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Dr. Aafia Siddiqui – The Punishment Does Not Fit the Crime




Crossposted from

86 Year Federal Sentence Handed to the Gray Lady of Bagram Greater Than Necessary, Cruel and Unusual

By Houston Criminal Lawyer John Floyd and Billy Sinclair

Depending on who you believe, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui is either an American-educated Pakistani neuroscientist kidnapped in Pakistan in 2003 and tortured by Americans in the infamous Bagram prison in Afghanistan over the next four years or she is a captured al Qaeda terrorist who tried to kill six American military personnel in Ghazni, Afghanistan in 2008. Whichever she is, she did not deserve the 86 year sentence U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Berman imposed on her on September 23, 2010 because she posed a threat of “recidivism.”

There are a number of fairly certain facts about the bizarre and mysterious Siddiqui case in the public record. The Pakistani-born doctor was given up to the CIA by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed following his March 1, 2003 arrest in Pakistan and subsequent torture by the intelligence agency. The “spook” agency, which had virtually transformed itself into a lawless organization of kidnappings, torture, and secret prisons during the administration of George W. Bush, leaked Siddiqui’s name to the media, including CNN who in April 2003 took the government-fed bait and linked the doctor to alleged al-Qaeda terrorism activities. Shortly after Siddiqui’s name was made public in connection with terrorism she disappeared with her three children in Karachi, just days after returning there from America. International media outlets quickly reported she had been taken into custody by the FBI, who denied the claim, while her family members were told she had been kidnapped.

A little more than a year after her Karachi disappearance, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Patrick Mueller conducted a news conference during which Mueller called Siddiqui “an al-Qaeda operative and facilitator” who was wanted in connection “with possible terrorist threats against the United States.” However, just days after this May 2004 news conference, the FBI issued an international “information alert” which stated that while the agency had no information connecting Siddiqui “to specific terrorist activities,” the FBI still wanted “to locate and question [her].”

Many people, like Andy Worthington, became convinced that Dr. Siddiqui had been kidnapped—either by Pakistani or American authorities—and was being held in a CIA secret prison somewhere (here, here, and here). By 2007 the Human Rights Watch group released a report calling Siddiqui one of the many “ghost prisoners” being held in secret prisons controlled by the CIA. And by November of that year former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf suspended Pakistan’s Supreme Court Justice lftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry who was leading an investigation into the detention and disappearance of some 500 Pakistanis, including Siddiqui.

By early 2008 reports began to circulate among international media outlets about “The Gray Lady of Bagram,” who was being held in the military prison located on Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, which had eclipsed Guantanamo Bay as America’s worse torture facility. These reports were given credence in mid-2008 when British journalist Yvonne Ridley told the Daily News of Pakistan about a Pakistani woman who had been held in solitary confinement in the Bagram prison for years. Ridley began to speak out and write about Dr. Siddiqui who had become known as “Prisoner 650”—the screaming “Gray Lady” of Bagram because of the torture and repeated rapes she reportedly suffered over a four-year period. Ridley coined the term “gray lady” because Prisoner 650 appeared to be a “ghost” whose screams of anguish forever haunted those who heard them.

Suddenly, in July 2008, out of the clear blue, and with no rational explanation ever being given to the public, American authorities said Dr. Siddiqui appeared in Ghazni, Afghanistan.

In our February 5, 2010 post, we picked up this story that Dr. Siddiqui and her oldest son were reportedly arrested by Afghanistan National Police in Ghazni near the residence of the provincial governor. According to a federal indictment issued in the Southern District of New York, Siddiqui had in her possession handwritten notes that referred to a ‘mass casualty attack’ and listed various locations including the Empire State Building, Plum Island, the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge. The indictment further alleged that the handwritten notes contained information about a ‘dirty bomb,’ chemical and biological weapons, and other explosives along with a mortality rate for each weapon.

The government further charged that on July 18, 2008, a team of military and law enforcement personnel, along with interpreters assisting them, went to the Afghanistan National Police compound in Ghazni to interview Siddiqui. The team was escorted to a room where the interview was to be conducted. A curtain separated the interview room from another room. Siddiqui was reportedly in the adjacent room unbeknownst to the U.S. team. The military personnel rested their guns against a wall at which time Siddiqui allegedly grabbed one of the weapons and shot [at] one of the military personnel with it. She was also shot before being restrained. In addition to terror-related charges, she was indicted for the attempted murder of U.S. national [and assault of two others].

