1. Important stories from Amsterdam, Boston, Pakistan and Riyadh
2. “The Netherlands & much of Europe prefer a traditional Muslim woman who keeps her mouth shut”
3. Saudi schoolbooks still contain messages “to fight the Jews”
4. Osama bin Laden warns those who would “interfere with [Saudi] school curricula”
5. “Dutch Courage” (Wall Street Journal Europe, May 21, 2006)
6. “This is a Saudi textbook” (Washington Post, May 21, 2006)
7. “Muslim reformer still a target” (Boston Globe, May 17, 2006)
8. “Rescued the Pakistan children seized by Islamist slave traders” (Sunday Times of London, May 21, 2006)
IMPORTANT STORIES FROM AMSTERDAM, BOSTON, PAKISTAN AND RIYADH
[Note by Tom Gross]
This dispatch contains four significant and interesting stories about radical Islam and its spread across the globe. With the exception of the third piece, from the Washington Post about unchanged Saudi schoolbooks, they are unconnected to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
I attach these pieces because finally at least some articles are appearing in mainstream western media about the true cause of Islamic terrorism: radical Islam. (Most media, such as the BBC and The NY Times-owned International Herald Tribune continue on an almost daily to sell the lie that “western colonialism” or “poverty” are to blame.)
I believe it is a positive development that yesterday the (London) Sunday Times ran a piece about young Pakistani Christian children seized by Islamist slave traders. Buried among highly exaggerated reports of a supposed “humanitarian crisis” and “starvation” in the Gaza strip, at least one major mainstream media publication has finally run a report on the slave trade of Christian and other children. (Slavery is still widespread in several Muslim countries, not that you would know that if you only read the main headlines on CNN, The New York Times, and so on.) The depressing, shocking Sunday Times piece about children aged six to 12, is placed last below, because of its length.
“THE NETHERLANDS & MUCH OF EUROPE PREFER A TRADITIONAL MUSLIM WOMAN WHO KEEPS HER MOUTH SHUT”
Before that is an excellent editorial by Daniel Schwammenthal, a long-time subscriber to this email list, in The Wall Street Journal. (It was published in the U.S. on Saturday and in the Wall Street Journal Europe today.)
The Dutch treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has been living for years with death threats for her criticisms of radical Islam, including a five-page manifesto titled “Open Letter to Hirsi Ali” which was pinned to Theo Van Gogh’s chest by his murderer, should serve as a warning to us all.
Schwammenthal writes: “But in the end it was not her former coreligionists who have caused her to seek refuge in the U.S. It was rather the native-born citizens of her adopted country, the Netherlands, that drove her off. It is the role of Dutchmen that is most worthy of contempt in this tale.”
“Many of her countrymen would like nothing more than to believe that Ms. Hirsi Ali is leaving the Netherlands because she was caught in a lie. But this would be the biggest lie in this whole affair. The Somali-born politician is leaving no, fleeing her adopted homeland because the Netherlands and much of Europe prefer a traditional Muslim woman who keeps her mouth shut over one who objects to Islamic intolerance.
“Luckily she has found a country that doesn’t fear her willingness to criticize the religion into which she was born. While visiting the Netherlands last Thursday, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said the former Dutch legislator could come to the U.S. regardless of her status in the Netherlands.
“How can it be that this recognition, so self-evident to an American official just passing through, has escaped most of the Dutch? Nearly half of her countrymen want her stripped of her citizenship. They have succumbed to the dangerous illusion that if only she were to go away, all the problems of radical Islam would go away with her.
“Ms. Hirsi Ali might be the first, but won’t be the last, post-9/11 dissident to seek refuge in the land of the brave and the free. And so, any recovery of property prices in Ms. Hirsi Ali’s neighborhood will be short-lived. Where the defenders of democracy have to flee while the enemies of free society roam the streets, not only real estate is bound to become very cheap. So will be life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
SAUDI SCHOOL BOOKS STILL CONTAIN MESSAGES “TO FIGHT THE JEWS”
Another important article appeared yesterday in Sunday’s Washington Post. Nina Shea writes: “A review of a sample of official Saudi textbooks for Islamic studies used during the current academic year reveals that, despite the Saudi government’s statements to the contrary, an ideology of hatred toward Christians and Jews and Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine remains in this area of the public school system.”
Among the passages still in effect, sixth grade pupils are told “The Arabs and Muslims will emerge victorious, God willing, against the Jews and fight a true jihad for God.”
