Monday, September 19, 2011

Ten years of violence

San Francisco Bay Area being a haven for peace movements hosted a plethora of anti-war programs on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. One such event organized by the Friends of South Asia (FOSA) and held at the San Francisco Public Library's Koret Auditorium was dubbed ' Ten Years after 911: A South Asian Reaction.' The program started with a screening of a fifteen minutes long compilation--put together by Saqib Mausoof, the chief organizer of the event-- of video excerpts from various films made on the themes of extremism (Kala Pul), identity crises of Muslim immigrants and their US-born children (Domestic Crusaders), entrapment (The FBI's Jihad), drone attacks (Silent Screams), Afghanistan war (Afghans for Peace), and understanding the growing anti-American feelings in Pakistan (Wide Angle on Pakistan).
Various aspects of 9/11 and the continuing violence and hatred it has unleashed were discussed by a panel comprising of Veena Dubal (Staff Attorney at the Asian Law Caucus), Roshni Rustomji-Kerns (writer, Professor Emerita, Sonoma State University), Dr. Maheen Mausoof Adamson (Director of Research, War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, VA Palo Alto), Yasmin Qureshi (writer and activist), and Fariba Nawa (Afghan-American journalist). The panel was moderated by Sharon Sobotta (Director, Women’s Resource Center, St Mary’s College).
Eminent Bay Area civil rights activist and lawyer Veena Dubal analyzed in great detail the aggressive role FBI has played in post 9/11 USA. Commenting on FBI's growing domestic surveillance network, Dubal said going after the crime was no longer a retrospective activity for the FBI. She said that the new laws have changed the orientation of the law enforcement agencies and now everybody wants to be James Bond.

Ms. Dubal is certainly not the only critic of the FBI. Civil liberties advocates all over the nation have complained of the almost free hand being given to the spy agency. Commenting on the high profile arrests FBI has been making in thwarting potential terrorist attacks, a recent BBC report claimed that the FBI does not only discover terrorist cells, it creates them. The same report explained FBI's modus operandi in cracking terrorist cells: FBI informants recruit gullible Muslims, buy them fake weapons and explosives, offer financial rewards if they carry out terrorist attacks, and finally arrest them for plotting terrorist operations. FBI critics believe that if the public sentiment was not so saturated with Islamophobia in post 9/11 USA, most courts would throw out these 'terrorist cell' cases as mere acts of entrapment by the FBI.

Veena Dubal claimed the annual review of the FBI agents includes whether or not an agent has been able to recruit informants in the community. People who are interviewed by the FBI are asked if they would like to act as informants and in many cases are threatened if they decline. She narrated one incident in which a person refusing to become an FBI informant was punished by being put on a no-fly list.

Veena Dubal said as an attorney she advises her clients not to talk to the FBI agents because of two reasons. First, the FBI agents have been enabled by guidelines to lie to individuals, and second, any misrepresentation of information given to an agent can be viewed as lying which is punishable by law.

Dubal said the FBI is not happy with civil liberties lawyers like herself. In one encounter with the FBI Dubal was asked to become a partner with the Bureau. When Dubal politely refused she was told many community organizations are partners with the agency-- FBI considers Muslim Advocates and the Sikh Coalition to be its partners.