On August 4, 2008, Aafia Siddiqui was returned to New York to face the criminal charges against her. When she appeared before a federal Magistrate Judge that day, Siddiqui refused to accept the charges brought against her by the U.S. government. Her attorney at the time, Elizabeth Fink, told the Magistrate Judge that no one could believe anything the FBI said about the case and argued there was evidence to show Siddiqui had actually been arrested in Karachi in March 2003 along with her three children.

As a matter of fact, The Daily Times reported on August 8, 2008 that official documents existed which proved Aafia and her three children had been arrested in Pakistan in March 2003—not in Afghanistan in 2008 as alleged by U.S. authorities. The newspaper stated that “sources close to the matter claimed the Interior Ministry asked the provincial home departments for detailed reports on missing persons a couple of weeks ago, and that the list prepared by the Sindh Home Department included Dr. Siddiqui and her three children, Maryam, Admed and Suleman. The report confirmed MI detained Dr. Siddiqui and her three children in Gulsham-e-Igbal on March 30, 2003, later handing her over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).”

Regardless of the government involved, no official report prepared by any foreign authority has ever coincided with American accounts in the case. For example, the highly respected news wire service Reuters reported that Afghan officials offered a different version about Siddiqui’s alleged capture in Ghazni. The Afghan National Police were reportedly suspicious when they saw Siddiqui and her teenage son in the vicinity of the Governor’s mansion and took the pair into custody. Reuters reported a dispute erupted between Afghan and American officials the following day over Siddiqui’ custody. Reuters went on to say American military personnel disarmed the Afghan police and proceeded to shoot Siddiqui who was neither armed nor resisting. The Reuters report explained the shooting this way:

“’U.S. soldiers then proceeded to disarm the Afghan police at which point Siddiqui approached the Americans complaining of mistreatment by the police. U.S. troops, the officer said, ‘thinking that she had explosives and would attack them as a suicide bomber, shot her and took her.’

“On August 11, 2008, Siddiqui appeared before a federal judge in a wheel chair. Attorney Fink pleaded with the magistrate to order medical care for her client. Reuters reported Fink told the judge: ‘She has been here, judge, for one week and she has not seen a doctor, even they [U.S. authorities] know she has been shot.’ Christoper LaVigne, one of the prosecutors in the case, defended the lack of medical care on the grounds that Siddiqui is a ‘high-security risk.’ Judge Robert Pitman was not impressed with that justification, ordering government prosecutors to make sure Siddiqui was seen a doctor within 24 hours.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan immediately charged that during her captivity Siddiqui had a kidney removed; her teeth removed; her nose broken and improperly set; and that her gunshot wound had not been properly treated. Another Reuters report followed up these charges claiming that Siddiqui believed she had lost part of her intestines as a result of the gunshot and that she was still suffering from internal bleeding. “Lawyers for Siddiqui said … she appeared confused and did not know where she had been,’ Reuters added, ‘except to claim that she was held captive by unknown authorities in a small room.”

This did not deter the government from prosecuting the “Gray Lady.” On February 3, 2010, following a two week trial, an eight-woman and four-man jury found Dr. Siddiqui guilty on all counts involving the shooting incident in Ghazni. “This is a verdict coming from Israel, not America,” the obviously mentally ill, MIT-trained, neuroscientist said while being led from a Manhattan courtroom. “That’s where the anger belongs. I can testify to this. And I have proof.”

Dr. Siddiqui’s harsh 86-year sentence promptly drew international protests and condemnation especially in her native Pakistan where government officials vowed to fight for her unconditional release. A crowd estimated at 300,000 gathered in Karachi to hear members of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the second largest political group in Pakistan, call upon President Barak Obama to set aside Siddiqui’s “inhuman sentence.” Representatives of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, the Karachi Bar Association, and the country trade unions joined MQM in condemning Siddiqui’s sentence.