Eighth graders are told: “The apes are Jews while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus God told His Prophet, Muhammad, about the Jews [They] obey the devil They are the Jews, whom God has cursed and with whom He is so angry that He will never again be satisfied The Jews worship the devil, not God.”
Scholars estimate that within the Saudi public school curriculum, Islamic studies make up to a third of students’ weekly classroom hours in lower and middle school, plus several hours each week in high school.
OSAMA BIN LADEN WARNS THOSE WHO WOULD “INTERFERE WITH [SAUDI] SCHOOL CURRICULA”
Educators who question or dissent from the official interpretation of Islam can face severe reprisals. Last November, for example, a Saudi teacher who made positive statements about Jews and the New Testament was fired and sentenced to 750 lashes and a prison term. (He was eventually pardoned after international protests. For more on this, see The real apartheid: Saudi teacher to be flogged for 15 weeks for praising Jews, Nov. 17, 2005.)
Education is at the core of the debate over freedom in the Muslim world. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden understands this well; in a recent audiotape he railed against those who would “interfere with school curricula.”
Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., announced recently: “The kingdom has reviewed all of its education practices and materials, and has removed any element that is inconsistent with the needs of a modern education. We have eliminated what might be perceived as intolerance from textbooks.” The Saudi government even took out a full-page ad in the New Republic to claim it has changed its school curricula.
As the Washington Post article makes clear, this is simply not true. The passages cited in the Post article are shaping the views of the next generation of Saudis and Muslims worldwide.
BOSTON MUSLIM REFORMER STILL A TARGET
The third piece below, by Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe, asks why Ahmed Mansour, the Islamic reformer who fled his native Egypt in 2001 after receiving death threats and, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was granted political asylum in the U.S., is now being targeted by radical Islamists at the Islamic Society of Boston. And why, Jacoby wonders, did the Islamic Society of Boston, whose large new mosque is being helped along with some generous financial assistance by Boston city officials, have as one of its trustees Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a radical Islamist who praises suicide terrorism and endorses the killing of Americans in Iraq and of Jewish civilians in Israel?
-- Tom Gross
“IT IS SELF-DECEIT TO IMAGINE THAT THESE ISSUES WILL DISAPPEAR”
A Muslim dissenter is no longer welcome in Holland.
By Daniel Schwammenthal
The Wall Street Journal Europe
May 21, 2006
America welcomed a victim of political and religious persecution this week. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been living for years with death threats for her criticisms of radical Islam. But in the end it was not her former coreligionists who have caused her to seek refuge in the U.S. It was rather the native-born citizens of her adopted country, the Netherlands, that drove her off. If the reader will forgive a little indulgence in the soft bigotry of low expectations, it is the role of her fellow Dutchmen that is most worthy of contempt in this tale.
Ms. Hirsi Ali first achieved international prominence when Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh was stabbed to death on an Amsterdam street in 2004. The killer pinned a five-page manifesto to his victim’s chest with the knife he’d used to kill him. The letter was titled “Open Letter to Hirsi Ali.”
Ms. Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born Dutch immigrant, a female member of the Dutch Parliament and an outspoken critic of Islam, particularly Islamic attitudes toward women. Ms. Hirsi Ali had scripted Van Gogh’s film “Submission,” on the mistreatment of Muslim women.
For making this film, Van Gogh was killed and, the letter from his killer explained, Ms. Hirsi Ali was condemned to “torture and agony.” Holy war against the U.S. and Europe was also threatened. Already under police protection since 2002 for having renounced her faith, Ms. Hirsi Ali had to go into hiding. For the second time in her life she became a refugee, this time in her adopted homeland.
Now she is being put on the run again, this time by the Dutch who have grown tired of protecting such an outspoken critic of Islamic extremism. Last month a Dutch judge ordered her out of her apartment. Her fellow tenants had argued that her presence endangered them and lowered their property values, in violation of their “human rights.” The judge agreed and ordered her evicted.
The final betrayal came last Monday when Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, from the supposedly liberal VVD party, told Ms. Hirsi Ali that she was no longer a Dutch citizen, or, to be more precise, never was one because she gained her citizenship with an incorrect name and date of birth. She had also already fled Somalia for Kenya when she applied for asylum in Holland. The funny thing is, Ms. Hirsi Ali admitted this years ago without prompting as much as a yawn from the authorities. But when a left-leaning state TV channel “exposed” these same facts nine days ago, in a report titled “The Holy Ayaan,” Ms. Verdonk declared Ms. Hirsi Ali a fellow party member and lawmaker non-Dutch.
