Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
November 1, 2013
Mr. President: It was not long ago, when Malala Yusafzai was in town feted as a
celebrity, on the short list for the Nobel Peace Prize, and a guest at the White House
-- all deserved. She was a victim of the Af-Pak wars leading to communal strife and
the rise of the Pakistan Taliban to whom she fell victim when she became an
outspoken advocate for girls' education (opposed by them).
The Taliban stance is a new development, for Pakistan has always educated women,
and women have played an active role in civil society as teachers, doctors, lawyers,
politicians and in every walk of life -- they are singers, musicians, actresses, artists,
writers, journalists, civil servants. Malala was not an advocate for the radically new;
she just wanted to continue to go to school. Her courage continues to remain
This week another Af-Pak victim, nine-year old Nabila Rehman came to town with her
thirteen-year old brother, Zubair, and their school teacher father, Rafiq. At the
invitation of Alan Grayson (Dem, Fl.) they addressed Congress. In stark contrast to
Malala, the reception given Nabila was vastly different: no major press interviews, no
TV appearances, no White House invitation, and they addressed an empty House as
only five out of a current 431 members chose to attend.
Why the contrast? Quite simply she was our victim -- injured in a drone strike while
out picking okras from their field with her 67-year old grandmother, Mamana. She
had a simple question: why was her grandmother killed? What had she done
wrong? An answer has not been forthcoming, although the report that day claimed
militants had been killed. With militants like these, small wonder innocent victims are
sparse in the official statistics, figures (and actions) now contested in the Human
Rights Watch and Amnesty International report (Oct 21, 2013).
Then there is the story of the 16-year old teenager, Tariq Aziz whose innocent cousin
(and close friend) was killed in a drone strike. The trauma turned him into an activist
against drones. He went to a conference in Islamabad organized by civil society
groups protesting drone attacks. It was a prominent open forum at a major hotel and
Tariq wandered about freely. On his return home, he was killed in a drone strike.
The announcement was brief: four militants killed. The obvious questions being
asked are, of course, why was he not arrested in Islamabad a few days earlier, and
how did this young child's crime warrant capital punishment?
And one question to proponents of just war, no matter the convoluted reasoning:
Does just war need to be just only in cause or also in execution?
To Rafiqur Rehman, his mother Mamana was the 'string' that held the family together,
his children and a dozen of their cousins. They are all devastated. He has had to sell
his land to pay for Nabila's surgeries for her injuries; yet no compensation, no
apologies to date.
They will have to wait a long time judging by the never ending wait of the million and
more kin of the half-million-plus victims of Dresden and Tokyo firebombings, and
Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- the so called speedier end to the war rationale becoming
increasingly fragile as more evidence is unearthed to the contrary. Bombing civilian
populations apparently just hardens resolve.
Nick Turse's book on Vietnam ("Kill Anything that Moves"); Jeremy Scahill's "Dirty
Wars" on extra-judicial killings across a worldwide battlefield; Joshua Oppenheimer's
documentary about the killing of a million people in Indonesia are recent examples of
investigative journalists (and historians) exposing eventually the horrors inflicted,
mostly on innocents, because of the then paranoia. They beg the question: How can
governments representing people who would normally be appalled by such acts be so