Posts Tagged ‘ Daniel Pearl ’

Dying to Tell the Story

By Umar Cheema for The New York Times

WE have buried another journalist. Syed Saleem Shahzad, an investigative reporter for Asia Times Online, has paid the ultimate price for telling truths that the authorities didn’t want people to hear. He disappeared a few days after writing an article alleging that Al Qaeda elements had penetrated Pakistan’s navy and that a military crackdown on them had precipitated the May 22 terrorist attack on a Karachi naval base. His death has left Pakistani journalists shaken and filled with despair.

I couldn’t sleep the night that Saleem’s death was confirmed. The fact that he was tortured sent me back to a chilly night last September, when I was abducted by government agents. During Saleem’s funeral service, a thought kept haunting me: “It could have been me.”

Mourning journalists lined up after the service to console me, saying I was lucky to get a lease on life that Saleem was denied. But luck is a relative term.

Adil, my 2-year-old son, was the first person in my thoughts after I was abducted. Journalists in Pakistan don’t have any institutionalized social security system; those killed in the line of duty leave their families at the mercy of a weak economy.

When my attackers came, impersonating policemen arresting me on a fabricated charge of murder, I felt helpless. My mouth muzzled and hands cuffed, I couldn’t inform anybody of my whereabouts, not even the friends I’d dropped off just 15 minutes before. My cellphone was taken away and switched off. Despite the many threats I’d received, I never expected this to happen to me.

Sure, I had written many stories exposing the corrupt practices of high-ranking officials and pieces criticizing the army and the intelligence agencies. After they were published, Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s prime security agency, always contacted me. I was first advised not to write too much about them and later sent messages laced with subtle threats. But I never imagined action was imminent.

On Sept. 4, I was driven to an abandoned house instead of a police station, where I was stripped naked and tortured with a whip and a wooden rod. While a man flogged me, I asked what crime had brought me this punishment. Another man told me: “Your reporting has upset the government.” It was not a crime, and therefore I did not apologize.

Instead, I kept praying, “Oh God, why am I being punished?” The answer came from the ringleader: “If you can’t avoid rape, enjoy it.” He would employ abusive language whenever he addressed me.

“Have you ever been tortured before?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“These marks will stay with you forever, offering you a reminder never to defy the authorities,” he replied.

They tortured me for 25 minutes, shaved my head, eyebrows and moustache and then filmed and photographed my naked body. I was dumped nearly 100 miles outside Islamabad with a warning not to speak up or face the consequences.

The following months were dreadful. I suffered from a sleep disorder. I would wake up fearing that someone was beating my back. I wouldn’t go jogging, afraid that somebody would pick me up again and I’d never return. Self-imposed house arrest is the life I live today; I don’t go outside unless I have serious business. I have been chased a number of times after the incident. Now my son asks me questions about my attackers that I don’t answer. I don’t want to sow the seeds of hatred in his heart.

When Saleem disappeared, I wondered if he had been thinking about his children, as I had. He had left Karachi, his hometown, after receiving death threats, and settled with his wife and three children in Islamabad. From there, he often went on reporting trips to the tribal areas along the Afghan border. Tahir Ali, a mutual friend, would ask him: “Don’t you feel scared in the tribal areas?” Saleem would smile and say: “Death could come even in Islamabad.” His words were chilling, and prescient.

The killing of Syed Saleem Shahzad is yet another terrifying reminder to Pakistani journalists. He is the fifth to die in the first five months of 2011. Journalists are shot like stray dogs in Pakistan — easily killed because their assassins sit at the pinnacle of power.

When Daniel Pearl was brutally murdered by militants in Karachi in 2002, his case was prosecuted and four accomplices to the crime were sentenced. This happened only because Mr. Pearl was an American journalist. Had he been a Pakistani, there would have been no justice.

Today, impunity reigns and no organization is powerful enough to pressure the government to bring Saleem’s killers to justice. Journalists have shown resilience, but it is hard to persevere when the state itself becomes complicit in the crime. Now those speaking up for Saleem are doing so at a price: they are being intimidated and harassed.