Bibi de Vries, another VVD parliamentarian, warned that “if anything happens to Hirsi Ali, there will be people within the VVD with blood on their hands.” But Ms. Hirsi Ali does not plan to stick around long enough to prove Mr. de Vries correct. Last Tuesday, she announced that she would be moving to America, where the American Enterprise Institute has offered her a position as a fellow.
Many of her countrymen would like nothing more than to believe that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is leaving the Netherlands because she was caught in a lie. But this would be the biggest lie in this whole affair. The Somali-born politician is leaving no, fleeing her adopted homeland because the Netherlands and much of Europe prefer a traditional Muslim woman who keeps her mouth shut over one who objects to Islamic intolerance. Ms. Hirsi Ali could take the threats against her own life. But she could no longer take being abandoned by the Dutch simply for fighting for the values they taught her but now lack the courage to defend.
Luckily for Ms. Hirsi Ali, she has found a country that doesn’t fear her willingness to criticize the religion into which she was born. While visiting the Netherlands last Thursday, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said the former Dutch legislator could come to the U.S. regardless of her status in the Netherlands. “We recognize that she is a very courageous and impressive woman, and she is welcome in the U.S.”
How can it be that this recognition, so self-evident to an American official just passing through, has escaped most of the Dutch? Nearly half of her countrymen want her stripped of her citizenship. They have succumbed to the dangerous illusion that if only she were to go away, all the problems of radical Islam would go away with her. Ms. Hirsi Ali offered a final warning on that score this week. “I am... preparing to leave Holland,” Ms. Hirsi Ali told reporters. “But the questions for our society remain. The future of Islam in our country, the subjugation of women in Islamic culture; the integration of the many Muslims in the West: It is self-deceit to imagine that these issues will disappear.”
There are striking parallels between the way many in Europe view the U.S. and the way the Dutch and many Europeans view Ms. Hirsi Ali. Outrage over September 11 soon gave way to a reversal of cause and effect. The victim, the U.S., was held responsible for the destruction it supposedly brought upon itself through its policies and provocation of Muslims. Similarly, solidarity with Ms. Hirsi Ali quickly changed to attacking Ms. Hirsi Ali for being too provocative. Government adviser Jan Schoonenboom accused Ms. Hirsi Ali of “Islam bashing,” a theme often repeated in the media.
Ms. Hirsi Ali might be the first, but won’t be the last, post-9/11 dissident to seek refuge in the land of the brave and the free. And so, any recovery of property prices in Ms. Hirsi Ali’s neighborhood will be short-lived. Where the defenders of democracy have to flee while the enemies of free society roam the streets, not only real estate is bound to become very cheap. So will be life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
(Mr. Schwammenthal is an editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal Europe.)
“EDUCATION IS AT THE CORE OF THE DEBATE OVER FREEDOM IN THE MUSLIM WORLD”
This is a Saudi textbook. (After the intolerance was removed.)
By Nina Shea
The Washington Post
May 21, 2006
Saudi Arabia’s public schools have long been cited for demonizing the West as well as Christians, Jews and other “unbelievers.” But after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis that was all supposed to change.
A 2004 Saudi royal study group recognized the need for reform after finding that the kingdom’s religious studies curriculum “encourages violence toward others, and misguides the pupils into believing that in order to safeguard their own religion, they must violently repress and even physically eliminate the ‘other.’” Since then, the Saudi government has claimed repeatedly that it has revised its educational texts.
Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, has worked aggressively to spread this message. “The kingdom has reviewed all of its education practices and materials, and has removed any element that is inconsistent with the needs of a modern education,” he said on a recent speaking tour to several U.S. cities. “Not only have we eliminated what might be perceived as intolerance from old textbooks that were in our system, we have implemented a comprehensive internal revision and modernization plan.” The Saudi government even took out a full-page ad in the New Republic last December to tout its success at “having modernized our school curricula to better prepare our children for the challenges of tomorrow.” A year ago, an embassy spokesman declared: “We have reviewed our educational curriculums. We have removed materials that are inciteful or intolerant towards people of other faiths.” The embassy is also distributing a 74-page review on curriculum reform to show that the textbooks have been moderated.
The problem is: These claims are not true.
A review of a sample of official Saudi textbooks for Islamic studies used during the current academic year reveals that, despite the Saudi government’s statements to the contrary, an ideology of hatred toward Christians and Jews and Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine remains in this area of the public school system. The texts teach a dualistic vision, dividing the world into true believers of Islam (the “monotheists”) and unbelievers (the “polytheists” and “infidels”).
