Weekly Letter to the President
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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 2, 2018
Mr. President: In a statement this week, Istanbul's chief prosecutor, Irfan Fidan, says
Jamal Khashoggi was strangled as soon as he entered the Saudi consulate. If this
alone does not make a mockery of diplomatic immunity and the purpose of a
consul-general's office, there is more: The consulate was turned into a virtual
abattoir as Mr. Khashoggi was sawed into easily disposable pieces. Turkish
investigators and others reason he could have been buried in a location not yet
discovered, or carried back to Saudi Arabia in suitcases. Macabre as it may be but
the latest line of thought now runs to the remains being dissolved in acid and
disposed of in a well at the consul-general's residence.
In the official Saudi versions, Mr. Khashoggi was first alleged to have left the building;
coincidentally a body double wearing his clothes was captured on CCTV walking down
a busy street. Next Riyadh claimed he had died in a fight during a rogue rendition
(learning from the CIA?) attempt. His body they say was rolled in a carpet and
disposed of by a local co-conspirator.
Now the latest bombshell is an op-ed (November 2, 2018) by Turkish president Recep
Tayyip Erdogan in the Washington Post -- where Mr. Khashoggi also opined --
directly blaming the Saudi government for the killing. He pointedly excludes King
Salman but not his son the crown prince.
Meanwhile, two Saudi girls Tala Farea, 16, and Rotana Farea. 22, of Fairfax, Virginia,
who had applied for political asylum, and who disappeared in August, were found on a
bank of the Hudson river in New York. Their bodies were facing each other bound
with duct tape at their feet and waists in what might have been a suicide pact, or
made to appear as such. It is a complicated world.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman's PR troubles and the dynamics at play have prompted
a certain largess to mute criticism. Imran Khan, the new prime minister of Pakistan,
came away from the Prince's development conference with a negative investment i.e.
instead of putting money into Saudi Arabia, he returned with $6 billion from Saudi
Arabia for a cash-strapped Pakistan. During the election, he had forsworn an IMF
loan because of its usual onerous conditions. So after barely stopping to catch his
breath, he was off to China, Pakistan's old go-to ally -- the $6 billion is not enough.
Before leaving, however, he forcefully defended the Supreme Court and the rule of
law, anticipating violent demonstrations against the Court's acquittal of Aasia Bibi in a
blasphemy case. Blasphemy has been a capital offense ever since the dictatorial
regime of General Ziaul Haq passed a religious ordinance pandering to Islamist
Aasia Bibi, a Christian, who has consistently denied the charges claims to have been
falsely accused by two women after she had a heated argument with them during an
incident when they worked together as farm labor in the fields.
The Prime Minister deserves praise for these fringe religious groups have always
previously managed to intimidate officials, politicians, lawyers and judges; in fact
Salman Taseer the governor of Pakistan's most populous state was gunned down by
a bodyguard after he spoke out against the same blasphemy laws. Noteworthy is an
overlooked fact: the Quran itself does not specify any punishment for blasphemy, not
in this world. It also holds a special regard for Christians and Jews as people of the
Thus Muslims, Christians and Jews lived harmoniously together in Spain during
Muslim rule there. After the re-conquest came the Spanish Inquisition. Many
Muslims and Jews fled across the Mediterranean and quite a few Jews sought refuge
within the Ottoman Empire.
Pakistan's troubles emanate from the Afghan war, weak leadership then and after,
and a virulent fringe of religious extremism with its origins in that war. They are also
due to some of the company it keeps but then beggars can hardly be choosers.
Of unimpeachable integrity, liberal enough to marry a Parsi, and with a taste for a
drink of whisky in the evenings, Mr. Jinnah would be an alien in the country he helped
found ... a country he said where its citizens would be free to practice their religion.