Bhutto Assassination: A Pakistani Requiem for a “daughter of destiny”

Having witnessed the ghost of Hamlet’s father, Marcellus, a minor character from Shakespeare’s tragedy, remarks, “Something is rotten in the State of Denmark.” Sadly, observers of modern day Pakistan echo a similar sentiment.
An assassin’s bullets and suicide bomb have ended the life of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Tragically, she followed in the footsteps of her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s Prime Minister [1973–1977], who was brutally hanged by political rival and subsequent military dictator General Zia al Haq nearly thirty years ago. The legacy of this family elucidates the political instability and schizophrenic personality of modern-day Pakistan: a complex, volatile and multifaceted nation whose diverse features have increasingly and frequently become accentuated by violence.Bhutto and nearly 20 civilian supporters were killed while stumping for the upcoming January Pakistan parliamentary elections in the army stronghold of Rawalpindi. As of Friday morning, Bhutto’s death catalyzed widespread riots, vandalism, and civilian unrest directly resulting in 15 reported deaths. President Musharraf, who recently lifted November’s State of Emergency that temporarily suspended the Constitution and implemented a “mini Martial law,” officially declared 3 days of “mourning” and vowed to continue his resolve against extremists and terrorists.Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif, the once exiled former Prime Minister of Pakistan and potential rival to Musharraf, promised, “We will avenge [Bhutto’s] death,” and has boycotted the upcoming elections. World leaders and dignitaries, specifically Republican and Democratic Presidential candidates, quickly issued press releases and television interviews admonishing the assassination, pledging their vow to root out “Islamic terrorism,” and supporting Musharraf and Pakistan’s “move towards democracy.” [Presidential candidate Huckabee had to be reminded, embarrassingly, that Pakistan was no longer under martial law – an auspicious sign of our future leaders’ knowledge and understanding of foreign policy and world affairs.]“Rage Boy”

The vast majority of Pakistani citizens, according to my friends and family who live there, lament the tragic actions of an extremist minority that continues to pollute and threaten the spirit, character, and personal safety of the nation. To the ears of “Westerners,” whose only exposure to Pakistan by the US media has been a simplistic, cartoon-like depiction of angry extremism [“Rage Boy”] and enlightened “moderation” of a military dictatorship [Musharaff], this sentiment rings false and hollow. Indeed, “Rage Boy” has become the ubiquitous image of not only Pakistani politics, but also 160 million Pakistani citizens; “Rage Boy” is a bearded, irrationally angry, frothing, anti-American extremist whose occupation consists of three full time jobs: burning American flags, studying at an Islamic fundamentalist madrassas, and engaging in anti-American terrorist activities. Any proper student of history or anthropology with even a modicum of knowledge regarding Pakistan’s diverse socio-cultural identity would scoff at that simplistic depiction. Sadly, nuances and complexity are not afforded media air-time amidst Pakistan’s continuing and repeated, albeit isolated, acts of sensationalistic violence.

This dualistic and Manichean representation of Pakistan manifests itself with the description of the personality at the center of this recent, contagious conflagration: Bhutto. Mere hours after her assassination, Bhutto was both praised as a “shaheed” [a martyr], “a beacon for democracy,” “a model of progress,” “a loyal friend to democracy,” and condemned as “a traitor,” “a US puppet,” and everything in between. When extremism, political fervor, and selfish interests marry, the resulting progeny is usually instability, uncertainty and violence; common sense, rationality, and moderation are generally aborted.

Prime Minister Bhutto

Before outlining the possible motives and culprits of this dreadful assassination, a cursory look at Bhutto and her political career is needed. Following in the dynastic footsteps of her father, the Harvard and Oxford educated Bhutto became the head of the PPP [Pakistan’s People Party] and was elected as the country’s first female Prime Minister in 1988. In a stunning twist of fate, irony, or cunning (depending on whom you ask), she succeeded the assassinated General Zia al Haq, the same man responsible for hanging her father in 1977. Although plaudits and adulations have been heaped on the recently deceased Bhutto, her political tenure in Pakistan was marred by ineffectuality and widespread charges of corruption, which effectively ended both of her terms as Prime Minister. [It should be noted that Nawaz Sharif’s first term was dismissed for corruption charges as well.]

Specifically, Bhutto was accused of stealing more than $1 billion from Pakistan’s treasury, and Switzlerand convicted Bhutto of laundering nearly $11 million. Furthermore, Bhutto’s husband, Asif Zardari, is affectionately known in Pakistan as “Mr. Ten Percent,” an honorable title he earnestly earned for receiving a “10%” commission from all government contracts.

Also, it is worth noting that Bhutto, who in the past few hours has been hailed as “Pakistan’s last hope for democracy and reform,” financially and militarily supported and strengthened Afghanistan’s repressive, extremist and misogynist Taliban government that came to power in 1996. The Taliban’s disastrous and archaic human rights policy, hardly democratic or progressive, was conveniently swept under the rug in lieu of pacifying the Afghan region to ensure beneficial and lucrative trade routes to Central Asia. Like a scene from King Lear or Godfather 2 – if Bhutto’s own niece and political critics are to be believed – Bhutto engineered the still unsolved assassination of her estranged brother, Murtaza, in 1996 to consolidate political leadership of the PPP. Bhutto’s political history, thus, is marred by several questionable controversies, rank corruption and abuse. Why, then, was she promoted by the United States as a harbinger of peace and democracy?

The fateful triangle

Reports indicate that the United States, Musharraf and Bhutto recently agreed to a brokered power sharing deal, whereby Musharraf would retain his Presidency, Bhutto would be named Prime Minster and her numerous corruption charges would bypass the courts and be “dropped” due to the creation of a “National Reconciliation Ordinance.” The deal was suspect from the beginning and only further deteriorated with Bhutto’s return from exile to Pakistan in October, when a devastating assassination attempt on her life, still unsolved, left nearly 140 people dead.

The nail in the coffin was hammered by Musharraf, who unilaterally implemented a State of Emergency in November. Experts state his action was motivated by the Supreme Court’s adverse ruling regarding his eligibility to lead Pakistan, thereby denying him a right to lead as both President and Chief of Army Staff, a title he relinquished only recently. As a result, The United States’ erstwhile democratic ally, Musharraf, undemocratically suspended the Constitution, ousted and jailed Supreme Court judges and lawyers critical of his policies and leadership, detained nearly 2,000 human rights activists, and silenced independent media and news stations. Although publicly reprimanding Musharraf’s “questionable” (one could say “undemocratic”) actions, the White House remained loyal to their dictator-of- choice, because the US has provided Pakistan with nearly $10 billion in aid as “good will currency” in its support to hunt al-Qaeda and extremists within Pakistan’s borders. Specifically, President Bush said he wants democracy in Pakistan, but “at the same time, we want to continue working with [Musharraf] to fight these terrorists and extremists.”

