homegrown terrorism prevention act raises fears of new government crackdown on dissent

attention all dissenters, protesters, anti-war activists, animal rights advocates, environmentalists, and muslims: this bill has already passed the house with flying colors (400 to 6) and is sure to sail through the senate. i found out about it at a rochester against war meeting today.

is human rights a “western” idea?

through the process of organizing a rally asking for democracy and the restoration of justice in pakistan i have come to a new understanding of how “human rights” are viewed by many in the pakistani community. it is astounding to me that those who have immigrated to the united states and enjoy freedom and at least some recourse to a somewhat independent judiciary in their new country, can rationalize that people back home might not need similar freedoms. i am shocked to hear statements such as “many in the community support martial law” or “if musharraf goes the taliban will take over, therefore let him stay”.

how easy it is for us, sitting here in our half-a-million-dollar suburban homes and driving our mercs and oversized SUVs to dismiss a grassroots movement asking for justice and human rights, halfway across the globe in pakistan, where we only go to attend lavish weddings and shop for clothes and jewelry. are we not guilty of the same racism immensely popular with western governments? that human rights and democracy are only good for people with a certain skin color. that in countries like pakistan military dictatorships are more conducive to stability – even if it is always at the cost of human rights. that the people of pakistan cannot be trusted to make their own decisions and therefore decisions must be made for them by the likes of musharraf – kept in power by american military aid and so answerable to america, not the people of pakistan. i guess that we ourselves have bought into the ridiculous idea that human rights are not for us – we can’t handle them.

in the letter we sent to our senators and congressmen (posted 11/21/07) my husband and i talk about the people being sent to jail and house arrested by the pakistani government. we describe the lawyers, retired justices, journalists and activists who have been musharraf’s prime targets as “secular-minded, liberal, tolerant, middle class professionals”. one pakistani found that offensive and asked what we meant by that label. three words: muhammed ali jinnah! the founder of pakistan was a secular-minded, liberal, tolerant, middle class professional so what’s so repugnant about it? why do we translate these words to mean “american sellout”? since when has education, professionalism or tolerance become counter-culture in pakistan? the same man then takes a jab at pakistanis asking for human rights in pakistan by proclaiming that they have “misplaced identities”. since when has religious radicalism, conservatism, intolerance and being either lower class or upper class (as opposed to middle class) been more in line with being pakistani? that’s absolute bullshit.

for those who think that it’s all about american sellouts pandering to the west’s spiel about democracy, watch this documentary by ziad zafar called “missing in pakistan”. a lot of the confrontation between the judiciary and musharraf started with a case filed by amina masood and others demanding that their disappeared husbands and sons be accounted for. shockingly enough, the case was taken up by the supreme court chief justice iftikhar chaudhry. this is when musharraf summarily fired him and the country, led by its legal community, erupted in violent protest. look closely at amina masood’s face – that’s the face of pakistan and that is who we should be siding with. amina masood is a teacher. she is middle class, educated, articulate, strong and in your face. in the west she would be called an activist, a feminist. yet should we turn away from her because she embodies all the great ideals we absurdly attribute to the west? is she an american sellout too?

granted the west’s spiel about democracy, as it applies to less developed countries, is insincere and used to window dress its own selfish economic and political interests, but there is nothing wrong with the ideology itself. there is nothing wrong with human rights, individual freedoms, democracy or justice. people in pakistan know that and they are fighting for it with their lives. we don’t have as much to lose, sitting comfortably on our asses out here in the land of plenty. is simply supporting that struggle from your leather armchair too much to ask?

speech at the rally

thanks to my friend, filmmaker rehema trimiew, who came to the rally on a cold windy sunday, filmed the event and put it on youtube. check out her film sticks and stones.

my speech:

We are here to show our support for the people of Pakistan in their struggle for freedom and democracy.

Civil society in Pakistan is being dismantled by the present dictatorship. Thousands of lawyers, human rights activists, judges and academics have been put under arrest. Hundreds of people who have committed no crime have mysteriously disappeared.

Shameful instances of torture against prominent lawyers have occurred and the government has even arrested the sisters of opposition leaders. Freedom of speech has been curbed and independent media have been shut down.

Martial law has been declared to supposedly fight terrorists yet the government is actually negotiating with them and every day they grow stronger. The laws of the country no longer apply in many places and people have been left to the mercies of the Taliban.

And all this after six years and billions of our tax dollars sent to the Pakistan army in the name of fighting extremism. 

What is happening today in Pakistan is NOT to fight terrorists, NOT to preserve law and order, NOT to make Pakistan or the world safer – it is a naked power grab.

I ask you to send a clear message to your congressmen, senators, the US administration and the whole world: Americans will not stand for what is happening in Pakistan. Human rights violations must be stopped. Those arrested must be released, the constitution must be restored, the judiciary must be restored, the media must be freed, and no more dictatorship.

open letter to our senators and congress people about the crisis in pakistan

To: Ours Senators and Congressional Representatives

Dear Representative,

We are Americans who support freedom and democracy. We are writing to share our concerns with you regarding recent events in Pakistan.

We are greatly disturbed by General Musharraf’s crackdown on civil liberties, decimation of judicial independence, muzzling of the media, indiscriminate arrests and reported torture of lawyers, human rights activists and politicians.

As Americans we cherish the values of civil liberties, an independent judiciary, freedom of speech and freedom of association, and when we see these values being trampled on in Pakistan we feel we must speak out. This is especially so since General Musharraf’s continued hold on power and the acts committed by his government are supported in no small part through lavish aid and funding provided by us, the American taxpayers.

We feel that for too long the United States has shirked its responsibility toward promoting freedom and democracy in Pakistan by expedient alliances with a string of unpopular military dictators for short term objectives, while ignoring the long term dangers of such unsavory alliances. The history of our foreign policy is replete with instances of our support for dictators of all stripes coming back to haunt us in the long run. We say that for once America should side with the people of Pakistan, not their oppressors.

We recognize that the United States has great strategic interests in ensuring the stability of Pakistan, especially regarding the specter of the government falling under the influence of radicals and militants. We wish to point out the great irony that in fact General Musharraf’s biggest supporters in the current Pakistani parliament are the very same religious parties that make no secret of their support for the radical militants. On the other hand, the people being oppressed by the General are secular-minded, liberal, tolerant, middle class professionals who would be our best bulwark against the further spread of radical religious ideology in Pakistan.

We hear that General Musharraf is a key ally in our war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, yet we would submit to you that in fact the very survival of General Musharraf in perpetual power is contingent upon the existence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. We are aware of the US Government’s unhappiness at the Pakistani government’s performance in the fight against terrorism. Yet we wonder why no one in our government sees that it is in General Musharraf’s own best interest never to wipe out the terrorists completely, because he knows once that happens there will be no reason for him to continue receiving US support to stay in power.

We support ongoing help given by the US to Pakistan, NOT to buy more F-16 fighters or line the pockets of army generals but to fund programs to rebuild civil society in Pakistan, improve the standard of living particularly in the tribal areas, facilitate education and better healthcare, preserve human rights, and restore true democracy, free media and an independent judiciary.

US involvement in Pakistan must be uncoupled from support for dictators, who we predict will end up as major liabilities and hindrances to our foreign policy goals in Pakistan.

We are presented with doomsday scenarios of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling in the hands of radical Islamists if the present military dictatorship comes to an end. These are fanciful ideas dreamed up by think tank types who live in a fantasy world. In fact quite the opposite is true. The army in Pakistan is capable of guarding the sovereignty of the country, fighting extremists, and protecting its strategic assets, if only its tasks could be refocused on purely military matters rather than having it permanently embroiled in ensuring the survival in power of an unpopular dictator.

We wish to ask you, our government and representatives, to please stop being afraid to engage with the people of Pakistan. They deserve more credit than is generally given them for their ability to elect their leaders democratically. The religious and fundamentalist parties have historically never received more than three percent of the popular vote in any free election in Pakistan. It is only under General Musharraf’s rule that they hold the second biggest share of seats in Pakistan’s parliament, because he needs them to maintain his hold on power and has systematically excluded popular political parties that represent the hopes and aspirations of the Pakistani masses.

We wish our government to deliver a clear ultimatum to the Pakistani establishment that our ongoing support for them is not open ended but is contingent upon the restoration of Pakistan’s constitution, an end to martial law, complete freedom of the media, holding of truly open and fair elections, and an end to all military dictatorships.

Above all, we wish to have the judges who bravely stood up to tyranny and dictatorship in Pakistan released and returned to their jobs, for we are all very proud of them. Notable among lawyers and judges who have been placed behind bars are Mr. Aitezaz Ahsan (Barrister and co-founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan), Mr. Muneer A. Malik (President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association), Mr. Ali Ahmed Kurd (former Vice-Chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council), and Justice (Retired) Tariq Mahmood. Pakistan’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry (recent recipient of Harvard Law School’s Medal of Freedom) is still under house arrest.

