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

Attack of the Info-Tainment Circus


1. The combination of information and entertainment.

2. A class of entertainment combined with journalism developed for 24-hour

Television news networks. Designed to instill emotional responses from viewers in between actual “interesting” news developments of national interest and


In the 21st century, the “world’s oldest profession” traditionally reserved for those “depraved” women and lascivious men with licentious appetites has transformed into a lucrative, multi-million dollar industry. This profitable enterprise’s main commodity consists of peddling crude “info-tainment” and “racism as criticism” rhetoric masquerading as intellectual, authoritative scholarship. Similar to that unsavory and much maligned profession, this particular industry both requires and employs media courtesans, as well as their respective employers, and a healthy supply of loyal customers.

Specifically, the act of employing Muslims, especially but not exclusively Muslim women (with a strong preference to non-practicing, ‘enlightened women’), to bash and vilify Muslims, Islam, and “Islamic” culture certainly constitutes one of the oldest acts in the infotainment circus. The setup goes something like this: use a minority, preferably a non-threatening, aesthetically pleasing female, like a marionette puppet, to assail and mock those interests and reforms that would benefit that same minority. Why? Because these same reforms unfortunately are a plague to the ideological detriment of an elite majority (mostly affluent, influential White men).

The most recent anointed ringleader of this ever increasing gallery popularized by right wing think tanks and media pundits, as well as several left leaning liberals, is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is a Somalian born, former Dutch Parliament member; Muslim-turned-staunch atheist; pro-feminism but anti-multiculturalism pundit/author of the current best selling memoir, Infidel.

Before accepting a fellowship in 2006 with her current employer – the highly influential, right wing, conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute – Ayaan Hirsi Ali (born Ayaan Hirsi Magan) flirted with notoriety and death threats due to her professional relationship with brutally murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh. His killing in 2004 at the hands of Muhammad Bouyeri, a Dutch-born radical of Moroccan roots, stemmed from the 11-minute movie, Submission Part 1 written by Ali and directed by Van Gogh. The controversial film condemned violence against women in Muslim societies by depicting Quranic verses, those apparently used to justify such behavior, written on the half-naked bodies of actresses. The subsequent media frenzy after the murder and death threats against Ali’s life, as well as her self-appointed call for “Islamic reform” transformed her into a lightening rod of controversy.

Unfortunately, evidence last year emerged indicating that Ali lied while applying for Dutch citizenship, promptly forcing her to resign from the Dutch Parliament as a member of the right wing, anti-immigration VVD party. The deceit nearly cost Ali her Dutch citizenship, eventually led to the collapse of her party, and embroiled the Parliament in lengthy, stifling controversy. The last segment of her memoir rather quickly glosses over these events and transforms her into the “victim” of forces seeking to silence her unpopular rhetoric.

Again, the marionette puppet, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was used by the majority, the right wing VVD party, to attack beneficial reforms involving immigration and cultural awareness. The irony? Ali received asylum in the Netherlands at 22 after claiming that she: 1) fled the Somalian Civil War (In reality, she was living in Kenya for 10 years with a refugee status) and 2) feared honor crimes by her Somalian clan as retribution for running away from an arranged marriage. Although she admitted to fabricating her age and name when initially applying for citizenship, a Dutch documentary introduced evidence that her life was never in danger, that she had relatives in the Netherlands who helped her gain asylum, and eventually her family and “ex-husband” peacefully agreed to and acknowledged her “divorce.”

Immigrants escaping persecution or economic hardships routinely lie and fabricate to taste certain freedoms of their host country. However, it takes a rare breed of hypocrisy cultivated by Ali to malign and persecute others like her by joining an anti immigration, pro “assimilation” party like the VVD whose “hard line” anti-immigration stance introduced tough citizenship tests that have expelled number of immigrants for failing to meet the new criteria for political asylum. Those expelled should have taken a cue from Somalian born immigrant Ali and simply lied, joined an anti immigration political party, then created a successful, lucrative personality embarking to “reform” and “save” the same immigrants she so despises.

Her memoir – which is well written, readable and detailed with interesting, piquant characters – sheds light into what formed her absolutist, negative worldview of “Islamic” culture. Ali’s “crusade” to reform “Islamic” practices – which are actually non-Islamic, culturally misogynistic and tribal practices of honor killings, forced circumcisions and female subordination – reflect her turbulent and volatile childhood. She was born an innocent youth in Somalia in 1969 to political turmoil inaugurating the brutal dictatorship of Muhammad Siad Barre. As a child, she was forced into political exile along with her family due to the anti-Communist, anti-Barre political machinations organized by her intellectual, Western educated father, Hirsi Magan Isse. Her subsequent teenage years were spent ping-ponging to Saudi Arabia, where she suffered casual racism from Arabs for her black, African features and gender oppression under Saudi’s Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. Thereafter, the family moved to Ethopia and eventually settled in Kenya for 10 years. Along the way, Ali voluntarily flirted with Islam, acquainting herself with the Muslim Brotherhood, reading the Quran, and wearing the hijab (Islamic head covering), which gave her a sense of empowerment. She writes that Western literature and culture featuring empowered, liberated female characters served as inspiration and hope for a better life during these turbulent years.

