Rob L. Wagner روب لستر واقنر

October 22, 2012

OP-ED: The Character Assassination of Malala

By Rob L. Wagner

Arab News

22 October 2012

Well, the Malala Yousufzai backlash took all of … five minutes. The outpouring of shock and outrage over the Taliban’s attempted assassination of the teenager who advocated for girls education has been replaced with a campaign of character assassination and conspiracy theories.
The momentum of public support that would help the Pakistan government crush the Taliban has passed. Clerics and politicians have largely remained silent since the Oct. 9 attack. And the public has expressed little more than indifference in the past week over Malala’s shooting.
Blinded by the rock-solid belief that even bad Muslims are incapable of committing murder — despite claims by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan that it was responsible for attack — many people excuse the TTP’s behavior by rationalizing that outside forces, and even Malala herself, had a hand in the incident.
In interviews with Pakistani human rights organizers this week, National Public Radio reported that the chatter in cafes and meetings with clerics among Pakistan’s young people is not one of support for Malala, but how US military drone attacks kill civilians. One young man remarked that Pakistani outrage should be reserved for the drone attacks and not for a single teenager agitating for change. Others invoked the case of Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist serving an 86-year sentence following convictions on intent to commit murder of US agents.
Clearly, the legality and morality of drone attacks that violates a nation’s sovereignty and leaves scores of dead civilians requires thorough examination. And there is little doubt that the Aafia Siddiqui case also needs another look amid claims the conviction was a gross injustice. But these attempts to deflect the horrors of religious extremism onto the United States are an exercise in intellectual dishonesty.
This corruption of faith in humanity is all too apparent on the Internet, which is awash in repeated attacks against Malala and her family. Most prominent among Malala’s critics is Samia Raheel Qazi, a top member of the women’s wing of the ultra-conservative Jamaat-e-Islami party and severe critic of women’s rights. Qazi posted on her Twitter account a 2009 photograph of Malala and her father “meeting with American military officers.” The photo and caption implied that Malala was in cahoots with the US government when in reality it was video still from a documentary about Malala who sought support for girls’ education from then-special envoy Richard Holbrooke.
Anger continues to be directed at the US. There are claims, especially on Twitter and conspiracy-minded blogging websites, that CIA agents posing as the Taliban, or Taliban members acting at the behest of the CIA, shot Malala. Photographs of Malala being rushed to the hospital are enlarged and examined with great care to spot faces of Pakistan military officers in the background and to speculate about their presence. One blogger suggested that a photograph of a partially obscured female running behind Malala’s stretcher toward an air ambulance was actually Malala. Such attention to detail would make even the most ardent Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist appear to be a slacker in his work.
On Twitter, the heavy breathing over US misdeeds reflects a mindset that the only explanations for Muslims killing Muslim children are due to Western influences. In other words, the people of Pakistan have no need to look inward about the actions of their neighbors because external forces are responsible for the violence.
As one twitterer wrote, “#Malala is talk of the world, ‘Allegedly’ Taleban shot her.. It’s Just like ‘Alleged’ #WMD of Iraq, Let’s see what comes out of this one.” Lazy and convenient thinking will only further damage the integrity of the Pakistan government and its people.
The independent online newspaper The Lahore Times reported that the “United States of America was behind the attack,” although most of its coverage has been generally free of speculation.
I don’t excuse, nor do I see justification, in the drone attacks in northwest Pakistan. I see the bombings as crimes against humanity. Aafia Siddiqui may very well be an innocent dupe targeted by the United States to collect its pound of flesh to avenge 9/11. These are righteous causes to get behind.
Yet the attempted murder of Malala is also a crime against humanity. If she had died, it would be as if the Taliban had murdered all of humanity. It is no less a miscarriage of justice than of Aafia Siddiqui or a child dead in her home following a US bombing raid.
This moral relativism that Western misdeeds are more offensive and outrageous than the Taliban’s murderous agenda to silence children is a profound disservice to the Ummah in general and Pakistan’s people in particular. Demands for justice for the dead in drone attacks and for the falsely imprisoned is an obligation. But don’t sacrifice Malala because the reality of her shooting is too horrible to contemplate.