Claiming that ninety percent of the world’s population opposes America and its foreign policies, MQM’s chief, Altaf Hussain, told the crowd: “The Americans are responsible for what they have done to the world. America has killed innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan. The allegations against Dr. Siddiqui are false as they could not prove them. America is answerable [not Dr. Siddiqui].”

While we do not share Hussain’s intense anti-American sentiment, we understand the international outrage the Siddiqui case has spawned. Her case, in many ways, has become the epicenter of the world community’s anger and resentment toward the “torture” policies carried out under the Bush administration during its so-called “war on terror.” Andy Worthington captured both the legal complexity and the international debate surrounding the Siddiqui case with his September 24, 2010 Huffington Post report:

“Like everything in the story of Aafia Siddiqui, which remains, in many ways, the most opaque story in the whole of the ‘War on Terror,’ it is difficult to say what is true and what is not, but these accounts, as well as eyewitness accounts from other prisoners, including the British resident and former Guantanamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed, who has stated that he saw Aafia Siddiqui in Bagram, serve only to demonstrate that, not only is the 86-year sentence the most abominable miscarriage of justice, but also that it meshes perfectly with the notion that this whole sad story is an enormous cover-up. As I asked six months ago:

“If Aafia Siddiqui was indeed held in secret US custody for over five years, was the story of the attempted shooting of the U.S. soldiers in July 2008 a cynical set-up, designed to ensure that she could be transferred to the U.S. and tried, convicted and imprisoned without the true story coming to light?

“For someone once touted as a significant al-Qaeda operative, it is, to say the least, convenient that she has been sentenced to 86 years on charges that—beyond the prosecutors’ claim that she was an al-Qaeda supporter and danger to the U.S.—completely ignored her alleged role in al-Qaeda. The entire court case also avoided  the valid presumption that, if she was indeed regarded as an al-Qaeda operative, it would not be surprising if, like many dozens of other ‘high-value detainees,’ she suffered years of torture in U.S. custody, and then, somehow, had to be disposed of.”

We share Worthington’s concerns. If Dr. Siddiqui was in fact such a “high-value” target of al-Qaeda, why didn’t the government prosecute for those charges? We simply cannot believe the government gave the public the whole story in this case.  But even if we accepted everything the government has alleged against Dr. Siddiqui, both informally and formally, we would still call upon the U.S. Justice Department to arrange for her immediate release and return to her native Pakistan. We are convinced, based upon the compelling evidence in the public record that our government detained and most likely tortured Dr. Siddiqui for nearly five years and, thus, along with the apparent death of her youngest child, she has been punished more than enough, especially considering the crime of conviction.  The 86-year sentence imposed upon her by Judge Berman is just an unwarranted and cruel continuation of that torture. The U.S. government’s unnecessary attempts to maintain secrecy and it’s refusal to present the entire case about Dr. Aafia Siddiqui before the court and the court of public opinion have forever tainted the legitimacy of this case, regardless of its merit.  It is shameful, and her case will remain a blight on our criminal justice system and the reputation of the United States throughout the world community until she is released.

Related Posts from John T Floyd:



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    Yvonne Ridley

    January 15, 2011 at 4:41 AM

    This is one of the most thoroughly researched articles I have ever read on the subject of Dr Aafia Siddiqui.
    I would only question one line and that is the one where the author says she was “given up” by Khaled Sheikh Mohammed.
    The man was tortured and waterboarded (183 times) thereore anything KSM would say is of absolutely no value at all.
    And sadly, one of the MO’s of the CIA interrogators was to plant names and theories in the heads of those they tortured.
    Personally, if I had been in that position. I do not think I would not have been waterboarded, simply because I would have signed anything and done everything these fools wanted me to do.
    In Britain millions of pounds has already been paid out to ex-Guantanamo detainees by way of compensation because of torture. it does not work, it raises false information and probably, as a direct result of KSM’s extreme torture (they even tortured his two children aged 7 and 9), Dr Aafia Siddiqui was put through hell after being kidnapped and renditioned for five years before she was then shot at close range by US soldiers.
    To add to this she is once again kidnapped, renditioned and put before Judge Richard Berman, a disgrace to his profession, for a trial with no legal basis or standing. 86 years speaks volumes about Berman who represents everything that is wrong about the now discredited War on Terror … the brutality, the primitive and uncivilised nature of it and the many forms of torture it produced.

