There's Still Hope...

I read an interesting article from Frank Morgan (a retired pastor in the United Church) in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record (their Faith section, yesterday). Unfortunately, I can’t link to it as it’s behind a subscriber firewall, but he talked about the terrorists at Belsan, mining the school and waiting for the school year to start. I don’t know the Reverend’s sources, but he noted that two female terrorists in on the plan objected to the targetting of children, tried to walk out, and were summarily executed by the terrorist leader as a result.

Make of that what you will.

On another forum, somebody pointed my attention to this column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times (login: bowjamesbow, password: jamesbow). It talks about the harrowing experience of Ms. Mukhtaran Bibi, a Muslim woman living in remote Pakistan.

In June 2002, the police say, members of a high-status tribe sexually abused one of Ms. Mukhtaran’s brothers and then covered up their crime by falsely accusing him of having an affair with a high-status woman. The village’s tribal council determined that the suitable punishment for the supposed affair was for high-status men to rape one of the boy’s sisters, so the council sentenced Ms. Mukhtaran to be gang-raped.

As members of the high-status tribe danced in joy, four men stripped her naked and took turns raping her. Then they forced her to walk home naked in front of 300 villagers.

In Pakistan’s conservative Muslim society, Ms. Mukhtaran’s duty was now clear: she was supposed to commit suicide. “Just like other women, I initially thought of killing myself,” said Ms. Mukhtaran, now 30. Her older brother, Hezoor Bux, explained: “A girl who has been raped has no honorable place in the village. Nobody respects the girl, or her parents. There’s a stigma, and the only way out is suicide.”

Ms. Mukhtaran, however, did no such thing. Indeed, this courageous woman took her case to the Pakistani government, and testified against her attackers. The rapists were all convicted and have been sentenced to death. President Musharraf himself presented Ms. Mukhtaran with the equivalent of $8,300, which she used to build two schools in her village, one for girls and one for boys. She is now studying at the fourth grade level in her own school.

Unfortunately the story doesn’t end there. Although President Musharraf ordered 24-hour police protection for Ms. Mukhtaran, she has to pay for that protection herself. Her money is running out, both for her protection and for her schools. Villagers say that the family members of the people she testified against are waiting for her police protection to vanish so they can take revenge against her and her family.

I initially had one objection to this article, the insinuation (I felt) that Ms. Mukhtaran’s plight was an indictment of all Islam (“I did encounter a much more ubiquitous form of evil and terror: a culture, stretching across about half the globe, that chews up women and spits them out.”) was something I thought went too far. Ms. Mukhtaran herself is probably Islamic, and the fact that these men could do such atrocious things to her without repentence does not make Islam bad, it makes the men bad Muslims. Others disagreed with my reading of Kristof’s words, however (I may have been overly sensitive after having written this post), suggesting that the column identifies not a religious fault but a cultural one; a problem that’s endemic to the third world.

We’ve heard too many stories like Ms. Mukhtaran’s, not only in Islamic Pakistan, but in Hindu India. Even in Christian Kenya and Ethiopia, the scourge of female circumscision continues. Whatever the point of Kristof’s one comment, the plight of women in the third world needs to be addressed, and Mr. Kristof himself isn’t content with just bringing Ms. Mukhtaran’s plight to the world’s attention. Since writing his column, Mr. Kristof has been bombarded by letters asking people how they can help keep Ms. Mukhtaran’s protection up, and how to keep her schools running, and Mr. Kristof has answered:

A number of readers have asked how to help Mukhtaran Bibi, the Pakistani woman I wrote about in Wednesday’s column. I should have set up a channel ahead of time, but unfortunately I didn’t think of it. But if you write out a check, payable to Mukhtaran Bibi (DON’T MAKE THE CHECK OUT TO ME), then you can send it to me:

Nicholas Kristof
The New York Times
229 West 43rd St.
New York, NY 10036

Then I’ll fed-ex the checks to an English-speaking journalist I know in the Pakistani city of Multan, which is about a two-hour drive from Mukhtaran’s village. He has agreed to hand-deliver the checks to Mukhtaran and help her deposit them in the bank. I’ll cover the costs, so the donations will go 100 percent to Mukhtaran and her schools. Of course, I can’t guarantee how she’ll use the money, but this is a woman who has already used her funds very wisely for public benefit. I think it’s a very good bet that the money will be used properly.

There is also talk about setting up a foundation to help Ms. Mukhtaran and her schools, and Mr. Kristof will keep us posted as to the progress.

I believe we should all donate what we can to help Ms. Mukhtaran. Through her simple courageous act of standing up to her tormentors, she has done more for the cause of women in her part of the world than Nellie McClung did for Canada. She is educating the children of her village, boys and girls, and she is teaching them that there is no shame in their gender. It’s important that her work continue.

It’s not an easy task, trying to make the world a better place. The problems are so big, we just don’t know what to do. However, this week, I think I’ve figured out where to start.

With the women.

(Update): Mukhtaran Bibi’s Wikipedia Entry. Her struggle continues.

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