Pakistan is at a crossroads and so is its news media. In a situation of doom and gloom, Pakistani journalists offer a ray of hope to their fellow citizens and they have earned the people’s trust. Even the former prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain has admitted that people who once went to the police with complaints now go to the press.

But this trust will be eroded if journalists continue to be bullied into walking away from the truth. News organizations throughout the world must join hands in seeking justice for Saleem and ending the intelligence agencies’ culture of impunity. An award for investigative journalists should be created in his honor, as was done for Daniel Pearl. No stronger message could be delivered to his killers than making him immortal.

Umar Cheema is an investigative reporter at The News International, Pakistan’s largest English-language daily. He was a Daniel Pearl Fellow at The Times in 2008.

Aging Philanthropist is Pakistan’s Mother Teresa

By Chris Brummit for The Associated Press

The aging man in mud-splattered, frayed clothes has barely lowered his body onto the sidewalk when the money starts piling up. Heeding his call for donations for flood victims, Pakistanis of all classes rush to hand over cash to Abdul Sattar Edhi, whose years of dedication to the poor have made him a national icon.

He thanks each donor, some of whom ask to have their photo taken next to him. Four hours later, the crowd remains — and the equivalent of $15,000 is overflowing from a pink basket in front of him.

Edhi has been helping the destitute and sick for more than 60 years, filling the hole left by a state that has largely neglected the welfare of its citizens. Part Mother Teresa, part Gandhi, with a touch of Marx, he is the face of humanitarianism in Pakistan.

Funded by donations from fellow citizens, his 250 centers across the country take in orphans, the mentally ill, unwanted newborns, drug addicts, the homeless, the sick and the aged. His fleet of ambulances picks up victims of terrorist bombings, gang shootings, car accidents and natural disasters.

Pakistan’s corruption-riddled government acknowledges Edhi and other charities do the work that in other nations the state performs. The country has no national health service, insurance program or welfare system, and few state-run orphanages or old people’s homes.

The foundation offers an alternative to charitable work performed by hardline Islamist groups in Pakistan, some with alleged links to terrorism. The spread of these organizations has triggered concerns in the West, including their work in the aftermath of this summer’s floods.

Edhi is a devout Muslim, but critical of Islamic clerics in general, not just extremists. He says they focus on ritual, preaching hellfire and defending the faith against imagined enemies, rather than helping the poor — which he says should be the cornerstone of all faiths.

The 80-something Edhi — he and his children disagree on his exact age — lives with his wife, herself a charity worker, in a tiny room in one of his welfare centers in Karachi, a bustling port city. His bed is a one-inch thick mattress on a piece of wood.

“I am a beggar for the poor,” he says, stained teeth showing in a wide smile, eyes sparkling after a week touring flood-hit areas. “Serving humanity is the biggest jihad. It is the real thing.”

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Edhi deals with birth and death, and almost everything in between.

Just above his bedroom, a maternity ward and an orphanage are home to 18 children, many of them abandoned by their mothers in cradles left outside his centers. They wear hand-me-downs from the city’s rich. Edhi’s wife, Bilquis, tries to get the children adopted, but few Pakistanis want to take girls or older children, she says.

On a recent afternoon, the kids shouted out English nursery rhymes and danced. They then sat cross-legged on the floor, drinking tea from plastic mugs and eating spicy pastries and sticky sweets that an anonymous benefactor had dropped off.

The home was clean and bright, with plenty of toys and loving staff. But there was no place to play outside, and the roar of motorbikes from the lanes below was a constant backdrop.

Across town, workers at the Edhi morgue were dealing with latest influx of bodies. They receive around 25 a day, half of which are never claimed — the city’s unloved and unknown.

Working quickly but carefully, they cut the clothes from the bodies, lather them with a bar of soap from head to toe, rinse them with water from a jug, then wrap them in a white sheet. The bodies are bussed across town, prayed over and buried in unmarked graves.

The body of American journalist Daniel Pearl, killed by al-Qaida terrorists in Karachi in 2002, was picked up by an Edhi ambulance and taken to the morgue, the largest in the city of 14 million people.

