Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Terrorism that's personal (12 images) [EDITOR'S NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT]


Text by Jim Verhulst, Times' Perspective editor | Photos by Emilio
Morenatti, Associated Press

We typically think of terrorism as a political act.



But sometimes it's very personal. It wasn't a government or a guerrilla
insurgency that threw acid on this woman's face in Pakistan. It was a
young man whom she had rejected for marriage. As the United States ponders
what to do in Afghanistan — and for that matter, in Pakistan — it is wise
to understand both the political and the personal, that the very ignorance
and illiteracy and misogyny that create the climate for these acid attacks
can and does bleed over into the political realm. Nicholas Kristof, the
New York Times op-ed columnist who traveled to Pakistan last year to write
about acid attacks, put it this way in an essay at the time: "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. ...

"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, a Pakistani activist who founded the Progressive Women's
Association (www.pwaisbd.org) to help such women "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."

The geopolitical question is already hard enough: Should the United States
commit more troops to Afghanistan and for what specific purpose? As
American policymakers mull the options, here is a frame of reference that
puts the tough choices in even starker relief: Are acid attacks a sign of
just how little the United States can do to solve intractable problems
there — therefore, we should pull out? Or having declared war on
terrorism, must the United States stay out of moral duty, to try to
protect women such as these — and the schoolgirls whom the Taliban in
Afghanistan sprayed with acid simply for going to class — who have
suffered a very personal terrorist attack? We offer a reading file of two
smart essays that come to differing conclusions.

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