A Response to one of the most persistent questions put to an African American Muslim human rights advocate
AAt the time of this writing I sit in the home of my Houston (TX) host, Br. Khalid Zaman, in the final stages of preparation for what is expected to be a small, but very important, human rights initiative for an imprisoned Muslimah by the name of Aafia Siddiqui.
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui is an intellectually and spiritually gifted Pakistani national who has been imprisoned now for more than 11 years. She is a graduate with honors of both MIT and Brandeis universities, with a PhD in cognitive neuroscience; she is also a Hafiza of Qur’an (she has memorized the Qur’an).
In 2002, following 12 years of fruitful residence in the United States of America, Dr. Siddiqui returned home to Karachi Pakistan under a cloud of suspicion (primarily because of her activism as a student in the areas of dawah and humanitarian relief). The cloud became a raging storm in March 2003 when Dr. Siddiqui and her three young children (ages 6, 4, and six months) became targets of a rendition operation involving American and Pakistani government agents. She and her children were forcibly removed from a taxi while enroute to the airport to visit a maternal uncle in Islamabad, and were never heard from again until her mysterious reappearance in Afghanistan in the summer of 2008.
Where was she during these missing years? According to the official narrative she was an Al-Qaeda agent operating underground, or on the run, with her young children in tow. According to a number of former prisoners who were held at the American controlled Bagram Detention Center in Afghanistan, Aafia Siddiqui was the only female prisoner at Bagram at the time. She was the “ghost prisoner” known both for her haunting screams and the number she wore, “Prisoner 650.”
Following her forced return to United States – in violation of both Afghan and international law – a severely wounded Aafia Siddiqui (shot by an American soldier who panicked when he first laid eyes on her in the Afghan police compound) was held under pre-trial conditions that violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban against “cruel and unusual punishment,” for approximately 18 months before going on trial.
The trial of this political prisoner from start to finish was a shameful spectacle – prompting one non-Muslim female observer to shout out during the sentencing phase: “Shame, Shame, Shame on this court!” The forensic evidence was in Aafia’s favor, the government’s narrative of the alleged “crime” did not make sense, and the prosecution’s “star witnesses” contradicted themselves so much under oath that they should have been charged with perjury.
Despite these gaping holes in the government’s case, Dr. Siddiqui was convicted of attempting to murder US personnel in Afghanistan (i.e. soldiers, FBI, and probably CIA), and she was given a sentence of 86 YEARS – in spite of the fact that no one was injured but her! It is also important to note that while her rendition (secret disappearance and imprisonment) was based on the suspicion that she was an Al-Qaeda linked terrorist operative, Aafia Siddiqui was never charged with a terrorism offense!
The two oldest children (Ahmed and Maryam), U.S. citizens by birth, were returned to the family home in Karachi in 2008 and 2010 respectively. The youngest child, Suleiman, is still missing to this day and presumed dead.
Reason # 1: One of the most persistent questions directed to this writer by persons of different racial, religious, and political persuasions is “Why Aafia?” Implicit in this (for persons of sincere good will) is the question, ‘What is it about this particular case that has kept you (an African American Muslim) so passionately committed, when there are many other cases of injustice which also warrant attention?’ To this I say, there are a number of reasons. The summary of the case that you just read is Reason # 1.
Reason # 2: This is an enormous precedent-setting case involving a highly educated and committed Muslim woman who had so much to offer the world. (One of the tragic ironies is that the case of Aafia Siddiqui in many respects is like a Malala Yousufzai in reverse!) When the gravity of this case first came to our attention, we cautioned some of the leaders of our community that if we didn’t respond quickly and appropriately, it was a Muslim woman of Pakistani descent today; it would be other Muslim women of varying hues tomorrow. When U.S. prosecutors went after Palestinian-activist Rasmea Odeh (also unjustly convicted in a political trial), I thought again about the ominous warning that we delivered over five years ago.
Reason # 3: The challenge and opportunity that this case affords our community is quite significant. The Noble Qur’an and Prophetic Sunnah are clear on the responsibilities that we as Muslims have vis-à-vis the oppressed, and as it pertains to the general principle of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil for society as whole. This is so clearly evident in our faith tradition that there should be no need to cite the volumes upon volumes of chapter and verse. Instead, I would simply like to remind my brothers and sisters that the character of our faith community is being measured by how we respond to the challenges of our time. Dr. Siddiqui’s case is a major challenge (former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark has described it as the “worst case of individual injustice” he has ever witnessed), and as a result of the international attention it has received, it also affords us a major opportunity.
|According to a number of former prisoners who were held at the American controlled Bagram Detention Center in Afghanistan, Aafia Siddiqui was the only female prisoner at Bagram at the time. She was the “ghost prisoner” known both for her haunting screams and the number she wore, “Prisoner 650.”|
Reason # 4: The dangers of ignoring the plight of this long suffering Muslim woman are enormous. The plight of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui has become a rallying point for aggrieved Muslims in different parts of the world. International “extremist” groups have [mis]used her plight for ideological argument and recruiting purposes, while provocateurs in America (many of them government paid), as well as people of genuine good will, have referenced her ongoing plight as both an example of America’s profound shortcomings, and the inherent weakness of American Muslim leaders and institutions.
The greater danger is reflected in the following quotes from two historic personalities, Sheikh ibn Taymeeyah and [American Founding Father] Thomas Jefferson:
“Civilization is based on justice, and the consequences of oppression are devastating. Therefore it is said ALLAH aids the just state, even if it is not Muslim; and withholds His help from the oppressive state, even if it is Muslim.”
“I tremble for my country when I reflect God is just; His justice cannot sleep forever.”
We also have a warning directly from the Prophet himself (peace be upon him) to every generation of humanity until the end of time:
“You must surely enjoin the good and forbid the evil. Otherwise it is expected that ALLAH will send against you a punishment, and you will supplicate Him, but your supplications will not be answered.”
Reason # 5: The political nature of Dr. Siddiqui’s case, and the mounting evidence that relief must come through a political decision, has become clearly evident. The most recent compelling argument for an intensive and well organized struggle in the court of public opinion is the recent decision by the openly biased presiding judge, Richard Berman, to officially close her case. The illusion of any possibility of judicial relief is now completely off the table.
If we don’t ACT NOW Aafia Siddiqui will die (sooner rather than later) inside that notorious hell hole known as FMC Carswell! If that happens, our excessively imprisoned young men will not have a snowballs chance in hell of getting relief, and we will all be more vulnerable for it.
The author serves as Director of Operations for The Peace Thru Justice Foundation. He can be reached at .