Two weeks before the State of Emergency prompted his unlawful arrest, incarceration and subsequent kidney failure, Muneer Malik, Pakistan’s former President of the Supreme Court Bar Association and prominent critic of Musharraf, gave me an exclusive interview, in which he proclaimed a statement shared by many in Pakistan: “The US supports dictatorships that suit its interests. It is never interested in the masses of Pakistan. The power sharing between Benzair and Musharraf will only perpetuate military hegemony. The mindset of the politicians is that the road to Islamabad [Pakistan’s capital] leads from Washington and not from the streets of Pakistan.”

A grand irony results from observing this alliance. The United States wants to support democracy in Pakistan by allowing Musharraf to implement undemocratic measures and dictatorial practices to ensure Pakistan’s future democracy. That is akin to endorsing an avowed pacifist who feels forced to purge his enemies through murder and violence in order to bring peace.

Precisely due to Musharraf’s recent array of dictatorial and undemocratic suppressions of dissent – specifically the sacking and arrests of Supreme Court justices and attorneys – and extreme unpopularity amongst his own people, the US hoped Bhutto would serve as an ameliorative and reliable presence for their interests. Her political presence, it was argued, could act as a counterbalance to Musharraf, thus ensuring some semblance of stability in Pakistan. Specifically, before returning to Pakistan in October, Bhutto had publicly stated she would allow the United States within Pakistan’s borders to assist in hunting Al-Qaeda operatives and terror cells. Bhutto said,

“I would hope that I would be able to take Osama bin Laden myself without depending on the Americans. But if I couldn’t do it, of course we [Pakistan and US] are fighting this war together and [I] would seek their co-operation in eliminating him.”

Her critics questioned her sincerity and motives in potentially allowing Pakistan’s sovereignty to be threatened by inviting America to strike within Pakistani soil. The critics responded by calling her America’s “stooge” and “puppet,” a woman willing to appease Western nations by any means to ensure her political power.

This charge and allegation of “servitude to the United States” arguably ensured her assassination or, at the very least, cemented her unpopularity amongst an extremist political segment of Pakistan. However, with the January parliamentary elections around the corner and the power sharing deal all but quashed by Musharraf, Bhutto changed her tune. In her final speech on the day of her assassination, she passionately declared, “Why should foreign troops come in? We can take care of this [referring to resurgent Al Qaeda extremists in Pakistan], I can take care of this, you [Pakistani citizens] can take care of this.” Did this duplicitous, flip flop statement make Bhutto a Janus – a two headed Roman God – or was this a sincere change of conviction? Sadly, Pakistan will never know the answer.

The smoking gun?

What is known, however, is that Bhutto foreshadowed her death, or at the very least was extremely cognizant of potential attempts on her life. In October, she informed her spokesman, Mark Siegel, via email to make public the following statement if she was to be killed in Pakistan: “I [Bhutto] would hold Musharraf responsible.” Bhutto’s aides told CNN that she accused Musharraf of “deliberately failing to provide adequate security measures” in Rawalpindi, which included failing to provide her a four-car police escort and jamming devices against bombs. After the devastating October assassination attempt on her life, Bhutto accused Pakistan’s intelligence services [the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI] in having a hand in the suicide attack on her convoy. Although it is premature to conclusively determine who masterminded the assassination attempt, Bhutto’s supporters place the blame firmly on Musharraf’s shoulders, whom they believe either engineered the attack or acted negligently in failing to deter it.

From one angle, Musharraf’s recent actions portray a consistent pattern of unilateral power grabs by stifling opposition and criticism. His state of emergency and declaration of temporary “martial law” serve as prime evidence of that argument. This recent tragedy has further destabilized the country prompting mass protests and vandalism thereby giving Musharraf a rationalization and excuse, according to his critics, to impose martial law yet again if he so chooses and curb the democratic process.

Since the United States has no political allies in Pakistan that it feels it can remotely trust, one can argue they will be forced, out of necessity and desperation, to tacitly endorse Musharraf and promote him as an “ally against terrorism” and “hope for democracy.” The West fears that the nuclear weapons and technology of Pakistan will fall in the hands of an extremist minority that will align itself with Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces, thus endangering US presence not only in the Middle East but South Asia as well. However, it is imperative to note that the extremist element of Pakistan (aka “Rage Boy”) is but a despised minority that doesn’t even have enough legitimacy to secure a political majority in even the most fundamentalist regions of the North Western Frontier Province and Punjab.

Yet, this miniscule fraction of the population, when united with ideologically like-minded sympathizers within the ISI, could have orchestrated this latest round of violence according to Pakistani intellectuals and pundits. As of now, no group has claimed responsibility. However, many believe rogue elements of Pakistan’s highly secretive and powerful ISI in association with al-Qaeda sympathizers bear scrutiny. When asked who engineered the October assassination attempt on Bhutto, Muneer Malik simply stated, “the intelligence agencies.” When I asked him about the July “Red Mosque” tragedy, and specifically who armed the radical students [in July, the military raided the Red Mosque that was besieged by heavily armed radical Muslim students resulting in nearly 173 deaths], Malik replied, “It was a scam of the intelligence agencies. How could arms have been smuggled in the Masjid [Mosque] that is located less than a kilometer from the ISI headquarters?” In fact, Bhutto’s husband, Asif Zardari, pointed his finger at the ISI for the October assassination attempt as well: “I blame the government for these blasts,” he said. “It is the work of the intelligence agencies.” Many share this belief.

A Pakistani requiem

Perhaps the identity of the real culprits may never be known. One can only hope that they are found soon. Regardless, Benazir Bhutto has now been buried next to her father in their family’s ancestral village on the day of juma (Friday), a holy day for Muslims. As her mourners ascribed to the rituals of the Islamic funeral procession, many have taken turns supporting her casket on their shoulders, eventually guiding the deceased to her burial grounds. For some, they will literally carry their last vestige of hope for a democratic Pakistan. Others will carry the last of a dynamic and volatile political dynasty. Most will carry a tragic but common reminder of violence that has claimed too many of Pakistan’s icons and leaders. The Namaaze-I-Janaza, the Islamic requiem as it is known in Urdu, requires Muslims attending the funeral to supplicate Allah asking His forgiveness and blessings for the recently deceased. Perhaps they can pray for Pakistan as well.