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    Ify Okoye

    January 16, 2011 at 12:14 AM

    I must admit that I have not followed this case as closely as I should have but from reading this excellent overview and recap am quite sure there is much amiss in the official version of events and that Dr. Siddiqui is another casualty of the war on terror.

  3. Avatar

    John Floyd

    January 16, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    I agree with Ms. Ridley’s assessment. In Americanized English, “given up” conjures images of snitches cooperating with authorities, regardless of the truth, to get a better deal. In this case, it is undisputed that KSM was subject to extreme types of torture and “gave up” anything his interrogators wanted, including information on Ms. Siddiqui. As I have argued over the years since 911, torture, or “enhance interrogation,'” is immoral, detrimental to the world-wide image of democratic governments, contrary to the spirit and letter of American law, achieves very little in terms of reliable information and is an affront to basic laws of human decency. All evidence obtained from such techniques should be considered worthless and the interrogators should be prosecuted.

    • Amad


      January 16, 2011 at 12:18 PM

      Thank you for the reply John.
      And thank you very much for the excellent, well-researched articles that you have written on Dr. Aafia. Indeed, her story is one of America’s most tragic tales of injustice.

  4. Avatar


    January 17, 2011 at 10:37 AM

    As far has her children are concerned, what right does any agency have to kidnap or hold children? Are her children still missing? Dead? Is that one little girl in fact hers or not? Whoever took her into custody has blood on their hands for those children, as far as I am concerned, and they should be prosecuted.

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    January 29, 2011 at 9:00 AM

    It makes me cry when i read this.SHE IS THE DAUGHTER OF ISLAM.they talk about democracy ,freedom of expression and so on.ALL i know is that when it comes to muslims they just forget their theories which they preaching us.Isn’t this the time that the world should realise that the war on terror is nothig but Israel’s terror hidden behind the UNand NATO.When they kill thousands of palestinians they say we do it for our security when they kill my brothers in afganistan they say they are AL-qaeda.AND the story goes on…….. .one day when i and my brothers in islam will rectify ourselves god will answer our prayers.please do something for sisiter Aafiya she is a women and i am told we muslims oppress women and i know u don’t.

  6. Avatar


    February 5, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    only ALLAH make the justice for her….

  7. Avatar

    abu Rumay-s.a.

    February 14, 2011 at 1:47 PM

    Awan wants to swap Davis with Dr. Aafia Siddiqui

  8. Pingback: An Exchange of Unequals | Obair Khan

  9. Avatar


    July 23, 2012 at 7:07 PM

    May Allah grant her great reward bcause this’s just falsehood. May we keep her in our Du’as during this blessed month

  10. Avatar


    July 4, 2017 at 9:53 PM

    The punishment does not fit the crime. Indeed, When i read the article i cry because that the truth thing in prison is terrible which make me obsess. Everything was wanted in connection “with possible terrorist threats is so unhappiness. Thanks for this Informative and valuable article

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Ya Qawmi: Strengthen Civic Roots In Society To Be A Force For Good

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari



For believers the traditions and teachings of the Prophets (blessings on them), particularly Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), are paramount. Each Prophet of God belonged to a community which is termed as their Qawm in the Qur’an. Prophet Lut (Lot) was born in Iraq, but settled in Trans-Jordan and then became part of the people, Qawm of Lut, in his new-found home. All the Prophets addressed those around them as ‘Ya Qawmi’ (O, my people) while inviting them to the religion of submission, Islam. Those who accepted the Prophets’ message became part of their Ummah. So, individuals from any ethnicity or community could become part of the Ummah – such as the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad.

Believers thus have dual obligations: a) towards their own Qawm (country), and b) towards their Ummah (religious companions). As God’s grateful servants, Muslims should strive to give their best to both their Qawm and Ummah with their ability, time and skillset. It is imperative for practising and active Muslims to carry out Islah (improvement of character, etc) of people in their Ummah and be a witness of Islam to non-Muslims in their Qawm and beyond. This in effect is their service to humanity and to please their Creator. With this basic understanding of the concept, every Muslim should prioritise his or her activities and try their utmost to serve human beings with honesty, integrity and competence. Finding excuses or adopting escapism can bring harm in this world and a penalty in the Hereafter.