The morgue is attached to a hospital for the homeless, a dispensary, a shelter for boys and women and children, even a wedding hall for the marriages arranged for children who have been looked after by the foundation. The smell of baking bread from an oven that churns out 9,000 loaves a day fills the air.

“The poor can come here and get a solution to all their problems,” says Ejal Hassan Zaidi, who had accompanied a neighbor to the morgue to collect the body of his 3-year-old daughter, killed in a hit-and-run incident hours earlier. “From the cradle to the grave.”

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Born in what is now India, Edhi and his parents moved to Pakistan in 1947 when that country was created as a Muslim state at the end of British colonial rule. The family was quite well off — his father was a traveling salesman — and socially progressive.

In his biography, Edhi credits his mother for setting him on a humanitarian path. She urged him to give half his pocket money to someone poor every day and rebuked him if he didn’t.

“‘You have a selfish heart, one that has nothing to give,'” he remembers her saying. “‘What kind of human being are you? Look at the greed in your eyes. Already you have started robbing the poor. How much more will you rob from them in your lifetime?”

When she was dying, he looked after her, bathing her emaciated body and washing and braiding her hair — experiences that would also shape his life.

“The first night she spent in the grave, I dedicated my life to the service of mankind,” he says.

Edhi started small. In 1951, he bought an eight-foot-square shop in a slum neighborhood in Karachi that he converted into a dispensary. Seven years later he bought a van that he used as an ambulance, writing “Poor Man’s Van” on both sides.

He became intimately involved in the business of caring for the sick and dying. He would drive the ambulance to the scene of an accident to pick up the bodies, administer injections during a flu outbreak and travel across the country to help after earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Edhi’s record of round-the-clock service and frugal lifestyle attracted donations, and he soon had a fleet of 14 ambulances. In the 1980s and 90s, he opened centers and ambulance services throughout the country. He donated $200,000 to releif efforts after Hurricane Katrina, and his workers have also helped out in disasters in Asia and the Middle East.

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Pakistanis are a generous people, required by their Muslim faith to give away 2.5 percent of their wealth each year. The last nationwide survey done in 1998 showed that Pakistanis gave the then equivalent of $820 million to charity, around the same as the government’s health and education budget at the time. There are no numbers on how rising terrorism and a poor economy have affected this philanthropy.

Edhi does not accept donations from international organizations or governments, including Pakistan’s, saying he doesn’t need outside help and it is important for Pakistanis to help each other. He and his wife live simply of the interest from some savings.

The foundation does not produce detailed financial statements or annual reports. Edhi points to a wall of files in one office in which he says everything is accounted for. Donors do not seem to mind, such is their trust in him.

“You ask any Pakistani on the streets, Edhi is total credible with them,” says Anjum Haque, the executive director of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy. “The success of the trust is down to Edhi himself.”

Last year, donations to Edhi-run charities totaled around $5 million, according to Faisal Edhi, the founder’s son and trust member. A significant chunk of the funds comes from overseas Pakistanis, who want to donate to their homeland.

The lack of transparency has caused some concern among others in the charity sector in Pakistan. Faisal Edhi acknowledges that some of their 13,000 employees — who receive very modest salaries — might skim money off donations. There have also been questions raised about the lack of professionalism and efficiency, specially as the foundation has grown.

Edhi Village, a 65-acre complex in the undulating hills beyond the northern slums of Karachi, is home to 300 children, many picked up off the streets, and 900 adults, many elderly or suffering from mental disabilities.

Most wear clean, ironed clothes, and the food is fresh. Yet there are also signs of neglect. One naked youth dragged himself through a puddle. Some had no shoes and begged visitors to buy them a pair.

The adults live in rooms around the size of three tennis courts, bare except for raised sections for sleeping. They are locked inside for part of the day. There are two doctors, four nurses and two ward boys looking after them.

“We do the most we can do with our resources,” says Billal Mohammad, a regional Edhi manager. “They would be living on the pavement under the sky. We give them shelter, food and treatment. You must not see this place throughout Western eyes.”

