities have, however, insisted that Dr. Siddiqui 'was connected to Al Qaeda,' and that 'you will be astonished to know about her activities.' No evidence of these suspicious activities, however, has ever been shown the light of day.

Lord Nazir Ahmed, British MP, raised the issue in the House of Lords, highlighting the rampant human rights abuse the prisoner was subjected to. He held that this woman prisoner from Pakistan was 'physically tortured and continuously raped by the officers at the prison, to the extent that she had lost her mind.' Soon after, on July 6, British journalist and revert to Islam Yvonne Ridley who authored the book 'In the Hands of the Taliban', appealed to the Pakistanis to secure her release. She said: Today I am crying out for help – not for me, but for a Pakistan woman who you and I have never met, but she is our sister in Islam and she is in desperate need. She has been held in isolation by the Americans in neighbouring Afghanistan. As you know I was also held in Afghanistan, in prison for 10 days at the hands of the Taliban in September 2001. My story made international headlines, front page pictures and major stories on television. I was released on humanitarian grounds without charge even though I was guilty of entering the country without a passport or visa.But there has been not one word, not one paragraph about Prisoner 650 – the Grey Lady of Bagram … a murderous detention facility under the control of the US Military and intelligence services. I call her the Grey Lady because she is almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continue to haunt those who heard her."

Yvonne Ridley quoted from former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Beg who authored 'Enemy Combatant', in which he recounts: "I began to hear the chilling screams of a woman next door. My mind battled with questions I was too afraid to ask. What if it was… my wife? Eventually I did agree to say whatever they wanted me to say, to do whatever they wanted me to do. I had to finish it. I agreed to be their witness to whatever. At the end of it all, I asked them, "Why have you got a woman next door?" They told me there was no woman next door. But I was unconvinced. Those screams echoed through my worst nightmares for a long time. And I later learned in Guantánamo, from other prisoners, that they had heard the screams, too, and believed it was my wife. They had been praying for her deliverance." Other detainees from Bagram have attested to the same. In an interview on TV, a former Bagram detainee confirmed he had heard a woman's screams, and also that he had seen her. He told that the other prisoners in Bagram had gone on hunger strike for six days to pressurize those incharge to stop torturing the woman. Yvonne Ridley continued: "Today I am making a demand that the US military hands over the Grey Lady immediately. We do not know her identity, we do not know the state of her mind, we do not know the extent of the abuse or torture. What I do know is that this would never happen to a western woman – what is wrong with the US military? Don't they value a Muslim woman, is her life worthless, does she not deserve to be treated with respect? In truth I don't think any of us with a conscience can rest until she is released. Sadly, she is not the only one."

Weeks later, due to the overwhelming media attention on the issue, a frail, battered, badly wounded and immobilized Dr. Afia Siddiqui was produced in a US court. Her Lawyer Elizabeth Fink stated: "She is complaining of abdominal pain. She understands she lost part of her intestine, and suffers from continual intestinal bleeding. She has been here, judge, for one week and she has not seen a doctor, even though they (U.S. authorities) know she has been shot." In view of the fact that Dr. Siddiqui had a serious wound in her abdomen and stitches all the way up her torso, the judge ordered that she must immediately be seen by a doctor. The explanation offered for the enormous and untreated bullet wound in her abdomen was that she had been 'allegedly trying to fire on a group of U.S. troops who had come to question her in an Afghanistan prison.' How a woman who could not even move, let alone walk, talk or even lift a gun shoot straight at an armed security officer defies any explanation. Ridiculously, the U.S. prosecutor told the court in an effort to explain, that this was 'a complicated situation,' and because of her 'alleged attack on an American officer', the decrepit woman was considered a 'high-security risk.' The US authorities pull a straight blank regarding the whereabouts and condition of Dr. Siddiqui's three minor children. There have been conflicting statements about whether they are alive and if so, where. While the unforgivable brutality inflicted on 'Prisoner 650' has been shamelessly justified on the grounds of her 'suspected involvement with Al Qaeda', no amount of 'logical discourse' or 'legal argument' can ever attempt to justify how and why her baby and two toddler sons have been 'punished.' So much for America's commitment to fundamental Human Rights and basic justice.