Like many other parts of the world, Britain is going through a phase lacking in ethical and competent leadership. People are confused, frustrated and worried; some are angry. Nativist (White) nationalism in many western countries, with a dislike or even hatred of minority immigrant people (particularly Muslims and Jews), is on the rise. This is exacerbated through lowering religious literacy, widespread mistrust and an increase in hateful rhetoric being spread on social media. As people’s patience and tolerance levels continue to erode, this can bring unknown adverse consequences.

The positive side is that civil society groups with a sense of justice are still robust in most developed countries. While there seem to be many Muslims who love to remain in the comfort zone of their bubbles, a growing number of Muslims, particularly the youth, are also effectively contributing towards the common good of all.

As social divisions are widening, a battle for common sense and sanity continues. The choice of Muslims (particularly those that are socially active), as to whether they would proactively engage in grass-roots civic works or social justice issues along with others, has never been more acute. Genuine steps should be taken to understand the dynamics of mainstream society and improve their social engagement skills.

From history, we learn that during better times, Muslims proactively endeavoured to be a force for good wherever they went. Their urge for interaction with their neighbours and exemplary personal characters sowed the seeds of bridge building between people of all backgrounds. No material barrier could divert their urge for service to their Qawm and their Ummah. This must be replicated and amplified.

Although Muslims are some way away from these ideals, focusing on two key areas can and should strengthen their activities in the towns and cities they have chosen as their home. This is vital to promote a tolerant society and establish civic roots. Indifference and frustration are not a solution.

Muslim individuals and families

  1. Muslims must develop a reading and thinking habit in order to prioritise their tasks in life, including the focus of their activism. They should, according to their ability and available opportunities, endeavour to contribute to the Qawm and Ummah. This should start in their neighbourhoods and workplaces. There are many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on one’s obligations to their neighbour; one that stands out – Gabriel kept advising me to be good to my neighbour so much that I thought he would ask that he (neighbour) should inherit me) – Sahih Al-Bukhari.
  2. They must invest in their new generation and build a future leadership based on ethics and professionalism to confidently interact and engage with the mainstream society, whilst holding firm to Islamic roots and core practices.
  3. Their Islah and dawah should be professionalised, effective and amplified; their outreach should be beyond their tribal/ethnic/sectarian boundaries.
  4. They should jettison any doubts, avoid escapism and focus where and how they can contribute. If they think they can best serve the Ummah’s cause abroad, they should do this by all means. But if they focus on contributing to Britain:
    • They must develop their mindset and learn how to work with the mainstream society to normalise the Muslim presence in an often hostile environment.
    • They should work with indigenous/European Muslims or those who have already gained valuable experience here.
    • They should be better equipped with knowledge and skills, especially in political and media literacy, to address the mainstream media where needed.

Muslim bodies and institutions

  • Muslim bodies and institutions such as mosques have unique responsibilities to bring communities together, provide a positive environment for young Muslims to flourish and help the community to link, liaise and interact with the wider society.
  • By trying to replicate the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah, they should try to make mosques real hubs of social and spiritual life and not just beautiful buildings. They should invest more in young people, particularly those with professional backgrounds. They should not forget what happened to many places where the Muslim presence was thought to be deep-rooted such as Spain.
  • It is appreciated that the first generation Muslims had to establish organisations with people of their own ethnic/geographical backgrounds. While there may still be a need for this for some sections of the community, in a post-7/7 Britain Muslim institutions must open up for others qualitatively and their workers should be able to work with all. History tells that living in your own comfort zone will lead to isolation.
  • Muslim bodies, in their current situation, must have a practical 5-10 year plan, This will bring new blood and change organisational dynamics. Younger, talented, dedicated and confident leadership with deep-rooted Islamic ideals is now desperately needed.
  • Muslim bodies must also have a 5-10 year plan to encourage young Muslims within their spheres to choose careers that can take the community to the next level. Our community needs nationally recognised leaders from practising Muslims in areas such as university academia, policy making, politics, print and electronic journalism, etc.

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#Current Affairs

#UnitedForOmar – Imam Omar Suleiman Smeared by Right-Wing News After Opening Prayer at US House of Representatives

Zeba Khan



Sh. Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives yesterday, May, 9th, 2019  at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas.