___

Edhi has made no secret of his dislike of Pakistan’s ruling class. So it was a surprise to see a gaggle of politicians using one of his orphanages in Karachi as a venue to mark the recent birthday of President Asif Ali Zardari.

The visitors spooned cake into the mouths of the children, shouted political slogans for television cameras and asked Edhi to be photographed next to them. He said he only let the politicians in so the children would have a party to enjoy.

“So what if the politicians are using me? They even use God,” said Edhi, who sat by himself for most of the event. “Landowners, clerics, politicians. They are all looters. There is no fear in telling the truth.”

Hardline Islamist groups have criticized Edhi for his progressive views on women and the secular nature of his work. Some have said that by accepting newly-born babies from unmarried mothers, he is promoting premarital sex.

“We meet them and we read their newspapers. They say we are non-Muslims, unbelievers and communists,” says Faisal Edhi. “The jihadi groups don’t like us. They don’t believe in humanity.”

There are questions about what will happen to the foundation when Edhi dies. He says his two sons and three daughters will take over, though without him at the helm, people may not give as generously.

For now, his children appear more concerned about their father’s health. Apart from an afternoon nap, he works just as hard as he did when he was in his 30s, they say.

“We tell him to take it easy, but he doesn’t listen,” says daughter Almas Edhi. “He wants to keep busy.”

On the Net:

  • http://www.edhifoundation.com/
  • http://www.pcp.org.pk/
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    Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– At a time when the Pakistani nation is in turmoil and dismay due to the epic floods, endless bombings and violence, vast corruption amongst the government, the Sialkot killings, and even the match fixing disappointment from the once cherished national cricket team, Abdul Sattar Edhi and his lifelong service to the people of Pakistan is a testament to the awesome goodness found in one Pakistani man. His service to the orphans, the destitute, homeless, and the generally downtrodden of the country make him a shining role model and a beacon of what is good about the Pakistani people. If there is anyone more deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize than Edhi, then we have not found them as of yet. May he continue to inspire not just the Pakistani people, but all people everywhere with his selflessness and humanity.

    Mayor Bloomberg on Mosque: ‘A Test of Our Commitment to American Values’

    As Reported By The Wall Street Journal

    In a speech at a Ramadan Iftar dinner at Grace Mansion Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered an extended defense of the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near the World Trade Center site. Those who say the center should not be built “would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom,” the mayor said. “There is nowhere in the five boroughs that is off limits to any religion.”

    Below, the full transcript of Bloomberg’s prepared remarks.

    Good evening, and Ramadan Kareem. I want to welcome everyone to our annual Ramadan Iftar at Gracie Mansion.

    We call this ‘The People’s House,’ because it belongs to all 8.4 million New Yorkers who call this city home. People of every race and religion, every background and belief. We celebrate that diversity here in this house with gatherings like this.

    And for me, whether it’s marking St. Patrick’s Day or Harlem Week or any other occasion, these gatherings are always a powerful reminder of what makes our city so strong and our country so great.

    America is a nation of immigrants, and no place opens its doors more widely to the world than New York City. America is the land of opportunity, and no place offers its residents more opportunity to pursue their dreams than New York City. America is beacon of freedom, and no place defends those freedoms more fervently, or has been attacked for those freedoms more ferociously, than New York City.

    In recent weeks, a debate has arisen that I believe cuts to the core of who we are as a city and a country. The proposal to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan has created a national conversation on religion in America, and since Ramadan offers a time for reflection, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on the subject.

    There are people of good will on both sides of the debate, and I would hope that everyone can carry on the dialogue in a civil and respectful way. In fact, I think most people now agree on two fundamental issues: First, that Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan and second, that the site of the World Trade Center is hallowed ground. The only question we face is: how do we honor that hallowed ground?

    The wounds of 9/11 are still very much with us. And I know that is true for Talat Hamdani, who is here with us tonight, and who lost her son, Salman Hamdani, on 9/11. There will always be a hole in our hearts for the men and women who perished that day.

