By Marium Irshad
October 15, 2015
We have two rather well-known terrorists from Pakistan serving jail time in the US: Aafia Siddiqui and David Headley. Both Aafia and David have al Qaeda in common but had been caught doing different things to defeat the enemies of Islam (according to their definition of Islam and its enemies). Mr Headley was one of the masterminds of the Mumbai attack while Aafia was accused of planning mass-casualty attacks in New York. Both are citizens of the US with grown up children living in Pakistan.
A few weeks back, when I went to Karachi, I came to know about Aafia’s children. Sitting on the plane boarded for Karachi a shrill voice pierced my ears from the seat next to me. I had been trying to recollect the woman for a while because she looked familiar — without success — but the voice made recognition easy for me. This was none other than the sister of Aafia Siddiqui, the same Aafia who had been arrested in 2008 by the Afghan police and was accused of opening fire on a US soldier during her stay in Afghanistan. Sentenced to 86 years in jail by the US, she has been out of touch with her family for one year now, according to Dr Fauzia, Aafia’s sister.
We were talking about Aafia’s prospects of being released when I was struck by Fauzia’s story about her recent visit to the US embassy in Islamabad. She told me that her family had been trying to get US nationality for Aafia’s now grown-up children living in Pakistan. Aafia has a daughter and a son. I was rather shocked to hear that. She further told me that the embassy was more than anxious to give nationalities to Aafia’s children. Reviving from my initial shock, I asked if she had the conscience left to beg for the nationality of a country that had mistreated her sister. In her defence, she began accusing the Pakistani government of procrastinating in bringing Aafia back, who is almost free to walk out of US jail if only the government of Pakistan makes a formal request to the US government. Since I do not know the details and am still Greek to the allegations Fauzia has made against the Pakistan government, I cannot comment on the fastidiousness of her story. However, one thing that steals thunder from the whole episode of Aafia’s grievous life is the conduct of her family towards the US administration. I cannot stop myself from recalling how she, at times in the company of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and other religious forces, had accused the US of being unkind and beastly to her sister. On the judgement against her sister, she had said that the justice system that the US prides itself on no longer exists.
She further told me that US nationality would make life comfortable and easier for her niece and nephew whereas to be a Pakistani national meant complications and a troublesome life ahead. Had she told me that being a US citizen would grant Aafia’s children the opportunity to see her mother and meet her in jail I could have felt there was some sanity in her decision. However, because being a US national would bring a better life to Aafia’s children was something that repulsed me because of those people who have the guts to spin things their way when it suits them.
I was spellbound. I do not know if they have anything else on their mind as far as US nationality for Aafia’s children is concerned but I do know that we live with double standards on various levels. I also came to know that the US justice system and its legal environment are indeed far better than ours. It respects and treats each individual for his or her acts and not for their ancestral leanings. Aafia’s children have been treated fairly even if their mother is a terrorist and they might soon be awarded US citizenship. There have been reports in the media about Aafia contracting cancer in jail. Other stories about her getting pregnant because of sexual abuse have also been circulating. How much truth there was in these news stories was never substantiated either by the government of Pakistan or the US. There is no mystery, however, about the treatment meted out to the children and family of David Headley. David, known in Pakistan as Daood Saleem Gilani, can meet his family in jail and is spending as close to normal a life there as possible, but not Aafia.
Call it a coincidence but I also came across news concerning Headley’s children leaving the US and settling in Pakistan. Not that the family has forsaken its US nationality; it is just that they find this country far better to raise one’s children in than the US. The US has been protective of the family and they never found themselves in danger due to their relation to the terrorist. Headley will serve 35 years in jail. The FBI caught him in 2009 while he was flying back to the US from Pakistan. He could have been hanged had he not betrayed the Lashker-e-Tayyaba (LeT) by divulging all that he knew about his organisation on the condition that he be saved from the death penalty and extradition to either Pakistan or India.
What cause did both Aafia and Headley serve by joining al Qaeda or even by going against the US? Which Islam did they serve and for what? Can we become better Muslims by killing Indians and destroying India? Can we prove our allegiance to Islam by putting down the US? I want to put some similar questions to the Shiv Sena in India. Will destroying relations with Pakistan bring India success? Will killing someone for eating cow meat bring glory to Hinduism? The blackened face of Sudheendra Kulkarni is a reflection of the darkness to which India has succumbed since the arrival of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power.
It cannot be religion if it does not teach tolerance and a penchant for diversity. He who denounces tolerance and diversity either by killing or torturing the unfaithful is everything but religious. What have the children of both Aafia and Headley gotten from the expedition of their parents?
The writer is a copywriter and freelance journalist with an academic background in public policy and governance. She can be reached at email@example.com