Farahnaz Ispahani is a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC and the author of the book Purifying The Land of The Pure: The History of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities (Oxford University Press, 2017). In 2015, she was a Reagan-Fascell Scholar at the National Endowment for Democracy, in Washington, DC. Ispahani was a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center from 2013-2014. A Pakistani politician, Ispahani served as a Member of Parliament and Media Advisor to the President of Pakistan from 2008-2012. In Parliament she focused on the issues of terrorism, human rights, gender based violence, minority rights and US-Pakistan relations. She was also a member of the Women’s caucus in the 13th National Assembly. The caucus, which straddled political divides, was instrumental in introducing more legislation on women’s issues than has ever been done before during a single parliamentary term. Ms. Ispahani spent the formative years of her career as a print and television journalist. Her last journalistic position was as Executive Producer and Managing Editor of Voice of America’s Urdu TV. She has also worked at ABC News, CNN and MSNBC.
On September 29, the State Department added British citizen Sally Jones to its list of foreign terrorists. Jones is a 46-year-old punk rocker who converted to Islam and moved from Kent to Raqqa to join the Islamic State in 2013. She is also newly widowed, having lost her 21-year-old husband, ISIS hacker Junaid Hussain, in an American airstrike targeting him a few weeks ago. “Mr. and Mrs. Terror,” as Hussain and Jones came to be known, were active on social media to extend the Islamic State’s reach in the West. The State Department announcement duly noted that the pair had published a “hit list” of American military personnel to encourage lone wolf attacks, recruited foreign women for ISIS, and in August offered instruction in homemade bomb-making for attacks in Britain.
Jones clearly deserves to be on the terror list and to be on it in her own right. She is no innocent, duped into a life of terror, or pushover for male domination. In fact, she is living refutation of the theory that female empowerment alone is the path to Islamic moderation, as the State Department has long maintained. Women, too, can be seduced by radical Islamic ideology.
An old Facebook photo shows Jones in the costume of a Catholic nun, holding a gun. In her recent posts, she is shown wearing Islamic garb, with an AK-47 assault rifle. She tweets such violent threats as “You Christians all need beheading with a nice blunt knife and stuck on the railings at Raqqa. . . . Come here I’ll do it for you.” Lately she is taking credit for an online posting of the home address of the Navy SEAL who claimed to have killed Osama bin Laden, along with an appeal for American jihadists to murder him. It’s not for nothing that State designates her a “fighter.”
Women militants like Jones are on the front lines in enforcing the Islamic State’s totalitarian system in the Khanssaa Brigade. Reportedly led by British women, the brigade is a morality enforcement militia by women against women. In the PBS documentary Escaping ISIS, two young members who functioned as Khanssaa shock troops before recently defecting in Turkey reported little regret about their jobs patrolling markets for female dress code violators, whom they would detain and lash 20 to 40 times with cables. Khanssaa is also responsible for enforcing the male guardianship regime, the Islamic State’s principal means of institutionalizing the subservience of women within its territory. Though they don’t hold rank or engage in battle, Khanssaa officers receive weapons training.
Jones, aka Umm Hussain al-Britani, has played an instrumental role in the Khanssaa Brigade, which, among other atrocities, has institutionalized the revival of sexual slavery. Khanssaa officials are reported to be the main enforcers of the rules issued by the ISIS fatwa department for its slave houses. Jones is hardly alone.
Over several months before being killed last February while an ISIS captive, 26-year-old American humanitarian worker Kayla Mueller was repeatedly raped by the Islamist terror group’s highest leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This was not just one more battlefield atrocity. Using the group’s only American female hostage, the “caliph” was setting a precedent—one that would revive the long-abandoned institution of sabaya, the enslavement of female infidels captured in battle and their use by jihadists for sex. Baghdadi blessed these serial rapes, not only as acceptable, but as moral behavior for ISIS men. Since then, slavery, rape, and sexual abuse at the hands of ISIS have become the fate of thousands of Yazidi women and girls, as well as smaller numbers of Christians, Shiite Muslims, and females of other religious minorities.
