Friday, February 19, 2010

Sparks in the Blackness


Maryam Sakeenah

The verdict against Aafia Siddiqui has brought to the fore many unanswered questions and several analysts even from within the United States have raised eyebrows over the inadequacy of the evidence provided. For one, there exists a huge gap in available information about the years she spent after her abduction in 2003 from Karachi, till her reappearance in Afghanistan in 2008. It is almost as if all those years and the record of the terrible atrocities and trauma she went through have been vaporised altogether with a ‘whisk!’ Still more startling is the fact that the seven counts on which she has been convicted do not include the charges of terrorism and support to Al Qaeda for which she was first held up. What can one call this? ‘Oversight’? Or perhaps an evidence of the fact that the charges of terrorism for which the mother of three was abducted and tossed about from prison to prison were false indeed. If so, what can justify the five tormenting years of crippling, grievous pain that have visibly reduced her to the frail, worn out, beaten down, haggard spectre she is today? Is there to be no accountability for the wrenching away of her two children, the rape, the physical injury and the emotional agony? Does it strike anyone at all that while not a figment of any sort of evidence could be found for her alleged shooting, it was the woman who was shot, wounded and mauled, reducing her to the wreck she is today?

The U.S justice system, with its ‘inability to handle the truth’, as Yvonne Ridley puts it[1], has attempted to gloss over the many striking nuances of the story. Considering the terrible crimes committed against her person which she is a living testimony to, she emerges as the horribly sinned-against, while U.S justice, in a vain effort to whitewash the country’s crimes and cover up its dirty secrets, insists on portraying her as the horrible Lady Al Qaeda, the ‘most dangerous woman in the world.’ Now, with no evidence found whatsoever, it is not so sure anymore. The verdict is an attempt at a make-over to evade the embarrassment. It is pathetic because nobody has been taken in with it.

The jugglery to cover up the muck of lies sustaining the War on Terror is understandable_ there is a lot America needs to cover up. Foremost is the dirty network of dungeons, cells and cages globally, with the Star-spangled banner triumphantly fluttering atop. To guard the dark secrecy of it, countless U.S diplomats, officials and stooges at their jobs have had to spin ready lies garbed in unashamed rhetoric. It is a network in the recesses of which unnamed thousands have gone missing; ‘vaporized’_ erased from official memory.

Petra Bartosiewicz, an independent journalist writing for ‘Democracy Now’ explains how the paranoia gripping the United States after 9/11 utterly reversed and overturned the established, time-tested norms of justice and legal procedure: “The War on Terror is fought largely through intelligence gathering, not really evidence building as in a crime like murder when you’re going back after the fact. Terrorism is fought mainly in terms of future: what is going to happen, who might do something, what might they do.”[2] Bartosiewicz goes on to say that such kind of intelligence is produced by detainees held up for investigation. So, the logical consequence is that security agencies strive to get more and more detainees for more intelligence gathering. False intelligence is generated with mass detentions and abductions which are not regulated by any law; hence extensive torture is used and thin, misleading evidence extracted. More innocents are detained in the course of this slipshod, warped up procedure. Their associations and connections are randomly used in order to get more information leading to further detentions. The vicious cycle continues.

This explains how, with every day that passes in a world embattled with a self-generated, indefinable ‘énemy’ figure, more are pronounced fair game in order to sustain a bizarre system built around paranoia. Thousands have been missing in Pakistan since shortly after 9/11. The Former General Musharraf unabashedly claimed having received dollars in exchange of extra-judicial abductions by intelligence agencies, while the families of the victims kept languishing in the backdrop_ at best dismissed as a slight irritant, as arrests and abductions sans judicial procedure or access to justice continued under state patronage.

This may certainly be one of the darkest instances of the fallout of Nine Eleven, but in the final analysis, it is not this that matters. Repression and injustice have always been meted out by those drunken with ‘Absolute Power.’ But the verdict of History has always denounced them for their puerile trickery without mincing words, for History makes no excuses. What towers above all, instead, is the counter-narrative of resilience and heroism, the small voices of resistance that matter in a big way.