We look forward to a strong, democratic and progressive Pakistan.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
Your Constituents

rally for pakistan

democracy for all!

rally to show solidarity with movement for justice in pakistan

the rally to support justice and democracy in pakistan was a success last sunday, nov 18. about 50 people turned up. it was a diverse group of people from local activists to religious and interfaith groups, from lawyers to teachers and students, from pakistani americans to americans with no ties to pakistan. it was heartening to see that human rights matter to so many. there was plenty of media coverage. here is the article in the democrat and chronicle.

this is the speech i made, as main organizer and spokesperson for the rally:

“we are here to show our support for the people of pakistan in their struggle for freedom and democracy. civil society in pakistan is being dismantled by the present dictatorship. thousands of lawyers, human rights activists, judges and academics have been put under arrest. hundreds of people who have committed no crime have mysteriously disappeared. shameful instances of torture against prominent lawyers have occurred and the government has even arrested the sisters of opposition leaders. freedom of speech has been curbed and independent media have been shut down.

martial law has been declared to supposedly fight terrorists yet the government is actually negotiating with them and every day they grow stronger. and all this after six years and billions of our tax dollars sent to the pakistan army in the name of fighting extremism. obviously, this strategy is not working.

what is happening today in pakistan is NOT to fight terrorists, NOT to preserve law and order, NOT to make pakistan or the world safer – it is a naked power grab. i ask you to send a clear message to your congressmen, senators, the u.s. administration and the whole world: americans will not stand for what is happening in pakistan. human rights violations must be stopped. those arrested must be released, the constitution must be restored, the judiciary must be restored, the media must be freed, and no more dictatorship.”

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thanks to usman for these great pictures!

americans for justice in pakistan, rally on sun nov 18, 2-3.30pm, 12 corners in brighton

Rally to Support Restoration of Judiciary and Civil Liberties in Pakistan
Date: Sunday November 18, 2007
Time: 2.00pm – 3.30pm
Place: Twelve Corners in Brighton
Contact: Mara Ahmed

SOLIDARITY

PLEASE JOIN THE PAKISTANI AMERICAN COMMUNITY IN UPSTATE NEW YORK IN A DEMONSTRATION OF SOLIDARITY WITH THE PEOPLE OF PAKISTAN IN THEIR STRUGGLE FOR THE RULE OF LAW.

WE WILL HOLD A DEMONSTRATION ON SUNDAY NOVEMBER 18 FROM 2:00 PM TO 3:30 PM AT TWELVE CORNERS IN BRIGHTON.

THE PURPOSE OF THE DEMONSTRATION IS TO EXPRESS OUR DESIRE TO PRESERVE THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE JUDICIARY AND TO RESTORE THE RULE OF LAW AND THE CONSTITUTION OF PAKISTAN.

IF YOU CHERISH FREEDOM, LIBERTY, CIVIL RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY JOIN US TO SHOW OUR RESOLVE TO THE WORLD THAT WE WILL NO LONGER ACCEPT TRAMPLING OVER CIVIL LIBERTIES AND OVER JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE IN OUR HOME COUNTRY.

AS A SIGN OF UNITY WITH THE LAWYERS WHO ARE SPEARHEADING THE STRUGGLE IN PAKISTAN PLEASE WEAR BLACK AND WHITE WHEN YOU COME.

pakistani lawyers rally for the return of law
student protest in lahore

mara verheyden-hilliard & answer.org

mara verheyden-hilliard is a civil rights attorney and co-founder of the partnership for civil justice. she is also on the steering committee of the international group ANSWER (act now to stop the war and end racism), the main organizers of the september 15, 2007 anti-war mass protest in washington dc. this woman is amazing. not only is she extraordinarily intelligent and articulate but her weltanschauung has a moral rectitude rarely found today. after all, i believe that we are living at a time when information-fixing and therefore thought-control have reached a new pinnacle. it is already a struggle to see past the smoke and mirrors but then to be able to stand up for what you believe in, even if that is considered “fringe” and unpopular, and to work tirelessly to change things for the better – that to me is the mark of an outstanding human being.

here’s an interview mara did back in 2003 for npr’s fresh air. she talks about her involvement in anti-war demonstrations on the eve of the american invasion of iraq. this interview is a big slap in the face of the theory that npr is somehow liberal. terry gross is as establishment as anyone else, she certainly has her own agenda, which she pushes aggressively to the detriment of her job as host and interviewer.

this is an article mara wrote for globalresearch.ca, june 3, 2006 – it’s called “the logic of war crimes in a criminal war“.

one of the points mara makes is not to get distracted by elections – if you look at the history of our country, no worthwhile, groundbreaking change was ever effected through the election of the right politicians. what we need instead are grassroots movements that mobilize people to come out in unison and decry the war as well as other racist government policies. this is the only way to force politicians, whether they be republican or democrat, to take account of what we think and what we want, we the people they are supposed to serve!

mara verheyden-hilliard