7.2.10

The Curious Case of Dr Afia Siddiqui

The demonisation of violence
The Curious Case of Dr Afia Siddiqui
by Farzana Versey

Countercurrents, February 6, 2010


The mosquito hovered over skin and with one little prick it had sucked out blood, infected an innocent person who might suffer from malaria. If the person is poor and lives in inhabitable surroundings, it could prove to be fatal. The insect is not accused of violence.

Had it been ‘Lady Al Qaeda’, she might have raised her hand and screamed, “Out, damned spot!”

Is Afia Siddiqui a Lady Macbeth metaphorical clone, a “psycho”, anti-Semitic as she is being accused of and which reveals the febrile mindset of those indicting her? Did she carry chemicals that would make bombs? Why did the judge often throw her out of the court accusing her of outbursts, which is a strange reason indeed?

She had fought back by saying, “Since I’ll never get a chance to speak…If you were in a secret prison, or your children were tortured…Give me a little credit, this is not a list of targets of New York. I was never planning to bomb it. You’re lying.”

There are clear divisions in this case and part of the reason is that she was an educated, articulate woman, a neuroscientist. The world cannot yet deal with this ‘type’. Incidentally, Dr Siddiqui has not been convicted for an act of terror but in the popular imagination even felony, if the victim is the lordly West, can pass muster as militancy. It is another matter that no tangible evidence has been provided for this too.

After the judgement she reportedly told her attorney, Elaine Sharp, to inform her supporters abroad of her fate and that she did not want any violence to ensue. What is violence? Support groups? Those who retaliate? The Establishment?

The malaria example might appear a facile metaphor for something that wreaks havoc and creates fissures in society. Truth is that violence is seen through a microscope instead of a telescope. In the laboratory the specimen sample is militancy and not martini. Martini by itself may remain shaken within the confines of a glass, but it stirs the sort of sophisticated idea of good versus evil where good is a given. There are no nuances, no dimensions. You meet the hero and just accept him. To enter into a debate would be travesty. He belongs to Her Majesty’s Secret Service and not the Hizbul Mujahideen or the Ku Klux Klan.

By pinning down one particular stream of fiendishness we completely ignore the more rampant issue of social violence – at the workplace, at home, as petty crime, as psychological aggression.

Religion and nationalism are the two most brutal forces. They do not give you a choice to understand the greys. They are intangible and, as in Sartre’s world, the incommunicable is the source of violence.

Every belief system has arisen due to some skirmishes. Amazingly, we use tribal warfare and mythology as benchmarks in a world that aims for d├ętente. The penury of organised faith to sustain human civility is manifest when temples, mosques, churches are regularly desecrated – a term that takes the shine off violence and transforms it into something akin to a satanic act of sin. Stampedes at pilgrimage sites are further evidence of just this sort of pugnacity.

Using hostile opposites as an example, Leo Tolstoy said, “The churches are arrogance, violence, usurpation, rigidity, death; Christianity is humility, penitence, submissiveness, progress, life.”

The problem is arrogant display often gets wiped out by penitence. Cries of “Allah-u-Akbar” and “Jai Siya Ram” are the precursors of contemporary violence. Thieves and rapists do not shout out slogans.
A headcount of dead patriots glorifies the sense of nationhood that the wrapped-in-flag corpses had no premonition of. In their trail are thousands of cadavers that worked in those conquered countries, had names stamped on identity cards. That did them in. Their being certain people.

Certain people are not important. Their lives standing on footholds of local trains, losing limbs in factories, fighting for basic wages, fighting to enter places of worship, to marry someone from another caste, class, race, religion do not constitute brutality, even if they lose their lives in these battles. They are not burnished with the gold of nationalistic gunfire.

The American people are brainwashed into believing in a just fight. No explanation is given because it is about Being American, an America that can now show off god’s creation and liberty at the White House by installing a totem Harlem. It won’t pay heed to Malcolm X’s words: “If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her.”

Defence is rarely the goal of violence. It is an advertisement for oneself. What tells a militant apart from a James Bond? If we take away the so-called ideology of the former and the willingness to die for it, then both are comic-strip like characters that transmogrify into soap-opera heroes whose travails are ongoing as is their invincibility.

There is one crucial difference in the machismo: a lack of brotherhood. As a loner, Bond tempts the enemies instead of vanquishing them. It is a violence that seeks male bonding. He kills violence using violence.