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October 15, 2012

OP-ED: Hijacking the ‘True Face’ of Islam

By Rob L. Wagner

Arab News/Al Arabiya

15 October 2012

“It’s a clear command of Shariah that any female that by any means plays (a) role in war against mujahideen (holy warriors) should be killed. Malala Yousufzai was playing a vital role in bucking up the emotions of Murtad (apostate) army and government of Pakistan, and was inviting Muslims to hate mujahideen.” — Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan

Excuse me, but how does anyone justify killing a 14-year-old girl?
Malala Yousufzai, the young Pakistani middle-school girl shot in the head last week by a TTP gunman because she wanted an education, probably didn’t think of herself as a courageous activist. The world cast her in that role and it almost killed her. Now she lies in a Pakistan hospital clinging to life.
She brought attention to Taliban military operations that left hundreds of girls’ schools in charred ruins and the terror campaigns to keep girls from getting an education.
After the shooting, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf described Malala as “true face of Pakistan.”
But what is the true face of Islam? Will Muslims allow the TTP to interpret Islam in their twisted way and present it as its “true face?”
In its statement, the TTP said, “If anyone argues about her young age, then the story of Hazrat Khidr in the Qu’ran (states that) while traveling with Prophet Musa (he) killed a child. Arguing about the reason of his killing, he said that the parents of this child were pious and in the future he (the child) would cause a bad name for them.”
The TTP rationalized Malala’s attempted assassination by offering the Sunnah about Hazrat Khidr, who in Islamic history is considered a righteous servant of God possessing immense wisdom and mystical powers.
It’s an affront to Muslims for self-appointed guardians of Islam to suggest that they possess the same wisdom and righteousness as Khidr. It’s also an insult to imply that they see the future and have direct communication with God.
Muslim organizations worldwide are seeking anti-blasphemy legislation in the West to protect all religions. Yet the TTP, Al-Qaeda and like-minded extremists are immune to the consequences of blasphemous behavior even as they employ pretzel logic to justify murder.
By generalizing and taking out of context verses from the Qur’an, extremists are no better than non-Muslims committing blasphemy. I, like most Muslims, bristle at the suggestion that I must defend Islam to non-Muslims because of the acts of individuals who apparently cannot read, write, nor have the wherewithal to find a reputable sheikh who can teach them the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Yet I am left with the nagging doubt that my refusal to stand up to gangsters has put people like Malala in danger. It stands to reason that if one is insulted over denigrating depictions of Islam by non-Muslims, one should be equally offended by the distortions of the Sunnah by Muslims to excuse their crimes.
We are witnessing courageous Muslims who have no tolerance for people hijacking Islam. Muslims worldwide condemned the 9/11 attacks in the strongest language possible, albeit those condemnations were under-reported in the American and European press. And more tangible efforts to fight intolerance can be found in Saudi Arabia, which has experienced remarkable success in its rehabilitation and deradicalization program of returning extremists to true Islam. The program has only a 10 to 15 percent recidivism rate.
More recently, thousands of Libyans crowded the streets of Benghazi to protest radicals’ killing four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, at the US Embassy. Pakistanis have held demonstrations throughout Pakistan to voice support for Malala and condemn the Taliban.
A window has opened for the government of Pakistan, which appears to have growing popular support to crush militant organizations that disgrace Islam. The Pakistan Army is eager to avenge the shooting given its claim that it chased the Taliban from the Swat Valley in 2009.
Yet Malala’s attackers stopped the bus taking the girl and her 15 classmates to school in the center of the valley’s largest town of Mingora. Since the TTP appears to operate with impunity, it’s unlikely that the army has ability to wage an effective offensive, although under the chaotic circumstances in the region, the Pakistan government is doing the best it can. The true test for Pakistan is to stabilize the Swat Valley and create a deradicalization program similar to Saudi Arabia’s project. Pakistan also must put pressure on clerics to condemn violence in the name of Islam and to recognize that using religion as a weapon to gain political power through terror is in itself blasphemous.
If Muslim countries are going to demand that the West pass blasphemy laws to rein in hate speech, films and cartoons that denigrate Islam, then those countries must apply the same standard to its own people. A government official offers a $100,000 bounty to kill a filmmaker for insulting the Prophet. However, when he fails to offer the same bounty for the killers of children, the Muslim community should ask itself why it tolerates the double standard let alone offering the despicable bounty in the first place.

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