Imran Khan’s latest publicity stunt is, ironically, to increase the number of Americans operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Imran won’t risk being called a traitor, though, because the Americans he’s importing are anti-drone activists. Actually, I have no problem with Imran inviting Americans to Pakistan. I wish more Americans were able to come and see the Pakistan I know – one that I think has very little in common with what they see on CNN. But I’ll leave aside for the moment the blatant hypocrisy of Imran Khan chanting ‘Go America Go’ on one day and ‘Come Americans Come’ when it suits his politics. What has really upset me is the way these American activist are being treated by the media, and what it says about how much we value (or don’t) our own brave women.
Picking up a copy of Dawn on Wednesday, my attention was grabbed by the headline, ‘Pakistan’s Rachel Corrie’. Rachel Corrie, in case you don’t remember, was an American woman who was killed in Gaza trying to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes. It is a tragic story of someone who is willing to sacrifice her own life to defend the rights of the oppressed. So who was this woman that Dawn declared as ‘Pakistan’s Rachel Corrie’?
Suzie Gilbert, a tall American woman with endless strands of curly long hair, immediately recognises the reference — the importance and its history. She informs that a lot of American delegates that have come to Pakistan have also been involved in peace activities in Gaza and Iraq.
Suzie Gilbert adds to the diversity of the delegation visiting Pakistan. She lives in Los Angeles and works in Hollywood. She has worked in various anti-war movies and knows the famous movie director Oliver Stone quite well.
So ‘Pakistan’s Rachel Corrie’ is a wealthy American woman? I disagree. Actually, Pakistan has not one, but many ‘Rachel Corries’, and none of them are from Hollywood. Here are just a few:
A woman, who anxiously awaited to be posted in a no-go area to serve those women and children of her community who have no access to basic rights and do not know how to raise their voices for these rights, was killed on the road in broad daylight.
The assassination of Farida Afridi, who was a member of an organisation working for women’s welfare in Jamrud, Khyber Agency, is one brutal example of this mindset which does not accept women out of the boundaries of their homes.
All Sherry Rehman wants is to go out – for a coffee, a stroll, lunch, anything. But that’s not possible. Death threats flood her email inbox and mobile phone; armed police are squatted at the gate of her Karachi mansion; government ministers advise her to flee.
“I get two types of advice about leaving,” says the steely politician. “One from concerned friends, the other from those who want me out so I’ll stop making trouble. But I’m going nowhere.” She pauses, then adds quietly: “At least for now.”
It’s been almost three weeks since Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was gunned down outside an Islamabad cafe. As the country plunged into crisis, Rehman became a prisoner in her own home. Having championed the same issue that caused Taseer’s death – reform of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws – she is, by popular consensus, next on the extremists’ list.
I welcome Suzie Gilbert and her colleagues to Pakistan, and I hope that they are permitted to see beyond the narrow view they are certain to get from Imran Khan and his Taliban security. But, please, don’t call them ‘Rachel Corrie’. We have our own heroines who have really risked everything to stand up for the oppressed, and they can never be replaced.