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Friday, July 22, 2005

Reflections on the horrible events in London

I’m not sure what I’m doing here at the keyboard – it’s nearly midnight and tired as I feel, I can’t seem to get my eyes shut (well, they’re shut all the time, but you know what I mean).  I feel like there is a big rock sitting on my chest and I’m hoping that by writing these few pages this rock may leave me alone for a while.


This article contains graphic description of events which some may find disturbing!


Once again, the world turned itself up side down today because of explosions which took place in London – savage acts whose main purpose is to terrorize innocent civilians.  Savage acts, irrespective of the perpetrators and irrespective of the victims.  It’s funny how the standard changes from time to time and from place to place.  What’s not so funny however is thinking about how long it will take people, those who often find themselves victims of such acts to realize this and start to do something about it!


The enemy, as we’re told, is Islamic extremism.  As a practicing Muslim, I can safely say that indeed there is a great deal of extremism in how people understand Islam these days, and thanks to the circumstances which gave impetus to those who stood to gain from propagating such wild and sometimes irrational interpretations of Islamic texts.  What everyone seems to forget is that extremism is not limited to Islam and Muslims.  Extremism, whether it is fueled by a religion, an ideology, a nationalistic outlook, a bias, anything, extremism is and will always lead to the same end – ultimate disaster for those who preach and practice it, and naturally for many people who will, in one form or another, become their victims.


In the 1930’s, the Germans had enough of the humiliation imposed on them by the Versailles treaty, the treaty which, incidentally, was haled by president Wilson as the way to the end of all wars, much like Bush’s assertion that his war on terrorism is going to end terrorism.


Adolph Hitler said aloud what most Germans always knew and wanted – we’re mad as hell, and we won’t take it any more!  It’s time for the German people to rise up and break the shackles imposed upon them by arrogant nations whose main beef with Germany in the first place was that the Germans threatened their hegemony over most of the planet, hegemony they gained by conquest, deception and war.


Out of the pain and suffering of the German people was born a movement that sought to liberate and unite them, a movement which would bring them the dignity they always had and for which they longed since the end of world war I.  Anything, as long as it was perceived to get them to that end was not only acceptable, it was desirable.  Germany, they were told, was over everything and everyone.  The whole world didn’t measure up to the Germans in their ingenuity, their intelligence and their craft.  Germany is above all, and all will submit to Germany.


Out of that philosophy, endless armies were born throughout the land, their recruits were mostly perfectly decent citizens who wanted to push away the insult and misery imposed on them by their adversaries in the name of peace and justice!  I can tell you that no dictator, clever, brutal or cunning as they may be can ever build such an army as Hitler did.  He built it by offering himself and his ideology as the savior for a proud people whose dignity meant a lot to them.


I believe that there is a line which when a human being crosses, he ceases to be human, and turns into a monster, ready to devour anything that stands in his way.  That is what Germany turned into, and that’s what the world had to suffer from.  But the nagging question is, how long do you have to oppress a people while expecting them to remain subservient?  Didn’t they teach us in school that too much pressure eventually leads to an explosion?  Isn’t Germany’s fate a living fresh example of that?


Since world war too, our technology and weapons have gotten infinitely more sophisticated, but I wonder if we did.


After a century of oppression and darkness brought about by the Ottoman empire, the Arabs in the Middle East were ready to fight to gain their God given right of self determination.  At the same time the colonial powers, mainly France and Britain, were humiliating the Germans, they were committing an even bigger insult against the Arabs.  They promised them an independent Arab state in which they can live freely, and enjoy what their land had to offer.  They even had them send their children to fight and die against the Ottomans under the French and the British flags,

only to discover that the French and the British were using them to defeat Germany’s ally – the Ottoman empire.  No sooner did the war end, the British and the French divided the region amongst themselves, removing and sending into exile the very man, Hussain Bin Ali, the sharif (prince) of Mekka, the very man to whom they made their promises, installing instead his power hungry and ignorant children over the little cantons they established.  Hussain Bin Ali is the great grand father of the late king Hussein, who made sure that his subjects knew about that regardless of their age or status.