Recent reporting has uncovered numerous details of ISIS’s enslavement and sexual abuse of female “unbelievers,” each instance more extreme than the last. But often overlooked amid the victims’ horrifying accounts is the indispensable role played by Jones and other female officials in institutionalizing sexual slavery in the Islamic State.
It was, in fact, an Iraqi woman, Nasrin As’ad Ibrahim, commonly known as Umm Sayyaf, the wife of ISIS chief financier Abu Sayyaf (also now deceased, killed in May by American special forces), who organized ISIS’s use of sabaya, and who personally managed Kayla’s enslavement. We know of Kayla’s ordeal from media accounts of interviews with her parents, who were briefed by U.S. officials after questioning Umm Sayyaf, and with a teenage Yazidi girl who had been chained with Kayla in the Sayyaf home. From Umm Sayyaf, American interrogators uncovered the existence of a wives’ club of the ISIS leadership. These women gather and exchange intelligence to transmit to their powerful husbands. Precisely because they are not suspected, they are given responsibility to carry out missions and provided with deep knowledge of ISIS’s financial and tactical operations.
Jones, as the State Department noted, served as an ISIS propagandist. She and others like her have already lured some 550 foreign Muslim women, who, as potential brides, are used, in turn, to lure the foreign men who will be suicide bombers and militants—an estimated 30,000 so far, with 1,000 new arrivals every month. They aggressively employ social media to portray the ISIS war zone as an Islamic utopia, replete with free houses, taken from those who’ve been killed or have fled, and household appliances. Umm Sumayyah Al-Muhajirah is a propagandist who defends slavery and forced sex with female slaves on theological grounds. In the May issue of ISIS Dabiq magazine, she stresses that becoming enslaved to a Muslim is actually a blessing for the infidel slave girls for it can lead them to Islam. Holding this belief, Abu Abdullah al-Ameriki, a Muslim convert, is an American ISIS leader who prays before and after raping his captives, it was revealed in late September on CNN by Bazi, a 20-year-old Yazidi woman who managed to escape from his home in Syria.
Several women medical doctors in Mosul courageously defied ISIS and were consequently punished with death. But other female doctors are cooperating and have even moved to Islamic State-ruled territory to set up practice. Their OB-GYN skills are badly needed since males are barred from this field. But Zainab Bangura, the U.N. expert on sexual violence in conflict, herself a Muslim, provides disturbing evidence suggesting that some of these women doctors may be the Mengeles—the angels of death—of their day. For instance, she reports that a 21-year-old girl had been sold as a bride 22 times, and “every time this marriage was arranged, they had to do a surgical operation to her, to be able to rebuild her virginity so that she can become a virgin for her next marriage.”
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The Author Ms Farahnaz Ispahani is former RF Fellow NED, Public Policy Scholar at Woodrow Wilson Center 2013-2014. Member Pakistan Parliament 2008-12. Foreign Policy Top 100 Global Thinker 2012.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which turns 30 this year, has become only more deadly with age. Since blasphemy was made a capital crime under the nation’s secular penal code, the effect has been to suppress moderate influences, pushing “Pakistani society further out on the slippery slope of extremism,” said Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, senior advocate at the Supreme Court of Pakistan, in Washington last week. With its large population and sensitive location, Pakistan is a place where any societal shift in the direction of the Taliban deserves the attention of all concerned about Islamic extremism. Instead, this is one more foreign threat that the Obama administration underestimates.
On October 16, for the first time, an appeals court affirmed a death sentence for blasphemy meted out to a woman. A Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009 after fellow field hands complained that, during a dispute, she had insulted the prophet of Islam. No evidence was produced, because to repeat blasphemy is blasphemous. Similarly, anyone who defends an accused blasphemer risks being labeled a blasphemer; two officials who made appeals on Bibi’s behalf—Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities affairs—were assassinated in 2011. Bibi has one last legal recourse, an appeal to the federal Supreme Court, but now no public official dares speak up for her—or for any other blasphemy defendant.
