Apart from a test of wills with a military regime in an especially dangerous part of the world, what does the Mukhtaran Bibi story really mean? In his latest update today, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof makes that case that Mukhtar Mai's saga is emblematic of a larger struggle: to end ritual, sadistic, and nearly feudal sexual abuse of women.
And he adds a powerful kicker: the Bush Administration should take the lead in holding allies responsible for human rights abuses. Is this a Jimmy Carter-like call for human rights as American policy, doomed to draw snickers from the Georgetown-living, Cabernet-swilling realpolitickers?
I don't think so, and neither does Kristof. Indeed, if anything's apaprent in a post-9/11 world it is that our deals with the devil come back manifold, that we need to be active and aggressive in changing the world, and that human rights - in the long term - can have a foreign policy impact that will draw us closer to the Muslim world. There's nothing wrong with holding the Administration's feet to the fire, and with holding Mukhtar Mai out as a hero and a symbol, something Kristoff does very well today:
When Pakistan's prime minister visits next month, President Bush will presumably use the occasion to repeat his praise for President Pervez Musharraf as a bold leader "dedicated in the protection of his own people." Then they will sit down and discuss Mr. Bush's plan to sell Pakistan F-16 fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
But here's a suggestion: How about the White House dropping word that before the prime minister arrives, he first return the passport of Mukhtaran Bibi, the rape victim turned human-rights campaigner, so that she can visit the United States?
Despite Mr. Bush's praise, General Musharraf shows more commitment to his F-16's than to his people. Now he's paying the price. Visiting New Zealand the last few days, he was battered by questions about why he persecuted a rape victim, forcing him to cancel interviews.
Pakistani newspapers savaged him for harming Pakistan's image. And the blogosphere has taken up Ms. Mukhtaran's case, with more than 100 blogs stirring netizens to send blizzards of e-mails to Pakistani consulates or to join protests planned for Wednesday and Thursday at Pakistani offices in New York and Washington.
Yet it's crucial to remember that Ms. Mukhtaran is only a window into a much larger problem - the neglect by General Musharraf's government of the plight of women and girls.
Did you note the "100 bloggers" reference? That's all of you, and many others whose posts and links I haven't had time to note. Call it a small, wired movement - only in today's world would the plight of a woman from Meerwala, Pakistan reach the eyes and ears of hundreds of thousands of concerned people around the world.
Now, let's put some feet on the pavement.
Tomorrow and the next day the group who planned Mukhtar Mai's trip to the United States - a trip General Musharraf doesn't want her to take - is holding protests against the Pakistani government in New York and Washington. Please turn out. Here's the latest press release:
June 22, 2003
10:30 a.m – 12:30 p.m.
65th Street, Fifth Ave., New York
A press conference will be held on Wednesday June 22, 2005 at 10:30 a.m at 65th Street and Fifth Ave. in Manhattan. The press conference is being sponsored by ANAA (Asian American Network Against Abuse of Women), Turning Point for Women and Families NY and Amnesty International, USA.
The press conference is being held to urge the Pakistani government to allow Mukhtaran Bibi to travel and speak freely within and outside Pakistan. Representatives of ANAA, Turning Point, Amnesty International, Human Rights First will address the conference along with other well known rights advocates.
As has been widely reported in the international media, Mukhtaran Bibi endured the harrowing tragedy of being sentenced to rape by a tribal jirga, maligned by her community and yet emerged courageous and committed to improving the society around her. Tragically, she is now refused the right to speak the truth about her ordeal while all the men who raped Mukhtaran Bibi are now free.
Mukhtaran Bibi was put under house arrest on June 9 only to be spirited away for a day and reproduced at a Press Conference organized by government officials. In the Press Conference she stated that she was foregoing her invitation to the United States to attend the ANAA Symposium on Violence against Women in South Asia. In the mean time, while Pakistani government officials maintain she is "free to leave", police continue to surround her house and monitor all telephone conversations. In addition, Mukhtaran Bibi's passport has been taken and is no longer in her possession. Victimized first at the hands of a tribal jirga and gang raped by twelve men, Mukhtaran Bibi has now been made to believe that telling her story and bringing attention to the plight of women like herself would make her "an enemy of Pakistan."
ANAA is deeply disappointed at the Pakistan Government's efforts to thwart a public advocacy campaign that aims to draw attention to thousands of women in Pakistan who are regularly brutalized that result from a collusion between discriminatory laws, a patriarchal society and an establishment that fails to implement legislative and social reforms that would end the brutalization of women. We call on the Government of Pakistan to immediately ensure that those charged with the brutal crime will not endanger Mukhtaran Bibi or her family and will be brought to justice.
The legal, physical and psychological intimidation Mukhtaran Bibi has faced in recent days as a result of her desire to come to the United States is an example of the extreme lack of value placed on women lives and well being in Pakistan. It also illustrates the repressive silence imposed on all victims of sexual violence
Together with Amnesty International, Turning Point, community and religious leaders and a range of women's advocacy and human rights organizations, we urge every one to join us in our efforts to ensure the safety of Mukhtaran Bibi and exert pressure on the Government of Pakistan to desist from their pressure tactics on her and her family, including granting Mukhtaran Bibi the freedom to speak and travel.
Let's be there!