And yet, there are those who would jump in defence of this naked viciousness and barbarism, those sitting on high seats in prestigious offices of the great and mighty empire of the United States of America. Ms. Anne Patterson, US ambassador to Pakistan writes: "Ms. Siddiqui is accused of seizing a weapon and firing_ unprovoked_ on US personnel during questioning… At no time was Ms. Siddiqui mistreated or abused in any manner whatsoever… The United States has no definitive knowledge as to the whereabouts of Ms. Siddiqui's children… She is charged in a criminal complaint filed in New York with one count of attempting to kill US officers and employees, and one count of assaulting US officers and employees. If convicted, she faces a sentence of 20 years in prison on each charge."

After 9/11, the United States granted exclusive powers to the Executive to detain suspected terrorists for indefinite periods, denying judicial review of evidence on the basis of which a suspect is detained. The appalling truth, however, is that despite years of detention, the investigating authorities have utterly failed to produce any tangible evidence about involvement in terrorism, except for a minuscule percentage. The evidence found, however, in most cases, only proved that a number of detainees were being held without having any past record of links to terrorism, on the basis of mere suspicion.

With the issuance of John Yoo's famous 'torture memos', certain methods of torture for interrogation of suspected terrorists were also licensed. These "torture memos," advocate enhanced interrogation techniques. They attempted to make these war tactics acquire legality by refuting the Geneva Conventions altogether, so that violating them was no longer required. The government has authorized coercive interrogation methods publicly for non US citizens detained outside the US. For this purpose, the State has sent foreign terror suspects to locations outside the US where coercive interrogation (even involving torture in most cases) can be carried out. The US government holds an undisclosed number of detainees (presumably over 2000) at undisclosed locations. The CIA and FBI as a matter of course hand suspects over to foreign intelligence services for intensive interrogation. One US official was reported to have said, "If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job."

In 2004, horrifying images from Abu Ghraib prisons in Iraq were released into the media showing humiliation and abuse of prisoners. Shortly after, similar information about widespread prison abuse at Bagram prisons in Afghanistan was revealed. It afforded a glimpse into the inhuman barbarity unleashed on suspects and detainees that had been going on unabated behind the scenes.

The fact remains, however, that the Geneva Conventions signed and ratified by the US prohibit torture of prisoners of war even if obtaining information can save lives. The evidence that torture has in fact been used in US prisons has steadily built up revulsion in the public mind regarding the USA's counter terror strategy and its unscrupulous conduct. President Bush, however, remained on denial amidst allegations of the use of torture: "The United States of America does not torture. And that's important for people around the world to understand."

Military lawyer Alberto J. Mora reported that policies allowing torture methods were officially handed down from the highest levels of the administration. ABC News reported on April 9, 2008 that "the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency."

According to the New York Times, "What happened at Abu Ghraib was no aberration, but part of a widespread pattern. It showed the tragic impact of the initial decision by Mr. Bush and his top advisers that they were not going to follow the Geneva Conventions, or indeed American law, for prisoners taken in antiterrorist operations. The investigative file on Bagram showed that the mistreatment of prisoners was routine: shackling them to the ceilings of their cells, depriving them of sleep, kicking and hitting them, sexually humiliating them and threatening them with guard dogs -- the very same behavior later repeated in Iraq."

Steven C Welsh writes: "Under the Geneva Convention it is the United States as a nation which must confront its responsibility for the actions of the men and women representing it in its prisons."

The horrendous exposition of unabated use of the vilest torture on detainees, the latest of which that has come to light is the nightmarish tale of Dr. Siddiqui has left ugly, deep scars reaffirming the image of the US as a state not befitting of its gigantic role in world politics. With leadership comes responsibility. Abu Ghraib, Bagram and the suffering of Afia Siddiqui has taught us that the 'saviours' are no better than the 'terrorists' they fight. The gaping black hole of moral depravity at the heart of the War on Terror stands exposed. Perhaps uglier still is the façade of a superior civilization that the US chooses to put up, and to which Ms. Anne Patterson chooses to play along: "The US justice system is based on the abiding principle that defendants are innocent until proven guilty… We would encourage you to remain open-minded but skeptical of sensational allegations that have no basis in fact." Ms. Patterson's 'blind spot' towards the utterly miserable physical, emotional and mental state of Dr. Siddiqui who is as of yet legally unconvicted is only too obvious.