Accusations of blasphemy are brought disproportionately against Pakistan’s Christians, some 2 percent of the population. Intent is not an element of the crime, and recent years have seen cases brought against illiterate, mentally disabled, and teenage Christians. Each case seems to heighten the sensitivities of the extremists and further fracture society. The flimsiest rumor of a Koran burning can spark hysteria ending in riots against entire Christian communities. Lahore’s St. Joseph Colony was torched last year in such a pogrom.
But blasphemy complaints against Muslims are also on the rise. Muslims now make up the largest defendant class; by contrast, during the entire 200 years of the British Raj, not a single blasphemy case against a Muslim is documented, according to the Islamabad Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS). Particularly hard hit are the Ahmadis, who pride themselves on reconciling Islamic beliefs with modern principles of pluralism, secularism, and peace. In 1974, the constitution was amended to declare the group heretical, and two of the five penal code sections devoted to blasphemy are specific to them. A few months ago, in a not atypical case, an Ahmadi doctor was charged with blasphemy after two Pakistanis posing as patients accused him of “posing as a Muslim” because, at their request, he read from a Koran.
Increasingly, liberal thinkers among Pakistan’s majority Hanafi Muslims are accused of blasphemy. The law’s vagueness—it bans irreverent words about Islam “either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly”—means it can be used against almost anyone, for almost anything. Extremists aggressively manipulate perceptions. Emboldened and even legitimized by the law, some are dispensing with the legal process altogether, acting, often with impunity, as judge and executioner.
The most famous victim of this parody of justice is Malala Yousafzai, one of this year’s Nobel Peace laureates. The media have downplayed the whispering campaign accusing Malala of defaming Islam by challenging the cultural taboo against female education. The accusations have come not only from the Taliban, who shot her but failed to kill her two years ago. Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, pointed out in the Wall Street Journal the Twitter campaign #MalalaDrama, whereby hundreds of young followers of cricket hero Imran Khan have denounced Malala as a “tool of the evil West who is seeking to impose Western values on Islamic Pakistan.” She wisely remains in exile in the United Kingdom, even though Swat, her homeland, has been reclaimed from the Taliban. (Malala is Pakistan’s second Nobel laureate. Its first, Abdus Salam, awarded a Nobel in physics in 1979, was among the earliest Ahmadis driven from Pakistan. He died in exile, but after his remains were buried in Pakistan, a magistrate ordered that words identifying him as Pakistan’s first “Muslim” Nobel laureate be filed off his tombstone.)
Scholar Akbar Ahmed says that “perhaps dozens” of Pakistani reformist educators have faced blasphemy complaints lodged by their students. Junaid Hafeez, professor of English literature at a university in Multan, is currently on trial for his life for blasphemy. He allegedly insulted the prophet on Facebook, though again there is no evidence. Another, Professor Mohammed Younas Shaikh, who started “The Enlightenment” group in Islamabad as a forum for Muslims to discuss their faith in the contemporary context, was accused of blasphemy by a student and sentenced to death, though he managed later to emigrate.
Last month, Professor Shakeel Auj, dean of the Islamic Affairs Department at Karachi University and an acclaimed Koranic scholar, was shot to death by unknown assailants. While well within the Sunni mainstream, Auj espoused a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of Islamic jurisprudence conducive to expanded rights for women. This brought death threats, including from some of his faculty colleagues. His pleas for protection were ignored, and the four professors arrested for threatening him were out on bail when he was killed.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan’s Rahman told us that the lawyers’ association of which he has been a member for 40 years has also grown more extreme under the blasphemy regime. In 2008, the New York Times, reporting on then-president Pervez Musharraf’s threat to judicial independence, exclaimed that Pakistan’s lawyers were evidence that “there truly was a liberal tradition in Pakistan, buried beneath six decades of dictatorship, corruption and religious extremism” and attributed to such lawyers “perhaps the most consequential outpouring of liberal, democratic energy in the Islamic world in recent years.