The fanatically-driven sadist dies killing a lot of others with him. Both use ‘goodness’ as their calling card and although representative of specific places are rootless. Such emotional diaspora makes their aggression almost democratic and global in its sweep. Nothing is above them and everyone is below them.

The targets don’t get brownie points for making them happen. It’s a win-win situation. Therefore, by demonising violence we sanctify it. Why stone a devil that is within?

16 comments:

  1. FV
    Dr.Afia Siddiqui , a culprit or innocent? a victim or victimizer? a kind woman or cruel extremist? an intelligent neuroscientist or an unintelligent Islamic terrorist? a mother, a sister, a wife, a daughter or a lady Bagram/ prisoner 650??

    Well educated , highly intellectual independent woman with excellent resumes who got all her fair chances in USA and got the best education from an exclusive American institution Ivy league UPENN and MIT. All her family got their fair chances in USA, even though they are well known orthodox Islamists, they were still given chances to utilize American educational resources equally and with out any discrimination which proves that America is the land of opportunity for all humans equally and one can achieve one's dreams easily.

    Now the other side of America is post 11, where people like Dr.Afia Siddique are viewed with extreme suspicions, now it is up to them to make their choice. Either to go ahead and fight like Afia Siddique did or give in and move on with your life without advertising your religiosity.

    I have my sympathies with one aspect of Dr. Afia Siddique when I view her as an intelligent articulate woman/mother/daughter/sister, but I cannot sympathize with her when I view her as an extremist Islamic terrorist.

    circle

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  2. Not sure I understand the point of the article -- the reality is that controlled violence is a tactic used by all side in order to control something-or-the-other.

    While there is no scale to determine whether James Bond is eviler than Affia Siddiqui, the individuals who choose to use violence as their language must be made to pay for their choice of violence as a tool.

    Dr. AS was given chances most people on this planet can onnly dream off, and yet what did she choose to do with her talents and her opportunities? Individuals make choices that makes them evil or good, but throwing everyone who commits violence in the same bucket does not decrease the confusion. If one defends onerself against a criminal in a dark alley, then is the criminal's application of violence the exact same as the victim's application of violence in defense? Is there no differentiation as to why violence is being applied?

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  3. “If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her.”


    While I will not defend the murderous foreign policies of people like Kissinger, countries send their citizens to war because not doing so would hurt their entire country.

    This also means that any country which wantonly goes around destroying the lives of "lesser humans" for resources or ideology, then they end up facing the consequences of their actions and face the wrath of the peoples whose lives they do not value...I am sure such peoples return the favour of not valuing the lives of "democratic citizens fighting a just war".


    Everyone must face the consequences of their actions and choices, and sometimes the consequences of actions and choices of someone else and not any fault of the individual.

    Sometimes stuff happens and it is no one's fault, and just a consequence of circumstances. Best to look at every case individually, if one has the time, inclination and energy.

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  4. So what, "don't demonize violence"?? Okay, so how to educate the public that there are non-violent methods to handle problems within a nation's territory?

    While it is all nice to morally upright w.r.t. geopolitics, it is also self-defeating and dangerous...no point being morally upright if it destroys and chance of self-preservation.

    Sometimes there are more important things than feeling morally upright, as the consequences of getting moralistic can be severe and long-term, and affect millions of people in one shot....in those times, someone gets killed no matter what path is chosen...and the people whose job it is to make those decisions will be answerable for them at some point.

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  5. "Their lives standing on footholds of local trains, losing limbs in factories, fighting for basic wages, fighting to enter places of worship, to marry someone from another caste, class, race, religion do not constitute brutality, even if they lose their lives in these battles. "

    These problems must be resolved by the public empowering themselves...but instead people blindly vote for the politicians of their caste or religion and then get the govt. they deserve.

    Resolutions for internal problems in a democracy must be done under the guidelines of the constitution, mostly because that is the best of all bad options, which is usually the case in real life when working on real-world problems.

    Resolutions of a country's external problems is a very different game, mainly because there is no such thing as "international law", and I would be against any such international law too.

    In the absence of a legal framework at the global level, countries indulge in power politics, but as the USA/NATO demonstrate in Af-Pak, being rich and powerful does not mean you will be able to push your long-term goals. Countries like India have foregone a moralistic external policy mostly because the only entity that get hurt with such moralistic policy is India and Indians.