This indoctrination begins in a first-grade text and is reinforced and expanded each year, culminating in a 12th-grade text instructing students that their religious obligation includes waging jihad against the infidel to “spread the faith.”
Freedom House knows this because Ali al-Ahmed, a Saudi dissident who runs the Washington-based Institute for Gulf Affairs , gave us a dozen of the current, purportedly cleaned-up Saudi Ministry of Education religion textbooks. The copies he obtained were not provided by the government, but by teachers, administrators and families with children in Saudi schools, who slipped them out one by one.
Some of our sources are Shiites and Sunnis from non-Wahhabi traditions people condemned as “polytheistic” or “deviant” or “bad” in these texts others are simply frustrated that these books do so little to prepare young students for the modern world.
We then had the texts translated separately by two independent, fluent Arabic speakers.
Religion is the foundation of the Saudi state’s political ideology; it is also a key area of Saudi education in which students are taught the interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism (a movement founded 250 years ago by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab) that is reflected in these textbooks.
Scholars estimate that within the Saudi public school curriculum, Islamic studies make up a quarter to a third of students’ weekly classroom hours in lower and middle school, plus several hours each week in high school. Educators who question or dissent from the official interpretation of Islam can face severe reprisals. In November 2005, a Saudi teacher who made positive statements about Jews and the New Testament was fired and sentenced to 750 lashes and a prison term. (He was eventually pardoned after public and international protests.)
The Saudi public school system totals 25,000 schools, educating about 5 million students. In addition, Saudi Arabia runs academies in 19 world capitals, including one outside Washington in Fairfax County, that use some of these same religious texts.
Saudi Arabia also distributes its religion texts worldwide to numerous Islamic schools and madrassas that it does not directly operate. Undeterred by Wahhabism’s historically fringe status, Saudi Arabia is trying to assert itself as the world’s authoritative voice on Islam a sort of “Vatican” for Islam, as several Saudi officials have stated and these textbooks are integral to this effort. As the report of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks observed, “Even in affluent countries, Saudi-funded Wahhabi schools are often the only Islamic schools” available.
Education is at the core of the debate over freedom in the Muslim world. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden understands this well; in a recent audiotape he railed against those who would “interfere with school curricula.”
The passages below drawn from the same set of Saudi texts proudly cited in the new 74-page review of curriculum reform now being distributed by the Saudi Embassy are shaping the views of the next generation of Saudis and Muslims worldwide. Unchanged, they will only harden and deepen hatred, intolerance and violence toward other faiths and cultures. Is this what Riyadh calls reform?
“Every religion other than Islam is false.”
“Fill in the blanks with the appropriate words (Islam, hellfire): Every religion other than ______________ is false. Whoever dies outside of Islam enters ____________.”
“True belief means... that you hate the polytheists and infidels but do not treat them unjustly.”
“Whoever obeys the Prophet and accepts the oneness of God cannot maintain a loyal friendship with those who oppose God and His Prophet, even if they are his closest relatives.”
“It is forbidden for a Muslim to be a loyal friend to someone who does not believe in God and His Prophet, or someone who fights the religion of Islam.”
“A Muslim, even if he lives far away, is your brother in religion. Someone who opposes God, even if he is your brother by family tie, is your enemy in religion.”
“Just as Muslims were successful in the past when they came together in a sincere endeavor to evict the Christian crusaders from Palestine, so will the Arabs and Muslims emerge victorious, God willing, against the Jews and their allies if they stand together and fight a true jihad for God, for this is within God’s power.”
“As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus.”
“God told His Prophet, Muhammad, about the Jews, who learned from parts of God’s book [the Torah and the Gospels] that God alone is worthy of worship. Despite this, they espouse falsehood through idol-worship, soothsaying, and sorcery. In doing so, they obey the devil. They prefer the people of falsehood to the people of the truth out of envy and hostility. This earns them condemnation and is a warning to us not to do as they did.”
“They are the Jews, whom God has cursed and with whom He is so angry that He will never again be satisfied [with them].”
“Some of the people of the Sabbath were punished by being turned into apes and swine. Some of them were made to worship the devil, and not God, through consecration, sacrifice, prayer, appeals for help, and other types of worship. Some of the Jews worship the devil. Likewise, some members of this nation worship the devil, and not God.”
“Activity: The student writes a composition on the danger of imitating the infidels.”
“The clash between this [Muslim] community (umma) and the Jews and Christians has endured, and it will continue as long as God wills.”
“It is part of God’s wisdom that the struggle between the Muslim and the Jews should continue until the hour [of judgment].”
