By Sophia Javed, Media Review Network, Gauteng
In 1956 the Peoples Temple was established by Jim Jones as a racially integrated Christian Church, uniting people from all backgrounds within segregated America. It aimed to be a community church based on Communist values and ideals and sought to assist those who were destitute, deprived or needy.
In November 1978, 22 years after its formation, 912 people died as a result of mass suicide, initiated by Jim Jones himself. A poisonous punch made from grape juice and lethal doses of vallium were offered to men, women, children and babies, from which, the People’s Temple worshippers died soon after, knowingly but under duress. Of course the incident was an international outrage and the relatives of those who consumed the poisonous punch as well as the American society as a whole were disgusted, disappointed and saddened.
In September 2001, New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon in Washington came under attack. This attack claimed the lives of 3000 innocent Americans of different persuasions. The official report issued by the US Government has left many unanswered question but has seemingly demonized Islam and its Muslim followers.
Both the Jonestown massacre and the 9/11 bombings were the biggest single non-natural calamities which have occurred against the American people. However the reaction to either of these events have been strikingly different. Both had religious elements, both were funded and supported by ordinary citizens and other nation states (for example the People’s Temple relocated to Guyana with the help of the Guyana government) and both claimed innocent lives.
Yet, the Christian doctrine capitalised upon by Jim Jones has been referred to as a warped theology, unknown to the Christian religion or its practitioners and was immediately denounced. But whilst Muslims are increasingly trying to educate non-Muslims as to the non-Islamic elements that present themselves in terrorism and the fact that Islam is indeed synonymous with justice, our efforts fall on deaf ears, blind eyes and dumb minds.
Hence the War on Terror was launched after the 9/11 attacks. This US policy has probably done more to reverse democracy than it has in attaining it. The case of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuro-scientist who has become a scapegoat for the War on Terror and America’s draconian policy, is a point in question.
The Mother of three has been sentenced to 84 years in prison on 5 counts of assault and attempted murder of US soldiers. This is despite the fact that her fingerprints were never found on the alleged weapon nor was any soldier in fact wounded by her. These were alleged to have occurred when she weighed a mere 40kgs.
Dr Aafia’s plight has been described by the British journalist Yvonne Ridley as being “short of death.” She was publicly arrested in 2008, deported to the US, sentenced in 2010 and detained in the Metropolitan Detention Centre in New York. She has reported to have been regularly stripped and searched, refused any family contact and starved. She is now believed to be suffering from cancer and has immense difficulty in talking. She is also believed to have suffered from sexual abuse whilst in the Bagram prison.
The US government has asserted that during 2003 and 2008, Dr Aafia was buying explosive material and working as an Al-Qaeda operative. Dr Aafia, however has maintained that during the period in question she was in fact prisoner 650 at the Bagram prison, Afghanistan, after being kidnapped with her three children in Karachi. She reports being beaten, assaulted and abused by Afghan and US operatives and her own husband. Other prisoners in Bagram have corroborated this and related accounts of hearing the cries and moans of a female prisoner 650 which used to resonate down the corridors of the prison, this indeed being Dr Aafia.
As for her children, her eldest son, Ahmed, who was 6 years old at the time, was released to her family after she was arrested by the US in 2008. He too, tells stories of being imprisoned and abused at a juvenile prison in Afghanistan. Similarly, her daughter Mariam, who was 4 years old at the time of her disappearance was released to the family once Aafia was convicted in 2010. She also related accounts of being held by a US soldier called “John” in a cold, dark room at the Bagram airbase. Her son, Suleman, who was only 6 months at the time has never been found, with Aafia claiming that the FBI showed her a photo of her son lying in a pool of blood.
One crucial question remains, however – if the US asserts that Dr Aafia was involved in terrorist activities during 2003-2008 why were the dubious charges of assault brought against her and not terrorism?
This all makes for interesting reading if it were a non-fiction novel or even a Hollywood movie. However this is reality. The War on Terror has been a landmark policy responding to an attack against American civilians. Nothing of its sort was initiated after the Jonestown massacre or the Oklahoma bombings. Instead the War on Terror has basically removed the concept of universal human rights and advocates that such rights be reserved for those whom the US and her allies deem worthy. This makes the US, the chief propagandist for human rights, a terrorist in the eyes of those who have been abused by her policies – just ask Dr Aafia’s children who they perceive the enemy to be.
(Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s sister Dr Fowzia Siddiqui shall be visiting South Africa on the 16th February 2012 to enhance awareness of her sister’s plight.)