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March 20, 2005
Fighting To Rescue All Women From Islamist Oppression

Newsweek profiles a courageous Pakistani woman who Ron Moreau and Zahid Hussain compare to Rosa Parks, one who wants to transform a horrific and brutal gang-rape into a passage for freedom for Muslim women throughout Islam. Three years ago, a village council used Mukhtar Mai in order to punish her clan for the supposed adultery of her teenage brother and sent 14 men to rape her, making Mai so undesirable in the eyes of her society that she had little choice except exile or suicide. Mai had other ideas:

The local Mastoi clan, which dominates the village council, expected her to keep her mouth shut or simply disappear. Her own Gujar clan refused to support her. "My choice was either to commit suicide or to fight back," Mai recalled last week. "I decided to fight back." ...

Using government compensation and contributions from supporters, Mai built the first school for girls in her village, as well as a school for boys. She plans to use a $33,000 grant from the Canadian government to add a library and a playground, and to set up a cattle-breeding project for poor village women. On land Mai recently inherited, she envisions building a children's hospital.

Mai also has become a model for Pakistani women pressing for more rights. She's been a guest speaker at women's forums across the country, and has even taken her message to Spain and India. By broadcasting her case, she has embarrassed authorities. The Pakistani government, aiming to show its support, has paved the dirt road leading into Mai's village and is now connecting local homes to the electricity grid. "The U.S. civil-rights campaign had Rosa Parks, who helped to spark an entire movement," says Sherry Rehman, a Pakistani activist and opposition member of Parliament. "We have Mukhtar Mai."

Unfortunately, Pakistani power structures have not been as supportive as the people. The courts have freed the rapists that were identified and convicted (only six of the fourteen), although Musharraf's government ordered them re-arrested. A shari'a court -- which may not have any jurisdiction -- nullified the verdicts altogether, which has a chilling effect on Mai's efforts. Nonetheless, the women of her village have begun to support Mai, gathering at her compound and demanding their rights and the end of chattel laws of the kind that led to Mai's attack.

Mukhtar Mai may signal a fresh wave of modernization in Islam, and she may well become a Ghandi-like symbol of peaceful protest and an agent for change. For the sake of women suffering from Islamist rule everywhere, we can only hope she succeeds.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 20, 2005 9:48 AM

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As stated at Captain's Quarters, for the sake of the many men and women suffering from Islamist rule(such as has been feared for Iraq and that exists in Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere) everywhere, we can only hope she succeeds. [Read More]

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