Immediately since, right wing media platforms have begun spreading negative coverage of the Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists as well as criticism of Israel policies.

News outlets citing the criticism have pointed to a post from The Investigative Project on Terrorism or ITP, as the source. The  ITP was founded by and directed by noted Islamophobe Steven Emerson. Emerson’s history of hate speech has been documented for over two decades.

Since then, the story has been carried forward by multiple press outlets.

The immediate consequence of this has been the direction of online hate towards what has been Imam Omar Suleiman’s long history of preaching unity in the US socio-political sphere.

“Since my invocation I’ve been inundated with hate articles, threats, and other tactics of intimidation to silence me over a prayer for unity,” Imam Omar Suleiman says. “These attacks are in bad faith and meant to again send a message to the Muslim community that we are not welcome to assert ourselves in any meaningful space or way.”

MuslimMatters is proud to stand by Imam Omar Suleiman, and we invite our readers to share the evidence that counters the accusations against him of anti-semitism, bigotry, and hate. We would also encourage you to reach out, support, and amplify voices of support like Representative E.B.Johnson, and Representative Colin Allred.

You can help counter the false narrative, simply by sharing evidence of Imam Omar Suleiman’s work. It speaks for itself, and you can share it at the hashtag #UnitedForOmar


A Priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam Walk Into a Church in Dallas

At an interfaith panel discussion, three North Texas religious leaders promoted understanding and dialogue among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Amid a vexed political and social climate, three religious leaders in North Texas—a priest, an imam, and a rabbi—proved it’s possible to come together in times of division. Source:

Muslim congregation writes letters of support to Dallas Jewish Community

The congregation, led by Imam Omar Suleiman, penned more than 150 cards and letters. source: WFAA News

Historic action: Muslims and Jews for Dreamers

“We must recognize that the white supremacy that threatens the black and Latino communities, is the same white supremacy that spurs Islamophobia and antisemitism,” -Imam Omar Suleiman

Source: Bend The Arc

Through Dialogue, Interfaith Leaders Hope North Texans Will Better Understand Each Other

“When any community is targeted, they need to see a united faith voice — that all communities come together and express complete rejection of anything that would pit our society against one another more than it already is.” -Imam Omar Suleiman

Source: Kera News


Conversations at The Carter Center: Harmonizing Religion and Human Rights 

Source: The Carter Center

Imam: After devastating New Zealand attack, we will not be deterred

My wife and I decided to take our kids to a synagogue in Dallas the night after the massacre at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh to grieve and show solidarity with the Jewish community. My 5-year-old played with kids his age while we mourned inside, resisting hate even unknowingly with his innocence…” Source: CNN


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#Current Affairs

From Sri Lanka – The Niqab Ban and The Politics of Distraction

Shaahima Fahim



This article was originally published on Groundviews


As of last Monday, Sri Lanka is taking a seat at the table next to a list of 13 other countries from across the world who have passed legislation banning the niqab or face veil.

Amidst incensed murmurs from certain parliamentarians, and following a discussion with the country’s main Islamic theological body, the All Ceylon Jammiatul Ulema (ACJU), the President’s office has announced that ‘any garment or item which obstructs the identification of a person’s face would be barred.’ Sri Lanka has been under emergency regulations following the Easter Sunday attacks which killed over 250 people. The ban will hold until emergency regulations are lifted.

Ever since the identification of the all-male terrorists behind the massacre as members of militant group ISIS, Muslim women -for some inexplicable reason- were to bear the hardest brunt. Instances of headscarved Muslim women being refused entry at various supermarkets and prominent establishments, was followed by the usual scaremongering via alarmist infographics doing the rounds yet again ‘educating’ the public of the differences between the burqa, hijab, and chador.

A victory indeed for both anti-Muslim voices, as well as to many within the Muslim community seeking to audibly amputate themselves from a supposedly dated form of Islam – one that they claim has no bearing to inherent Sri Lankan Muslim identity.  A view that discards the notion that any religious or ethnic identity is fluid, in flux, and subject to constant evolution.