“Muslims will triumph because they are right. He who is right is always victorious, even if most people are against him.”
The 10th-grade text on jurisprudence teaches that life for non-Muslims (as well as women, and, by implication, slaves) is worth a fraction of that of a “free Muslim male.” Blood money is retribution paid to the victim or the victim’s heirs for murder or injury:
“Blood money for a free infidel. [Its quantity] is half of the blood money for a male Muslim, whether or not he is ‘of the book’ or not ‘of the book’ (such as a pagan, Zoroastrian, etc.).
“Blood money for a woman: Half of the blood money for a man, in accordance with his religion. The blood money for a Muslim woman is half of the blood money for a male Muslim, and the blood money for an infidel woman is half of the blood money for a male infidel.”
“The greeting ‘Peace be upon you’ is specifically for believers. It cannot be said to others.”
“If one comes to a place where there is a mixture of Muslims and infidels, one should offer a greeting intended for the Muslims.”
“Do not yield to them [Christians and Jews] on a narrow road out of honor and respect.”
“Jihad in the path of God which consists of battling against unbelief, oppression, injustice, and those who perpetrate it is the summit of Islam. This religion arose through jihad and through jihad was its banner raised high. It is one of the noblest acts, which brings one closer to God, and one of the most magnificent acts of obedience to God.”
(Nina Shea is director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House.)
BOSTON MUSLIM REFORMER STILL A TARGET
Muslim reformer still a target
By Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
May 17, 2006
When Ahmed Mansour learned a lawsuit had been filed against him by the Islamic Society of Boston, he had one urgent question: “Will they put me in jail?”
The answer was no in America, people don’t go to prison for publicly expressing their views. But Mansour had good reason to worry. He had learned the hard way that Muslim reformers who speak out against Islamist fanaticism and religious dictatorship can indeed end up in prison or worse. It had happened to him in his native Egypt, which he fled in 2001 after receiving death threats. He was grateful that the United States had granted him asylum, enabling him to go on promoting his vision of a progressive Islam in which human rights and democratic values would be protected. But would he now have to fight in America the same kind of persecution he experienced in Egypt?
Mansour is just one of many people and organizations being sued for defamation by the Islamic Society of Boston, which accuses them all of conspiring to deny freedom of worship to Boston-area Muslims. In fact, the defendants who include journalists, a terrorism expert, and the founder of the American Anti-Slavery Group, plus the Episcopalian lay minister and the Jewish attorney who together with Mansour formed the interfaith Citizens for Peace and Tolerance in 2004 appear to be guilty of nothing more than voicing concerns about the ISB’s construction of a large mosque in Roxbury.
Unsettling questions have been raised about the ISB and its mosque project. For example:
Why did city officials provide the land for the mosque for just $175,000, when the parcel was publicly valued at $400,000? And where did that $400,000 figure come from, when the land’s value had earlier been assessed at $2 million?
What is the Islamic Society’s relationship to Yusef al-Qaradawi, a radical Islamist who praises suicide terrorism and endorses the killing of Americans in Iraq? For several years the ISB listed him as a trustee, though now it says that was an “oversight.” Was it also an oversight when a videotaped message of support from Qaradawi, who is banned from the United States, was played at a fund-raiser in 2002?
When it was reported that another trustee, Walid Fitaihi, had written that Jews are “murderers of the prophets” who will be punished for “oppression, murder, and rape of the worshipers of Allah,” why did the ISB resist for seven months before unequivocally repudiating his words?
But if anything should raise eyebrows, it is the decision of the Islamic Society to pursue Mansour for his comments about the ISB at a press conference in 2004. He had gone to pray at the ISB’s current mosque in Cambridge, and described at the press conference what he had observed: “I am here to testify that this radical culture is here, inside this society,” he said. He had seen “Arabic-language newsletters filled with hatred against the United States.” Books and videos in the mosque’s library promoted “fanatical beliefs that insult other people’s religions.” A religious man, Mansour stressed that he was “not against the mosque.... I’m against extremists.”
If Mansour doesn’t have the expertise to form such opinions, it would be hard to say who does.
He holds three degrees from Cairo’s Al-Azhar, the foremost religious university in the Islamic world, where he was appointed a professor of Muslim history in 1980. He would probably be there still if his scholarship hadn’t gotten in the way. The deeper Mansour delved into the history of Islam, the clearer it became to him that the faith had been perverted into a “false doctrine of hate” a doctrine that has been spread across much of the Muslim world and that has fueled great cruelty and bloodshed.
