Aafia Siddiqui

Dawn Editorial

Pakistani activists of the hard-line party Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) carry photographs of Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui as they shout slogans while they march toward the US embassy during an anti-US protest in Islamabad. – AFP Photo

FOR the most part, rational debate about the case of Aafia Siddiqui has not been possible. In part, it must be acknowledged, this is because an air of mystery still endures over where Dr Siddiqui and her children were for five long years between 2003 and 2008 and how she came to be ‘found’ in Afghanistan. Here in Pakistan, the vociferous protest about the ‘innocence’ of Dr Siddiqui has much to do with the suspicion that she has been a victim of the ‘war on terror’, a Muslim mother who was somehow targeted by an increasingly Islamophobic West because she proudly wore her Muslim identity. Inside the courtroom, however, such suspicions and fears were largely beside the point:

Dr Siddiqui’s decision to take the witness stand against all legal advice was largely her undoing, there being enough contradictions raised during her cross-examination that reasonable suspicion was created.

In truth, the case of Aafia Siddiqui was wrapped from the very beginning in all the contradictions and suspicions that characterise relations between Pakistan and the US. Post 9/11, the Pakistani state is accused here in Pakistan of throwing in its lot with the Americans, an unforgivable alliance with a superpower that has always been suspected of harbouring anti-Pakistan feelings. But the very same state machinery that is accused do-mestically of being an American lackey is accused in the US of playing a ‘double game’, working to undermine rather than promote American interests in the ‘Af-Pak’ theatre. Trying to reconcile those two positions is well-nigh impossible, largely because both sides are more interested in furthering their ideological and political agendas than the facts. But while polemical debates continue, the facts, the ‘ground realities’ as Pakistanis are wont to say, have continued to nudge this country towards ever more dangerous terrain.

Denialism embedded deep in the public psyche has allowed the real threat to the Pakistani state and society, religious extremism, to grow to dangerous proportions. The ‘impossibility’ of a Muslim committing a crime against another Muslim or the sympathy extended towards those who resort to violence against the West as ‘retaliation’ for its crimes against Islam and Muslims serve to obfuscate the campaign by a militant, fringe minority to hijack a religion of peace. The cancer within grows, ironically even as it is occasionally held up as a symbol of heroic resistance. If the government can, it must try and bring Aafia Siddiqui back to Pakistan, given the unsatisfactory conclusion to her trial. But long after the story of Dr Siddiqui will eventually fade, Pakistan will still be faced with an internal enemy it has not even begun to comprehend.
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