Listening to Fariba Nawa you would be justified to wonder if all Afghan-Americans are as confused about the US involvement in Afghanistan as Nawa is. Nawa liked US removing the Taliban from power; she does not like the US occupation, but is afraid Taliban would again take control of Afghanistan if the US leaves.
"What has changed for the Afghan American community is that many of them are going back. We go back, we live there, we work there as translators. A lot of people have become richer from the contracts the US government is handing out . You will hear from my community saying that we are happy that the US intervention occurred. What we had before, with Taliban, was not an option.
"During the Taliban rule women could not go out, could not work, could not do many things. But we at least knew our children were safe because bombs and rockets were not raining on us. Now (under American occupation) we are free to do things but we don't feel secure to leave the house, neither do our children, neither do our husbands.
"If you do a survey in Afghanistan and ask people if the US should leave and the combat mission to stop, most people would say, No. But they would give conditions for it, and there is a reason why. We have very pesky neighbors like Pakistan, Iran, and former Soviet republics who have historically used Afghanistan as a pawn and will continue to do so.
"I think a lot of good has come out of it (the American intervention) but not for the long term. War is not a long-term solution--we need a political solution. "
Yasmin Qureshi said that as a Muslim woman, growing up in India, she always felt her family was seen with suspicion and that was the reason she relocated to the US. But after the 9/11 attacks she saw the same kind of mistrust about her community from fellow Americans. She said she has learned to fight back.
Maheen Mausoof Adamson said after 911, it has been a constant battle to be an observant Muslim without being labeled as a fundamentalist. "There is a difference between learning the fundamentals of Islam, and being a fundamentalist."
Sharing with the audience her experiences as the Director of Research, War Related Illness and Injury Study Center, VA Palo Alto, Adamson said she sees a lot of veterans coming back with Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) along with traumatic brain injury. Being far away from the battleground, far removed from the people who get killed, she said she is "seeing the impact of war on people who are pulling the trigger. They are paying a heavy price."
Adamson described how young people, who believe they need to fight for their country are suddenly taken out of their nice environments in the US and sent to Iraq and Afghanistan; they take part in combat operations and one day come back to the 'sanitary environment', without going through any acclimatization. They are asked to carry on with their lives as before. But now things are different for them. They have seen war and have been exposed to a lot of bad things.
Discussing an issue not widely known, Adamson said, "American female soldiers have been sexually abused in military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are afraid to go to the bathroom at night because they know that they would get abused or get raped. " Adamson said quite a few female soldiers develop urinary tract infection because of not being able to go to the bathroom at night--many develop PTSD from this trauma.
Adamson said she is also witnessing cases of domestic violence that are related to PTSD. In one instance, wife of a patient confided in her how every night the veteran would take her to the bathtub, tie her up and beat her silly--he would then cry and would say he did not know what he was doing.
Roshni Rustomji-Kerns said the terrorist attacks of 911 did not shock her. What surprised her was people's reaction to the attacks. "Why is everybody so shocked by this?" she asked, "The shock should be why it (violence) is still going on."
Rustomji-Kerns said the 911 attacks gave way for racism to come out. On the need for people to understand each other she thought the challenge was, "How do we talk to people who are not in the same choir we are in."
FOSA's commemorative program was in part group's seventh annual literary evening. In the literary readings part of the program Dr. Khawaja Ashraf (travelogue writer, Urdu novelist, writing as K Ashraf), Maryam Turab (Urdu columnist), Saqib Mausoof (writer and filmmaker), and Roshni Rustomji-Kerns read their writings related to the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
Maryam Turab's short Urdu article was on her thoughts as a Pakistani-American woman on the 911 attacks and the bloodshed that has followed, and on her frustration that on September 11, 2001 a small group of people hijacked Islam and defined it to the world.
Dr. K Ashraf's Urdu article explained how, after the 911 terrorist attacks, US citizens are made to choose between security and freedom--that peace can only be restored when people all over the world would feel free and secure.
Saqib Mausoof called his causerie a personal catharsis. The piece was about events and popular discourse shaping the thoughts of a Pakistani immigrant in the US.
Roshni Rustomji-Kern's essay was on the horrors of wars she has seen from her childhood. "Stop glorifying wars. Instead of processions and parades, we should have days of mourning shared by everyone...victims and victimizers."
In the Q&A session there was a lot of interest in understanding Fariba Nawa's point of view--and for a good reason. In anti-war discussions you don't normally hear people favoring war.
" Anti-war people come up to me and say, 'Sorry, we are bombing your country; we are doing terrible things to Afghans.' Well, go to Afghanistan and they will welcome you."
She acknowledged the rural-urban divide in Afghanistan and thought if a survey was done in Afghanistan, people living in urban centers would favor US occupation whereas Afghanistan's rural population and especially those living in the South would like the US to be out.
She was of the view that till 2005 US involvement in Afghanistan was viewed favorably by most Afghans. "What we are seeing now is a combination of many things. One is the corruption of the Afghan government...a very big factor in the success of the insurgency. In the beginning the insurgency was not successful in the North at all, but now it is.
"If the US leaves, what is going to happen? A civil war is inevitable. I would like more discussion about a peace keeping mission in Afghanistan.
At the crux of the matter is the idea of a group of people (government) ruling over a country, how a decision is made about who would rule the country, and if certain communities do not agree with the government and the laws they are forced to live under, what should they do. Is war the only way to remove an oppressive government? Hardcore anti-war advocates would strongly disagree. A parallel argument can be found in the debate over capital punishment. People who oppose capital punishment argue that a person is much more than the crime that person has committed and is being punished for; killing a person as a revenge for a criminal act is killing all the possibilities that individual holds. War is a form of capital punishment--on a much larger scale, with more indiscriminate killings. How can war be justified?
But then what do you do with dictators, unpopular governments? How do you rescue people from juntas that grab power through undemocratic means? It behooves peaceniks to provide an answer to the people of Afghanistan.
Complete audio recording of the program is here: