Grief of silence

Rubana Huq
Published : 9 Oct 2011, 01:47 PM
Updated : 9 Oct 2011, 01:47 PM

A slender sword of steel is ready to hit the kneeling figure in white. The kneeler's neck remains exposed. The man in a flowing white robe, dishdasha and a red-checked head cloth lowers the blade to hit the condemned's neck; the victim's body sways forward, snaps up, and collapses to the right. A physician sews the head back to the body and within five minutes, the body gets removed and the only one in the 'Chop Chop' square is the janitor cleaning the granite. Rest are all gone and the rest is history.

This is how they killed eight of our own men.

This is Saudi Arabia where two other Saudi nationals were executed in the northern city of Tabuk, bringing the total number of executions on the 7th of October, 2011 to 10, including 8 Bangladeshis being beheaded, charged with murder of an Egyptian security guard and of having robbed a warehouse. This is Saudi Arabia, where the authorities executed Fawza Falih, a Saudi woman in account of practicing witchcraft, while official reports in April 2011 stated that she had died in jail in 2010 after choking on her food.

I looked for YouTube videos of the events and found none. Limited media coverage made it impossible for an amateur techno-geek like me to get access to sites beyond those commonly available. But what is common knowledge is that at any time until the sword strikes, a victim's family can pardon the condemned — usually for a cash settlement of at least two million riyals ($690,000 or so) from the convict's end.

Most of the websites and sources reveal that the beheading happens without informing the embassies so that there is no scope of the last minute diplomatic attempts 'hindering' the process. While we measure the world being economically dependent on this nation, we also tend to forget that more than two million Bangladeshis work in Saudi Arabia and that the migrant workers form the backbone of the Saudi economy.

This is Saudi Arabia where Shariah rules. This year alone the number of executions has risen to 58 including 20 foreigners in the list. Saudi Arabia has executed almost 2000 people between 1985 and 2011. While we exhaust ourselves critiquing Afghanistan every time the Taliban close one school after the other in Swat, while we shriek our lungs out at the slightest mention of violation of human rights, Amnesty is the only institution that hosts news of this sort.

It is time to realise that with the activists gathering in front of the Wall Street today, the world must wake up to a new uprising that will not only sweep a few of the Arab states, but engulf all the lands that preach and practice violence. Most of all, we must all agree that no country should ever be allowed to continue using their vaccine of insensitive immunity…

Strangely, the world seems unsure and divided on the concept of peace. On one hand, three outstanding women have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their contribution to the non-violent movement in their countries: Liberia and Yemen, and on the other hand, eight of us have just been beheaded in the most violent manner in Saudi Arabia.

While Saudi Arabia seeks to secure justice through capital punishment in its soil, the Nobel committee has commended these three women for strategically voicing out their protest. Point is, when will the world wake up to shun the violent governments and when shall we all stand united on the idea of peace, the chimera of our modern times?

The Yemeni Tawakkul Karman, one of the winners of the Peace Prize took off her veil in front of television cameras five years ago, and said: "There is some thing I have to do first," and then, shocking many, she removed her veil. She said, "I thought before I spoke my mind I should show you my face. This is who I am," and then she started her presentation without any break. Tawakul had broken a barrier and this, in Yemen, says a lot.

Ms. Tawakkul Karman is the first Arab woman to win the peace prize in a land where women are literally unseen and unheard. Under Tawakkul's leadership, ten thousand women marched down a six-lane motorway in April voicing their protest. She is visibly a downright critique of the current President of Yemen, Ali Absullah Saleh.

This year, over hundred protestors have been killed so far and therefore, Karman often camps in Change Square strategising over modes and forms of protests. Above all, Karman does not have the habit of striking deals of compromise with her own party: Islah. Last year Karman opposed marrying girls off under the age of 17 and was vastly criticised by her own members. But that too left her more resolved and undaunted.

Ms. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a 72 year old woman, Africa's first democratically elected female president of Liberia, a country which was created to settle freed American slaves in 1847, has just won the Nobel peace prize amidst a lot of controversy. On the 7th of October, 2011, some 200, 000 supporters of the main opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) brought the city to a standstill with leader Winston Tubman urging the people not to be overwhelmed by her Peace Prize.

On Tuesday, the 11th of October 2011, 1.8 million Liberians go to vote. But Liberia is a hungry country. Can peace thrive when most Liberians go hungry? And was it right to have chosen Sirleaf as the peace prize winner especially when she has been criticised over the lack of reconciliation with regard to rival ethnicities and specially when she has been facing controversy over having briefly supported the president Charles Taylor?

The third winner of the Peace prize, Leymah is also from Liberia. A mother of six who had brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003, is also the author of the new book: "Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer and Sex Changed a Nation at War." In 2002, Leymah Gbowee was one of the leading women who was praying and singing in a fish market for peace.

In another occasion, under her leadership, the Liberian women managed to force a meeting with President Charles Taylor and obtained a promise from him to attend peace talks in Ghana and finally silently protested outside the Presidential Palace, Accra, lettering an agreement during the stalled peace talks.

In spite of any shroud of doubt that may engulf any one of them winning the prize, one cannot belittle the tireless achievement of these women who have led their lives with a positive focus negating violence and promoting peace.

If Leymah can bring the women of the Liberia together to kneel down and pray for peace, if Johnson Sirleaf can manage Liberia to be forgiven for billions of dollars worth of Liberian debt and can alter the nation's brutal image in the international arena, if Karman can continue in her tent, raging protests against the current authorities and rebel, who has the power to stop the women of Bangladesh from waking up from our slumber of complicity?

Should we not forever celebrate that there are millions of women in this land who stand empowered in the factories? Should we not celebrate their courage and be touched by their conviction by tailoring our elite idealism and coming out on the streets stating what we believe in, living for what we consider the truth and shunning what leaves a bad taste in our mouth? Can anyone of us truly shun the bubble and pledge to attack any hand, any institution, any form of practice that butchers our brothers and our children in our lands and in lands that protect their own laws?

Perhaps we can; perhaps we will…someday, before the butchers take a swing at our necks, before we run out of time and breath…

Rubana Huq, Managing Director, Mohammadi Group