This story was repeated to Jordanians in elementary, preparatory and secondary education, and was put into various documentaries, series, films and plays which made their way into every house in Jordan.


As if the above wasn’t enough, the French and British secretly conspired to take Palestine, the home of the dome of the rock, the Aqsa mosque, the birth place of Jesus Christ, may God’s blessings be upon him, and give it to the rich folks in Europe whom they hated and wanted to get rid of, while at the same time keeping their money supply close at hand.  In fact, much of the early capture of Palestine took place under the noses of the Arabs who had no idea what the future had in store for them.


In a book about the Palestinian question written by Mark Tesler, clips of newspapers from that time were reprinted in which the intellectuals of the time were talking about all the wonderful things they could do together with the Jews to develop the area.  They were very hopeful that the expertise and capital brought by the Jews will serve to improve the lot of everyone – little did they know that it will lead to the death and exile of their suns and daughters.


Once again, the late king Hussein, as well as many of his counterparts, made sure their subjects knew about all that.  It was in the school books, on the radio, on TV, at the theater, on the news, everywhere!  The strange thing is that many of the Middle East leaders at the time did this not to insure the continuity of the cause in the mind of their subjects, it was done to cover up their complicity and failure to fulfill their duty towards those whom they ruled.  Whatever the motive may have been, the end result was the same – people, young and old, prince or common, rich or poor, Muslim or Christian, clearly saw what happened to them, and knew that their dignity, their pride, the pride for which the Arabs are and have always been known, has been stolen from them.  Everyone felt helpless, and hatred and bitterness began to take root, as is always the case with human nature.


In the sixties and seventies, the Arabs began to realize a source of strength they thought would save them and give them back some of their dignity, and allow them to be respected on the international seen – oil, and location.  The Gulf, as we all know, contains a great deal of the world’s oil reserves, and the Arab World, in North Africa and Asia controlled many of the key transport routes between east and west.  So, when Gamal Naser of Egypt decided to take control of the Suez Canal, a small man made see route which connects the Red See and the Mediterranean together, from the western companies that were running it and keeping most of the proceeds for themselves, his country was attacked by France, Britain and Israel.  He was attacked because he decided to exercise his right of asserting control and sovereignty over a part of his own land.  Once again, every Arab learned that.  Worse yet, many of those who brought up today’s generation lived it, and the anger and bitterness was fresh in their hearts, in their minds and on their faces.


After the defeat of Naser in 1967, in a war started by Israel and for which the Arabs are still blamed, Arab dignity was once again dealt another blow.  The 1973 war, which many thought would regain some of that dignity, turned out to be sold by the Egyptian rulers in order to squeeze out any remaining life in the fatally wounded dignity of Arabs.


The eighties witnessed the birth of a new phenomena, one whose seeds were planted in the fifties and the sixties, by people who, just like the Germans, were looking for ways to rid their people of the humiliation and the defeat they were under.  The myth of the magic formula, the formula of Islam as a power that will magically transform the Arab World from a door mat on which everyone stepped into a nation which will once again shine with its pride and glory, a nation, we were told, which will be the guiding light for everyone else, leading them from the darkness in which they lived, to the light of freedom, advancement, progress, giving them back their dignity, and allowing them to sweep the world with their light.  Muslims, we were told, were the best nation on earth, and it is time for them to rise up to meet their destiny.  No work was required – no research, no education, no organization, no politics, for it is all contained in Islam as practiced 1400 years ago.  If we read what these people did back then, we were told, and do the exact same thing, we will ultimately liberate ourselves and be the best nation on this planet.


While such ideas found little more than sympathy back then, the blatant double standard with which the so called international community dealt with when it came to Arab issues made itself blindingly obvious in 1990, after the occupation of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein.


While many did not initially support Saddam, everyone recognized the legitimacy of his claim to Kuwait.  In fact, Saddam was not the first Iraqi leader to bring out that claim – Abdul Kareem Qasim tried to do the same thing in 1961, only to be confronted with British troupes in Kuwait, and condemnation from his contemporary so called Arab leaders.  At a minimum, Saddam’s claim to Kuwait was far stronger than the Zionist’s claim to Palestine – after all, it was only in 1921 that Kuwait was chopped off from its root, when the British appointed Faisal as the king of Iraq, after finalizing the split of the Middle East with the French in the Italian city of San Remo in 1920.  Once again, everyone knew that, and everyone, all over the Arab world, understood its context.