Wajahat Ali is Pakistani Muslim American who is neither a terrorist nor a saint. He is a playwright, essayist, humorist, law school graduate, and regular contributor to whose work, “The Domestic Crusaders,” is the first major play about Muslim Pakistani Americans living in a post 9-11 America. He can be reached at

An Islamic Legacy of Liberation or Oppression of Women?

Honor Killings. Female Circumcisions. Forced Veiling. Stoning. Oppression.

These words and phrases commonly arise when commentators, news media, and critics describe Islam’s attitude and practices towards its women. Unfortunately, ideologies espoused by the Taliban, right wing conservative parties in Pakistan, Wahhabi elements in Saudi Arabia, and others make it nearly impossible to combat and refute claims of Islam’s “inherent animosity” and suppression of women. In the spirit of Ramadan, the essay will merely juxtapose the conduct and rhetoric of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as a template to the countless oppressive “Muslim” ideological regimes of the present. The reader can draw his own conclusions.

“Recite in the name of thy Lord that created! He created man from that which clings. Recite; and thy Lord is most Bountiful, He who has taught by the pen, taught man what he knew not.” (96:1-5)

The first five verses of Chapter 96 were revealed unto Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the year 610 in Mecca signifying an era of monotheism and worship of one creator, Allah, and an adherence to the Quran, the Divinely revealed text of Islam, and the Prophetic model of conduct and actions, the Sunnah. The honor of being the first convert to Islam, as well as the Prophet’s (pbuh) significant ally and confidante, did not belong to a man, instead the status is forever reserved for the Prophet’s (pbuh) first wife, Khadijah. In an era where women were buried as children and men took women forcefully and with impunity, Khadijah was a 40 year old, twice widowed wealthy, noble woman with a private caravan. She proposed to the 25 year old, modest orphan Muhammad (pbuh) impressed by his honesty and righteous conduct when escorting her merchandise to Syria on her behalf. Until her death 25 years later, Khadijah, the noble wealthy widow, supported her husband through every persecution, hardship, and calamity as he preached Islam in a hostile, threatening environment. Specifically, her wealth aided Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) spread the message of Islam, free slaves who had embraced Islam and were persecuted by their masters, as well as feed and shelter the community of Muslims that slowly but surely began to grow. During their marriage, the Prophet (pbuh) did not take other wives, after her death he remarried but forever exalted her name and character: “She believed in me when no one else did; she accepted Islam when people rejected me; and she helped and comforted me when there was no one else to lend me a helping hand.” Granted, this essay is not a love story about the Prophet (pbuh) and his first wife, but if indeed Islam, as characterized by the persecution of women in “Muslin” countries, is inherently misogynistic and oppressive, how can there be such unconditional support, love, and honor between the Prophet (pbuh) and his wife?

The introduction of Islam into Mecca and Arabia as practiced by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions radically altered the status of women by affording them newfound rights of property, inheritance, divorce, marriage, and judicial compensations and remedies. Before the advent of Islam, Muslim scholars state Arabia was immersed in a period of Jahiliyya (An Age of Ignorance) characterized primarily by its brutal treatment of women as second, almost third class citizens. Quranic legislation, implemented under the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), ended the pre-Islamic custom of girl infanticide (Chapter 15:58-59), restricted the number of wives a man can have to four provided there was no injustice and unfairness (4:3), allowed women the right to inherent and bequeath property (4:7), guaranteed women the right to have full possession and control of their wealth, including the dower during marriage and after divorce (4:4), as well as grant women the equal right to initiate both divorce (2:299; “Divorce must be pronounced twice and then a woman must be retained in honor released in kindness”) and marriage (as evidenced by Khadijah rdh initiating marriage with Prophet Muhammad pbuh).

However, various verses of the Quran, pointing to the inherent spiritual and moral equality of men and women and also those suggesting male superiority, allow leeway for possible misogynistic interpretation. As with any religious or legal ruling, the interpretation of the reader can greatly manipulate the intent of the words for selfish, ideological benefit or detriment. The Quran and Hadith literature (the comprehensive collection of the sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad pbuh) are no exception to this unfortunate reality. From a Quranic standpoint spiritual excellence and success belongs to both men and women, “Allah promises to the believers, men and women, Gardens underneath which rivers flow…” (9:72), “Lo! Men who surrender unto Allah, and women who surrender, and men who believe and women who believe…Allah hath prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward.” (33:35). Furthermore, men and women are commanded to assist each other towards comfort and spiritual excellence as evidenced by the verse “…they (women) are a raiment for you and you are raiment for them…” (2:187), and “And the believers, men and women, are protecting friends one of the other; they enjoin the right and forbid the wrong.” (9:71).

However, The Quran also establishes that “Men are a degree above women,” (2: 228). Specifically, the Quran states that “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). (4:34). Indeed women under Islamic law are barred from certain religious and political functions such as the call to daily prayer (adhan), leading the Friday sermon (jumaa), and religious leadership (‘imama). However, legal interpretation by scholars such as Tabari (died 10th century) suggest “men are in charge of their women” specifically due to the Islamic obligation on men to provide dowers on women, spending their wealth on them, and providing for their security and comfort in full, including bestowing guidance with regards to spiritual duties towards Allah and themselves (“And the believers, men and women, are protecting friends one of the other” 9:71). Thus, Tabari literally interprets the Quran as endowing men with obligation to provide material and financial support for women, as well as authority over women in a family setting.

Other scholars such as Baydawi (died 13th century) stress male superiority in mental faculties and wise counsel thus ensuring their “charge over women”. However, modern scholars such as Jamal Badawi state that “the degree” men have over women is entitled Quiwama (maintenance and protection), “refers to that natural difference between the sexes which entitles the weaker sex to protection.” However, he quickly adds, “It implies no superiority or advantage before the law. Yet, man’s role of leadership in relation to his family does not mean the husband’s dictatorship over his wife. Islam emphasizes the importance of taking counsel and mutual agreement in family decisions.” Even though interpretations of certain Quranic verses and Hadiths have been used to aid misogynistic cultural beliefs of women’s physical, spiritual, and intellectual inferiority, the Prophet Muhammad pbuh specifically espoused kindness and fairness numerous times: “The best of you is the best to his family and I am the best among you to my family.” “The most perfect believers are the best in conduct and best of you are those who are best to their wives.” “Wives are not slaves and should not be treated as such.” “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”(From the last sermon of Prophet Mohammed ).

