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Why Dr. Aafia's Campaign is Cause for Celebration

"I know very well how everything I do for Aafia keeps backfiring. It is just so frustrating. I am just hurt and overwhelmed, shocked at the situation here."



– Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui
the sister of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui

From her place in the center of the eye of the hurricane I know how Dr. Fowzia could write those words. She is standing in the midst of a situation that nothing could have prepared her for.

She wonders if anything she has done for Aafia makes any difference at all. After all Aafia is still in an American jail, waiting to be sentenced to life in prison later this month. She is no closer to coming home than she was when she was found dazed and disoriented on the streets of Ghazni. So Dr. Fowzia sees herself as a failure…

…but not so fast. Take a few steps back and catch your breath. In 2003 Dr. Aafia and her three children vanished from the face of the Earth as agents of the military dictator kidnapped and sold them to representatives of the United States. Now step forward seven years. As a direct result of Dr. Fowzia's work, her sister Aafia is no longer being held and tortured in an unacknowledged prison facility and two of her three children have been recovered and are living with their grandmother.

Traditionally the families and friends of those who have disappeared by secret government orders have been lucky if they can find a general location where the bodies might have been dumped. Dr. Fowzia and her supporters have achieved something unprecedented in the field of human rights; they have forced the reappearance of Aafia, her son Ahmad, and her daughter Maryam. Three living human beings.

It is true that Aafia is still being held in an American jail and there is still no sign of her youngest son Suliman. Is this the victory? Not yet. In this line of work few victories come easily. There are no rules. Progress is measured as a few steps here and a couple of inches there.

When Aafia is sentenced later this month it will not mean her case is over and lost. It will instead be the confirmation of a victory that freed her from torture in a secret prison and returned two of her children home.

The sentencing will also mark the beginning of the next steps in the campaign. Suliman, the child who may never have had a chance to live, must be accounted for. If he is still alive, return him to his family, if he is not, an explanation must be provided. Aafia must be cleared of the slanders and libels that have been thrown at her. And of course, return Aafia home.

This may seem to be a lot of effort for one woman and a child who may not even be alive. If it were just the two of them you might be inclined to count your blessings and quit. Aafia and Suliman were just born with bad luck.

But it isn't just about them. Or Ahmad and Maryam. Or Aafia's mother, sister, and brother. Or even her ex-husband or her crazy uncle. Hundreds of Pakistanis disappeared in very much the same fashion  during the rule of the military dictator. Bring Aafia home and account for Suliman and it will be proof that others can also be returned. It just takes the will to shine a little bit of light on evil, and evil gets very frightened.

In the Bible story, Moses brought God's message to the Pharaoh, "Let my people go!" Pharaohs come and go using different names, but the message remains.

Look at how Dr. Fowzia responded to her sister's plight armed with only faith in God, a pure soul, and courage. Despite death threats, she and a small group of supporters stood up to a dictator and within a few days Aafia reappeared. A few weeks later the dictator was gone.

This can be repeated to help others. Human rights groups will be studying this case for years as proof that the evil can be overcome.

As a final note, when Aafia came to America she often spoke to me about Islam. She said that while many people focused on fasting and feasting during Ramadan, there was more to it. Ramadan is also a time of reflection. Reflection on the things you have done for others. Like Dr. Fowzia and the campaign for her sister. This has acomplished something extraordinary and it will acomplish even more. This campaign has rewritten the book on saving people from injustice.

Andrew Purcell

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