Maisoon Hussein:a tribute

KARACHI: “Death ends a life, not a relationship” so it has been said. And we at Dawn, who worked with Maisoon Hussein for over two decades, feel her relationship with the paper will never cease. She herself would not want it to. When she was diagnosed with cancer by her doctor last year in March, Maisoon not only battled the affliction courageously, she also continued her association with the paper she had come to love in the over two decades of her professional life.

In the last few months, her illness notwithstanding, Maisoon lived a full life and, since she was not burdened with the routines of everyday work, she wrote more and after greater investigation and study. Some of her best pieces of writings, which created an impact, were on the conditions in prisons. She wrote four investigative pieces last year, visiting prisons as far apart as in Landhi and the Karachi Central Jail where she met various officials to write about the problems of the inmates and the judicial procedures, which often created avoidable problems. And all this when that dreaded disease was consuming her on the inside.

There were projects she readily agreed to take up. They were in some ways related to human rights, women, children and the minorities and so were of special interest to her.

One can describe Maisoon’s writings as models of good journalism. They created a powerful impact because there was absolutely no sensationalism in them — for Maisoon it would be too unkind to cash in on someone else’s misery to write a gripping story — but she always reached the heart of the matter to explain to the readers the significance of the issue at hand.

Once a doctor who had done a survey and prepared a report on violence against women asked me who the best person would be to write about it. I suggested Maisoon’s name but warned her not to be in too much of a hurry to see it in print. Maisoon took her time to study the report, interview the author and then write a piece with compassion and insight. It was one of the best pieces written on the subject in the paper.

I remember, we visited together the women’s shelter set up with the assistance of Amnesty to see how it was working. Maisoon was to write about it. But for her, one visit was not enough. It was her wont to get answers to all her questions before she put pen to paper. No superficial and shoddy reporting would do for her. Hence she went again and again and talked to different people before she wrote her story, which won wide acclaim. But it also brought her some harsh words from certain quarters, which she was too polite to even talk about, let alone protest against.

That was just like Maisoon — quiet, kind and never discourteous. But when it came to being fairminded she stood firm as a rock. While looking after the Letters column — her last assignment — she would go conscientiously through the massive pile of letters which land in our office every day. Not one was discarded without a reason. “How can I do that,” she would say.

Forever helpful, she did not make a public display of her charity. She was so uncomplaining that we, who would lose patience so soon, marvelled at her. Small wonder, she fitted so well the role of ‘Nishat Apa’ for the Children’s Dawn which she edited for ten years. While she went about doing her professional duties in a silent, unassuming manner, the humanist in her was always active. She was collecting donations and goods for prison inmates and others, who needed help.

But behind that gentle exterior there was a woman of steel. She would stand by her convictions and refuse to be browbeaten into something she did not believe in or felt it went against her integrity. She refused to let her illness get her down. She visited China with a friend and wrote about it and attended the lecture by Dr Ghada Karmi, the Palestinian activist, last month although the steep decline in her health had begun. When some of us visited her last week, she looked frail but was as warm and loving as ever. She seemed determined to fight off her disease. But there comes a time when one has to call it a day. So adieu, dear friend and colleague. — Zubeida Mustafa

Source: Dawn

Blair versus his own people

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

AS President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair prepare to unleash a ruthless war on Iraq, I am reminded of a lecture I was invited to attend on a recent visit to Britain at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. The subject of the talk by Lord Phillips of Sudbury was “How democratic is modern Britain”. He spoke on the issue in the context of how close the British parliament is to the people who elect it.
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Review: Death by sanctions

Reviewed by Zubeida Mustafa

AT a time when the world waits with baited breath for the impending American war on Iraq, Iraq under Siege comes as a reminder that the people of that besieged country have already been under attack for 12 years. Anthony Arnove writes in the introduction to this updated edition: “The war on the people of Iraq has been going on since the imposition of the most comprehensive sanctions in world history on the country on August 6, 1990.”

At present the focus of world attention has shifted to the war which is expected to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians, who are dismissed by Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld as “colateral damage”. With the US Congress having given the Bush administration a carte blanche in October 2002 to attack Iraq preemptively and the Anglo-American military build-up in the Gulf region, war is believed to be imminent. The issues under debate in the world media are regime change, control over oil resources, and, of course, Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the need to destroy them. The sanctions have receded into the background.