Prominent writer Bob Herbert rejects attempts at 'making over' the ugly face of the U.S like Ann Paterson has chosen to do: "... There is also the grotesque and deeply shameful issue that will always be a part of America's legacy -- the manner in which American troops have treated prisoners under their control in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. There is no longer any doubt that large numbers of troops responsible for guarding and interrogating detainees somehow loosed their moorings to humanity, and began behaving as sadists, perverts and criminals."

Abdul Malik Mujahid, understanding the degeneracy of a civilization represented through the horrors at US 'anti-terrorist' detention camps in an Islamic context, laments the loss of what Islam calls 'haya' in the West. 'Haya' implies an inner sensibility creating a sense of aversion from what is evil, obscene and indecent. It is a retraining influence that keeps the distinction between right and wrong, not letting it blur into a mishmash of confused morality. The Prophet of Islam (SAW) called it the 'distinctive feature of Islam.' Mujahid comments: "The photos of American soldiers abusing prisoners have stunned and disgusted the world. While such images shocked America, most Americans may not be able to comprehend what type of cultural threshold has been crossed in terms of dealing with Islam and Muslims. In a culture that sometimes values life less than honor, we have done the ultimate act of dishonoring people. May God forgive us. There certainly is a big cultural gap in the way people in the West deal with modesty and privacy of the body, and the way individuals in the Muslim world do, regardless of their level of Islamic practice. This Islamic sensibility of considering the human body part of a very personal realm is connected to the concept of honor, dignity and privacy. This should explain the deep pain, shock and horror over the nightmare of physical abuse and perverted sadism that went on in Abu Ghraib, (and that has victimized Dr.Afia Siddiqui and others like her). Unlike what some in America lead us to believe, no one hates America in the Muslim world because of democracy and freedom. It is the immorality of America (championed by Hollywood), along with American foreign policy which defines the conflict between the Westernized elite and religious elements in Muslim societies. Graphic images of this criminal behavior by some members of the most organized and educated army of the only superpower in the world are bound to become the most dominant images of this new "Crusade" in the collective psyche of Muslims."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Witnesses of History

The Witnesses of History and the Textbook-Suffocated Generation

Maryam Sakeenah

Having witnessed History unravelling before your eyes is a rare privilege. The few greying ones among us who Saw It All, lived the decisive moments are distinguished by the ‘undying flame’ in the ‘fine old eyes’, the glint and the sparkle as they relive it, sharing it with a less fortunate younger lot who have their history spelled out in books for them, having to be rote-learned, reproduced, graded, approved. The witnesses of history, it is quite remarkable, have an altogether different story to tell from what our bespectacled intellectuals and scholars would have us believe, with all the SAARC rounds, Agra and Delhi visits, intercultural exchanges and border vigils to their credit. This much was clear to me as I heard Professor Muzaffar Mirza speak on the Two Nation Theory a few days ago, presenting a refreshing, rare, unadulterated vision on the subject. The Professor discarded as nonsense all enlightenedly moderate attempts to nullify or denigrate the ideology of Pakistan, which, according to him, is indistinguishable from the ideology of the Quran. The Quranic ideology, he said, presented the revolutionary concept of the brotherhood of faith superceding the ties of blood and kinship. To him, the struggle for Pakistan was a sacred mission, a rare instance of a State coming into existence with Islam for its ideological premise, as stated by the Quaid e Azam: "Pakistan does not only mean freedom and independence for the Muslims of India, but also the glorious Islamic ideology which has come to us as a precious gift and a treasure." And again, "I cannot understand a section of the people who deliberately want to create mischief and make propaganda that the constitution of Pakistan would not be made on the basis of Shariah... Islamic principles today are as applicable to life as they were 1300 years ago. Non-Muslims have nothing to fear... Islam has taught us democracy. Let us make it the future constitution of Pakistan. We shall make it and we will show it to the world."
The Professor traced these ideological roots from the days of the earliest reformers of Muslim India who did the spadework: Sayyid Ahmed Shaheed and Shah Ismail Shaheed, Shah Waliullah and Haji Shariatullah, to name a few. To the younger lot, Prof. Mirza advised keeping alive the memories of the sacrifices involved- the millions slaughtered, raped and looted_ and to understand that the home we strove for was ‘not presented on a golden platter.’
Forging the connection with Pakistan Today turns rather poignant. It brings to the fore a stark contrast as a skewed doctrine of Enlightened Moderation, ‘axing the very basis of Pakistan’, as Prof. Mirza said, becoming a justification for a relentless ‘Operation Rah e Haq’ on the ‘militants’ who had won for us Azad Kashmir paying with their lives, and whose freedom had been guaranteed to them by the Quaid e Azam himself. Despite lamenting with a deep sense of hurt the loss of Pakistan’s sovereignty, the Professor refused to give up hope, quoting what the Quaid e Azam had said: “Pakistan is the will of God and must be fulfilled. It shall come into existence and will stay forever.” He advised us to forge a deeper and more vital bond with the Quran and to help take the country to the fruition of its sacred goal: to take a leadership role for the Muslim ummah in the years to come.
The Professor sets high standards for his country’s youth_ but perhaps not quite without justice, extracting his relentless Idealism from his witnessing of a glorious history, with the ‘khudi’ undimmed, refusing to fail him. It is perhaps this self-pride, this realization of the rich, glorious heritage of Pakistan that springs forth from the Quranic mission that explains and justifies the unfaded hope, vibrant optimism and visionary idealism of the witnesses of history. As Iqbal said through a dialogue by Satan in “Satan to His Allies”, “The starving wretched one who is utterly fearless of death, extort the Muhammadan spirit from his self.”
Again, it turns poignant to find this spirit amiss in the textbook-fed younger generation. As both a student and a teacher, this concerns me deeply. History is a treasury of our rich legacy to extract the jewel of a vital selfhood from. The teaching of history is the means to pass on the invaluable heritage, the legacy of millions. Sadly, however, I see failure on this front, which is paradoxically the triumph of the ‘Macaulayesque’ system, geared towards the mass production of an English-speaking, English-thinking elite ‘brown in skin, white in the mind,’ to perpetuate the sway and the agenda of the Occident. I see us carrying out the agenda like Macaulay’s envisaged efficient clerks.
For one, the entire thrust of the education system is to create efficient clerkish employees enabled with their degrees to swiftly rise up the social ladder and generate capital to make life comfortable. That is the highest goal the education system cannot see beyond, sans vision. Owing to this mislaid priority, the emphasis is on subjects that can get one a job with a good round salary. History and the Humanities altogether are at best a compulsive grind, unimportant non-utilities in the capitalistic rat-race.
On a cursory survey of currently available texts, there seem to be two parallel systems: the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) Ordinary Level for the English speaking upper middle and elite classes and the Matriculation system for The Rest. The texts for the latter are generally unattractively written and fail to create interest by way of the diction and the presentation of the content. The content is utterly unsuited to the child’s mind, being subjective, verbose and unpalatably and too obviously didactic. There is an absence of objectivity of fact and analysis, reflecting a lack of insight into a young mind. The heavy subjective discourse makes it too much learning and almost no opinion-making, conceptualization, analysis and debate leading to conclusions.
