Prof. Kyndra Rotunda IWD2015

Mar 13, 2015 at 08:54 AM

ImagePROFESSOR KYNDRA ROTUNDA: Well, good afternoon and thank you so much for inviting me.  It’s a pleasure to be with you this afternoon and I want to open by really acknowledging the courageous and important work of the Women’s Freedom Forum and of other similar organizations represented here today.

My introduction to radical Islam began on 9/11.  At that time I was a JAG officer in the Army.  That’s what the Army calls its lawyers and I was assigned at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and our hospital was the first to receive victims of the Pentagon.  Our ambulances were the first two on scene that day.  I hadn’t been in the Army very long and I will never forget looking out my office window as the parking lot became a triage area.  I was then later on call to assist victims and their family members of the Pentagon attacks.  I then completed some training to qualify for a follow-on assignment, and as part of that training, I watched the horrific stoning death of a young Iranian woman.

Every moment of that torturous event had been captured on film and that moment, that experience and my experience on 9/11 forever changed me and opened my heart to some of the things that people face, some of the issues that women face, that people simply wanting freedom, simply wanting human rights face around the world.

 The focus of today’s discussion is the rise of radical extremism and the important role that women can play in keeping that at bay.  As ISIS gets a foothold around the world, we see an increase in the victimization of women and our girls.  Women are being beaten, tortured, held incommunicado, taken as war trophies, sold into slavery, sold into prostitution, and put to death for supposed moral violations without fair trials and without access to lawyers.  There’s no doubt about it—women have the most to gain by fighting radical extremism and we have the most to lose by remaining idle.  Over the last few months women have suffered attacks, the acid attacks in Iran that was depicted on the video.  One important point that wasn’t brought forward on the video I think is that what precipitated that was an order from Parliament.  Parliament had issued an order encouraging citizens to go out and take a role in propagating virtue.  One woman had been doused with acid and while we was taking off her covering she wasn’t helped by passersby.  She wasn’t supported.  She was admonished for not following the dress code.  And that’s similar to what happened in 2002 in Saudi Arabia when a girls’ school caught fire.  Officials did show up, but they didn’t show up to help the girls.  They barred the doors, because as the girls were trying to escape they were taking off their coverings and they didn’t want these girls to go outside uncovered.  The value of human life had taken a backseat to covering up women at all costs.

Sometimes it’s true that the state does respond to citizen on citizen human rights violations, but often these responses are just as troubling as the underlying act.  Take for example a few years ago, an Iranian university student suffered an acid attack and as a result she was blinded in both eyes.  The perpetrator that attacked her had done so because he proposed to her and she had declined.  He was tried and sentenced to court ordered blinding.  That is Iranian officials were ordered to drop acid in each of his eyes until he, too, was completely blinded.  But eye for an eye justice is inhumane.  We cannot meet human rights violations with further human rights violations.

Women are courageously standing up for freedom and liberty and when doing so puts their own lives and the lives of their family at great risk.  We’ve talked a good bit today about Maryam Rajavi.  And her platform is grounded in fundamental human rights and it supports the rule of law.  Ms. Rajavi stands for free elections.  She stands for freedom of speech, freedom of expression, separation of church and state, complete gender equality, and I think most importantly a modern legal system that incorporates the rule of law and that protects fundamental rights.  A system where degrading punishment and terrorism and torture will no longer have a place in the justice system.  Ms. Rajavi is so inspiring, her and others like her, I think not only because of the risk they take and how brave they are, but because they are rising up against their own government since it’s truly democracy in action.  Democracy means “voice of the people” and we know that lasting reform needs internal support and internal structure, and that’s why women like Ms. Rajavi and others are so crucial, so crucial to this fight against radical extremism that’s growing around the world.

But it’s also important for existing democracies to honor their founding principles.  Sometimes, frankly, the United States is not very good at doing that.  For example, a few years ago the military was asking women in combat, patrolling in Iraq and Afghanistan, to wear Muslim headscarves.  The trouble is, these women were not Muslim and the effort was plainly dangerous.  There was a photo in the Washington Post and it showed women patrolling right along men, male soldiers, their weapons were drawn, they were in a dangerous area.  The men were wearing Kevlar helmets.  The women were wearing headscarves.  Now one wonders, this was done to gain favor with the locals, but I’m scratching my head.  I mean one wonders how does pretending to believe something we don’t win favor with anyone?  It’s not honest and it’s not honoring of the U.S. soldier nor is it honoring of Islam.

What’s more, over the last few months—I’m a former prosecutor, I prosecuted cases in Guantanamo Bay—and over the last few months we’ve seen a judge in Guantanamo Bay engage in gender discrimination because detainees didn’t like it, detained for being tried by war criminals, tribunals, he asked, he ordered female military police officers to stand down.  They were prohibited from doing their jobs because the detainees didn’t want to be looked in the eye by a female soldier.  They didn’t want to be escorted by a female soldier.  They didn’t want to be touched by a female soldier.  And a U.S. military judge on a U.S. base is the one that made that ban, instituted that ban against them doing their jobs.  Now these women banned together, they complained, and again two weeks ago the judge reversed his ruling so women serving in Gitmo are now again able to do the full array of their duties that men would do as well.  So that’s good news that he reversed his order, but it’s bad news that he ever entered it in the first place.

Sometimes our civilian courts, too, have failed to protect women who are victims of radical extremism.  For example, a district court in New Jersey denied a Muslim woman a protective order against her husband, despite the fact that he had brutally and repeatedly raped and beaten her.  At the hearing the judge ruled against the woman and he found that her husband was simply following his religious beliefs.  Sometime later this case was reversed in an appellate ruling, but one wonders how any court in America could deny this woman the protection that she deserves.  It is troubling that any court in a free society would side with the admitted abuser and against an innocent victim.

It is important that we speak up against violence, oppression, and injustice in the world, and especially that we hold true and steady to the rule of law.  We are the guardians of our own liberty.  Nobody’s going to secure it for us.  It’s ours to have, it’s ours to hold, it’s ours to secure, it’s ours to protect.  Today’s human rights violation against your neighbor could be tomorrow’s human rights violation against you.  We are our brothers’ keeper and what connects us is so much greater than anything that can ever divide us.  Thank you so very much. [applause]

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