Nabila’s Plea: The Case Against Congressional Apathy

By Jihad Al-Jabban for Huffington Post.

Late October 2012, Nabila Rehman and her family were working in the vast fields in Northern Waziristan (northwestern Pakistan). It was just a few days before Eid Al-Adha, a festive holiday where Muslims honor the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ismail as a sign of submission to God. God would intervene and provide a lamb for sacrifice. As one of the two holidays of Islam, Eid Al-Adha is a time where Muslims celebrate with family and the community and give in charity. In preparation for this holiday, Nabila's grandmother, Momina Bibi, was teaching her and her siblings how to pick okra. But a haunting buzzing sound filled the jovial mountain air. This horrifying sound is all too familiar to rural Pakistanis. It is the sound of CIA-operated drones and the sound of what would become a nightmare to Nabila and her family. The drone attacked the Rehman family and left several children wounded and Momina dead.

Momina Bibi is not the only innocent victim of drone strikes. Faced with the threat of terrorism, the United States has utilized drones since 2004 to attack targets in northwestern Pakistan with a considerable increase in strikes under President Obama. The efficacy and ethics of these drone strikes are controversial. The United Nations Human Rights Council on June 2009 expressed criticism of these US tactics due to high civilian casualties and lack of transparency. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, among others, views these attacks as indiscriminate. The use of drone strikes may even fuel terrorism and anti-Western ideologies. An honest effort to combat terrorism should be met with sincere introspection towards our tactics.

A year after Momina Bibi's death, Nabila, along with her father and 12-year-old brother, travelled to Washington, D.C. after overcoming the challenge of traveling overseas from their remote village in Pakistan. Nabila, a 9-year-old girl, had one simple question, "What did my grandmother do wrong?" But Nabila's innocent inquiry was met with cold apathy.Only five of 435 representatives had the heart to listen. If our concern was to protect these villagers and ourselves from terrorism, would it not be insightful to lend the Rehman family our attention? Combating terrorism admittedly is no simple task and some casualties are inevitable, but currently these strikes are turning the Pakistani public against the United States. Moreover a report by researchers at Stanford and New York University show that only 2 percent of victims are "high level" militant leaders.

But beyond the controversy of drone strikes is the issue with Congress's deplorable conduct. On that day Nabila and her family shared their heartfelt testimony, 430 representatives missed the opportunity to learn about the implications of the drone strike policy. This is the same Congress that praised Malala's bravery and advocacy for women's education. Sadly, despite such "respect" for Malala, her own feelings on the dangers of drone strikes fell upon deaf ears. Both Malala and Nabila courageously reflect the voice of millions in Pakistan and deserve our utmost support. This is just another demonstration of Congress's selective memory. If Congress shows such little concern to matters critical for foreign relations, chances are that domestic issues would not hold their consideration.

If we hope to improve the leadership in this country, we must be aware of our policies both domestic and abroad and our representative's genuine endeavors to act in our best interests. A well-informed, active citizenry is the foundation to a functional democracy. It should come as no surprise that Congressional approval are at historic lows (8 percent according to Public Policy Polling) but we can hold Congress accountable for their performance. This coming election season let's decide who is fit to run this nation. Let's vote for people who would take the time to listen to Nabila's words and our own concerns. In the end, we decide who sets foot in Capitol Hill. Congressional apathy is reflective of our own actions.

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