The grand slam however is primarily for the current political establishment, members of whom are probably high-fiving each other as a result of this kneejerk symbol-politics manoeuvre on having supposedly successfully placated the public of their fears of homegrown terrorism. A move that bleeds hypocrisy for it comes at the cost of subliminally ‘othering’ an already marginalized segment of a minority community, while at the same time PSA’ing for peace and coexistence in this time of crisis.

What is most insulting to the intelligence of our society however, is that amidst all this brouhaha, only few have questioned the actual relevance of this new ban to the current state of our security affairs.

No eye witness report nor CCTV footage showed that any of the suicide bombers from any of the coordinated attacks across the country were on that day wearing the niqab/burqa/chador at the time of inflicting their terror. The men were in fact dressed in men’s attire, with faces completely exposed. It might serve to add here also that they weren’t dressed in traditional Muslim man garb either.

How then did the face veiling Muslim woman get pushed under the bus as the most identifiable sign of radicalism?

It is obvious that the government was cornered into passing this legislation, as was the ACJU too in having to support this move. While all communities have only their praises to sing for the exceptional work of the security forces in tracking down the attackers within only just hours, the country’s elected leadership was in dire need of respite following what many experts claim was a massive intelligence failure, a blunder involving the wrongful identification of a terror suspect, and incompetence in the handling of events overall. A distraction was desperately required. Something needed to give, and it just so happened that the niqab-donning Muslim woman was the easiest scapegoat.

To an outsider unfamiliar with Muslim religious symbolism, the face-veil can come across as alien, even unnerving. And while our first instinct is to otherize in an attempt to help deal with the discomfort of dealing with any unknown, a woman out in the street in a niqab is -for as long as anyone can remember- most certainly not an oddity that has compelled anyone to stop and recite their final rites.

The misguided belief that the face veil is a marker of extremism isn’t and hasn’t ever been based on any empirical research. If studies were to be carried out, results would show that Muslim women in general -let alone those with a face cover- have a little role to play, if any, for acts of terror committed in all the countries that have banned them.

Contrarily, there is a clear proven relationship between terrorist attacks and increases in recorded Islamophobic incidents against Muslims, with women being disproportionately targeted. One can then dare infer that being visibly Muslim carries a greater risk to oneself, than to the people around them.

The niqab ban has been put in place as a security measure they say – a flexing of muscles towards any semblance of radicalization that will deter any future acts of terror in the country. Naturally, the perpetuating of this ideological hegemony is doing Muslim women no favors. If anything, the ban is a wholly counterproductive one, in that it ostracizes an already marginalized segment of a minority community – a sliver of a percentage out of the 10% that is the country’s Muslim population.

If -as commonly believed- veiled Muslim women are being hopelessly persecuted, the ban will serve only to increasingly confine these women to their homes, under the control of the men accused of governing their lives, and further disconnected from being able to assimilate with society. Even more dangerous, there are studies which prove that having to live in an environment that is aggressively policed on the basis of belief is more likely to harbour radicalization.

Absurdity of the non-connection of the attacks with the niqab ban aside, this in itself should be a war cry for secular feminists advocating for everyone’s basic right to the civil freedoms of a liberal society. Where now are the proponents and ambassadors so wholly soaked in the ‘Muslim woman saviour complex?’ A segment of Muslim women has been forbidden from wearing what they feel best represents their Sri Lankan Muslim identity. They were not consulted before this legislation was passed, nor were they given the chance to show their willingness to cooperate on instances where identification was required.

Ludicrously, discourses surrounding veiled Muslim women are paradoxically lobbed back and forth according to the convenience of the times. In times of world peace, they are oppressed and subservient to patriarchal whims and fancies, while in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack there are hostile and threatening, capable of devising all kinds of evil. They are either victims of violence or the perpetrators of it.

This age-old preoccupation with Muslim women’s attire is in actuality a gross conflation of conservatism with extremism. In claiming that a strip of cloth holds the answer to combatting a severe global threat is trivialising the greater issues at hand. If there was a direct correlation between the attacks and veiled individuals, legislation forbidding the covering of the face in public would be wholly justified. But there is none.

Muslim women shouldn’t be faulted for the cracks in the state’s china. In not being able to answer the hard questions of accountability, lapses in acting on available intelligence, and general good governance, those at the top should leave well alone and consider hiding their faces instead.

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