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Woman invoked by hostage taker is Brandeis graduate with history of vicious antisemitism

If you want to understand why a man bent on freeing a Pakistani woman convicted of shooting American soldiers in 2008 would take four Jews hostage in 2022, you need to understand the conspiratorial mindset of a Brandeis University graduate named Aafia Siddiqui.

The man who burst into Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas on Saturday demanded the freedom of Siddiqui, a 49 year-old Karachi-born scientist serving an 89 year sentence in a federal penitentiary in nearby Fort Worth.

Siddiqui may be an unfamiliar name to most Americans, and American Jews, but for the years since her capture and conviction, she has been a symbol and rallying cry to millions of people worldwide, many of whom echo the delusional antisemitic theories she promoted.

“In their mind Israel is a Western conspiracy, an American conspiracy and the Jewish community in the United States and around the world is somehow responsible for this,” said former CIA terrorism expert Robert Baer on CNN. “Of course there’s no truth to it at all, but these people are driven by conspiracy theories.”

Siddiqui was one of those people. She has a long history of antisemitic statements — even though she studied for an advanced degree at a university closely tied to the Jewish community.

In 2009, while awaiting trial on charges that she tried to kill American servicemen, Siddiqui tried to fire her lawyers because of their Jewish background.

Siddiqui later demanded that jurors in her trial be DNA tested to prove they weren’t Jewish.

“If they have a Zionist or Israeli background, they are all mad at me,” she said. “They should be excluded if you want to be fair.”

After the trial, Siddiqui herself wrote a letter to then-President Barack Obama, according to Deborah Scroggins in her 2012 book, “Wanted Women: Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui.”

“Study the history of the Jews,” she wrote. “They have always back-stabbed everyone who has taken pity on them and made the ‘fatal’ error of giving them shelter.” She added: “It is this cruel, ungrateful back-stabbing of the Jews that has caused them to be mercilessly expelled from wherever they gain strength. This why ‘holocausts’ keep happening to them repeatedly! If they would only learn to be grateful and change their behavior!!”

In the same letter Siddiqui claimed she wasn’t against “all Israeli-Americans.” She cited the example of an associate dean at Brandeis who allowed her to graduate after others, whom she didn’t name, opposed her.

The reference to Brandeis raises one of the stranger twists in Siddiqui’s antisemitic history.

Siddiqui, whose father was a neurologist, attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology then, in 1995, enrolled in Brandeis University. She graduated with a degree in cognitive neuroscience from Brandeis, a non-denominational liberal arts college founded by the Jewish community where 44% of undergraduates identify as Jewish.

“She must have been conspicuous when she showed up on campus, heavily pregnant and dressed in her Muslim head scarf and long dark gown or hijab,” writes Scroggins.

Siddiqui’s then-husband told Scroggins his ex-wife chose Brandeis for its academic reputation, proximity to Boston and generous financial aid. He also said that perhaps she was also interested in “getting to know her enemy.”

“Around the same time,” writes Scroggins, “Aafia began reading books about the tactics of deception and about the Israeli spy agency, Mossad.”

At Brandeis, professors cautioned Siddiqui against bringing religion into her scientific papers. In the conclusion to a research paper on fetal alcohol syndrome, she wrote that syndrome was proof of the Koran’s wisdom in forbidding alcohol.

“She was a very intelligent young woman,” one of her Brandeis professors told Scroggins. “The only thing that was noticeable, that stood out, was that she wanted to bring fundamentalist Muslim tenets into our work.”

Tensions between Siddiqui and her department mounted. “The episode,” writes Scroggins, “seems to have reinforced her private belief that American Jews — or, as she often called them, ‘Israeli Americans’ —were forever intriguing against Muslims.”

Siddiqui, who married a Pakistani doctor and gave birth to three children, became even more radicalized after the September 11 attacks, traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan and attracting the attention of the FBI and Pakistani security.

She was arrested by Afghanistan police in 2008, carrying documents on making explosives along with descriptions of New York City landmarks.

At her trial prosecutors claim that after her arrest in Afghanistan in 2008, Siddiqui picked up an M4 Army rifle and shot at the soldiers holding her in custody.

During the trial, a defense psychologist testified that Siddiqui’s writings proved her delusional nature.

“Her beliefs that Israel, the United States and India are conspiring to invade Pakistan, that Jews are responsible for 9/11 and have infiltrated American political and nongovernmental organizations,” said Thomas Kucharski, pointed to her insanity.

Siddiqui herself interrupted Kucharski. “I was trying to make peace!” she said, according to court transcripts cited by Scroggins. “I am a student of Noam Chomsky! All I ever wanted was to end the war, and I didn’t shoot anyone!”

After a 14-day trial, jurors found her guilty. Siddiqui is serving an 86-year sentence at Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, near Congregation Beth Israel.

After her conviction, Siddiqui became a symbol and focal point of Muslim anger at America, British Muslim activist Yvonne Ridley told The Guardian.

Many of Siddiqui’s supporters see her as a victim of the American war on terror. Four British parliamentarians demanded Siddiqui’s release, writing a letter to Obama that took issue with the scientific and forensic evidence used in the trial. Imran Khan, who is now the prime minister of Pakistan, took up her cause. Rallies on her behalf have attracted many thousands of protesters.

In 2016, when the terror group ISIS captured the Jewish American journalist Steven Sotloff, there was speculation that he would be traded for Siddiqui. Eventually, with no deal forthcoming, ISIS beheaded Sotloff.

In America, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has campaigned for Siddiqui’s release. It held a rally for Siddiqui in Fort Worth last September. Its Houston branch held an informational session on Nov. 10, 2021 on attempts to free her.

On Saturday, CAIR released a statement condemning the hostage taking. Another group, the Aafia Foundation, has co-sponsored rallies nationwide on Siddiqui’s behalf. Its leader, Hena Zuberi, tweeted Saturday there must be, “No violence in #Aafia’s name.”

According to a report on CNN, Siddiqui herself said through her lawyer that she has nothing to do with the violence and urged the hostage taker, who was later killed as the hostages were rescued, to stand down.

“The hostage-taking at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville is a reminder of threats that never go away,” editorialized the Fort Worth-Star Telegram, “including the scourge of antisemitism.”

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