    After the attacks, some argued – including some of those who lost loved ones – that the entire site should be reserved for a memorial. But we decided – together, as a city – that the best way to honor all those we lost, and to repudiate our enemies, was to build a moving memorial and to rebuild the site.

    We wanted the site to be an inspiring reminder to the world that this city will never forget our dead and never stop living. We vowed to bring Lower Manhattan back – stronger than ever – as a symbol of our defiance and we have. Today, it is more of a community neighborhood than ever before, with more people than ever living, working, playing and praying there.

    But if we say that a mosque and community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom.

    We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting. We would feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam.

    Islam did not attack the World Trade Center – Al-Qaeda did. To implicate all of Islam for the actions of a few who twisted a great religion is unfair and un-American. Today we are not at war with Islam – we are at war with Al-Qaeda and other extremists who hate freedom.

    At this very moment, there are young Americans – some of them Muslim – standing freedoms’ watch in Iraq and Afghanistan, and around the world. A couple here tonight, Sakibeh and Asaad Mustafa, has children who have served our country overseas and after 9/11, one of them aided in the recovery efforts at Ground Zero. I’d like to ask them to stand, so we can show our appreciation. Thank you.

    The members of our military are men and women at arms – battling for hearts and minds. And their greatest weapon in that fight is the strength of our American values, which have always inspired people around the world. But if we do not practice here at home what we preach abroad – if we do not lead by example – we undermine our soldiers. We undermine our foreign policy objectives. And we undermine our national security.

    In a different era, with different international challenges facing the country, President Kennedy’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, explained to Congress why it is so important for us to live up to our ideals here at home. He said, ‘The United States is widely regarded as the home of democracy and the leader of the struggle for freedom, for human rights, for human dignity. We are expected to be the model.’

    We are expected to be the model. Nearly a half-century later, his words remain true. In battling our enemies, we cannot rely entirely on the courage of our soldiers or the competence of our diplomats. All of us must do our part.

    Just as we fought communism by showing the world the power of free markets and free elections, so must we fight terrorism by showing the world the power of religious freedom and cultural tolerance. Freedom and tolerance will always defeat tyranny and terrorism – that is the great lesson of the 20th century, and we must not abandon it here in the 21st.

    I understand the impulse to find another location for the mosque and community center. I understand the pain of those who are motivated by loss too terrible to contemplate. And there are people of every faith – including, perhaps, some in this room – who are hoping that a compromise will end the debate.

    But it won’t. The question will then become, how big should the ‘no-mosque zone’ around the World Trade Center be? There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it too, be moved?

    This is a test of our commitment to American values. We must have the courage of our convictions. We must do what is right, not what is easy. And we must put our faith in the freedoms that have sustained our great country for more than 200 years.

    I know that many in this room are disturbed and dispirited by the debate. But it is worth keeping some perspective on the matter. The first colonial settlers came to these shores seeking religious liberty and the founding fathers wrote a constitution that guaranteed it. They made sure that in this country the government would not be permitted to choose between religions or favor one over another.

    Nonetheless, it was not so long ago that Jews and Catholics had to overcome stereotypes and build bridges to those who viewed them with suspicion and less than fully American. In 1960, many Americans feared that John F. Kennedy would impose papal law on America. But through his example, he taught us that piety to a minority religion is no obstacle to patriotism. It is a lesson that needs updating today, and it is our responsibility to accept the challenge.

    Before closing, let me just add one final thought: Imam Rauf, who is now overseas promoting America and American values, has been put under a media microscope. Each of us may strongly agree or strongly disagree with particular statements he has made. And that’s how it should be – this is New York.

    And while a few of his statements have received a lot of attention, I would like to read you something that he said that you may not have heard. At an interfaith memorial service for the martyred journalist Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf said, ‘If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind, and soul: Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad; Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one. If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one.’

    In that spirit, let me declare that we in New York are Jews and Christians and Muslims, and we always have been. And above all of that, we are Americans, each with an equal right to worship and pray where we choose. There is nowhere in the five boroughs that is off limits to any religion.

    By affirming that basic idea, we will honor America’s values and we will keep New York the most open, diverse, tolerant, and free city in the world. Thank you.

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