It is a pity that the voice of sanity from peace-loving elements has fallen on deaf ears. Arnove succinctly sums up the repercussions of this senseless war which will lead to the escalation of American hegemony in the Middle East, will give a fillip to the expansionist regimes all over the world on the plea of giving them the justification of waging war against terrorism and will enhance the social injustices and inequities in the US and other countries.

But the book under review is basically about the 12-year war being fought against the people of Iraq. They have been victims of the aerial bombing and the sanctions regime since 1990. The book is a meticulous documentation of the ravages unleashed on the people of that unfortunate country. The contributors, some of them outstanding academics, point out how sanctions have been used to promote the American policy of regime change in Baghdad. Washington has made it clear that the sanctions will be lifted unilaterally by the US only if it found the new Iraqi government “acceptable”. The thrust for this strategy came from the pro-Israel politicians and think-tanks and in the process new rules of conduct were written. Dissent and non-conformity were not tolerated. Backed by a conservative quiescent Congress and the mainstream media which supports war, the administration feels no compunction about adopting a bellicose policy. In fact the peace movement has failed to make an impact so far.

Pointing out the inconsistencies in American policies vis-a- vis Iraq, Noam Chomsky writes that the US backed Iraq when it was fighting against Iran and Saddam Hussrin enjoyed US support when he was gassing the Kurds. After a turnaround, the US is now projecting Iraq as a violent lawless state when in actuality it is America which, as the most powerful state, is out to seize what it wants.

John Pilger raises some pertinent questions. What do you say to parents of children who are dying of the effects of sanctions? Aren’t sanctions the violation of the rights of millions of people? He ends on a poignant note by referring to the tragedy of Mohammad Amin Ezzat, the conductor of the Iraqi National Orchestra, whose wife died when the cheap kerosene oil lamp burst setting her on fire. The intermittent supply has forced the people to use these lamps.

The book explodes the myths which have been created about the sanctions. Some of them are: the sanctions are an effective non- violent method for the containment of Iraq; Iraq is a threat to its neighbours and without sanctions it would build its weapons of mass destruction (WMD); Iraq is violating the UN Security Council resolutions; Iraq has undermined the UN inspection programme; if the people are suffering it is because the Iraqi government is withholding the distribution of food; the Iraqi leadership is trying to enrich itself; ‘smart’ sanctions ensure that the needs of the people are met.

But the fact is that the Iraqi children have suffered due to the sanctions while hundreds and thousands have died due to malnutrition and lack of medicines. The under-5 mortality rate has doubled and UNMOVIC has denied that Iraq has rebuilt its WMDs. How could Iraq then pose a threat to other countries? Obviously the American aim is to occupy Iraq and seize control of its oil resources which constitute 11 per cent of the world oil reserves. It cannot afford to let the prices drop very low. Neither can it live with very high prices which would destroy its oil-based economy.

Given the pressure generated by public opinion in the western democracies, the media have attempted to downplay the negative effects of sanctions. Ali Abunimah and Rania Masri write about this negative role of the media. In an excellent analysis of the American media, these writers describe the devices employed. The civilian victims of bombing are ignored. A bias is injected by having a narrow selection of experts with a distinct point of view in their discussion programmes. They seek to create an artificial balance in the coverage of news and thus mislead public opinion.

Some of the questions posed should move the readers. For instance, Professor Howard Zinn asks if an American president would kill a few hundred Americans simply to ‘send a message’ as is being done in Iraq. Is an Iraqi child less innocent than an American’s and is an Iraqi life less worthy than an American one?

Although all that the book says has a powerful appeal for the minds and hearts of readers, it seems to have escaped the notice of American policy-makers. Though inevitably repetitive at times, the book is the collective voice of 18 academics, professionals and social workers who are also activists in their own way. All of them share a common commitment: they want justice for the people of Iraq.

Iraq under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War

Edited by Anthony Arnove

South End Press, 7 Brookline Street, #1, Cambridge MA 02139- 4146


ISBN 0-89608-697-6

62pp. $16

Source: Dawn

A new role for female lawmakers

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

MARCH 8 is international women’s day. One can expect a lot of hype on the women’s issue on this occasion. While the feminist activists will be vocal in decrying the poor status of women in Pakistan, others championing the cause of the establishment will be quick to point out the progress which has been made in the field.
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