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  6. To clarify, there are things called "international law", but a law is no law if there is no enforcer in the real world. The USA took up on itself to "enforce international law selectively to push its interests under the guise of spreading peace, love, democracy. However, those kind of devious strategies are providing diminishing returns for the USA nowadays.

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  7. Between the Jamaat Islami propaganda in Pakistan and the US propaganda all over the world, the truth is lost in this case.

    There are so many contradictions in her narrative that it is hard to believe her story. The US is also lying big time in this matter.

    She was the only designated terrorist in the US, who got a civilian trial after the shoe bomber. They brought her to NY for major publicity stunt but that just did not work for the US audience but has worked beautifully in Pakistan.

    I think eventually US would release her to make her a darling of the right wing nut cases in Pakistan and to deliver a blow to the rising liberal movement in Pakistan.

    Strange war on terror. Every effort is made by both the US and Pakistan to keep the right wing machine going to continue the war.
    Since she was not convicted on any terrorism charges, she probably would be released but not before she becomes a symbol and the leader of the right wing nut cases in Pakistan. Pakistan of late, has seen many manufactured leaders from Baitullah to Hakim and many others that die after they have served the purpose.

    She would be the star of the urban right wing militants and sufaid posh non-confrontational types who still espouse the dream of Islamic glory.

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  8. Sorry the previous still unpublished, comments were from me.

    LLF, HP

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  9. The piece was essentially about the demonisation of violence and the ignoring of social and psychological violence. The Afia Siddiqui case happened to fit into the broad idea I was talking about. Also, there must be greater emphasis on portraying her as some hysterical female.

    Circle:

    I do not understand this attitude of look how America gave her a fair chance; had she not been in the position she is, she would have been seen as an asset. She went for higher education as do many people. And her religious beliefs should not come in the way.

    If she is an “Islamic terrorist”, then you should not respect any aspect of her. As I wrote later, religion and nationalism are the most brutal forces. Bush and Obama have both used the religion card to buffer their notion of nationalism.

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    Al:

    I hope after the initial struggle you did figure out what the article was about! We do nto have a scale to measure what is eviler, but we do tend to have pat answers as to what is good and bad.

    Often individuals cannot make choices but are pushed into situations.

    While I will not defend the murderous foreign policies of people like Kissinger, countries send their citizens to war because not doing so would hurt their entire country.

    US foreign policy is not a defensive one, but an offensive one. It is not about saving their citizens but flexing muscles and taking a moral position worse than that of the militants.

    While it is all nice to morally upright w.r.t. geopolitics, it is also self-defeating and dangerous...no point being morally upright if it destroys and chance of self-preservation.

    Yes. Tell that to THEM. Malcolm X’s quote is very important.

    While part of the reactionary forces spring forth from such policies, it is important to note that these socities do nto get to bear the brunt of the violence; it gets internalised.

    Sometimes stuff happens and it is no one's fault, and just a consequence of circumstances. Best to look at every case individually, if one has the time, inclination and energy.

    If the stuff is done individually, then yes. Groups do not work on kneejerk actions, and most certainly not nations. Many western societies have merely asserted their superiority by such pugnacious means.

    So what, "don't demonize violence"?? Okay, so how to educate the public that there are non-violent methods to handle problems within a nation's territory?

    Read the last para of the article. And we are not talking about only within a nation’s territory.

    The international laws are symbolic and puppets in the hands of the superpowers.

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    HP:

    It is true that both sides have made full use of her situation. She has not been convictied on charges of terror; there are many loopholes in the case itself, forget her story.

    It is all about making an example. Khalid Sheikh admitted his role in 9/11, yet they created a tamasha about where he would be tried. What was the point. The guy has confessed. They did not want that.

    Afia will pose a different problem because she has not confessed to anything. And she will be a darling of the Jamaat types only for a while because as your wonderful coinage “the urban right wing militants and sufaid posh non-confrontational types” reveals she does not fit into the tribal idea of militancy.

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  10. "US foreign policy is not a defensive one, but an offensive one. It is not about saving their citizens but flexing muscles and taking a moral position worse than that of the militants."

    I think at a certain level they are identical except for the what colour their motivations are, US is defending it "American Ideology" which apparently includes Motherhood and Apple Pie...the "militants" are a reaction to the original evil during the cold war.

