I have waited to comment on the case of Dr. Aafia because, honestly, it is a sad and strange affair that is heartwrenching for many reasons. I wanted to be sure that my thoughts were put together in a way that made some sense, and that I was not simply another chattering voice talking needlessly. I am moved to write today, though, becuase there are two others who have written about the issue and I believe they deserve to be addressed.
The first I will mention is today’s editorial in the The News, “Judged guilty,” which I think expresses my feelings on the matter quite well. Partly, I am of course frustrated with her actions and the way that she makes Pakistanis look in the eyes of people abroad.
It is believed that her stubborn insistence to speak in her own defence, against the advice of lawyers, did nothing to help her cause; on the contrary, it has irreparably hurt it. Certainly her vitriolic outbursts against Jews and her outpourings of anger could not have gone down well in a courtroom unaccustomed to such demonstrations of hatred based along the lines of religion.
But how can my heart not go out to this woman who is my Pakistani sister caught up in a madness that is both larger than her and outside of her control? Knowing that she has seen the abuse that she has seen, that she has, for whatever her crimes, been subjected to some inhuman treatment; wondering if this truly began at home, and then moved through multiple countries like an international tour of torture. How can this happen without my feeling it in my own skin?
There can also be no doubt whatsoever that she has suffered terrible abuse. The fate of her two young and innocent children is unclear. The US must also investigate what happened to Dr Aafia and the role its operatives played in this. People in Pakistan deserve to know what happened to the young mother from the time she left her home in Karachi in March 2003 to her discovery in 2008 several years later, in a state of horrific mental and physical decline, in a jail cell in Afghanistan. Those responsible for inflicting the torture she suffered deserve punishment, too.
But again, there is a certain urgency to discovering what has happened, is there not, from a sense of self-protection not only from extrajudicial interrogations, but from the very groups that Dr. Aafia seems to have been in contact with somehow. This was not some uneducated person desparate for money or attention. She was among our nation’s ‘best and brightest.’ How could she have gotten mixed up with these extremists?
However, we need to know what, if any, were her links with terrorists, the role her former husband played in all this and quite why the investigators believe she acted as a key Al Qaeda operative. The trail from an ordinary middle-class household to top universities in the US and then to prison in New York needs to be followed. It could offer an insight into the working of extremism. There is reason to believe that even now, groups are active in attempting to win over the minds of the best and brightest in the country. They must be prevented from doing so. This is possible only by rising above the hysteria that has been constantly present in the case of Dr Aafia and by logically, and truthfully, investigating the many facets that lie behind her tragic story.
And here is where I must address the other voice that has bothered me from my slumber. Just as The News has so perfectly addressed the different, sometimes conflicting issues involved with this sad and strange case, there are also some individuals who are using the story for their own purposes, whipping up they very hysteria that The News warns against.
The individual who I am thinking of is none other than Ahmed Quraishi, the Pied Piper of frantic conspiracies and misinformation, leading our nation’s youth away from reason and intellectual honesty. On his website this week, Quraishi has planted the accusation that there was some sort of conspiracy involving head money paid for Aafia. He does this in the typical fashion of conspiracy theorists and propaganda artists by first asking the question “Was there some head money paid?” Then his tone shifts and he simply states that it was paid, despite the fact that he can provide no evidence. Only does it exist in his own mind.
Naturally, this means there is some conspiracy, some secret cabal of traitors who must be taking foreign money to turn over Aafia, despie Quraishi’s own admission that she was involved in some shady affairs, and despite the fact that he has no evidence of this actually happening. Now he will try to pass this mental virus that infects him on to his followers, like a sick man in a market infecting those who pass him while going about their business.
But what is the purpose of this hysteria? Quraishi, it is obvious from his writing, is simply trying to manipulate our frustrations and heavy emotions over the affair to try to place some blame on the government. But the government did not create Aafia. She was a creation of many factors in our country and the world at large.
The case of Dr. Aafia is a sad and strange affair, but it is one that we can take some lesson from if we approach it with reason and intelligence. Let us come together in this mindset, and use the opportunity to move forward to make a better path for the future so that we can heal our national wounds and turn this sad case into hope for a better tomorrow.