I can hear them snickering disdainfully in the Oval: "All this fuss for one little woman, one illiterate Pakistani from a rural province. Don't these idiots know there are sensitive geopolitical politics at stake here? We're a nation at war. We must support President Musharraf. It is vital to the region."
Well here's a little more fuss for you, Mr. President - your great ally, the wonderful President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan is a weak, woman-hating, dreadful coward of a man, a friend of those who would rape to humiliate and scorn, and pillage for power and perversion.
I speak, for those who haven't heard the news, of the Pakistani government's kidnapping of worldwide symbol of peace and reconciliation, Mukhtaran Bibi, who I've written about before (here and here) on this blog. It sounds quaint and facile and boyish, but Mukhtaran Bibi is my hero - a small, willful package of courage and steel in the face of group torture and violence by the weak-souled, God-hating cowards who would make her a victim.
Victim is a label Mukhtaran Bibi refuses to accept. I read Kristof's column on the train coming in, and got the email from my friend Declan Hill at Oxford, who's been raising money and awareness about Ms. Bibi. And the news is appalling. The full column is below (I rarely quote in full, as a once and future journalist who has been paid for his work; but human rights trumps fair use, my friends).
If you're going to give me link, you folks in the RSS feed, do it today. Or just write your own short item. Or blog Kristoff. Just do it. This issue demands attention. This means you:
Wolcott, Mannion, Chervokas, Gilliard, and Wilson. And you, Gandelman, Lasica, DeMarco, Shannon, Aliza, Dash, and Bowbrick. And yeah, you Tom Watson in Whitehall. And you Mernit, and Jack and Kottke, and Goddard, and Calacanis. And you Moose Man and you John Cole and you Pamela. And for God's sake, you Jarvis, and you Kos, and you Arianna with your massive audience reach.
Read this, and you will:
No wonder the Pakistan government can't catch Osama bin Laden. It is too busy harassing, detaining - and now kidnapping - a gang-rape victim for daring to protest and for planning a visit to the United States.
Last fall I wrote about Mukhtaran Bibi, a woman who was sentenced by a tribal council in Pakistan to be gang-raped because of an infraction supposedly committed by her brother. Four men raped Ms. Mukhtaran, then village leaders forced her to walk home nearly naked in front of a jeering crowd of 300.
Ms. Mukhtaran was supposed to have committed suicide. Instead, with the backing of a local Islamic leader, she fought back and testified against her persecutors. Six were convicted.
Then Ms. Mukhtaran, who believed that the best way to overcome such abuses was through better education, used her compensation money to start two schools in her village, one for boys and the other for girls. She went out of her way to enroll the children of her attackers in the schools, showing that she bore no grudges.
Readers of my column sent in more than $133,000 for her. Mercy Corps, a U.S. aid organization, has helped her administer the money, and she has expanded the schools, started a shelter for abused women and bought a van that is used as an ambulance for the area. She has also emerged as a ferocious spokeswoman against honor killings, rapes and acid attacks on women. (If you want to help her, please don't send checks to me but to Mercy Corps, with "Mukhtaran Bibi" in the memo line: 3015 S.W. First, Portland, Ore. 97201.)
A group of Pakistani-Americans invited Ms. Mukhtaran to visit the U.S. starting this Saturday (see www.4anaa.org). Then a few days ago, the Pakistani government went berserk.
On Thursday, the authorities put Ms. Mukhtaran under house arrest - to stop her from speaking out. In phone conversations in the last few days, she said that when she tried to step outside, police pointed their guns at her. To silence her, the police cut off her land line.
After she had been detained, a court ordered her attackers released, putting her life in jeopardy. That happened on a Friday afternoon, when the courts do not normally operate, and apparently was a warning to Ms. Mukhtaran to shut up. Instead, Ms. Mukhtaran continued her protests by cellphone. But at dawn yesterday the police bustled her off, and there's been no word from her since. Her cellphone doesn't answer.
Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani lawyer who is head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said she had learned that Ms. Mukhtaran was taken to Islamabad, furiously berated and told that President Pervez Musharraf was very angry with her. She was led sobbing to detention at a secret location. She is barred from contacting anyone, including her lawyer.
"She's in their custody, in illegal custody," Ms. Jahangir said. "They have gone completely crazy."
Even if Ms. Mukhtaran were released, airports have been alerted to bar her from leaving the country. According to Dawn, a Karachi newspaper, the government took this step, "fearing that she might malign Pakistan's image."
Excuse me, but Ms. Mukhtaran, a symbol of courage and altruism, is the best hope for Pakistan's image. The threat to Pakistan's image comes from President Musharraf for all this thuggish behavior.
I've been sympathetic to Mr. Musharraf till now, despite his nuclear negligence, partly because he's cooperated in the war on terrorism and partly because he has done a good job nurturing Pakistan's economic growth, which in the long run is probably the best way to fight fundamentalism. So even when Mr. Musharraf denied me visas all this year, to block me from visiting Ms. Mukhtaran again and writing a follow-up column, I bit my tongue.
But now President Musharraf has gone nuts.
"This is all because they think they have the support of the U.S. and can get away with murder," Ms. Jahangir said. Indeed, on Friday, just as all this was happening, President Bush received Pakistan's foreign minister in the White House and praised President Musharraf's "bold leadership."