On the other hand, the O level and pre-O level textbooks come colourfully and attractively laid out with the ‘authenticity’ of Christian/Western names whose absolute convincing power to a mentally colonized people has an effective lure. The reason for the conspicuous absence of Muslim-Pakistani work on devising History texts is not just that we have a preference for the authoritative seal of a Western name, but also the fact that our researchers and writers have neglected this extremely important area, mired up in confusions, doubts and prejudices clouding over the question of our very identity. There are, again, gaping differences in the content/subject-matter in the Matric and O level sets of prescribed books. Only one such difference is that no O level text approved by the Cambridge International Examinations available in the market even mentions the subject of the ideology of Pakistan. Dissolved into controversies regarding if an ideology of Pakistan worth the name even exists, the writers seem to have done away with the theme altogether. Its implications, however, are shocking indeed. Taking away the ideological basis of Pakistan trivializes the Pakistan Movement, swallowing it up in a tangle of doubt and confusion. It robs the country of the raison de etre of its existence, takes away its fundamental premise we are to build on, the direction we must steer forth towards. It minimizes the history of the Pakistan Movement as merely a separatist struggle which ended up in the butchered millions in the bloody year 1947. It blurs the distinctness of our identity the Two Nation Theory was based on, which ought to do us proud. It is here that a stunting apologia, identitylessness and a confusion of values takes root; it is this that is the crowning glory of the Macaulayesque system eating into our roots; and it is this that lends strength to ‘Enlightened Moderation’ as the student is led to conclude that to make amends for the maniacal separatism of Partition rooted in religion, we must turn towards Secularism to redeem ourselves.
This same myopic thesis is rubbed in through other ways. Jinnah is characterized as a Westernized secularist character. O level texts demonstrate a complete absence of verbatim quotes and references from the Quaid himself to support the secular view ascribed to him, probably because the overwhelming mass of his statements supports the Islamic ideological base that nullifies the secular proposition in one blow. There is a stray excerpt, however, that is repetitively quoted, referenced, inscribed, embossed and rubbed in in almost all O level texts, taken from the Quaid’s 11th August speech in which he said “you are free to go to your mosques, you are free to go to your temples and you are free to go to your Churches, that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” This is done in an effort to justify and create grounds for holding the belief that Pakistan was meant to be a secular state. The fact that a state guaranteeing freedom of worship and belief for all minorities is nothing but Islamic_ as made amply clear by the pluralism of the first Islamic State at Madinah_ does not matter; nor does it matter that there exist several more statements by Jinnah by the dozen which make his vision of an Islamic state with a democratic culture and with the welfare of its people as its priority sufficiently clear. This is what he meant when he spoke his historic, ideology-setting lines: “It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great law-giver, Prophet Mohammad (SAW) of Islam. Let us lay the foundations of our democracy on the basis of true Islamic ideals and principles. Our Holy Book has taught us that our decisions and affairs of the State shall be guided by discussions and consultations.” The emphasis on the single statement from the 11th August speech is disproportionately emphatic, laying bare the ulterior purpose in doing so.
In the majority of the pre-O level textbooks of History being taught in English medium schools, pre-Pakistan Movement heroes of our history are not only dwarfed and trivialized but implicitly maligned, their portrayals tarnished with Orientalist prejudices. Defined by Nine Eleven standards, men of integrity and valour like Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali, Mahmud Ghaznavi and Muhammad Ghauri are presented as not-so-grand-after-all, but rather as intolerant and violent plunderers and extremist fanatics. Short of a clear statement, the tact used by the writers is to drown them in a cauldron of debate and controversy stopping short of a clear conclusion, leaving the student with more queries than answers.
The abysmal state of the teaching of history at the secondary school level is not likely to better itself as our intellectuals and scholars sink deeper into opposing polarities of perspectives rooted in prejudice and the effects of intellectual colonialism. The presentation of Muhammad bin Qasim as a Muslim hero and pioneer, and his advent into the subcontinent as the dawn of our national history is called into question, and the origins of our history traced back to pre-Islamic names like Asoka and Maurya. We are at pains to distort history to forge closer ties somehow with South Asian culture and heritage, calling it our own to a degree more meaningful than our ties to the first Muslim community at Madina. The effort here is to create cultural cohesion with Hindu India at the cost of severing ties with ‘foreign’ Islamic Arabia. This strikes at the heart of the Two Nation theory that severed the territorial link with Hindu India for the sacred, deep ideological affinity with Islam; that springs from the desire to hold on to the tree of the Muslim millat in order to seek strength to rise again with self-pride, resist the colonizer’s sway and develop a vision for the future. It was the Muslim Way that made the decisive difference, overcoming all ties of earth and blood. And it is this that made us rise again to our feet, galvanizing us from a frustrated mass of people into a nation with a future. It is this that enabled us to win the freedom to live by our own way through a historic epoch, an earth-shaking revolution with the battlecry of ‘Pakistan ka matlab kiya, la ilaha il Allah.’ And it is in the realization of and reversion to the same that will rid us of the pettiness of vain prejudice against ourselves, making us discover and appreciate what is truly us, sans the self-imposed trappings of vanity and falsity.
Sadly, today the Verdict on us is ‘Guilty.’ Today we are bent double under the burden of the guilt for having failed to safely deliver to the future the treasury of our history; and for having cluttered it up with so much of prejudice and confusion that the treasure lies lost somewhere, while the lies cloud over it with all their deceptive sheen. We are the sinners against History, and I wonder if we even deserve a future?
I look at the news strip on TV, the saddening headlines. I am not surprised. This is the Revenge of History.