No holds barred: Will Senator Booker save ‘The Muslim Afghan Juliette’?

The Talmud says that saving one life is like saving the whole world. The time to realize a small hint of that vision is now.

January 14, 2016 21:51
Sen. Cory A. Booker (D-NJ) addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte

Sen. Cory A. Booker (D-NJ) addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. (photo credit: REUTERS)

In just a few days Rod Nordland, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Kabul bureau chief for The New York Times, will publish his book, The Lovers, the story of Zakia and Ali, the Afghan Romeo and Juliette that so enthralled Times readers as he wrote of their plight in endless columns.

The publication of the book will further highlight the plight of a young Muslim woman whose family is hell-bent on murdering her to avenge their “honor,” which she disgraced when she refused to marry a husband hand-picked by her father, far older than she, and chose to elope with a young Shi’a man instead.

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Zakia is a Tajik Sunni, while Muhammad is a Hazara Shi’a, and the Tajiks consider marriage between the two groups dishonorable. Given the ongoing slaughter perpetrated by Shi’ites and Sunnis fighting each other in Iraq and Syria, it should not be surprising that intermarriage between members of the two sects might also provoke violence.

My organization, the World Values Network, with assistance and constant encouragement from Miriam Adelson, who was deeply and daily concerned about the safety of the couple and did everything in her power to save them, already rescued Fatima Kazimi and her family. Kazimi is the Afghan government- appointed head of the woman’s shelter who protected Zakia and came under threat of murder, along with her family, for doing so. After bringing them to Rwanda at the invitation of President Paul Kagame, they eventually made it into the United States.

The US government had absolutely nothing to do with her rescue and indeed turned down repeated entreaties made by me and others to save their lives.

Now Zakia and Ali, married with a baby daughter, face the daily possibility of a gruesome death at the hands of Zakia’s family, which has promised no let-up in their determination to murder their kin for her crime of marrying for love.

Which brave member of the United States Congress will champion their cause? For nearly 30 years, Tom Lantos, a Democratic Congressman from California, was a towering figure in defending human rights around the world and the founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. He was so highly respected that the caucus was renamed after his death, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. President George W. Bush posthumously awarded Lantos the Presidential Medal of Freedom and said, “We miss his vigorous defense of human rights and his powerful witness for the cause of human freedom.”

Today we look in Congress for other leaders who might tirelessly fight for those who have no voice or power and are denied their basic human rights.

Some of them who condemn Donald Trump’s call for temporarily barring Muslim immigration to the United States were approached by me to assist Zakia and Ali, a Muslim couple who can be murdered at any moment if they don’t get out of Afghanistan, or they have read their story in the New York Times, but have done nothing to help them.

I’m not here to expose the people I approached, but I will make an appeal to the person I’m closest to in the United States Senate and with whom I have worked for more than 25 years to promote human rights: Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

In detailing my efforts to rescue the couple, Rod mentions in his book that it was a no-brainer that I would ask my own senator and soul-friend of 25 years, Cory Booker, to help the couple gain refugee status in the United States. And the other day Cory brought a Muslim leader from New Jersey to the State of the Union address. But let’s do something that is not merely symbolic and actually save this Muslim couple’s life.

It would champion the cause of woman facing violence, all too common in the Middle East. We Americans may not all agree on Syrian refugees. But surely we can agree that Muslim women like Zakia, who have been vetted by one of the world’s most prestigious newspapers, deserve to be admitted.

Who would turn down a couple whose background has been carefully explored by the New York Times, whom we know have no connections to any violent organization, and who will be murdered for the crime of falling in love if they remain in Afghanistan? Cory, does it really take countries in middle of Africa to champion what we know to be America’s most cherished values while our government ignores them? At any moment Zakia’s brothers or might murder her to regain the family honor. She already has fled once, finding refuge for a time in a shelter for Afghan women. She and Muhammad Ali returned to their village hoping that an intermediary would negotiate a settlement that would satisfy Zakia’s family.

Instead, the couple was forced to flee again when one of Zakia’s brothers came after them with a gun and a knife.

Cory, can you think of a more just case for asylum than the protection of this wife and mother whose only crime was to marry a Muslim from a different branch of Islam? Even if you have a legitimate concern about the potential for radical Muslims finding their way into the country, surely the appropriate officials could verify the family’s bona fides and their legitimate need to find a safe haven.

For 25 years, Cory, you and I spoke of the special good you could do for people in distress once you attained high office. The countless Friday night Shabbat dinners at my home we dreamed of a world which respected women and which treated religious difference as an opportunity to be enriched rather than threatened. You and I lectured across the United States on the theme bringing together all God’s children under one umbrella of human dignity and sanctified self-worth. We spoke of the Messiah and a world bereft of tragedy and death.

The Talmud says that saving one life is like saving the whole world. The time to realize a small hint of that vision is now.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the international best-selling author of 30 books. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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