Three years later, lawyers in their trademark black suits were seen leading quite a different outpouring. This time its purpose was to cheer Mumtaz Qadri, assassin of Gov. Taseer and one of his security detail, who had said on television, “Salman Taseer is a blasphemer, and this is the punishment for a blasphemer.” Jarring reports showed members of the bar showering the defendant with rose petals as he entered the courthouse for his murder trial. Three hundred pro-bono lawyers signed his defense papers. After rendering a guilty verdict, the judge immediately went into hiding. The BBC entitled its report on the episode “Has Pakistan passed the tipping point of religious extremism?”
In 2000, no less an authority than the Lahore High Court chief justice, Mian Nazir Akhtar, gave a public statement to the effect that “no one had authority to pardon blasphemy and that anyone accused of blasphemy should be killed on the spot, as a religious obligation.” British writer and human rights activist Benedict Rogers commented on the thuggery accompanying the law: “Regularly, mobs of Muslims, often led by Mullahs, crowd into the courtroom, shouting threats at the judge if he does not rule in their favour. Defence lawyers receive death threats for taking on blasphemy cases. Mobs gather outside the courtroom, and physically threaten the lawyers as they leave.”
Some 60 people have been murdered in connection with the blasphemy law, according to CRSS. On September 25, a prison policeman, in cold blood, shot and killed 42-year-old Reverend Zafar Bhatti, president of the Jesus World Mission, accused, without evidence, of blasphemy, and wounded his cellmate, Mohammed Asghar, a 70-year-old diagnosed schizophrenic on death row for blasphemy. Earlier, on May 7, for defending Professor Hafeez, Rashid Rehman, a lawyer of 20 years’ standing, became the fourth person working for Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission to be murdered. Two lawyers were among those who threatened him.
As part of its changing cultural climate, Pakistan has become an “increasingly harsh environment for journalists, particularly those considered liberal,” the BBC reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists cites scores of reporters killed. Media personalities either shot and wounded or threatened with death for blasphemy so far in 2014 include: Shoaib Adil, a publisher in Lahore whose current affairs magazine is considered a rare liberal voice in the Urdu media; Pakistan’s most famous television journalist, Hamid Mir; the country’s most popular television host, Shaista Wahdi; and television anchor and journalist Raza Rumi. The BBC noted that Adil, whose transgression was to publish an Ahmadi judge’s book, is not a Taliban target but “the victims of an everyday witch hunt by Pakistan’s powerful religious groups—the kind of witch hunt that’s so common and yet so scary that it never makes headlines.
The United States lacks a diplomatic strategy to oppose Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Instead, it actually goes along with the idea of other countries’ criminalizing offensive speech. In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, co-chairing a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), initiated the ongoing “Istanbul Process” to curb anti-Islamic blasphemy (also called religious “defamation,” “insult,” and “hate speech”). The administration has even had the United States cosponsor U.N. resolutions with the OIC—resolutions supported, needless to say, by Pakistan—intended to promote stricter global enforcement of hate speech bans.
We need to change course. Education, law, and the media—the backbone of secular civil society—are being dangerously undermined by Pakistan’s blasphemy regime. Raza Rumi, who in March narrowly escaped the assassin’s bullets that killed his driver, wrote, “If politicians, policymakers, judges and lawyers tremble in fear, we may as well surrender our birthright to those who would deny us it. This culture of fear, orchestrated by powerful clerics and frenzied mobs, has paralyzed the criminal justice system. Those enjoying positions of power appear helpless. And there is no counter-narrative to oppose the spread of extremist ideology.”
The United States should make an unapologetic defense of free speech in every appropriate forum and work to roll back this subversive secular law. We should lend moral support to the majority of Pakistanis who are struggling to retain a semblance of a democratic and pluralist society and peace in the region. To the world’s detriment, the administration underestimated the Islamic State. The damage will be all the greater if we continue to ignore the danger from Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament and the author of Waiting to Die: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities (forthcoming). Nina Shea is director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and coauthor with Paul Marshall of Silenced: How Apostasy & Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide.
Link to the Original Article in “The Weekly Standard” http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/destroying-pakistan_817078.html?page=3