His mounting opposition to Wahhabist radicalism drew the wrath of the powerful Al-Azhar sheiks, who removed him from his classroom and tried him in a religious court. For two years, he says, he was pressured to recant. In 1987 he was fired. Then the Egyptian government imprisoned him for two months.
Undeterred, Mansour continued to write and speak out against radical Islam. He has authored 24 books and more than 500 articles, many of them denouncing as heretical any Muslim creeds that “persecute and kill peaceful humans and violate their human rights.” The real infidels, he has argued, are those who share “the traits of Osama bin Laden and his followers.” Before fleeing for his life, he worked with Egypt’s leading human-rights activists, promoting democratic values, funneling assistance to persecuted Christians, and advocating for the reform of religious education.
This is the Islamic Society of Boston’s idea of an anti-Muslim conspirator? Then what, one wonders, is its idea of Islam?
RESCUED THE PAKISTANI CHRISTIAN CHILDREN SEIZED BY ISLAMIST SLAVE TRADERS
Rescued the Pakistan children seized by Islamist slave traders
Hoax saves boys held for months
By Marie Colvin
The Sunday Times (of London)
May 21, 2006
The slave traders came for 10-year-old Akash Aziz as he played cops and robbers in his dusty village in eastern Punjab.
Akash, still in the maroon V-neck sweater and tie that he had worn to school that day, was a “robber”. But as he crouched behind a wall, waiting for the schoolfriend designated as the “cop” to find him, a large man with a turban and a beard grabbed him from behind and clamped a cloth over his nose and mouth before he could cry for help.
He recalls a strange smell and a choking sensation. “Then I fainted,” said Akash, a delicate little child from a loving family that takes pride in his enthusiasm for English lessons at school.
Akash woke up in a dark room with a bare brick floor and no windows. The heat was suffocating. As he languished there over the next month, 19 other panic-stricken boys were thrown into the room with him.
The children, all Christians, had fallen into the hands of Gul Khan, a wealthy Islamic militant and leading member of Jamaat-ud Daawa (JUD), a group linked to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.
Khan lives near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, but when in the Punjab he stays at the JUD’s headquarters in Muridke, near Lahore, where young men can be seen practising martial arts with batons on rolling green lawns patrolled by guards with Kalashnikovs. Osama Bin Laden funded the centre in the late 1990s.
The JUD, which claims to help the poor, says that it has created a “pure Islamic environment” at Muridke that is superior to western “depravity”. Khan’s activities explode that myth. He planned to sell his young captives to the highest bidder, whether into domestic servitude or the sex trade. The boys knew only that they were for sale.
This is the story of the misery that Akash and his friends, aged six to 12, endured in captivity; of their rescue by Christian missionaries who bought their freedom and tried to expose the kidnappers; and of the children’s moving reunions with their loved ones who had believed they were dead.
Last week I had the privilege of taking six of the boys home to their families, including Akash. The astonishment of mothers and fathers who had given up hope and the fervent, tearful embraces made these some of the most intensely emotional scenes I have witnessed.
That joy was a long time coming. On the first day after his abduction, Akash was left in no doubt about the brutality of the regime he would endure.
“I drank from a glass of water and one of the kidnappers pushed me so hard I fell on the glass and it broke in my hands,” he said. His slender fingers still bear the scars. No more glass for him, he was told: he was fit to drink only from a tin cup.
The boys were ordered not to talk, pray or play. Five of them were playing a Pakistani equivalent of scissors, paper, stone one day when the guards burst in and beat them savagely on their backs and heads. On another occasion Akash was repeatedly struck by guards yelling “What is in your house?” “I kept telling them, ‘We have nothing’,” he said anxiously. “I was so afraid they would go back and rob my father and mother.” It is painful to imagine blows raining down on the ribs of so slight a figure.
The guards mostly sat outside playing cards, shaded from the 116F heat by a tree. But the boys were allowed out of their room only to use a filthy hole-in-the-ground lavatory. All they could see were high walls around the two-room building that was their prison. The other room was always locked.
The children were fed once a day on chapatis and dhal, but never enough. Akash slept huddled against the others on the floor and woke each morning a little more resigned to his fate.
“We just sat around the walls thinking,” Akash said. “We were remembering our homes and our mothers and fathers and hoping someone would rescue us. But nobody came.”
I first saw Akash in a photograph among those of 20 boys who were being touted for sale in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan on the Afghanistan border renowned as a smugglers’ paradise and home to fugitives of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. He was just another black market commodity along with guns, grenades and hashish.