Amina Masood Janjua, a Pakistani housewife whose husband has been missing since the past five years has spearheaded a vibrant, resilient struggle that has resounded powerfully with its message of persistence, courage and commitment, and while she still struggles and her cry falls on deaf ears, she has exposed in the process, the responsible authorities and decision-makers in their despicable pettiness. Her fighting spirit is venerable and towers above the pygmies-in-oversized-robes who can only produce vain, empty promises, rhetoric and lame justifications for the terrible injustice against the thousands who have been committed to official amnesia.

With the barrage of injustices and heinous crimes for the perpetuation of power all around us, one tends to lose faith in the worth of the resisting voice, the value of the dissenting individual. There are some, however, whose upstanding spirit refuses to succumb; who refuse to be earthbound and fade away into the anonymous horde of spectators and passers-by. They hold out, stand up against the winds, defy the norm of passivity and inertia and go where no road goes, taking the road with them.[3] They stand up and stand out. They get noticed, having it writ large that ‘you cannot fool all the people all the time.’[4] They do not await a Messianic figure to lead them out. They be the change they wish to see. They insist on acting out their sacred, noble dreams with open eyes, even though they may never live to see them to fulfilment. They win despite the odds, and reduce the titanic opposition they are pitted against to those trite, hackneyed characters history never acquits. They endure.

Muhammad Aamish is a young Pakistani student in New York who has begun a hunger strike all by himself in front of the United Nations General Assembly Headquarters in order to protest the verdict against Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. His individual initiative claimed media attention, making others join up alongside him. Still more heartening is the lone struggle of Muhammad Ali Salih who, now in his eighties, is a correspondent for Middle Eastern newspapers based in Washington. He stands in front of the White House, alone, silently holding the banner that asks on one side, ‘What is Terrorism?’ and on the other side, ‘What is Islam?’, hoping to provoke thought and discovery of the truth beyond the propaganda, stereotyping and misleading information. He launched his one-man campaign he calls his ‘jihad’ in front of the White House in order to protest America’s wars against the Muslims of Iraq and Afghanistan. In small print at the bottom of the banner he holds, it says, ‘I will be here until I die.’ Muhammad Ali Salih’s conviction to continue the struggle and brave the obstacles comes, as he says, from the Quran itself, which asks the faithful to ‘sacrifice their time, money, family and life to end injustice.’ He hopes to continue his unique ‘jihad’ in front of the White House ‘peacefully, silently and alone.’[5]

Events have their own way of unfolding at surprising times and in surprising ways, but someone has to be the first spark when things are at their bleakest and blackest_ and the rest is destined to be, eventually, even if we do not get to that ‘better place’ we believe in and strive for. The power and value of individual action is immense. While it may not suffice to materialize change, it does help set it in motion and lay the first brick, facilitate, initiate and set the trend of a movement on the contrary that can, at some point of time in future, become a formidable challenge to the status quo. It becomes an epicentre to trigger off communal activism that sends out the shockwaves for a tectonic shift. Students of history know that this is not an historical anomaly or a rarity.

What is heartening, in fact, is that in the midst of this murky abyss is the presence of these many, many dissenting voices, many narratives of resilience, resistance and courage. I can spot sparks in the pitch blackness that can illuminate the far horizons quivering in the translucence of tomorrow. The darkness may be oppressive and stifling, but the tiny sparks flicker ardently and boldly. It is these that matter in the long run. And it is these that carry me aloft the rising tides of Hope. The late Howard Zinn wrote: “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of sacrifice, courage and kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places_ and there are so many_ where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance to all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.”[6]

[1] Yvonne Ridley, ‘The Reality of U.S Justice’, The Nation, February 9, 2010.

[2] ‘Ignoring Torture Claims and Questionable Evidence, New York Jury Convicts Pakistani Scientist Aafia Siddiqui’, Democracy Now, February 4, 2010.

[3] Joscelyn Ortt, ‘Where No Road Goes.’

[4] Abraham Lincoln

[5] Muhammad Ali Salih, ‘My Jihad at the White House’, The Washington Post.

[6] Quoted by Matthew Rothschild, ‘Thank You Howard Zinn’, The Progressive Magazine.