On Thursday, August 26 in Bahrain, the country's police stormed into the home where Yazmin Maribel Bautista was hiding her five-year-old daughter, Fatima, an American citizen. She was hiding her child to keep her from being handed over to her Bahraini father for weekend visitation as ordered by a local court. Yazmin, an American citizen from Arizona, was helpless to prevent this from happening.
Her lawyer, Majid Shehab, who nobly took on the case pro bono, was arrested for trying to report the police and keep them from taking the child away. The lawyer has since been bailed out. Yazmin does not know whether her daughter, Fatima, will be returned to her. She also does not know whether it is safe for her to remain in the country. Yazmin has no money, no job, no financial resources, and no powerful relatives who can help her fight for her daughter.
Fatima is terrified of her father’s family and once hid under a café table when she saw relatives approaching. She said: “I don’t want to see my father. He will take me so that I will never see you (my mother) again.”
Yazmin, shaken, told me: “When the police came, Fatima was afraid. I told her to be strong. She’s only five and she’s going through a very traumatic time. She was crying, saying, ‘Mama, I can’t sleep without you.’ She didn’t put on her sandals because she thought that if she wasn’t wearing her sandals they couldn’t take her. She hid in the bathroom so that no one would get her.”
In 2003, Yazmin met Sadiq Jaffar Al-Saffar, a college student, and in 2004 Yazmin was born. Sadiq was a deadbeat dad who seemed more interested in getting a green card than in being with his family in Arizona, spending most of his time back in Bahrain. In four years, he visited only three times.
In January of 2009, Yazmin divorced him and received custody in Arizona.
Later, however, Yazmin went to Bahrain because she got laid off from her job in Arizona and because she chose to believe Sadiq’s promises: that he would get her a good job, an apartment of her own, a car, a cell phone, and that both she and/or Fatima would be part of a loving, extended family.
Even as I write, her advocate, Beth X, who must remain anonymous, is meeting with Senator John McCain, who represents Yazmin’s state of Arizona in Congress and who previously had written a letter to Bahrain’s Ambassador to the United States urging her to “allow Ms. Bautista and her daughter to return home peacefully.”
Her ex-husband’s lawyers, Fatima Abdullah and Majd Ramadan, both women, who found Yazmin’s address where she has been hiding ever since the court ordered her to turn over her daughter every week for the Muslim weekend. Yazmin initially complied with the court order but she stopped doing so when her daughter made it increasingly clear that she did not want to be with her father, her father’s new wife, and her father’s extended family. Yazmin called the American embassy, which dispatched consul Nausher Ali, who observed what was happening but did nothing.
This behavior continues the shameful inactivity of the American embassy in this matter. In fact, it was an American consul who prevented Yazmin from escaping with Fatima in the first place. At one point the two had cleared customs before boarding a plane bound for the United States, but the consul convinced them to cross back over to Bahraini-controlled territory, telling Yazmin that this was just a formality and that they would soon be free to go, at which point the Bahraini government apprehended them and put a hold on Fatima from leaving the country.
Yazmin remains dependent on the kindness of strangers and at the mercy of the American government.
She told me: “We’ve been here over a year and I’ve gone to court hearing after court hearing, and it’s not going anywhere…sure the embassy has done everything it can, but at the end of the day we’re still stuck in Bahrain. I was told that I’ll be getting her back on Saturday, but who’s to say that I’ll be getting her back? I feel like even though she’s an American citizen no one is looking after her rights…I feel like there’s no more hope…I’m just hoping that someone somewhere can help us…”
I wonder whether a new foreign policy in the Middle East will be able to bring these two American citizens home or whether it is another tragic tale like Betty Mahmoody’s, the American author of "Not Without My Daughter" who was similarly trapped in Iran with her young American citizen daughter.
And I also wonder, Will American-Muslim organizations lobby on behalf of Fatima, who, as the daughter of a Muslim, is herself a Muslim-American? Or, will they be silent, and by default recognize the jurisdiction of Sharia law over her?
Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D. is professor emerita of psychology and the author of thirteen books including "Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman" and "The New Anti-Semitism." She has written extensively about Islamic gender apartheid and about honor killings. She once lived in Kabul, Afghanistan. She may be reached through her website: www.phyllis-chesler.com.
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Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum, the author of thousands of articles and of fifteen books, including "Women and Madness," and "An American Bride in Kabul." She archives her articles and may be reached through her website: www.phyllis-chesler.com.