Unbeknown to Akash, a Pakistani Christian missionary and an American evangelist who runs a tiny charity called Help Pakistani Children had seen the boys’ photographs and taken up their cause. Neither man is willing to be identified today for fear of the consequences.
An elaborate sting was conceived. The Pakistani missionary would pose as a Lahore businessman named Amir seeking boys to use as beggars who would give their cash to him.
The two men would also collect evidence that could be used in any police action against the kidnappers. “We knew if we just purchased the boys, the slavers would just restock. We would be fuelling the slave trade,” said the American evangelist, who asked to be referred to as “Brother David”.
They had no idea how hazardous their enterprise was until Amir used some black market contacts to engineer a meeting with Khan and discovered his links to the JUD. “We realised we were out of our depth,” Brother David said ruefully. But they persevered and prayed a good deal.
Amir played his part well. Within a week he had bought three of the boys for $5,000 (£2,650) and put down a $2,500 deposit on the 17 others, including Akash.
The first three were handed over on a Quetta street in April and returned to their families. But Khan wanted $28,500 for the lot. He gave Amir two months to come up with the money, saying he did not mind if the deadline was missed: he could earn more if he sold them for their organs, he claimed.
Brother David went home to America to raise funds. Amir travelled again and again to Quetta, taking Khan to lunch as his bodyguards lounged outside in pickup trucks, their Kalashnikovs at the ready. He enlisted police officers who insisted that the eventual transaction be recorded with a secret camera so that the evidence against Khan would be irrefutable.
Twelve days ago Amir received a call from Khan summoning him to a meeting at a crossroads on a dirt road near the JUD’s Muridke camp.
There was no cover here, just newly harvested wheatfields and water buffalo wallowing in a pond. Six policemen dressed as labourers with the intention of alerting colleagues in cars concealed a mile away to arrest Khan once the cash had been exchanged for the children.
Amir and a young assistant waited for an hour at the crossroads before one of Khan’s men walked up and directed him to another location. The police had been wrong-footed.
Amir finally found his quarry under a large, shady tree where he was sitting on a rope bed while an acolyte massaged his shoulders. “You have the money?” Khan asked.
When Amir handed him the $28,500 cash in a black knapsack, he examined it briskly. Then, without explanation, he broke his promise to hand over the boys there and then.
“I will check the dollars are real first,” he said. “If your dollars are good, you will get the children.”
A second blow followed. Khan announced that he was going to take Amir’s assistant as hostage. If the money was real, he said, the children would be delivered in two hours. If it was counterfeit, the hostage would not be seen again.
It was a heart-stopping moment, not least because the young man posing as Amir’s bag carrier had hidden the secret camera under his shirt. Amir motioned him to the back of his car as if to retrieve something from the boot, and ripped the camera from his body.
The hostage was blindfolded and driven to a building where he was held alone in a room. “I was so praying that your money was good,” he later told Amir.
Another anxious wait ensued. The police were off the scene and the two hours passed with no word from the kidnappers. Nor was there any news the next day.
Finally, a call came through from Amir’s assistant in the dead of night. He had just been dropped off by the side of a road 15 minutes’ drive from JUD headquarters with the remaining 17 boys. They were afraid but alive, he declared. They were being taken to a shack nearby. I drove there immediately and found Akash asleep on a plastic mat surrounded by his 16 friends.
Their thin limbs were sprawled and their bodies curled against each other for comfort. One boy gripped the sleeve of another as he slept. They stank of urine.
As the children awoke, the bewilderment showed in their eyes. The first task of the missionaries was to reassure them but few seemed to believe Brother David when he said: “We will protect you. We will take you home to your mothers and fathers. The bad men who took you are gone.” Not one boy smiled. It had been too long since they had dared to hope.
Yet after a cold wash under an outdoor tap and a change into fresh clothes, preparations began for the first of the long car journeys back to their homes in remote Punjab villages. As the boys gradually warmed to their liberators, they talked a little about their ordeal.
Asif Anjed, 8, one of the smallest, had the biggest personality. But his concept of time was so childish that when I asked him how long it had been since he had seen his parents, he thought hard for a moment and said: “Six or seven years.” It had been five months.
Asif had retained a sense of outrage from the moment of his abduction. “They put me in a bag!” he kept saying indignantly. He picked out a bright orange T-shirt because he liked its bear logo, the symbol of a football team in Chicago.
Like Akash, Asif said he had lost consciousness when a man with a beard and turban put a rag over his mouth. He became indignant again when I asked whether he had tried to escape. “The men told us if we ran out of the door they would cut our throats,” he said.