When the west brought its armies to save the poor Kuwaities who took refuge in the five star hotels of Egypt, Jordan, England and the US, while the same powers continued to veto useless security council resolutions which in effect carried little value beyond their symbolism in favor of a nation whose existence and practices lead to the migration of millions of Palestinians from their homes to live in small tents, people couldn’t take it any more.  The nagging question is, who do they turn to?  Who will save them?  How can they get out of the deadly trap that they’ve been put in for decades?


Those of us who suffered abuse in their past know what that’s like.  You become a hostage to your own misery so much that reality doesn’t matter any more – all you want is to save your soul.  You start looking for that magic pill which will cure you, which will transform you to the human being you’ve always wanted to be, which will give you everything you ever wanted.  For Arabs, that pill was Islam, or more accurately, the interpretation of Islam designed to serve that very purpose.


As the German example (and as many other examples before it) showed, people rally behind such extreme ideologies, using them as a catalyst to fuel their desire for freedom and liberation, and as a narcotic to numb their feeling of pain, humiliation and helplessness.  Since all efforts to lead an organized battle against evil have failed, it’s time, they said, to start fighting them with terror.  In doing so, Muslims can prove to God that they are doing what they’re supposed to, and then, the story goes, he will be obligated to do his part and save them, just like that!


If you talk to any of these people, you will find that they will quote you all kinds of verses from the Koran and other Islamic texts to prove the validity of their argument.  They will do that in the same way the Pope allowed king Baldwin in 1098 to enter Jerusalem and murder hundreds of thousands of people causing their blood to flow down the streets of the city, many of whom were seeking shelter in the holy places,, hoping that those Christian liberators who were coming in the name of God will respect the places of worship, which people in that part of the world refer to as the houses of God.  Alas, Islam now is used to justify the very same acts perpetrated against its own faithful by people who hijacked and used another religion, Christianity, to perpetrate those crimes.


I have read and carefully studied many of the texts of Islam and Christianity.  When read in context and properly understood, both religions stress to their followers the value of peace, love and giving.  Those books were revealed to us by our maker, the one who created us, the one who knows us best, in order to guide us and help us overcome our evil and often destructive desires.


We find ourselves now at a point in which fear is taking hold.  The oppressed and the spat upon are finally waking up, blinded by their own hatred, oblivious to logic, rationalism and common sense, hoping and longing for their basic right to live in peace and dignity, a right out of which they have been long bullied.


The sad fact though is the bullies are ever more entrenched in what they do, and are themselves blinded by their own arrogance and power, choosing to bring more shame and oppression to those uncontrollable monsters which they themselves created.  They are using fear and intimidation to bring their people behind them, people who, for the most part neither know nor approve of what their arrogant leaders are doing.  They see the fire in front of their eyes, but yet they continue to poor fuel on top of it, as if only to make it grow bigger, rise higher, and burn everyone with its deadly flame.


When the attacks of September eleventh took place, the waves of joy reverberated through out the oppressed world.  Anyone who says anything else is either completely disconnected from reality, or is an outright liar.  For many people who, while the rest of the world lives in high-rise apartments and huge houses with Internet access and air conditioning, still live in small tents in refugee camps, that was a moment of pure joy, the joy of an oppressed soul, a soul which had every human value yanked out of it, leaving it with the pure animal instinct to survive.


Now, did those who call themselves historians and intellectuals take note of that?  Did anyone ever speak of taking another look at how we are carrying out our politics on this planet?  Very few did, and those who were courageous enough to were either arrested, deported, silenced, had their reputation smeared, or simply made to apologize.  Everyone was after revenge – everyone wanted to see blood, and there was a lot of blood to spare.  Those poor people of Afghanistan were no lawyers or engineers, they had no one to defend their rights and bring legal action on their behalf, they were simply monsters who needed to be killed, and whose blood needed to flow.


