Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The bitter pill called Aafia Siddiqui

Three days ago, Washington Post reported that that U.S. investigators have formally concluded the late Bruce Ivins, a government scientist, to have acted alone in the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and sickened 17 others.

Bruce Ivins' actions bear testimony to a complicated fact: brilliant minds are more than capable of causing mindless, even inexplicable terror. Most of us will nod our heads to that. This isn't the first time someone seemingly normal and well-adjusted and ridiculously accomplished committed an awful crime. But here's another example of a ridiculously accomplished overachiever going bonkers. For my Pakistani friends, this should be easy.

The case of Aafia Siddiqui has baffled educated, urban Pakistanis for several years now. They have found Aafia's mysterious disappearance and arrest understandably hard to grapple with, given her stellar academic record, and most of all, her middle-class, genteel upbringing in the metropolis of Karachi. Even I, admittedly, reacted with disbelief when I first came across her strange story and tried hard to find answers that, due to the secrecy surrounding the entire case, did not come easy.

There is still so much that's unexplained. Yet, in the past few years, with a patchy yet telling unfolding of her circumstances and her subsequent court appearances, there are certain things that I've concluded.

Firstly, Siddiqui's recent conviction in a Manhattan court has to do with attempted murder of her interrogators, not terrorism. So without a terrorism conviction, nobody can brand her innocent or guilty of terrorism. Yet, if there is anyone deserving of the term 'shady' in the current slew of persons implicated in terrorism, it is she. While we do not know what the extent of her involvement was, Aafia Siddiqui was involved. In some way, in some capacity, she was. That's a forgone conclusion at this point. And while her family has steadfastly stood behind her, she cannot be fully exonerated from jeopardizing their lives, and her unfortunate children's lives to no point of return when she did become involved. I think it is safe to assume that an MIT educated scientist would be at least sufficiently conscious of what she was doing to have been caught as a complete innocente in the lethal ring of extremist terrorism as she did. It is unfathomable to let her off as simply a victim of her circumstances or associations--which is what most Pakistanis still believe.

There are two categories among those believers. One comprises of folks who feel Siddiqui doesn't deserve punishment even if she were guilty of the crimes she has been charged with. She was just doing what any good Muslim would do.

That category's bit of a lost cause.

My focus is the second group. These are educated, relatively more informed Pakistanis living in cities like the one where Siddiqui grew up, the people who refuse to admit the thought that Siddiqui could, in fact, be guilty in the first place given her background. It's important to at least try and reason with this particular group of her supporters, given the recent series of protests against the American court that tried her (a privilege not given to many others like her, something that deserves protesting about).

These Pakistanis need to come to terms with a bitter possibility about Aafia Siddiqui.

They need to open their minds, without jumping to conclusions, about unlikely participants in extremist-driven terrorism. Extremism does not always fit a bill and a certain profile. Just because she was a woman, just because she was a mother, or just because she went to MIT does not mean much, for people are complicated. And preconceived notions often fall flat. And brilliant people do not always make brilliant choices.

Obviously, Aafia Siddiqui made some unlikely choices along the way. If her case progresses beyond the recent conviction, we as Pakistanis need to prepare ourselves to hear unsavory truths. I have a feeling they are inevitable.


Nabeel said...

Excellent analysis. Look forward to more blog posts from you!

Madiha W.Q. said...

Thanks Nabeel :)