    I think this is a legacy of the british Influence on the Americans when it comes to foreign policy in the Indian subcontinent. It all boils down to geography...if there is one thing man cannot change with ease yet, it is plastic surgery of the planet on the scale greater than the Suez or Panama canal. Narendra Singh Sarila's "In the Shadow of the Great Game" is a wonderfully researched book on how the Partition of India during Independence was an artefact of the "great game" that the UK and other colonial powers of the 18th and 19th century played.

    The colonial powers were all drunk on their own invincibility after the cold war, having "defeated communism", until 9/11 happened. But did it teach the USA anything? No. 9/11 was filed under the category "Cold War Blowback", and the Defence Policy Guidance document written by Wolfowitz and Rove back in 1991 stated very clearly that the USA was to take on Iraq at the earliest to preserve US's primacy in the middle east. It did not surprise me one bit that Colin Powell lied to the UN about nuclear bombs in Iraq, so that war could be imposed on Saddam Hussein -- the Wolfowitz/Rove DPG plans were in effect soon after 9/11.

    The militants of jihad believe in a pure world derived from religion, and the USA believes in a pure world derived from its own rosy view of itself as a defender of the poor and the weak, while actually playing power politics and creating untold miseries on unsuspecting peoples in faraway places.

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  11. I once made a T-shirt that read "Join the Army! Go to strange and exciting lands, meet fascinating and unusual peoples and Kill them"....but this was back when my wearing T-shirts did not cause mothers to shade the eyes of their young children whispering in their ears, "Look away, child, do not stare at the Navel of Evil.

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  12. Errata: in my comment above it should read, "And why must there be greater emphasis on portraying her as some hysterical female"?

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  13. Al:

    Geographical plastic surgery aside, we are talking about devious motives that stem from the 'protectors'. You have mentioned it, too when you speak about their "rosy view".

    However, I do not entirely agree with this:

    The militants of jihad believe in a pure world derived from religion...

    They use religion, or a certain aspect of it, to appeal to the people. Or to conscript them. Since they are not complete nations, they need some motivating force. They know that their version of a religion will not appeal to people across the board, which is why they kill each other more than they kill their 'enemies'.

    Therefore, countries as defenders are vastly different.

    A question: Why did you make that T shirt? Answer only if you wish.

    Army personnel do the bidding of the people in power and they hardly get to see exciting lands. Unless they build tunnels and see the ground beneath different feet :)

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  14. ". Or to conscript them. Since they are not complete nations, they need some motivating force. They know that their version of a religion will not appeal to people across the board, which is why they kill each other more than they kill their 'enemies'."

    FV, that is certainly true, and agree with you completely. The problem seems to stem from a "you are with us or against us" view of their world, where "us" could mean the family, the clan, the tribe, or the entire global muslim community, depending on the context in which such "us vs. them" arguments are used. Someone else recently said "you are with us or against us...I forget who"...must be some jihadi :-)

    "A question: Why did you make that T shirt? Answer only if you wish."

    I did have a healthy contempt of the army as a teen, when I thought I knew better. Then, my good friends from high school and my classmates joined the army as cadets, mainly because they could not afford to go to college. I stopped disrespecting the army after that, and since then, as I heard stories of my friends on their time off from the army.


    "Army personnel do the bidding of the people in power and they hardly get to see exciting lands. Unless they build tunnels and see the ground beneath different feet"

    True, I didn't know that as a teenager, but I am glad that such truths have sunk into my noggin now. Being the sort of punk that views authority with a jaundiced eye, I find it more productive to be outside the reach of all such groups.

    However, I respect what various agencies and armies do, but I also know that dissent is about not agreeing with everything they do 400% without losing respect for their commitment and sacrifice that I know I am living off....even as I shoot my mouth off at them every now and then.

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  15. Oh, I don't agree even 100 per cent with the army and have had little run-ins all the time. (You were missing in action, so to speak.)They do occasionally pop in here even now, but are gentler with me...

    My reason for making the comment was that they do not decide defence policies, at least not in India.

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  16. FV, Yes, the Indian Army has always played Handmaiden to the Civilian Bureaucracy. The Indian view of the strategic side of things is that war as a diplomatic tool for achieving political goals is the last resort, and diplomacy creates options that help avoid war. This is the correct view, IMO.

    Democracies usually have a lot of options ranging from Economic to Diplomatic means to engage other countries, even if the other country is not a Democracy -- this also means that the Armed Forces have a specific role to play in influencing policy, not least because war is bad for business.

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