The traditional Islamic scholars sought esoteric and practical religious knowledge from the wife of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) Hadrat A’isha bint Abu Bakr, proving women’s intellectual faculties were respected and exalted. A’isha’s wisdom and superior intellect was so well known that a contemporary of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) famously remarked, “if the knowledge of ‘A’isha were placed on one side of the scales that of all other women on the other, ‘A’isha’s side would outweigh the other.” Due to her intimate interactions with the Prophet (pbuh) and her wisdom, she gave counsel to generations of Islamic scholars following the death of the Prophet (pbuh), as evidenced by Abu Musa who is recorded as saying, “Whenever a report appeared doubtful to us, the Companions of the Prophet, and we asked ‘A’isha about it, we always learned something from her about it.” Furthermore the Prophet (pbuh) recommended: “Learn some of your deen (religion) from this red haired lady” (referring to his wife, A’isha). It bears utmost importance to examine traditional Islamic law and behavior towards women as practiced by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his companions to compare and contrast the treatment of women under the Taliban, Pakistan’s Hudood Ordinances, and the current Wahhabi Saudi regime.

Furthermore, Aisha plays an integral role in “the Affair of the Necklace,” a profound episode in Islamic history that established Quranic verses protecting women’s honor from slanderous gossip regarding sexual impropriety. The beloved wife of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Aisha, was inadvertently left behind by her caravan when she set out to retrieve her lost necklace. A young Samaritan found her and offered a ride back to her community in Medina. Upon returning, however, slanderers and gossip mongers spread rumors of possible infidelity between Aisha and the young man, thus causing great distress to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Due to the improper and baseless allegations against Aisha’s honor and character, several Quranic verses were revealed admonishing and punishing those who “launch a charge against chaste women.” Specifically, the Quran demands: “And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations), – flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors.” The evidentiary requirement of four witnesses and the severe punishment of flogging stem from an Islamic desire to protect the reputation, chastity, and “honor” of women from baseless accusations of sexual indecency.

Men and women who engage in the activity of slander and gossip involving women’s chastity receive stern admonishment and reprobation under traditional Islamic law. For example, in the same chapter describing the punishment for slander, the Quran says, “Those who slander chaste women, indiscreet but believing, are cursed in this life and in the Hereafter: for them is a grievous penalty, – On the Day when their tongues, their hands, and their feet will bear witness against them to their actions.” Furthermore, Islamic etiquette as ordained by Allah and performed by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) commands the community members to construct the most favorable opinion of the accused perpetrators, and not indulge in condemnatory assumptions. The Quran says, “Why did not the believers – men and women – when ye heard of the affair, – put the best construction on it in their own minds and say, ‘This (charge) is an obvious lie”? Why did they not bring four witnesses to prove it?’ When they have not brought the witnesses, such men, in the sight of Allah, (stand forth) themselves as liars!” From the historical episode, “The Affair of the Necklace,” and the Quanic verses establishing the evidentiary requirement of four witnesses and the admonishment of slanderers, the emphasis on protecting and guarding a woman’s honor is paramount in traditional Islamic law.
A brief analysis of both Quranic verses and the character and conduct of the early Muslims, especially the criterion of Islamic etiquette, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), clearly indicate Islam’s motivation to respect the dignity and honor of both men and women. Specifically, the behavior of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) towards his wives, as evidenced by his devotion and respect for his first wife Khadijah’s loyalty and dignity, as well as his admiration for Aisha’s intelligence and wise counsel, introduce a progressive, compassionate model of conduct between husband and wife. Moreover, the specific Quranic injunctions condemning sexual indecency, as well as defamatory rhetoric and gossip, strongly suggest Islam seeks to cover and hide sexual indiscretions, whether real or imagined, as to protect a person’s reputation, and chastity. If indeed that is true, then the question remains: How did a 7th century egalitarian Islamic system seemingly commanding respect and tolerance for women arguably transform into a 20th century system of misogyny, abuse, and indignity in many “Muslim countries?” The answers to that question demand examination and introspection by Muslims of good conscience, however the model of the Islam’s Prophet might cause those who espouse such misogynist views to take pause and reflect.

Blackwater and Private Military Firms in Iraq

The Good, the Bad and the Iraqi


“Privatize first, ask questions later.”

William D Hartung

“I would like to have the largest, most professional private army in the world”

Gary Jackson, President of Blackwater, hired to protect Lt. Gen Paul Bremer, head of the CPA.

“For most of the world’s governments, though, there are simply no applicable laws that regulate and define the jurisdictions under which PMF’s (Private Military Firms) operate.”

P.W. Singer

“It’s more cost effective to outsource some of those activities, those functions, outside of the military. I didn’t do the numbers, but I’m telling you, it’s cheaper.” Paul Cerjan, VP of Worldwide military affairs, Halliburton/KBR

“Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises.

The black heart of outsourcing core, military functions to Private Military Firms (PMF’s) revealed itself yet again this week with the most recent (of many) Blackwater scandals. Blackwater, the North Carolina based private security firm with 1,000 employees currently deployed in Iraq, first came to prominence as the contracted, personal bodyguards of former Coalition Provisional Authority head Lt. General Paul Bremer. Unfortunately, Blackwater’s international reputation has blossomed due to its notoriety warranted by irresponsible and violent acts in Iraq. These incidents, which seem like a recurring, annual trend, emphasize the crucial, prescient need to closely examine PMF’s roles, responsibilities, and most importantly–legal accountability–in the “War on Terror.”

Recently, Iraqi investigations revealed Blackwater employees were responsible for nearly 6 violent episodes this year resulting in 10 deaths and countless wounded civilians. However, on September 27, The State Department, for the first time, publicly stated Blackwater’s security personnel has actually been involved in 56 shootings while guarding American diplomats in Iraq so far this year alone.

Furthermore, federal prosecutors are currently investigating Blackwater employees for illegally smuggling weapons into Iraq and selling them on the black market, which have, ironically, ended up in the hands of organizations that the United States government has officially deemed as “terrorist.” Surely, the U.S. government has reprimanded this organization, cancelled their contracts, and held them accountable for such illegal and negligent acts. Right? Wrong. Reaffirming their undying loyalty to private military firms, The White House, through its cabinet member of choice Condoleezza Rice, said they have, yet again, ordered a review of the government’s handling of private contractors in Iraq, but added “We (the government) havereceived the protection of Blackwater for number of years now, and they have lost their own people in protecting our own people (high ranking U.S. diplomats and ambassadors) – and that needs to be said.” What also should be said is that Blackwater is just one of many private military firms whose illegal conduct has gone largely unnoticed and unpunished under either U.S. or international law.

