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Remembering Atefah Sahaleeh – do not let her death be in vain

October 12, 2008

This story happened more than four years ago , and the victim would still not even have been of legal drinking age in the US this year.

A neglected, ignored, abused and invisible young girl from a seaside village of Iran shot into international prominence when she became the matyr and the symbol of a young girl ravished by the hungry male wolfs of her country, and then sent to her death as a sacrifice for THEIR ‘sins.’ If you ask me, she has as much right to canonization as any of the prophets and saints that preceded her.

I am sure some may remember the case of a young Pakistani woman, who through grit and some stroke of luck, managed to overcome her oppressors and become a national hero. But her story is a repetition of a narrative of many a young woman in a country (and countries) where ugly traditions are further reified and perpetrated by the religious zealots. And if you think this is only true of Muslim countries, you forget that they mirrored all that used to take place in Christian civilizations at one point in time. Just study the history of the inquisition and witch hunts, as well as wars, warlords and feudal societies that existed in Europe until just before the 19th century, and for some, even until the beginning of the 20th century. And the cycle of human tragedy continues to play out in different epochs.

Remember, when one meets a young woman from an oppressive or poor country in a first world country, it is only because she is

1) from the upper class where women have more chances or given the same chances as men. They constitute about less than 5% of most societies, and even less than 1% for many other societies. In some countries, women can’t even leave their country WITHOUT the PERMISSION of their MALE guardian. And in some countries, women have NO guardianship RIGHTS to their children, nor could they be stewards of their family’s properties.

2) very lucky. These are women who may have fought very hard, using whatever means endowed upon them, and perhaps suffered much, to arrive in a place many take for granted. So when I read about wealthy women in first world country (and I think this happens more in America than in any other first world countries) opting out to be the lady who lunches or to ‘take care of their kids,’ I become very incensed. Frankly speaking, do we need to bring more children into the world when we do not bother to expend the time to correct the problems of the world? But the human ability to practice cognitive dissonance, even among the most intellectual, always makes for fascinating cognitive study

What irks me, when I watch the presidential debates, when the issue of Iran, Pakistan and many of the countries with oppressive regimes come out, one can marvel at the level of ignorance about this country. About the daily lives of the people who have to see the quality of their lives going down by the day, due to an inclement economy coupled with horrendous lack of public and private space. Yet many chose to put up with this uncomplainingly, rather than be another yet unremembered matyr. Some became a matyr without a cause, such as Atefah, sacrificed because immature and psychotic men are given the power to decide the fate of others.

Everyday, we worry and talk about rising violent crimes in America. At the very same time, we are supporters of psychopaths who have greater potential to wreak harm in the world. Just think of how many despots America had supported in the past, and how many they decided to get rid of, whenever it suits them, as in the case of Iraq.  As a student who is partly on the US government scholarship, I have met Pakistani holders of a similar scholarship who are subjected to stringent surveillence by their sponsor and the latter’s ‘elves’ because they come from a country that is on a ‘terrorist alert’ list. I have always been intrigued by the relationship between President Musharaff and the US. There is a love-hate relationship between them, but Mr Zardari is now the new man. Even then, I am sure these students, particularly the women, come from a class high enough in society that women are given similar access to education as their male counterparts, something that does not hold true for most of the women of Pakistan.

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