Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Questions For Pervaiz Chacha

(The following article was penned in response to an official state visit by President Pervaiz Musharraf of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to Australia. An edited version of the article was also published in the Australian Financial Review, an Australian newspaper the equivalent of the Wall Street Journal, on 16 June 2005 as an Op-Ed piece.)

In some parts of Pakistan, it is customary to refer to all men of one’s father’s age as “Chacha” or “Chachaji” (literally meaning “my dad’s brother” in Urdu and other languages spoken in Pakistan). In all parts of Pakistan, one must also show utmost respect to elders.

Now that President Musharraf of Pakistan is visiting Australia, I would like to ask some respectful questions to Pervaiz Chacha. I will try to be as respectful as possible.

Chacha Pervaiz, you will be aware of the negative press that Pakistan has received as a result of its implementation of a criminal code partially extracted from the ‘hudood’ laws of Islamic Sharia.

Under the code, female victims of rape are often faced with a death sentence, while male perpetrators are free to plunder the honour of more victims.

Also, under the code, religious minorities are persecuted and accused of blasphemy. Christian Pakistanis, some as young as 11, are placed on trial and face the death penalty for breaches of anti-blasphemy laws.

Over 50 years ago, the founder of Pakistan, “Qaid-i-Azam” (translated as “the Great Leader”) Muhammad Ali Jinnah, declared that all citizens of Pakistan were to be treated equally regardless of faith. Christian Pakistanis have made enormous contributions to the Pakistani nation, including in its second religion (cricket). I have lost count of how many times Yusuf Youhana has bailed out Pakistani teams from certain defeat.

You will be aware, Chacha Ji, that recently a prominent Swiss Islamic scholar by the name of Professor Tariq Ramadan has called upon all Islamic nations to implement a moratorium on all hudood-based criminal punishments. Professor Ramadan believes that God’s law is fast becoming the devil’s handiwork and an instrument for oppression. His call has been supported by Islamic scholars around the world including Australia and Pakistan.

When will your government implement the views of Professor Ramadan? When will you stop God’s law from being used as an instrument for the oppression of women, Christian minorities and other downtrodden Pakistanis?

Chachaji, Muslims across the Islamic world are crying out for liberty and democracy enjoyed by their relatives living in Western countries. When will you return Pakistan to full-fledged democracy?

Chachaji, I was born in Karachi. I arrived in Australia when I was hardly 6 months old. I have only ever held an Australian passport. I therefore am concerned with how Australians are treated overseas.

Pervaiz Chacha, when will your government come clean on why it detained and tortured an Australian citizen? Why did your government pass this Australian citizen onto American officials who then flew him to Egypt for more torture? How could you allow an Australian to be subjected to torture within your jurisdiction?

Chacha Ji, the Prophet Muhammad did not allow prisoners of war to even have their teeth pulled out. I am concerned that in this “war against terror”, prisoners from various parts of the world are being taken to countries such as Egypt, Syria and your own. They are tortured on behalf of the US government as part of a contracting-out arrangement known as “rendition”.

Tell me, Chacha, to what extent does Pakistan participate in rendition? Are there any further Australian citizens being made subject to this policy?

Apart from the torture of terror suspects, we see at village level innocent Muslim women subjected to the violence of honour killings. Women merely suspected of talking to a male stranger or committing some other cultural crime are tried by an all-male village council of elders and sentenced to death or to be gang-raped.

Numerous cases of these abuses have been documented. Custom-based violence was apparently stamped out from Muslim societies by the Prophet Muhammad 14 centuries ago. Why has it returned to Pakistan? And what steps will your government take to ensure it is eliminated completely?

Chacha Ji, I was taught that Islam guarantees human rights and the dignity of the individual in much the same way as liberal democracy. I understand that you are here on an official state visit on behalf of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Yet the abuses of human rights and individual dignity (of which a sample have been cited above) continue to be perpetrated by police, security apparatchiks and government officials of a nation founded as an Islamic republic, a nation carved out for Islamic values. How can such a nation allow such crimes to be committed in its borders, against its own people and against people of my country Australia?

Uncle Pervaiz, my government also has its share of excesses. My government only selectively advocated for Australians caught up in trouble overseas. My government throws foreigners into prison camps in the middle of the desert. My government commits numerous crimes in the name of fighting terror.

My final question is to both Perzaiz Chacha and Uncle John Winston Howard (Australia's Prime Minister). Terror is an enemy of liberty, freedom and dignity. How can the pair of you possibly be claiming to be fighting terror when you are helping the cause of terrorists by compromising individual liberties and abusing human rights?

(The author is a Sydney lawyer whose ancestors are from Daryaganj in Delhi, the birthplace of Pervaiz Musharraf. He grew up in East Ryde in the heart of John Howard’s electorate. He can be contacted on irfsol@yahoo.com.au)

© I Yusuf 2005

3 comment(s):

  • Salaams

    I'm not an expert on Pakistan, but my local Muslim community has its origins in Mirpur in Pakistan.

    I believe, perhaps wrongly, that the problem with crimes committed particularly against women cannot be solved simply by appeal to politicians or the law. Effective law, as I'm sure you know, requires a degree of consent within a community or nation for it to be effective. Reforms of culture is also required.

    That is not easy, and progress will be slow. In the UK, despite two women dieing a week through domestic murder and London police taking hundreds of calls on domestic violence every day, the culture is changing and it is culture as much as law which has challenged misogynistic violence and gender prejudice within this society.

    Changing culture requires people in various positions of cultural authority, not just politicians, to speak and act in a way which influences peoples attitudes and behaviour.

    In my view, then, the best thing Muslims living outside Pakistan can do is to highlight the work of Pakistan-based NGOs committed to gender justice.



    By Blogger Julaybib, at 6/16/2005 07:19:00 AM  

  • Salaams

    One example - I am 42, and I remember my school days as being largely (although not completely) gender segregated, not formally, but in terms of peer groups.

    Today, my daughters aged 17 and 14 have male and female friends, and this is typical of their age group.



    By Blogger Julaybib, at 6/16/2005 07:22:00 AM  

  • Salaam Yakoub,

    there are two levels here --- what concerns me more is the immediate violence against women --- the second part how genders in different culture/religions decide to interact amongst themselves is an age old issue --- and not something that can be really resolved entirely. Segregation of genders in schools does have its benefits ---

    In my own work --- groups i've facilitated, sometimes i do have seperate groups, by gender and/or self-identified ethnicity etc. so that folks begin to express themselves freely... once they develop a level of confidence and sense of safety within... i may then bring everyone together...

    I think the NGOs in Pakistan and most other areas of the so-called "third world" are very problematic. There are very few that are actually based in the communities, and most of the NGO people come from very privelaged sections of the society --- and have little or no roots in the community that they attempting to "reform" (this may sound very familiar --- i.e. some of these North American based "progressive muslim" groups have the same problem).

    There's a need for recognizing the integrity of a community itself --- and the ability to solve problems from within... otherwise we risk all kinds of backlashes --- and end up two steps backwards.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/16/2005 09:38:00 AM  

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