We must recall The Abu Ghraib Torture Scandal that rocked the headlines in the summer of 2004. Aside from permanently disgracing the United States military reputation in the Middle East, this harrowing episode introduced the world to the catastrophic consequences and weaknesses of privatizing certain military functions to private contractors. The Taguba Report, prepared by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba to investigate the scandal, highlighted private military firms CACI and Titan as being “directly or indirectly responsible” for the abuses, since they employed 30 or so interrogators who made up more than half of the Abu Ghraib interrogation team. Torrin Nelson, former employee of CACI working as an interrogator at Abu Ghraib, illustrated a grave problem with outsourcing core military functions to the private market when he said, “The problem with outsourcing intelligence work is the limit of oversight and control by the military administrators over the independent contractors.” Other egregious examples include the complete exoneration of private military firm DynCorp (hired as Bosnia’s police force), whose employees were involved in a Bosnian rape and child prostitution scandal. None of the men, including DynCorp’s site supervisor who videotaped himself raping two young women, were ever legally prosecuted, instead they were “sprinting out of the country, away from local authorities.” How convenient.

The lack of responsibility and accountability for private military actors are major areas of concern, since PMF’s are generally subject only to the laws of the market. Specifically, a public military actor, such as an Army Marine, would be court marshaled, dishonorably discharged, or arrested for partaking in illegal activities contrary to domestic and international law. Certain manners of control and regulation would ensure this type of swift punishment and accountability, such as internal checks and balances, domestic laws regulating military force, public opinion, parliamentary scrutiny, and numerous international laws. However, no agency, legislative oversight, or legal recourse truly affects the PMF’s, such as Blackwater, aside from the checks and balances of it shareholders, whose decision to punish or appraise depends primarily on profit incentives. In fact, the army concluded in 2002 that it lacked a “specific identified force structure” and “detailed policy on how to establish contractor management oversight within an area of responsibility.”

Furthermore, there exists a lack of proper monitoring of PMF contracts and employment activities, such as those witnessed at Abu Ghraib. Specifically, both private and public sectors agree on proper monitoring by public authorities, but that would raise contract costs, blur the chain of command, and diffuse responsibility. Most PMF contracts, such as those in Iraq, take place in the “fog of war”–a highly complex and uncertain war time environment, making routine monitoring extremely difficult For example, in the detention facility at Abu Ghraib, the civilian contractors “wandered about with too much unsupervised free access in the detainee area” according to the Taguba Report, which also remarked they (the civilian contractors) “do not appear to be properly supervised.” Also, PMF contract terms are often unspecific, because they lack outside standards of achievement and established measures of effectiveness. The result? The principal defers to the client for progress reports, instead of obtaining up to minute, accurate unbiased evaluations from neutral, professional, public monitoring groups.

The lack of accurate monitoring and oversight has also led to scandals of PMF’s overcharging for un-provided services, thereby undermining one of the main motives for privatization: cost savings. Particularly, P.W. Singer urges clients, such as the United States government, to notice that a firm’s primary aim, that of profit maximization, cannot always perfectly align itself perfectly with their client’s interests. The phenomenon is known as “improper contracting”, illustrated by Dick Cheney’s old company, Halliburton, which operates over 60 sites in Iraq as the military’s main supplier due to $12 billion worth of service contracts. To be fair, any industry contains actors willing to engage in unscrupulous practices, such as overcharging, hiding failures, not performing to peak capacity, and skirting corners to maximize profit and minimize costs. Improper contracting concerns have plagued two companies in particular; Halliburton and the provider firm Custer Battles, who, according to experts, operate “with poor oversight.”

The recent debacle by Blackwater contractors and Halliburton truckers elucidates concern involving the relationship between civilian contractors and military actors, and whether this relationship truly fosters efficient end results. This interdependence of civilian and military actors might result in a lopsided over-dependence. Specifically, if the government places core functions and strategic plans in the hands of a private firm, then the government succumbs to the economic term “ex-post holdup” meaning it becomes “too dependent” and “at the mercy” of the private agent. An analogy could be drawn between the sadist who hovers the carrot on the stick in front of the starving prisoner, knowing full well the prisoner will oblige any indulgence to obtain the precious resource. In Iraq, after a 19-truck Haliburton KBR convoy was ambushed, with six drivers killed, several KBR truckers absolutely refused to drive until assured of improved security. In fact, hundreds of drivers left their jobs and the country. As a result, the United States military, dependent on Halliburton trucks and truckers for supplies, was left with “dwindling stores of ammunition, fuel, and water.” Unlike public military actors, private actors, such as the Halliburton truckers, can break their contracts and leave without fear of court martial or prosecution.

This “abandonment with immunity” not only threatens reliability and confidence in private actors, but also undermines the safety of American soldiers and the integrity of military operations. Barry Yeoman articulates the problem clearly when he states:

Think about it: a private military firm might decide to pack its own bags for any number of reasons, leaving American soldiers and equipment vulnerable to enemy attack. If the military really can’t fight wars without contractors, it must at least come up with ironclad policies on what do if the private soldiers leave American forces in the lurch.”

The competing interests and functions of civilian contractors and military personnel lead to deteriorating communication and harmony between the two sectors. Open streams of communication can help efficiency by allowing private and public sector actors to know of each other’s functional capabilities, resource strength, and locations, especially in hot zones According to Steven Schooner, an expert in government contracting, since the contractors are outside the military command structure there is a lack of coordination on the battlefield, and furthermore “contractors and the military don’t communicate in the same networks. They don’t get the same intelligence information.” Col. Jill Morgenthaler, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military command headquarters in Baghdad, agreed, “There is no formal arrangement for intelligence sharing” however “ad hoc relationships are in place”

Unfortunately, the tragic results of inefficient communication between private and public actors are exemplified by the killings of 4 Blackwater personnel two years ago. These private contractors were killed and mutilated in Fallujah while escorting three empty trucks on their way to pick up kitchen equipment. The State Department’s report states, “Blackwater took on the Fallujah mission before its contract officially began, and after being warned by its predecessor that it was too dangerous. It sent its team on the mission without properly armored vehicles and machine guns. And it cut the standard mission team by two members, thus depriving them of rear gunners.” This tragic incident catalyzed a U.S. military assault on Fallujah leaving 36 U.S. soldiers, 200 Sunni insurgents and 600 Iraqi civilians dead. The United States Oversight Committee on Oversight and Government Reform officially stated that Blackwater “delayed and impeded” a congressional probe of this tragic and unnecessary debacle .

