Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Two Extraordinary Women – One I have Met, the Other I Wish to...

The First Woman

There is a woman who I consider a heroine today. Having spent tens of hours watching and marvelling at her interviews and reading deep and deeper into her story, one that came more as a shock to the world, I became a sincere admirer of her bravery, curiosity and dedication. But never even in my wildest of dreams had I seen myself meeting her or hosting a show featuring her.

Her Long Story Short

The model of inspiration I am talking about here is Mariam Ridley, earlier know as Yvonne Ridley. Yes, she was that one daring reporter who refused to convey to the world the fabrications the media was fed by the White House about what Afghanistan had to do with the incident of the World Trade Centre. This brave woman dared to illegally enter Afghanistan (after having being refused a legal entrance) to find out what was actually happening there by whatever means she had. Eventually, the locals discovered and the Taliban captured what appeared to be a European spy. About 11 days later, after proving that she was no more than a media reporter, the then Yvonne Ridley departed for UK absolutely amazed at the stark contrast of what she had personally seen and experienced as a captive of the Taliban and what she had heard about them from the media.

Long story short, after having safely reached home in the UK, she scanned the Quran to find out where Islam orders men to beat their wives up and other anti-feminist acts of the like. Having found nothing that oppresses women and discovering rights that no religion or social system in the world gives women, she, as a feminist, converted to Islam a couple of years after her capture by the Taliban and is now known as Mariam Ridley.

Mariam Ridley at IBA

With the help of Allah, the Iqra Society managed to invite Mariam Ridley while she was at Karachi, to IBA to speak on whatever she felt important – her experience with the Taliban, international politics, Islamophobia, feminism or something else. And the topic she chose was an eye-opener.

As the banner reads, Ridley speaks to the audience - students, media and others - at IBA.

She enlightened the audience about none other than whose legal sentence is awaited by hundreds of thousands of people all around the world– Dr. Afia Sidiqui – an America born Pakistani Ph.D, having 144 honorary degrees and certificates in Neurology from various institutes around the world and the only neurologist to have an honorary degree from Harvard. A genius who as been physically, psychologically and sexually tortured for seven years in different prisons by the American forces without any legal sentence.

We found out that Mariam Ridley campaigns in protest for the plight of Dr. Afia Siddiqui along with her sister, Dr. Fauzia who accompanied her to IBA as well. Dr. Fauzia is also a neurosurgeon and has had the honour of being the director of the Epilepsy Centre at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Mariam Ridley mentioned facts and scenarios she had personally witnessed. It was both heart-wrenching and blood-boiling to hear the sheer cruelty with which Dr. Aafia is tortured and the inhumane conditions in which she is kept. According to Mariam Ridley:

“She (Dr. Aafia) is kept in a 6’x6’cage-like prison, which contains her lavatory as well. Her limbs are bound by heavy, metallic chains while they are covered in bruises, wounds and blood and a guard watches on her constantly. . . Her cavities are checked in public when she is to be presented for an interrogation . . .”

Mariam Ridley has repeatedly said that if this is how the US treats its captives she would rather be a captive of the Taliban, the most ‘brutal regime in the world’.

Dr. Fauzia, at the event, embracing the mother of Uzair Paracha, an IBA graduate who was captured by the US forces and detained at the Guantanamo Bay.

How I came to meet her

Within 24 hours of the confirmation that Mariam Ridley was coming to IBA, the members of Iqra arranged the whole event! From the venue reservations, approvals and souvenirs to invitations, media coverage and co-ordination, it all fell into places unimaginably smoothly, although there were tough times as well. For instance, at 3 am, the night before the talk, I got to know that I was to host it because of some reasons – however, staying up for it was hardly difficult. After all it was Mariam Ridley’s talk I was going to host!!! Alhamdulillah.

The Invitation

A couple of days after the event, Dr. Fauzia personally sent an invitation to all those people who had helped organize the event to her mother’s house, with whom she resides, at dinner. It is a gesture of gratitude she shows everyone who helps her in her campaign for Dr. Aafia.

The visit helped us get to know the emotional side of Dr. Aafia’s case – about how her only brother has spent all that he had on the lawyers’ fees, how he got a heart attack upon visiting his sister’s prison, about how her mother who apparently is a very strong woman cries every night because her youngest daughter lives in such inhumane conditions, the very daughter whose father used to bring specially soft fabric from Egypt to keep her tender skin comfortable.

I along with Dr. Fauzia's two brilliant daughters, Alia 10 and Amna, 4.

For a detailed account of the visit, you can read a fellow Iqra member Nida's blog post by clicking here

The Awaited News

Ever since the eye-opening event took place, not only the members of the Iqra Society but also many of those who have attended it have been following Dr. Aafia’s case closely because they now know how it feels after hearing accounts of eye-witnesses. The case is altogether very important because Dr. Aafia is not just one woman – she is the representative of the hundreds and probably thousands of people who have gone missing from not just Pakistan but all around the world including the UK and the US, and have not been administered justice to. If Dr. Aafia, who’s millionaire family today finds holes in its pockets due to the high charges of lawyers and still unsuccessful at bringing her to a fair trial, will justice ever reach those who live almost hand to mouth, whose sons, husbands and fathers have been ‘kidnapped’ and put in to torture cells by the American forces.

And for a moment if for the sake of the argument we do agree that all these men and women have been up to something fishy, what about the children that are held in prisons?

One sentence that shall ring in my ears for my entire life is when Dr. Fauzia said, 

‘When I went to take Ahmad (Dr. Afia’s son who along with his mother and his two siblings had ‘gone missing’ in 2003), there were so many other children in the prison and I felt very guilty taking him with me, leaving them all behind and not being able to do anything about it.’

News Update : Dr. Aafia’s case sentence was to be pronounced on August 16, 2010 but has been postponed by a month. This is the second time that it has been postponed.


  1. strong memories from IQRA alhamdolillah :) good article maryam, well done! Dr Aafia is our hero and whatever happens to her, it will serve as a reminder of how our gov failed to rescue a daughter and acted as stooges of uncle sam and how our nation supported the Aafia family. their names will be written down in history and not forgotten inshallah. and on the day of judgement they shall see and we shall see; 'awr hum bhi dekhain ge, lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhein ge' inshallah.

  2. Yes, although I don't support blaming the government for every other thing that happens to us, in this case it is ONLY the government which could have done something after what has already been done by thousands of people... And yes, rightly said, we will see it all on that Day, iA.

    Sadly, this whole affair seems very much of a hype-ish kind of thing until you go and actually meet and talk to the people involved in it.