The end of the war in Afghanistan did not shed as much blood as some would have hoped, and did not eliminate the monsters that are out to get us.  We had to chase them and get them everywhere, the myth went on to say, and so we did.  We killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq, only to quench our own thirst for revenge, only to see blood, the blood of those worthless monsters flow, so that they may never harm us anymore.


While over 3000 innocent civilians were killed in the evil acts of September eleventh, while over fifty innocent civilians died in the savage attacks on London, while over 400 innocent ordinary persons were killed in Madrid in April of last year, over 120,000 Iraqis died in the first Gulf war, over a million died during the sanctions, and tens of thousands died and continue to die in the current mayhem.  Note that I did not mention anything about Afghanistan, Palestine, I didn’t even bring up the kids who died under the British flag in world war II in hopes of creating an independent homeland for their children and the many more who died ever since, I only talked about the last fifteen years!


As I see it, the world is going down a slippery slope right now.  Everyone is digging in their heals and asserting what they believe in.  The time for logic, common sense, dialog, negotiation is over, and I fear that I hear the deafening sound of the bells of war ringing loud and clear.


I have seen so much hatred during my last visit to the Middle East.  I was sick to my stomached when I heard how people spoke of their adversaries as if they were metal objects that ought to be crushed.  I was devastated to see perfectly innocent and kind people proudly display the pictures and play the sickening video of the beheaded American contractor on their mobile phones, anxious to give it away to their enthusiastic audience.  I nearly swooned when I heard the screams of that man while a knife was going through his veins, separating his head from the rest of his body, marring the perfect shape that his maker created him in.  All of that was happening against a background of verses of the Koran being beautifully read by one of my favorite reciters.  I saw the pure, uncultured, uncensored, unconditioned venom from otherwise perfectly decent people, whose only fault was that they were bullied, insulted, robbed, imprisoned in their own poverty with hardly a way out.


After the recent attacks in London, I started to hear voices in the west that sounded very much like what I heard from those doormats which everyone seemed to have been walking over for the last century without giving a second thought to them.  The only difference is that those voices I hear in the west are caused by fear, an equally powerful catalyst of hatred and venom.


As I see it now, we are heading towards an inescapable end if we continue to maintain the status quo.  Out of the poverty and oppression there will come more people perfectly happy to get out of their misery and take as many as they can with them.  Out of fear there will come plenty of fighters who will stand ready to defend their security and peace and their little heaven on earth.  It’s a raging fire which everyone seems to want to poor fuel over.  Trying to spill water on that fire, both here and there, is just not cool anymore.


There are many of us that live in this land, many of us who have made it their home.  They are a convenient scapegoat and a readily available source of blood, blood which will be required to quench so many people’s thirst.  Going home for us is not an option, for we have no home but the one we built for ourselves in a small spot on God’s great earth – the spot just happens to be here!  I believe that the days ahead for us, and for so many other innocent persons on this planet, are going to be difficult, and I see no way out.


Despite that, I remind myself and all people of conscience, people who still have respect for their humanity, that we ought never cease being who we are.  We must reach out, share our values, and empower those around us to do the same.  Daunting as it may be, the work for peace must continue.  Let us use all that we learned to advance our cause and try to bring sense back to this crazy world.  We can do that through hope.  Without hope, souls will die.  Without hope, hands will not build.  Without hope, life will have no meaning, and we’ll feel trapped in our own bodies, in a prison so big that no matter what we do we will never be able to escape out of it.  Hope, and only hope, is what will continue to bring meaning to our lives.  Let not fear be our master, let us be masters of our own destiny through hope.  Let not our safety be our focus, instead, let our focus be how to save others.  I know of no one that lived forever, and I know I myself won’t live forever either.  I have no doubt that I will die one day – whether it will be tomorrow or a hundred years from now.  I have no idea whether I’ll die in bed, on the street, at my desk, or by the linching of a mob or the bullit of a venomous person.  I’ll find out when the time comes, and until then, I will promise to carry on as if I was immortal, protected and as if I’ll be living forever – I see no other way!


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