Rabia Siddique has been called names not only by insurgents but sadly by those who share her uniform. Because she refused to become silent and chose to bring her case to court, she was depicted as a moneygrubbing lawyer who’s obsessed with getting a medal for what she has done for the British Army. She knew that filing a complaint against an authority such as the Ministry of Defense is like having Goliath for an enemy while having David’s stature. But like David, she was not intimidated.
She “soldiered on” and it yielded justice. It did become worse before it got better but Rabia couldn’t ask for more. Now a mother of triplets, her life is all about giving them the best of everything. If she had a hard life, she ensures that her kids won’t have to go through that. More than anything else, she wants to set an example for her kids not to grow up complacent. She wants them to be aware of their rights and to fight against unjust treatment.
After seeing war and how ugly it could get, Rabia never got the support she was entitled as part of the British Army. Never mind that she’s key to the negotiation that took place in September 2005. No one would talk to Major Woodham, the army liaison officer initially sent to negotiate the release of two Special Aid Service soldiers held hostage by al-Jameat. They’re asking for the Arabic-speaking lawyer, a Muslim herself, Rabia Siddique.
What happened within the walls of the Basra police station where they were taken would be a mystery for many but not for long.
A Hard Childhood
Rabia Siddique’s parents met on an airplane. Her mother and father were seated side by side during a long flight. At the time, the two were able to find out enough about each other to consider dating. The meeting on the plane proved to be a match made in heaven. Her parents married in 1970.
But it wasn’t a grand wedding or anything close to a happy matrimonial celebration. For one, her mother’s parents were not there as they haven’t given them their blessing. Rabia’s mother is an Australian Protestant, while her father is an Indian Muslim. As much as the two were convinced that their love would be enough to bridge their religious and cultural gap, their families didn’t agree.
The two opted to marry in a private ceremony attended by few of their closest friends. Shortly after, the newlyweds flew to Mumbai to start their family. Rabia would be born a year and a half after her parents married. The day before she was due, Rabia’s mom and dad flew back to Australia to make sure that their firstborn would be recognized as an Australian citizen. They believe that more opportunities would be available for Rabia if she had Australian citizenship.
While that proved to be a wise decision, Rabia went through a rough time trying to fit in a place where no one looked like her. Born with blue eyes but brown skin, Rabia’s Indian identity couldn’t be stamped out by a piece of paper. She would eventually grew up into a cute girl with brunette hair and tantalizing round eyes. It’s impossible not to adore her. She was called the “peacemaker” because she brought the two families with entirely different cultures and beliefs together. Little did they know that she’d consider having a career that had to do with literal peacemaking. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
When her brother Adam was born, her parents had to work double time to sustain their middle-class lifestyle. Her father worked at a Pizza Hut branch and moonlighted as a security guard. Having two jobs kept him out of their house most of the time. Rabia’s mother, on the other hand, had to help augment her father’s income. She worked at a travel agency, leaving the young Rabia and Adam to the care of their neighbor, Poppa.
Poppa was a “good” friend, too good that her father trusted him with their daughter. Poppa would go to the Siddique home when both of Rabia’s parents were out to work. At first, his advances were limited to touching until it became more aggressive. It’s one of the few moments in Rabia’s life she felt helpless. Poppa told her that so long as she’s good enough to keep their dirty little secret, he’ll keep his hands off her brother. Her childhood was forever ruined by Poppa.
The abuse went on until Rabia could no longer keep it to herself. After yet again another special time together, Rabia rang her mom to work and told her that she’s calling the police. What followed after that was a suppressed exchange of heated words between Poppa and her father. The complaint never reached the authorities. Her parents were apprehensive about how the police would treat a mixed-race girl’s claim. That was quite difficult for Rabia to process. As she advances in age, it shaped her career and life’s direction. She would no longer tolerate injustice and what better way to do that than being a lawyer herself?
Lessons from Her Muslim Father
Rabia was very much aware of the existing racial discrimination present in the society her mixed-race family is in. She’d seen her father snubbed and passed up for promotion. Her father took insults in stride and graciously faced people who underestimated his capabilities just because he’s different. Her father is educated and spoke good English albeit his heavy Indian accent.
Rabia attended Manning Primary School where her being different resulted in her being singled-out. Her classmates made fun of the way she spoke and how her name sounded. By the time she was around six or seven years old, she wouldn’t answer to Rabia. She wanted her parents and other family members to call her Caroline Jones. Also, although Rabia was a smart girl, she kept to herself and did not participate much in school. It was a difficult phase considering the traumatic experience she had in the hands of Poppa.