The images of the Iraqi mob burning the Blackwater car and hanging their bodies from the bridge gave civilian contractors chills, specifically the family members of the slain men who filed wrongful death suits against Blackwater for failing to supply adequate guards as promised in the contract. Surprisingly, Marine Col. John Toolan was in command of the region during the tragic episode and had no knowledge of the contractors’ presence in the area due to lack of communication and information sharing. Furthermore, their deaths compelled him to set aside a core military strategy, quelling the insurgency, because he was forced to invade Fallujah and find the murderers. In hindsight, one can only assume an alternative result if there was a formal, consistent stream of communication between civilian contractors, such as Blackwater, and military personnel, such as Col John Toolan. Perhaps lives would have been saved and crucial military functions would have proceeded as planned. However, the lack of communication highlighted problems between the two sets of actors both supposedly working towards a unified goal, but harming their respective progress and interests instead.

So, here we are again in 2007 with another public, international PR crisis involving American PMF’s in Iraq threatening our already maligned reputation and endangering the sovereignty and efficiency of the United States military. History has taught us repeatedly that strict accountability, professional, independent monitoring systems of PMF’s, and swift, public legal recourse for unlawful conduct would not only curb future abuses, but also show the world the United States punishes those contractors who act recklessly and with impunity. History has also taught us that war is profitable and the clarity of accountability and legal ethics is generally always lost in this “fog of war.” And as of September 2007, Blackwater continues its convoy movements on the streets of Iraq. The black heart of American private military firms in Iraq has a strong, healthy pulse indeed.

Wajahat Ali is a poet, playwrite and essayist living in the Bay Area. His widely acclaimed work, The Domestic Crusaders, the first major play about Muslim-Americans was produced by Ishmael Reed. He can be reached at:

Sleeping cell

Perhaps if we know our enemy, we will know ourselves and become the “good Muslim” and the “good American.” Too bad most of us are sleeping.

Friends. Neighbors. Husbands. Terrorists. Muslims. Darkies.

The last two descriptive nouns (Muslims and Darkies) were added for dramatic effect by yours truly, however the first four (Friends. Neighbors. Husbands. Terrorists.) accompany the faces of four non-Muslim actors playing Al-Qaeda-esque would be “Islamist”, terrorist, fundamentalist, Mohammedan Jihadis (pick adjective of your choice) on the poster for Showtime’s new, not so original series, “Sleeper Cell.”

In the past century, Hollywood’s illuminating portrayal and characterizations of Muslims, Arabs, and token Darkies have comfortably existed somewhere between grossly racist, obscenely simplistic and laughably absurd. Responding to the evolving cultural-political ramifications of the “War on Terror,” the two co-creators of “Sleeper Cell” (both non-Arab and non-Muslim) decided not to board the stereotype train, and instead held auditions for a new, multicultural, United Colors of Benetton- terrorist squad. The hooked, bulbous nosed scimitar wielding ogre from the “Aladdin” cartoon and irrational, darkie Palestinian terrorist has transformed into a more heterogeneous, chameleon personality: the hero (Darwyn), an African American convert to Islam playing an undercover FBI agent infiltrating the terrorist cell; the cell’s leader, an Arab extremist posing as a Jewish security analyst (played by Israeli born Jewish actor Oded Fehr, whose resume includes exotic but heroic Arab darkie in the mind numbingly inane blockbuster “The Mummy”); Tommy, the white convert and obvious John Walker Lindh foil, whose liberal, Berkeley parents failed him; a former European skinhead who finds “peace” by embracing extremist ideology; a Bosnian ‘mujahid’; and finally an Egyptian-American who also conveniently teaches high school science. The kicker? The respective members of this multicultural death squad all seamlessly blend in American society as high school teachers, tour guides, security consultants, and grocery-store employees – basic all American jobs held by average Americans who all happen to be Muslim – and potential holy warriors. The point? Your neighbor could be your enemy. The enemy is here. But where?

(Cue dramatic music, extreme close up, and a flash of thunder).

Structurally, the show resembles a routine fast paced, race against time suspense thriller. Our hero, Darywn, concealing his secret identity as an FBI agent, acts as willing participant in the cell’s increasingly illegal and violent activities with the intent of ascertaining and stopping their final “passport to heaven” suicide mission (releasing toxic, deadly gas in the middle of a packed, baseball stadium to inflict maximum damage to the “infidels.”)

Showtime took a page from Fox’s “24” public relations snafu and wisely decided to repeatedly highlight that “Sleeper Cell” is not meant to defame or dishonor Muslims and Islam. Before the show’s premier, Showtime aired a 30 minute “making of” special entitled “Sleeper Cell: Known Your Enemy.” Alongside the “rah-rah-rah” publicity boost for the upcoming show, this special included a ten minute not so subtle “We swear we love Muslims, please believe us” segment, which included the translation and proper pronunciations of words such as “Allah hu Akbar” (God is Greatest), “Al Qaeda”, and “Jihad.” Furthermore, the interviewees, composing of actors, the creators, and special advisors, regurgitated the recycled, fossilized theme of “See? We’re showing there are bad Muslims, but also GOOD Muslims, too! We love darkies also!” Robert Greenblat, president of Showtime, recently stated that in the show “there are positive portrayals… and negative portrayals, which is reflective of the world” advocating the need for people to realize the complexities of our social, world climate consisting of “good Muslims” and “bad Muslims.” Noble intentions, indeed, but how to celebrate and highlight the “good” Muslim, when the good Muslim’s entire actions, existence, rhetoric, and behavior are juxtaposed as defensive and offensive reactions to the overwhelming focus on the irrational violence, seething hatred, anti Americanism, and obscurant fanaticism of his “bad Muslim” peers?

Kamran Pasha, one of the hired writers and an American Pakistani Muslim, at least acknowledged this predicament: “Of course the risk always is, even if we show a positive Muslim hero, some people may walk away thinking their next door neighbor is a sleeper cell member.” To say that “some people” might think this is an understatement considering the non stop barrage of negative images of Islam, Muslims, and Arabs has so thoroughly penetrated the psyche of Americans that merely mentioning “Islam” and Arab” elicits a mental image of “terrorism” and “”extremism.” As an example, a recent poll showed that 50% support the President’s controversial secret wiretapping of private conversations, which arguably, lies outside the proper scope and procedure of the 4th amendment. As HL Mencken once wrote, people would rather feel safe than be free. Americans would readily barter their own civil liberties such as the right to privacy, in exchange for the mere illusion of safety and comfort, even though this gamble might jeopardize their guaranteed freedoms. (We are a “freedom loving” country are we not?)

But it’s ok. Why? Because the President is going after “them” and not “us,” even though “us” includes Muslims, Arabs, Hindus, Sikhs, light skinned blacks confused as Arabs, Mexicans confused for Middle Easterners, and pretty much anyone with the slightest, vaguest connection to “questionable activity.” It even includes someone like international renowned peace activist and former singer Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), who was denied entry into the US in 2004 after being placed on a “national security watch list.” What were they watching? A repeat of the VH-1 special highlighting Islam’s conversion? Or maybe a hidden Al Qaeda message encrypted in Islam’s famous hit ironically titled “Peace Train?” No one knows, but you can rest assured dangerous elements such as Yusuf Islam, who never received a proper, official reason for being included on this list, are being vigilantly “watched.”

