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The Curious Case Of Dr. Afia Siddiqui

By Farzana Versey

06 February, 2010

The mosquito hovered over skin and with one little prick it had sucked out blood, infected an innocent person who might suffer from malaria. If the person is poor and lives in inhabitable surroundings, it could prove to be fatal. The insect is not accused of violence.

Had it been ‘Lady Al Qaeda’, she might have raised her hand and screamed, “Out, damned spot!” Is Afia Siddiqui a Lady Macbeth metaphorical clone, a “psycho”, anti-Semitic as she is being accused of and which reveals the febrile mindset of those indicting her? Did she carry chemicals that would make bombs? Why did the judge often throw her out of the court accusing her of outbursts, which is a strange reason indeed?

She had fought back by saying, “Since I’ll never get a chance to speak…If you were in a secret prison, or your children were tortured…Give me a little credit, this is not a list of targets of New York. I was never planning to bomb it. You’re lying.”

There are clear divisions in this case and part of the reason is that she was an educated, articulate woman, a neuroscientist. The world cannot yet deal with this ‘type’. Incidentally, Dr Siddiqui has not been convicted for an act of terror but in the popular imagination even felony, if the victim is the lordly West, can pass muster as militancy. It is another matter that no tangible evidence has been provided for this too.

After the judgement she reportedly told her attorney, Elaine Sharp, to inform her supporters abroad of her fate and that she did not want any violence to ensue. What is violence? Support groups? Those who retaliate? The Establishment?

* * *

The malaria example might appear a facile metaphor for something that wreaks havoc and creates fissures in society. Truth is that violence is seen through a microscope instead of a telescope. In the laboratory the specimen sample is militancy and not martini. Martini by itself may remain shaken within the confines of a glass, but it stirs the sort of sophisticated idea of good versus evil where good is a given. There are no nuances, no dimensions. You meet the hero and just accept him. To enter into a debate would be travesty. He belongs to Her Majesty’s Secret Service and not the Hizbul Mujahideen or the Ku Klux Klan.

By pinning down one particular stream of fiendishness we completely ignore the more rampant issue of social violence – at the workplace, at home, as petty crime, as psychological aggression.

Religion and nationalism are the two most brutal forces. They do not give you a choice to understand the greys. They are intangible and, as in Sartre’s world, the incommunicable is the source of violence.

Every belief system has arisen due to some skirmishes. Amazingly, we use tribal warfare and mythology as benchmarks in a world that aims for détente. The penury of organised faith to sustain human civility is manifest when temples, mosques, churches are regularly desecrated – a term that takes the shine off violence and transforms it into something akin to a satanic act of sin. Stampedes at pilgrimage sites are further evidence of just this sort of pugnacity.

Using hostile opposites as an example, Leo Tolstoy said, “The churches are arrogance, violence, usurpation, rigidity, death; Christianity is humility, penitence, submissiveness, progress, life.”

The problem is arrogant display often gets wiped out by penitence. Cries of “Allah-u-Akbar” and “Jai Siya Ram” are the precursors of contemporary violence. Thieves and rapists do not shout out slogans.

* * *

A headcount of dead patriots glorifies the sense of nationhood that the wrapped-in-flag corpses had no premonition of. In their trail are thousands of cadavers that worked in those conquered countries, had names stamped on identity cards. That did them in. Their being certain people.

Certain people are not important. Their lives standing on footholds of local trains, losing limbs in factories, fighting for basic wages, fighting to enter places of worship, to marry someone from another caste, class, race, religion do not constitute brutality, even if they lose their lives in these battles. They are not burnished with the gold of nationalistic gunfire.

The American people are brainwashed into believing in a just fight. No explanation is given because it is about Being American, an America that can now show off god’s creation and liberty at the White House by installing a totem Harlem. It won’t pay heed to Malcolm X’s words: “If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her.”

Defence is rarely the goal of violence. It is an advertisement for oneself. What tells a militant apart from a James Bond? If we take away the so-called ideology of the former and the willingness to die for it, then both are comic-strip like characters that transmogrify into soap-opera heroes whose travails are ongoing as is their invincibility.

There is one crucial difference in the machismo: a lack of brotherhood. As a loner, Bond tempts the enemies instead of vanquishing them. It is a violence that seeks male bonding. He kills violence using violence.

The fanatically-driven sadist dies killing a lot of others with him. Both use ‘goodness’ as their calling card and although representative of specific places are rootless. Such emotional diaspora makes their aggression almost democratic and global in its sweep. Nothing is above them and everyone is below them.

The targets don’t get brownie points for making them happen. It’s a win-win situation. Therefore, by demonising violence we sanctify it. Why stone a devil that is within?

Farzana Versey is a Mumbai-based columnist-author. She can be reached at





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