Asif seemed to have few memories of home. “My friend was Bilal,” he said. He grew quiet when he realised he had forgotten what his mother looked like.
As if exhausted by the effort of trying to remember, he fell asleep across my lap during the 15-hour drive to his home in the desert of southern Punjab on the Indian border. As we drew near, the garrulous Asif looked solemn, perhaps not knowing quite what to expect. At a place where fertile green fields gave way to white desert sands, he pointed to his house at the end of a path across a stretch of wasteland.
His father, Amjed, must have seen him getting out of the car. He came running out of the house, barely able to believe that the boy walking hesitantly towards him in plastic sandals was his son. Then he flung out his arms, scooped up Asif and squeezed him against his chest.
Asif’s mother, Gazzala, came bustling down the path as fast as she could in her flowered salwar kameez, dragging his younger sister, Neha, by the hand.
She collapsed on her knees in front of Asif, her only other child, weeping and clutching him to her, the long months of anguish etched into the lines on her face.
Like any other boy of his age, Asif seemed embarrassed by these extreme displays of emotion, glowering as his mother clung to him for longer than he would have liked.
Both parents remembered every detail of the day their boy had failed to return home from school. Asif’s father manages a small chicken farm and usually collects him on a bicycle for the 3km ride. He still cannot forgive himself for staying home to work that day.
When Asif did not appear his father started a frantic search, stopping strangers on his bicycle to ask, “Have you seen my little boy?” In common with other families, Asif’s did not go to the police. “The police will only take interest if they are paid and we have nothing,” Amjed said.
“We thought someone had killed him,” his mother added, the tears streaming down her cheeks. “I couldn’t stop imagining that maybe they had broken his arms and legs.”
As the reality sank in, both parents began to smile. They looked at Asif in shock as he repeated his customary line “they put me in a bag” but were soon planning a family feast to celebrate. “It’s a miracle!” Amjed said.
Khan would also be shocked if he knew that his captives had not been sold into slavery. Their rescuers fear retribution and are also worried because the exposure of Khan has implications for the way religious extremist groups are treated in Pakistan. Even the police said the reach of such groups was too long for them to be dealt with in a straightforward way.
Why should it be so difficult to prosecute slave traders who cloak themselves in the garb of pious Muslims? For one thing, the JUD offers free medical care and education and won hearts and minds by providing blankets, tents and food after last year’s Kashmir earthquake. Few Pakistanis care to know how closely it is associated with Lashkar-i-Toiba, a group proscribed by Pakistan and Britain as a terrorist organisation that participated in an Al-Qaeda attempt to assassinate Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, in 2003.
There can be no denying Khan’s connections with the JUD. After he collected his $28,500, he was seen driving directly into its headquarters.
Brother David and Amir are ready to present their dossier of evidence, including the secret tape of Khan taking the money for the boys.
In almost any other country, an investigation into Khan and his work for the JUD would be automatic. It is not so simple in Pakistan. Musharraf has announced numerous crackdowns on the extremist religious militants but the extremists continue to gather strength.
The stories of these boys cry out for action. “The slavers must be stopped and brought to justice,” Brother David said. “I pray that a public outcry will arise in Pakistan and around the world that will put an end to their vile business.”
Akash, the first boy to be returned to his family, constitutes the strongest possible case for an end to child trafficking.
For the first few hours of the journey to his village, Akash sat on the edge of the back seat next to me. He rested his hands on the front seats, gazing out through the windscreen, answering any question with a monosyllable and flexing his fingers over and over again.
He recalled that his best friend was called Rashed they played cricket together but he could not remember the name of his school.
He shook as we approached his village. I thought he would collapse. Then came a quiet, uplifting moment that brought tears to my eyes.
The driver stopped by a canal to ask directions. Taking the initiative for the first time, Akash tentatively raised his arm, pointing down a narrow dirt road running with sewage.
He had not even reached the door of his house before his grandmother, wrapped in a colourful shawl, engulfed him in an embrace in the dirt alley outside, her face contorted with delight.
Akash’s mother was so strangely impassive that it made me angry until I realised she was too shocked to take in the fact that the son she had thought was dead was snuggling up to her. Finally, she hugged him, kissing him over and over again on the top of his head. “We were hopeless,” she said. “His father searched and searched. We prayed. But we thought he was gone.”
Akash had another surprise waiting for him at home: a two-month-old brother he had never seen.
Home at last, resting against his mother, he smiled broadly for the first time and, just a few hours after getting into a car for the first time, declared his ambition to become a pilot.