In fact, the Showtime special unknowingly and ironically emphasizes this fear-inducing ignorance while attempting to educate the public about Islam. During the “making of special,” the strong, comforting but purposeful narrator informs us that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, with 1.2 billion faithful worldwide, and up to 6 million practicing in America. Then, the narrator’s voice turns deadly serious and foreboding, and the voice warns us “The number of terrorists? Unknown.”

(Cue hysterical shrieking and mass panic now).

One can never know whether entertainment puff pieces like this sincerely wish to “bridge cultures” together by juxtaposing “good minority” against “bad minority” to emphasize the “true peaceful” nature of Islam, or to merely avert a potential PR disaster thus offering this type of verbal fellatio instead. However, this method and technique of subtly advocating an agenda though frivolous entertainment, which masks a potential Public Relations “accident,” is nothing new.

The time tested strategy goes something like this: Identify, Categorize, and Exalt the character traits of the model minority by pitting “the good” minority against the “bad” minority as a learning template for all minorities to follow. Examples: Asians are model minorities compared to Blacks and Mexicans. Why? They are supposedly apolitical, culturally assimilated, passive, successful, and they don’t rock the boat. Blacks, and now Mexicans and Middle Easterners, are violent, aggressive, breed- happy, and anti-intellectual. In the realm of cinema and television, characterizations of “good darkie” include the passive, happy, dancing darkie whose sole existence serves to help white people with their golf swing (Will Smith in “Legend of Bagger Vance”), their romantic pursuits (Aunt Mammy fussing over Scarlett in “Gone with the Wind”), or act as a colorful sidekick accessory (Hajji Baba for Johnny Quest, Kato for Green Hornet, Colin Powel and Condi Rice for George Bush).

However, in their sincere but short sighted attempt at fairness, the creators of “Sleeper Cell” use a serious, practicing African American Muslim, Darwyn, played well by Michael Ealy, whose greatest career accomplishment, according to this writer, is dating Halle Berry (On behalf of all men, we salute you, Ealy). The actors, trying their best with a flaccid script, interject the script occasionally with “Islamic infotainment” pop ups to teach the non Muslim audience about Islamic culture and religion (Jihad, The Battle of the Trench, The 15th night of Shabaan are explained), and also to differentiate b/w the “good” and “bad” Muslim. Sadly, the convenient infotainment mixed inelegantly within the script comes off as unrealistic and trite. Why would a practicing Muslim “fundamentalist” feel the need to explain the significance of the 15th of Shabaan to fellow Muslims who already know? It’s reminiscent of a recent movie “Stealth” where intelligent, military advisors are reminding each other what a prime number is. Again, these robotic conversations remind Muslims of no other Muslims, because no one, and I assume even terrorists, talks like a walking Wikipedia. Furthermore, the 15th of Shabaan (“Layatal Baraa”), a night primarily used for prayer and reflection, is used by the terrorists in the show for the “unveiling” of their terrorist plot. Again, a peaceful, spiritual tradition is juxtaposed to a violent terrorist act.

This methodology of using “good minority” to fight “bad minority” in order to celebrate diversity perpetuates the illusion of inclusiveness and fairness, but in reality puts a colorful, Flintstones, “don’t worry be happy” band aid on the festering sore that is racism, stereotyping and bigotry. Also, it simultaneously forgives and condones certain unsavory and “dirty” policies of the administration.

See? Blacks never had it that bad during slavery or the racist, post Reconstruction South. They just complain too much and want reparations and fried chicken.

See? We always loved Asians, so much so we passed multiple exclusion acts, such as Chinese exclusion Act of 1882, even though the Chinese composed only .002 percent of the nation’s “then” population. (The Act was passed to assuage concerns about maintaining white “racial purity.”)

See? Muslims, Arabs, minorities, and darkies just whine and whine and nag, life is good – relax! Allow for the extension of the Patriot Act, Secret wiretapping, Guantanamo detentions, and racial profiling, which is thriving according to Lawrence A. Greenfield, former head of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), whose findings released last April without news release confirmed widespread racial profiling of “ethnic” minorities by the police. (Greenfield’s prize for unearthing racial disparities in America? He was demoted – after refusing to delete this information at the behest of the current administration.)

Torture is as common as sliced bread on the hit Fox show “24”, which follows a day in the life of agent Jack Bauer (played by Keifer Sutherland) who successfully foils terrorist plots season after season using abuse, intimidation, and violent threats. Non lethal torture, such as placing sterilized needles underneath fingernails, finds its greatest advocate in lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a self proclaimed defender of civil liberties. His “ticking time bomb” theory asks, “if you had to torture a suspected terrorist to gain whereabouts of a ticking time bomb, wouldn’t you invade that human liberty for the sake of saving thousands of lives?” Even though the ticking time bomb hypothetical is merely that – a hypothetical – it can serve as a “what if” reality that allows for the very real abuses of human liberties and rights, but that’s acceptable, since it assuages us.

In reality, the report of the heinous, S&M-style torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison propelled the FUBAR, public relations disaster resulting in the administration, American pundit puppets, and military personnel distancing themselves from such “un-American” behavior as to retain and regain the beleaguered trust and respect from much of the shocked “A-rab” world. You know a situation is bleak when Senators such as John McCain (R-AZ) proactively initiate an anti-torture ban to prohibit the “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment of any detainee in US custody anywhere in the world, even as the administration tried for months to severely weaken the ban’s potency and credibility.

What does the “good Muslim” do? Should he speak out against unfair actions or risk the Scarlet letter of being labeled “apologist” and “soft on terror?”

In this era of mistrust, paranoia, and deception, it’s of no surprise that over 50% of Americans responding to a CNN poll think their elected officials are corrupt. This poll comes in reaction to the revelations of the Abramoff-bribing scandal linking the recently indicted lobbyist to several prominent members of Congress. Moreover, according to the Pew Research Center Poll, only 35% of Americans believe that the news shows they watch and hear daily on the TV, Internet, and radio “get the facts straight”. Who is our modern-day Walter Cronkite, once voted the most trusted man in America? Who is our cultural Jimmy Stewart, reminding us “it’s a wonderful life” after all? They’ve been replaced by single minded ideological puppets, most of whom are now very blond and very leggy, who tow the respective propaganda of their masters at the expense of accuracy, research, and ethics (The New York Time’s convicted journalist -for – hire Judith Miller’s involvement in the Valerie Plame case comes to mind). Are they to blame for the increasingly negative worldview of American foreign policies, or are the citizens themselves to be blamed for their inattention, submissive complicity, and general apathy?