So, Mr. Bush, how about asking Mr. Musharraf to focus on finding Osama, instead of kidnapping rape victims who speak out? And invite Ms. Mukhtaran to the Oval Office - to show that Americans stand not only with generals who seize power, but also with ordinary people of extraordinary courage.
UPDATE: The Brits are all over this story (but then, their media actually has a world view) and outrage in the UK press is growing rapidly. Here's Declan Walsh in the Guardian:
President Pervez Musharraf is particularly keen on promoting a "soft" image of Pakistan abroad as proof that his policy of "enlightened moderation" is succeeding. But try as he might, the chocolate on offer often has a bitterly hard centre.
This obsession with external image took a sinister turn last weekend when the government placed Mukhtaran Bibi on its notorious exit control list - an effective prohibition from leaving the country.
The move was shocking because Ms Mukhtaran is a genuine Pakistani heroine. Three years ago, the uneducated Punjabi villager was gang-raped on the orders of her local council of elders, who held that the vile attack was suitable retribution for a sex crime allegedly committed by her 12-year-old brother. That charge later turned out to be hogwash.
UPDATE II: I think the government of Pakistan needs to hear from some of the citizen bloggers of its biggest ally - so here are the contacts, folks. Be tough but polite:
His Excellency Mr. Jehangir Karamat email@example.com
Mr Mohammad Sadiq is Deputy Chief of Mission and assists the Ambassador in the overall functioning of the Embassy. He deals with both political and administrative issues. firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr Aslam Khan is Minister (Political) and deals with political issues email@example.com
Mr Shahid Ahmed is Counsellor Community Affairs and deals with the Pakistani community in the United States. firstname.lastname@example.org
Brig Shafqaat Ahmed is the Defence & Military Attache of the Pakistan Embassy. email@example.com
Mr Ashraf Hayat is the Minister (Trade) and deals with Pakistan-US trade issues. firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com
Mrs Talat Waseem is the Press Minister and Media Spokesperson of the Embassy firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, LazyCat, who's been on top of this story before, has some added links and resources - she too calls on bloggers to spread the word of this disgrace.
The Sawpit adds this trenchant commentary:
The embracing of President Pervez Musharraf in order to fight the war on terror is just another example of why the Bush administration's rhetoric about spreading freedom and democracy throughout the world is just a sick joke. It also exposes, yet again, the cynical nature of George W. Bush's supposed deep religious faith. Bush has decided to make a deal with the devil in order to look tough on terrorism.
I also think Chervokas said it particularly well on his blog:
Because Americans only care about things American, let me put this in local terms.
Pakistan's treatment of Bibi and the US government's failure to hold it's ally's feet to the fire on this most basic of human rights issues starkly exposes the bald, two-faced, lie that is the Bush Administration's supposed campaign for democracy in the Arab World.
Once the bullshit of the WMD justification for the invasion of Iraq shimmered off into space like a desert mirage, "democratization" became the buzzword. As a political matter, who could argue the premise?
The problem is that while the Bushies put up a phony show of democratizing Iraq, they have steadfastly refused to face the real challenges of democracy in the Middle East. The country most directly responsible for the Sept. 11th attacks--Saudi Arabia, one of the most despotic Arab countries--has had a Bush Administration pass from day one. And Pakistan--the political patrons of the Taliban, a nuclear power with a dangerous anti-Western military faction, and the country that currently harbors Osama bin Laden--has not just gotten a pass, but been rewarded with new foreign aid in an attempt to buy the country's loyalty in the "war on terror."
Just how good an ally is Pakistan? Bin Laden's living there. They refuse to turn over A.Q. Khan. And they placed a gang-raped woman under arrest because she wanted to speak out for the protect and rights of women. When will someone in the press corps have the balls to ask the President how Pakistan fits into his notion of democracy in action?
Well said: what about it, Amercan press?
UPDATE III: Here's what the Independent reported about the inner politics of the Pakistani government and President Musharraf's real attitude toward Ms. Bibi - disgraceful, and yet President Bush leads him down the Rose Garden path:
The case has indeed embarrassed President Musharraf, a "modern" general who is keen to play down the religious extremism in backward parts of his country. He has been promoting "an enlightened Islam" but activists say that this vision seems to exclude women. Privately, General Musharraf is enraged at how Ms Mai's case has brought infamy to Pakistan. Instead of promoting justice in the case, his reaction, along with a group of newspaper editors, has been to suppress information about the case. The President even threatened to "slap" a reporter "in the face" for publishing details in an international magazine about Mr Mai's defiance. The reporter in question was Pakistan's leading women's rights activist, Ms Jehangir, who is also a UN special rapporteur on human rights.
General Musharraf incurred the wrath of women's rights activists earlier this year. A tribe in Baluchistan began a revolt after an army captain allegedly raped a woman doctor working for the state-run gas company at its desert installations. The tribal chieftain, Nawab Bugti insisted that the suspected rapist be tried by tribal custom - walking across burning coals to prove his innocence.
Instead, the suspected rapist, who had powerful family connections within the military, has so far never been tried. Nor is he likely to ever face justice, after General Musharraf publicly declared he thought that the captain was innocent. The woman doctor was encouraged by the authorities to leave the country - not a choice for the defiant village schoolteacher.
The ruling party has vilified Ms Mai's supporters as unpatriotic. The State Interior Minister, Shahzad Wasim, said: "People in NGOs are ready to say anything for one dinner with Johnny Walker and eat innocent people like vultures."