No one understood her more than her father. Her father would always tell her to never allow anyone to judge her by the color of her skin and ethnicity. However, as much as he wanted to boost his daughter’s morale, Rabia’s father was well aware of the pervading social stigma people like them attract. He did his best to make the young Rabia understand what awaited her. Since she’s different, she had to prove herself.
Being raised in a home with contradicting religious background, Rabia was not forced by either parties to choose which denomination to be involved in. While her other classmates were forced by their parents to attend catechism, Rabia was pretty much left on her own. She wasn’t coaxed into practicing Muslim beliefs. Her parents trusted her judgment and never enforced religion at home.
Rabia’s Penrhos Years
It took a while before Rabia appreciated her uniqueness. It was something she learned to value and be proud of only when she entered Penrhos College, a private school in Perth. Rabia was just one of the many kids who had mixed ethnicity and being surrounded by Asians, Americans, Europeans, and other nationalities was a breath of fresh air for her. She was no longer self-conscious of her difference. She began to take pride in her uniqueness.
Like a caged bird that hungered for freedom, Rabia basked in her newfound environment. She took part in every school activity there was. Name it, Rabia’s in it. Although she was thrilled about being not so different at all, she knew she had to compete. That’s when she shone the brightest. The suppressed intelligence became more and more apparent. That she has turned into an attractive lady was a plus.
Rabia becomes a Lawyer
She was 19 years old when she met her first love. They quickly decided to get married. Rabia was not so certain yet of what she wanted to do with her life except for one thing—she wanted to be lawyer. Rabia attended University of West Australia where she completed her law degree. Right after she got out of law school, she was diagnosed to have lupus, a degenerative disease that almost took her life prematurely. For the next two years, she wrestled against the disease and was only completely off medicine in 1998. Since then, she has been on remission.
Upon getting married and passing the bar, Rabia worked as a legal aid in Perth before she joined federal prosecutors with the Director of Public Prosecutions. She’s one of Australia’s youngest federal prosecutors to date. As a new lawyer, Rabia was a staunch idealist. Everything was either black or white to her. It was all about doing the right thing all the time, saving those who are being victimized by the system. By then she became certain that she wanted to pursue a career in criminal law.
At 26 years old, Rabia and her husband migrated to the United Kingdom. Before they left Australia, the marriage was already on the rocks. Rabia cites her husband’s peaceful way of life as the reason why she lost interest in their marriage. She knew even before they moved that the marriage wasn’t going anywhere. She sought divorce when they got to London as they began breaking apart.
Joining the British Army
Rabia secured a job while attending graduate school in the UK. Their college invited guest speakers every now and then and those talks were closely followed by Rabia. She loved hearing people speak about overcoming obstacles and winning their battles. At that point in her life, she is yet to accomplish any of her dreams about upholding justice and fighting for those who are abused.
One talk gave her the opportunity to see more of the world through civil service. A retired army went to their college to talk about a project he founded called Rally International and was looking for volunteers who would help them carry out their mission. Rabia was one of those who was convinced and compelled to lend a hand. The group went to South America and Rabia witnessed fellow human beings helping one another. She was inspired and wanted to make more of her life. Upon discovering that humanitarian work appealed to her, she wanted to have a career that would eventually lead her to United Nations or any entity inclined towards serving the public without getting into politics.
One of the people in that trip back to the UK suggested that she consider joining the British Army as a legal prosecutor. Knowing how rigid the process is, Rabia did submit her application but decided not to get her hopes up about getting in. Seven months following her application, she was called for screening. Rabia was elated but her father wasn’t as thrilled. He’s asked Rabia over and over again if it was what she really wanted.
She decided to go visit Perth upon knowing that her application was successful. On her way home to her parents, however, she heard of the Twin Tower bombing in the United States. Their arrival was delayed for several hours but she was able to get home in one piece. Instead of becoming uncertain of her decision to join the British Army, she became more determined to contribute in the best way she knew how.
Life as a Soldier/Lawyer
Rabia went through physically and emotionally taxing training. In 2004, she was promoted from being Army Legal Services captain to Acting Major. She met Anthony Green who lived next her quarters. Like her, Anthony is used to living his life in the hazard zone as an officer in the Royal Air Force, something that’s totally not her first husband’s cup of tea.
The two fell in love and married in 2004. By April 2005, Rabia was the legal adviser to the 12 Mechanised Brigade in Basra. Needless to say, she’s in the heart of war. Her ethnicity came in handy. She learned how to speak Arabic (she also speaks French and Spanish, by the way) and always wore a hijab. Her personality and gender proved to be her major strengths as she mediated between the Iraqi insurgents and the British Army she was serving.
Such was her charisma that when two of their Special Aid Services soldiers were held hostage by the al-Jameat, the perpetrators did not want to negotiate with anyone but her.
