August Issue 2010

By | News & Politics | Published 14 years ago

According to Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s lawyers, she could have won her case had she not testified. Standing in the courtroom in New York City, she spoke in a state of tragic trance castigating Jews for conspiring against her and the Muslims. It was as if she was not interested in addressing the jury, who would be deciding her case, but some people sitting somewhere else. Her lawyers — and even her brother — advised her not to testify because, according to them, they had a pretty strong case. The prosecution had been unable to provide forensic evidence to substantiate the main charge against her, that of shooting at American marines, for which she was being tried.

As long as she kept her silence, the defence counsel could prevail upon the jury. However, Dr Siddiqui decided otherwise. Some of the contradictions in her statement, such as the claim that she had never touched a gun when, in fact, according to the prosecution, she had trained at MIT’s Pistol and Rifle Club, began to raise doubts in the minds of the jury. Ultimately, the jury had to choose between trusting Dr Siddiqui’s version or the prosecutor’s version. The decision was obvious.

But who was she actually trying to address? Was she addressing the same audience as Faisal Shahzad who tried to set off a home-made car bomb in Times Square? Shahzad had not only confessed to the crime but also promised that he would do it a hundred times over if he got another chance. It may have been a botched attempt, but he didn’t look particularly bothered about the consequences had the bomb gone off. His attempt sent signals all over the Muslim world, energising those who may want to fight the US militarily.

Curiously enough, both the Aafia Siddiqui and Faisal Shahzad cases are interesting — the former for all it hides and the latter for what it exposes.

As the world awaits Dr Siddiqui’s sentencing in mid-August, doubts remain regarding the veracity of the prosecution’s case. No one believes that she actually shot at the marines. In fact, her lawyers claim that it may well have been an accidental shooting by the marines. Someone saw her move behind the curtain where she was being held, panicked and then shot at her. Subsequently, the entire case was engineered to protect the marines rather than unearth the truth.

Another point of view is that she was held for her involvement with Al-Qaeda. Allegedly, in the UN Commission report on 9/11, she is one of the six people held responsible for smuggling diamonds for Osama bin Laden’s terrorist outfit. If that was indeed the case, then why wasn’t she tried for the actual charge? A more important question pertains to who actually picked her up, and whether she was arrested in Karachi or Kabul? Her family claims she was picked up in 2003, but reports of her arrest surfaced in 2008 when she was accused of firing at US marines in Afghanistan. Was she arrested and released and arrested again? Was she in the ISI’s captivity, or was she held by the Americans? Surely the Pakistani intelligence agencies and the army high command know details that they are not inclined to reveal. This makes her case as mysterious as that of Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was involved in Daniel Pearl’s murder and is presently lodged in Karachi’s central prison. While Pervez Musharraf, in his book, accused Sheikh of being a British MI5 agent and having links to Al-Qaeda, it is strange that Sheikh was then allowed the freedom to make phone calls to President Asif Ali Zardari from his jail cell, pretending to be India’s external affairs minister. In Sheikh’s case, it is not clear who he is working for.

As for Aafia Siddiqui, the only people who can shed more light on her is the Pakistan military’s high command or her family, including her children. Several people are said to be writing books and making documentaries about her. However, one wonders if the truth will ever be revealed.

Faisal Shahzad. Photo: AFP

Faisal Shahzad. Photo: AFP

Faisal Shahzad’s case is much simpler than Dr Siddiqui’s. He makes for an interesting case study because he belongs to an upper-middle class family that was well-connected, had access to resources and opportunities, and was exposed to the outside world. Shahzad came as a surprise to the Americans because he did not fit the profile of a potential terrorist. As an average middle-class migrant to the US who, it was assumed, had moved to America in search of a better life, he didn’t attract much attention. Married to a Pakistani-American, he went to university in the US and later worked there as well. Initially, many thought that his economic troubles had pushed him towards militancy. However, as he himself claimed, Shahzad had decided to embark upon the path of militancy before he got his citizenship. Recent reports indicate that he had even met Hakimullah Mehsud and sought training to make a car bomb. But then why did he do such a hopeless job?

Ostensibly, he didn’t get the right ingredients: the commercial fertilisers were not potent enough to make a bomb. Moreover, it was his first “real” job and he had no one to assist him. Also, the device was intercepted before it could do any damage. Shahzad decided to escape the US only after he saw reports about the car being traced to the actual owner in Connecticut.

But following his arrest, it didn’t seem that Shahzad was moved by the fact that he was caught and had probably lost his life and family forever. In his own eyes, he seems to have become a new hero for Muslim youth.

Indeed, this is a question worth asking: are Aafia Siddiqui and Faisal Shahzad our new heroes?

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The writer is an independent social scientist and author of Military Inc. She tweets @iamthedrifter