Should the good Muslim stay hidden or should the good Muslim throw his stick in the middle and offer his 2 cents?

For those Muslim Americans constantly pillorying the “media” for painting them negatively, they have to take a hard look in the “say it ain’t so” mirror. Unfortunately, the actions and rhetoric of a few misguided Muslims provide the ideological ammunition for critics and enemies to fire against them. It’s like the Siphai army voluntarily loading their Enfield rifles and handing the rifles over to the British to efficiently use them for the Siphai’s execution. Pakistan recently fuels the “Muslim misogynist” engine with tragic tales of violence and abuse against innocent women, such as Mukhtaran Mai, who in 2002 was the victim of a gang “revenge rape” order by her local village counsel due to criminal actions allegedly committed by her younger brother. President Musharaf and cronies, in a complete reversal of their “enlightened moderation” stance, reportedly banned Mai from traveling to speak about her experience due to fear her tale would tarnish his administration’s mirage of a reputation. The PR disaster that followed only likened Musharaf”s blind eye to the Bush administration’s “shove it under the bed and burn the bed” mentality which seeks to suppress rather than uncover tales of abuse for fear of negative publicity. Recently, the world witnessed the unrepentant Pakistani Muslim Nazir Ahmed publicly admit to slitting the throats of his three young daughters and their 25-year-old stepsister to “salvage his family’s honor” due to allegations of adultery. Apparently, the Jahil (Urdu and Arabic for “grossly ignorant”) scholars and contemporaries of his local village, akin to several villages unfortunately, piggyback their misogynist, violent insecurities and tribal traditions on the burdened shoulders of a phantom, perverted version of Islam that never existed during the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and hopefully will find no new converts in the near future. The misogyny is parallel to the misuse of “jihad” to condone terrorist actions clearly violating the sanctioned boundaries of ethical combat as permitted by Islamic Shariah (the law). Yet, the single minded, “us vs. them”, confrontational rhetoric (sound familiar, America?), provides the ideological nourishment for politically minded individuals whose zealous spine is supported by a perverted self motivated interpretation of dogma condoning reprehensible acts of violence. (Al Qaeda, Bin Laden, Al-Zawhiri, 9-11, London Subway bombings, Spain + Mali bombings).

Due to the gross inequities exhibited by this arcane behavior by Muslims against Muslims and Non Muslims, words of tolerance, peace, and women’s rights ring cheaper than a flea market bargain. The blatantly xenophobic and prejudiced questions aimed only at Muslim applicants taking the recent German citizenship test provide justified outrage, but can one honestly blame them for asking potential Muslim citizens (The following are actual questions):

“Your daughter or sister comes homes and says she has been sexually molested. What do you do as father/mother/brother/sister?”

“What do you think if a man in Germany is married to two women at the same time?”

It must be comforting for test takers to note that providing the wrong or false answer to these questions can result in a “loss of (German) nationality, even after years, and even if this means that I (the test taker) will become stateless. ”

Should the “good Muslim” get Cliff’s notes before the test and make sure to give the correct answer word for word to pass?

Even “hall of fame” liberals, such as Gloria Steinem, a near prophet for some feminists, jumps on the prejudiced bandwagon, recently quoted lambasting Mr. “Playboy” himself Hugh Hefner: “Now’s he’s going around with four young women in their 20s instead of just one. It’s sort of Moslem, actually.” Considering less than 5% of Muslims engage in polygamy, it soothes the stereotypical soul to know a so-called vanguard for civil rights and defender of minority struggles such as Ms. Steinem can use the religious identity of 1.2 billion as a slanderous description of a noted womanizer and lothario. Can anyone imagine the reaction if Steinem had said “It’s sort of Jew, actually”? Hopefully, some sane reporter would kindly suggest a retraction, apology, or at least a clarification. To counter these ignorant, wholesale assumptions with proper Islamic legal foundations and cultural context in an intelligent, rational manner would be revolutionary, especially for a Muslim, who would immediately be deemed “an apologist,” “stealth Islamist” (aka undercover jihadi), or worse, “uppity.”

Instead, the “good Muslim” sits back, mindlessly nods, applauds, and allows the progressive ideologue, whose enmity for Islam is outmatched only by the neo-conservatives, to rail on “Islam” and “Islamists” and “Moslems” backwards mentality and barbaric actions, with evidence amply provided by the Muslims themselves. For true progress, Americans and Muslims should highlight the rampant, yet hidden, abuse of women in their respective countries instead of demonizing one another in an effort for moral high ground and cultural superiority. Nearly one-third of American women (31 percent) report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, according to a 1998 Commonwealth Fund survey. Next time Steinem hears a domestic abuse case, maybe she should say: “It’s sort of Muslim… actually, well, it’s sort of American, also.”

So, what should the “good Muslim” do? In “Sleeper Cell,” the good Muslim Darwyn infiltrates the cell, tips off the FBI at the last second, and subverts a major national catastrophe. His reward? A beautiful white woman who happens to be a single mother to the most adorable kid in the reality of make believe TV. The show ends with Darwyn praying (incorrectly, I might add – Muslim advisors, where were you?), and peacefully smiling upon his completion. The show recommends, “Know your enemy.” If indeed this is the ideological battlefield for the 21st century, a simplistic “Clash of Civilizations” as heralded by Samuel Huntington, an “us” vs. “them” fight on domestic levels (liberal vs. conservative), and the war field (Coalition of the Willing vs. Axis of Evil), a “good Muslim” vs. the “bad Muslim,” then we must follow the sagely advice of Lao-Tse who wrote the classic “The Art of War.” The most skillful warrior in battle is not only one who knows his enemy, but one who knows himself.

In an era of media manipulation, political scandal, ideological punditry, cultural cinema stereotyping, and a festering environment of distrust and paranoia, who are we, as Americans, in this war on terror? For the Muslims, both American and abroad, if the true meaning of jihad is “struggling against the self-commanding nafs (the id, selfish vain desires) and the true meaning of Islam is “peace” and “submission to God’s will” then why do our hypocritical actions and rhetoric belie the tolerant, multicultural aspects of our religion we supposedly hold dear?

Perhaps if we know our enemy, we will know ourselves and become the “good Muslim” and the “good American.”

Too bad most of us are sleeping.

Wajahat Ali is a playwright based in Northern California. His most recent production, ”The Domestic Crusaders”, was featured on in July 2005. This article was originally published in KONCH Magazine.