Granted, her extremely complicated and fascinating life contained hardships, but can that experience be leveraged to castigate all of Islam, Islamic history, Islamic cultures and Muslim immigrants? Should it excuse and endorse such inflammatory, broad and obscenely generalized rhetoric by Ali and her intellectual cronies, including but not limited to Irshad Manji (author of The Trouble with Islam and founder of “Project Ijtihad”), Wafa Sultan (atheist, former Muslim pundit), and Salman Rushdie (modernist author of the fatwah-certified Satanic Verses):

It was not a lunatic fringe who felt this way about America and the West. I knew that a vast majority of Muslims would see the attacks as justified retaliation against the infidel enemies of Islam. (Ali describing the mentality of the 9/11 hijackers.)[1] That’s like asking if I see positive sides to Nazism, communism, Catholicism. Of course Islam preaches generosity and kindness and taking care of the poor and elderly and so on – but these values aren’t limited to Islam. (When asked if Ali sees any “positive” sides of Islam.)[2] What I am pointing out is that only within Islam today is literalism the mainstream. … Those of us who are “well-educated professionals” (Muslims) have no clue how to debate, dissent, revise or reform because we have not been introduced to the virtues of critical thinking. (Irshad Manji describing the intellectual condition of modern Muslims.)[3] …A clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another that belongs to the 21st century … a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. (Wafa Sultan referring to the current conflict between the “West” and “militant Muslims.”)[4] For a vast number of “believing” Muslim men, “Islam” stands, in a jumbled, half-examined way, not only for the fear of God – the fear more than the love, one suspects – but also … a more particularized loathing (and fear) of the prospect that their own immediate surroundings could be taken over – “Westoxicated” – by the liberal Western-style way of life. (Salman Rushdie in the New York Times.)[5]

Fortunately, a growing number of Western and Muslim intellectuals do not share these simplistic generalizations of complex, diverse world cultures. In a recent New York Times review of Infidel, Dutch intellectual Ian Buruma stated, “But much though I respect her courage, I’m not convinced that Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s absolutist view of a perfectly enlightened West at war with the demonic world of Islam offers the best perspective from which to get this done.” Similarly, a very intelligent and critical review of Ali’s work by The Economist, unlike the slavish, knee jerk praise afforded to her by most American media outlets, suggested, “The kind of problems that Ms Hirsi Ali describes in Infidel are all too human to be blamed entirely on Islam. … But the West’s tendency to seek simplistic explanations is a weakness that Ms Hirsi Ali also shows she has been happy to exploit.”

One hopes a more nuanced, accurate and diverse scholarship accurately reflecting the complexity of the Muslim world emerges from the infotainment field. Unfortunately, the rogues mentioned, such as Ali, Manji, Sultan and Rushdie, all share some traits:

1) A complete lack of academic scholarship in Islamic thought or rigorous religious studies.

2) A detachment from the very same communities they are seeking to reform either due to their atheism or self confessed “non practicing” lifestyle.

3) A lucrative relationship and sponsorship with wealthy, influential academic/political benefactors (Ali employed by AEI, Wafa Sultan by Israeli run MEMRI group, and Manji endorsed by Oprah, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Ms. Magazine and Yale University)

Although Ali and her ilk’s intentions and ends might, arguably, be noble and sincere, the means by which they seek to accomplish these goals reek of hypocrisy, manipulation and simplicity. Perhaps if they, along with their wealthy donors, bothered to listen to the voices of educated, practicing Muslim men and women, they might learn that the world is not painted with two ideological colors: good and evil. These average Muslims might also tell our incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Sgt. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, the difference between a Sunni or Shiite. (When asked whether al Qaeda was Sunni or Shiite, our intelligence chairman remarked: “Al Qaeda, they have both. Predominantly – probably Shiite.” And the correct answer? Al Qaeda is strictly Sunni.)[6]

Sadly, we currently have Ayaan Hirsi Ali, her best selling memoir “Infidel,” and millions of satisfied customers yearning for more histrionic theatrics from our very own info-tainment circus. Let’s hope Ali and her ilk learn that once their trick turns stale or too threatening, her respective ringleaders will quickly and mercilessly substitute her position with an upgraded “act”. After all, they don’t call it “the world’s oldest profession” for nothing.


[3] Irshad Manji, My Faith is a Mess, Belief.Net, at


[5] Salman Rushdie, Islam and the Response to Terror, The New York Times, Nov. 2, 2001


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: