SCRANTON, PA - OCTOBER 12: Democratic vice presidential candidate U.S. Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) smile at a rally in support of Democratic
Since it has become certain that tomorrow morning, Hillary will appear with Obama in Chicago for his announcement of his National Security team, that she will be nominated for Secretary of State, and that she will accept, there has been some wild speculation about the new relationship between Hillary and Joe Biden. Here are some things we know about Joe: He has long experience as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Based on that, he has been expected to have a strong voice on those issues in the Obama administration, and since Hillary’s name came up, there have been hints that territorial conflicts between the two might ensue. We also know that the Bidens and the Clintons are personal friends, share family ties to Scanton, PA where the photo above was taken, and that Joe loves Hillary (it’s OK, Jill knows about it).
This morning, this disturbing editorial by Nicholas D. Kristof appeared in the NY Times. I am inserting the entire piece since there is no single paragraph or section that is more or less compelling than any other part.
Terrorism That’s Personal
Terrorism in this part of the world usually means bombs exploding or hotels burning, as the latest horrific scenes from Mumbai attest. Yet alongside the brutal public terrorism that fills the television screens, there is an equally cruel form of terrorism that gets almost no attention and thrives as a result: flinging acid on a woman’s face to leave her hideously deformed.
Here in Pakistan, I’ve been investigating such acid attacks, which are commonly used to terrorize and subjugate women and girls in a swath of Asia from Afghanistan through Cambodia (men are almost never attacked with acid). Because women usually don’t matter in this part of the world, their attackers are rarely prosecuted and acid sales are usually not controlled. It’s a kind of terrorism that becomes accepted as part of the background noise in the region.
This month in Afghanistan, men on motorcycles threw acid on a group of girls who dared to attend school. One of the girls, a 17-year-old named Shamsia, told reporters from her hospital bed: “I will go to my school even if they kill me. My message for the enemies is that if they do this 100 times, I am still going to continue my studies.”
When I met Naeema Azar, a Pakistani woman who had once been an attractive, self-confident real estate agent, she was wearing a black cloak that enveloped her head and face. Then she removed the covering, and I flinched.
Acid had burned away her left ear and most of her right ear. It had blinded her and burned away her eyelids and most of her face, leaving just bone.
Six skin grafts with flesh from her leg have helped, but she still cannot close her eyes or her mouth; she will not eat in front of others because it is too humiliating to have food slip out as she chews.
“Look at Naeema, she has lost her eyes,” sighed Shahnaz Bukhari, a Pakistani activist who founded an organization to help such women, and who was beginning to tear up. “She makes me cry every time she comes in front of me.”
Ms. Azar had earned a good income and was supporting her three small children when she decided to divorce her husband, Azar Jamsheed, a fruit seller who rarely brought money home. He agreed to end the (arranged) marriage because he had his eye on another woman.
After the divorce was final, Mr. Jamsheed came to say goodbye to the children, and then pulled out a bottle and poured acid on his wife’s face, according to her account and that of their son.
“I screamed,” Ms. Azar recalled. “The flesh of my cheeks was falling off. The bones on my face were showing, and all of my skin was falling off.”
Neighbors came running, as smoke rose from her burning flesh and she ran about blindly, crashing into walls. Mr. Jamsheed was never arrested, and he has since disappeared. (I couldn’t reach him for his side of the story.)
Ms. Azar has survived on the charity of friends and with support from Ms. Bukhari’s group, the Progressive Women’s Association (www.pwaisbd.org). Ms. Bukhari is raising money for a lawyer to push the police to prosecute Mr. Jamsheed, and to pay for eye surgery that — with a skilled surgeon — might be able to restore sight to one eye.
Bangladesh has imposed controls on acid sales to curb such attacks, but otherwise it is fairly easy in Asia to walk into a shop and buy sulfuric or hydrochloric acid suitable for destroying a human face.
Acid attacks and wife burnings are common in parts of Asia because the victims are the most voiceless in these societies: they are poor and female. The first step is simply for the world to take note, to give voice to these women.
Since 1994, Ms. Bukhari has documented 7,800 cases of women who were deliberately burned, scalded or subjected to acid attacks, just in the Islamabad area. In only 2 percent of those cases was anyone convicted.
For the last two years, Senators Joe Biden and Richard Lugar have co-sponsored an International Violence Against Women Act, which would adopt a range of measures to spotlight such brutality and nudge foreign governments to pay heed to it. Let’s hope that with Mr. Biden’s new influence the bill will pass in the next Congress.
That might help end the silence and culture of impunity surrounding this kind of terrorism.
The most haunting part of my visit with Ms. Azar, aside from seeing her face, was a remark by her 12-year-old son, Ahsan Shah, who lovingly leads her around everywhere. He told me that in one house where they stayed for a time after the attack, a man upstairs used to beat his wife every day and taunt her, saying: “You see the woman downstairs who was burned by her husband? I’ll burn you just the same way.”
We here at Homegirl Security have long known of Hillary’s interest in addressing such abuses. It is only fair to credit the woman she is replacing, Condi Rice, with strong efforts in this area as well. Knowing Hillary’s long history on women’s and children’s issues, many of us have anticipated the coming nomination with a certain amount of regret at losing her strong, clear voice in the Senate. But this regret has been tempered with the confidence and trust we have in her abilities to address these issues at an international level as we saw her do in 1996 in Beijing. And while we know that these are not the only issues she would have dealt with in the Senate or will at State, an ambivalence remains. She will certainly be a star at State just as she was and would have continued to be in the Senate.
It was heartening, therefore, to find this article by Kristof this morning. It attests that others in the Senate have their eyes on these issues at the international level and inspires hope that the same is true at the domestic level. Of course we are also losing Joe Biden to the new administration, but it is clear that it is not women alone fighting this battle. And the bill is there, even though Joe is going.
So those of us who follow Hillary’s Senate dispatches will have to switch to another feed from her. I have no doubt she will remain as informative as ever. As for Joe, I am sure he will be as supportive as ever of Hillary’s efforts. I should mention as well that Richard Lugar was on this morning with George Stephanopoulos and intends to support Hillary’s nomination at State. (OK you can be cynical and say LOTS of Senators want her out of the Senate and at State, right now I prefer to have a little hope and faith).
So as we wish Hillary and Joe Godspeed in their new missions, and mourn the loss of our NY Turbo-Senator, we can also rejoice that these voices will have gravity in the formation of foreign policy in the next administration. Thanks, Joe, and Richard, for standing up for women, and thanks, Hillary, for being our hero, role model, and sister.
Read Full Post »