Ignored by the British Army
Off she went to the turf of the enemy under the order of her commander. Without hand-to-hand combat training, she wasn’t really certain how everything would pan out. All she cared then was getting their two soldiers alive.
Major James Woodham was already there anxiously waiting for her. The British Army has grown desperate as they weren’t making any progress. Every second counted and two of their men could get executed any time.
Using her lawyering and diplomatic skills, she negotiated in Arabic, convincing the judge that holding their men hostage violates the agreement signed by the Iraqi Provincial Government and Coalition Forces. Just as when everything was going well and they were taken to the cell where the two soldiers were tied, blindfolded and gagged, all hell broke loose.
Before she knew it, some activists were firing at their soldiers and detonating their tanks. The judge she was talking to no longer had control and he fled after apologizing to her. Major Woodham was with Rabia all along. She could hardly make anything of the situation. All she knew was that they were in grave danger. She froze when she saw an AK-47 aimed at her and Major Woodham. Holding it was an agitated man claiming that his relative was gunned down by their soldiers. Just before he pulled the trigger, the man was wrestled down by Captain Jaffar, head of the Serious Crimes Unit also referred to as the "Murder Squad" despised for killing liberal Sunnis.
It did not mean, however, that they were safe. Soon, four more soldiers were thrown into the room. In the next ten hours, Rabia was insulted by those who held them hostage. The five soldiers with her were allowed to relieve themselves in private, while Rabia had to wet herself. Through it all, she kept calm.
Help finally came and they were rescued. They came to get the two SAS men just before they were about to be beheaded. It was over but she’s in shock.
When they got to their base, she was greeted with a fatherly hug and sent to her bunk to sleep. The men were debriefed. She didn’t really know if she was being singled out. It was as if her contribution was being totally taken off the record. She was then given a position in the newly created military branch that promotes equality and diversity. With her striking beauty, she was made the military poster girl to encourage more women to join the army.
But she couldn’t fool herself. Major Woodham was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery, while her name was not even mentioned. How ironic that she was given a position to uphold equality and justice. She finally told her husband who convinced her to file a complaint. The complaint caused her a demotion, but she pressed on. Well, she received the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service but not for her negotiation participation but because of the humanitarian services she rendered while in graduate school.
In 2006, the year she lost her first baby to an impossible ectopic pregnancy and the time her husband went through a thigh surgery caused by an aggressive skin cancer, Rabia filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Defense. For a time, she was berated by the media and portrayed as someone hungry for recognition. But since that wasn’t true, she remained resilient. When the records started turning up validating her story the media feasted on the MoD’s blunder.
While all that was happening, Rabia became a Crown Advocate working as Crown Prosecution Service of England and Wales (Counter Terrorism Division). Eventually, the MoD settled and a letter of apology was released to the public. On top of that was the promise that the British Army is not to treat anyone the way she was treated ever again.
Happy in Australia
Deciding she’d had enough drama to last a lifetime, Rabia headed back to Perth with Anthony and became a Principal Lawyer for the Corruption and Crime Commission of Western Australia. In June 2012, she became Commissioner's Legal Counsel for the Western Australia Police.
She’s now living a content life with her triplets, Aaron, Noah, and Oscar. In October 2013, her memoir “Equal Justice” is set to be released. A movie depicting her life is also in the works.
Rabia certainly went through a difficult life but at least she got what she wished—to make a difference by upholding justice.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Rally International
- Crown Prosecution Service
Awards and Achievements
- 1996: Qualified as a barrister and solicitor
- 2001: Joined the British army as a captain in Army Legal Services
- 2004: Promoted to Acting Major in 2004
- 2005: Drafted as legal adviser to the 12 Mechanised Brigade in Basra
- 2006: Became a recipient of the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service
- Lectured Prince William on sexual equality during his Sandhurst officer training course
- One of the youngest ever appointed Commonwealth Prosecutors in Australia
- Has been the keynote speaker at events organised by Rotary International, American Chamber of Commerce, Woodside Energy, The Friends of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Master Builders Association and Penrhos College
- Featured in The West Australian and other Australian newspapers, Scoop Magazine (Winter 2013 edition), ABC television (One to One), Seven Network (Today Tonight) and in the UK (Daily Mail Newspaper)
Daily Mail (My war against Army sexists was WORSE than being held hostage and nearly executed in Iraq)
The Sydney Morning Herald (Iron lady)
PerthNow.com.au (Triple joy trumps war zone for South Perth mum Rabia Siddique)
Waterloo Finance (Rabia's Justice)
LinkedIn (Rabia Siddique page)
The Sydney Morning Herald (A ghost in the machine)
Yahoo (Former major took on army's top guns)
The Telegraph (Female major wins payout and letter of praise)
Cambridge Post (Refugee boats sail on Swan)