Sunday, June 19, 2005

Mukhtaran Bibi

I initially conceived of this blog as a way to discuss difficult questions that lacked easy answers, hence the title, which alludes to vague meandering and an absence of direction. But I have found that there are always issues with easy answers that demand attention, and I figure what little light I can shed on those issues can only do good. So today I write about Mukhtaran Bibi, the Pakistani woman whose struggles against an oppressive and near-sighted regime have slowly caught the attention of humanists and democrats across the world.

She was the victim of a village-council sponsored gang rape in Pakistan, which is also a death sentence for many women who cannot bear to live with the attached public shame. She chose a different path, "fighting back, opening schools for boys and girls to try and affect social change." The courage and nobility of her struggle caught the attention of western NGOs, one of which, the Asian-American Network Against the Abuse of Women, wanted to bring her to the United States on a speaking tour. The government, under orders from Pervez Musharraf, emprisoned her, blocked her visa, destroyed her passport, sent her back to her village. As of now, there will be no speaking tour of the United States, no chance for this strikingly courageous woman to speak to American men and women about the terror that faces women in her country each and every day.

Now that you know the story, if you didn't already, I have two points to make about Musharraf and how he is making a mockery of his own administration and a mockery of our government.

First, Musharraf apparently banned Mukhtaran Bibi from leaving the country because she would ba a blight on the good Pakistani name, a public relations nightmare unfairly portraying the plight of women in Pakistan. But, he swears, he's on her side. So two cases present themselves: Either Musharraf is lying about being on her side, or he has no fucking clue about how to use PR. I really don't know that much about Musharraf, but either seems plausible. The first case doesn't need much explanation, and it also doesn't take much to see how a savvy politician and supporter of Mukhtaran Bibi could have used her story to strengthen Pakistan's image in the west. Send Mukhtaran Bibi on a government-sponsored tour of the United States! Let her say everything she has to say without fear of reprisals. Create a public trust that will take revenue from ticket sales and donations, along with matching funds from world governments, including Pakistan's, to create education programs and outreach centers to prevent ritualistic gang rapes from ever happening again. I mean, it's so flipping obvious that Musharraf must be lying about his support for Mukhtaran, or be so cowed by the Islamist fundamentalists in his country that he's powerless. (And if that's the case, then he's really not much of an ally in the war on terrorism, is he?)

The second point I want to make is this. Musharraf and Pakistan are supposedly close allies in the war on "terrorism." What the hell is terrorism if it doesn't include the ritualistic gang raping of innocent women? Terrorism could be broadly defined as any violent or threatening act that promotes fear and disorder with the aim of overthrowing or blocking democracy. Gang-raping innocent women obviously fits that description. There is no democracy that does not promote the rights of all citizens, that does not protect them from brutalization and lawless, sadistic vigalantism. And there is no war on terror that does not root out and destroy that behavior. Men that would use autocratic, fictionalized Islamic law to rape a woman are no different from men who would reap destruction and kill innocent men and woman. They are cowardly, sadistic, cruel, and twisted. One of the less frequently heard criticisms of the war on terror, at least among main stream media types, is that it isn't broad enough. It doesn't understand terror's origins, its corrolaries, and, as Mukhtaran Bibi's shows, even ignores some of its most obvious and shocking manifestations. A war on terror that is literally a "war," and does not provide money for debt relief, economic development, the protection of women from vicious patriarchal regimes, is a sham. So we have a president who's allied himself with a man who ignores terrorism against his own citizens. This is our great ally in the war on terror.


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