By Aijaz Zaka Syed
A SINGLE death is a tragedy, argued Joseph Stalin, but a million a statistic. The late Soviet leader should know. After all, he sent nearly a million people to their deaths, or worse, to their eternal damnation in the cold emptiness of Siberia.
Look at Iraq and Afghanistan. Every new day brings more deaths and suffering to their unfortunate people who have been caught in conflicts that have nothing to do with them. And all those killings are nothing but cold and lifeless statistics in President Bush’s relentless and directionless war on terror. Actually, this is more like the ‘war of terror,’ as the irrepressible Borat puts it in movie, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Nation of Kazakhstan. But that is not the issue here. What really disturbs me is our deafening silence and collective inaction over the daily bloodletting of Muslims at the hands of their fellow believers across the Muslim world. Recently, a bomber dressed as a health worker blew herself up near a huge crowd of more than 150 people who had gathered for a ceremony to open an emergency ward at the main government hospital in Khost, Afghanistan. Scores of them died. In Iraq, the other front of Washington’s war, another suicide bomber, again a young woman, exploded herself at a college in the midst of unsuspecting students killing at least 40 of them. This week, on March 6, two suicide bombers struck killing at least 120 Shia pilgrims on their way to Karbala. In all these instances, those killed had been innocent bystanders who had had no role to play whatsoever in America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Helpless women, children and students with dreams of tomorrow in their gleaming eyes had not taken any part in the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. So why did they die? They were innocent and ordinary people like you and me — or the suicide bombers who took their lives. Why did they have to die?Okay, I get it. We are fighting the neocon imperialism and western aggression. This is a just and noble resistance against foreign occupation. But must innocents die for a just cause? Do right ends justify wrong means? Okay, I can understand if the long-persecuted and defenceless Palestinians turn to desperate measures. After all, they have nothing but their own bodies to fight one of the world’s oldest and most ruthless occupations. I agree that those blowing themselves up in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and elsewhere may have been driven over the edge by their own suffering or that of their loved ones. But you would think the bombers — apparently victims of injustice themselves — would think twice before victimising and punishing others. Besides, almost always it is not the occupation forces but ordinary people who end up as the victims of these attacks. This doesn’t mean I am one of those US apologists who see some great, uplifting objectives like the promotion of democracy and freedom underpinning America’s wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, I have been part of a growing chorus censuring the US and its disastrous policies in the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world. First, I do not buy the bunkum that the US wars are inspired by a concern for the people in the greater Middle East or lofty ideals. This is your regulation good, old fashioned imperialism, you see. Second, no mission — however noble — justifies the targeting of innocents and wasting of nearly a million lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are totally unjust and unreasonable wars and must be resisted on all fronts and in all possible ways. But resistance does not mean you can get away with murder — of innocent, unconcerned and uninvolved people as has been happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am no expert on Islam. But my limited knowledge of the great faith tells me this is no jihad. No sir, it’s anything but. Jihad means a just struggle against evil, injustice and oppression, doesn’t it? What kind of jihad is this in which innocent people are sacrificed with impunity? They have already been victims of foreign aggression. And now they are suffering at the hands of their fellow countrymen.A faith that believes in justice, compassion and accountability for all actions and strictly forbids targeting of innocents, especially in a time of war, cannot sanction such mindless and despicable violence in its name. A religion that celebrates life and all the hope and promise that it offers can have nothing to do with this death cult. Which is why I find this silence across the Muslim world over these shameful acts of terror by desperate and misguided youths most intriguing. Why are the world’s Muslims silent, for God’s sake? Who are we trying to save? Where are our ulema when we need them? Why don’t we have any fatwas condemning this death cult?I know many in the Middle East and elsewhere see Iraq and Afghanistan as a mess that has been created by America and thus should be cleared by America. Many others want the superpower to bleed itself to death in Iraq, so it does not go after another defenceless country. But as Henry Kissinger, that old warhorse and staunch supporter of the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, pointed out this week, if the US and Iraq’s neighbours do not join hands to stem this conflict, it could spill over to neighbouring countries to reach well beyond the Middle East.The recent summit encounter between King Abdullah and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a positive sign that Saudi Arabia and Iran are beginning to wake up to the clear and present danger stalking the Muslim world. Without doubt, the Sunni-Shia conflict had been sparked by the invaders. But it’s the Muslim world that is paying the price. The sectarian rift now threatens to replicate itself across the Islamic lands — from the Middle East to Africa to Asia. The Muslim world would pay a far greater price in the time to come if it fails to put an end to this murderous mayhem and bloodletting taking place in the name of Islam.
It is time for Muslim leaders, ulema and opinion makers to break their silence on this shameless celebration of death. There cannot be a greater sacrilege than attributing such depraved acts to Islam. It’s time for all of us — Arabs and Muslims everywhere — to speak out in one voice: Not in our name, no! Our silence has already killed thousands. It will kill thousands more if we remain tight-lipped. Silence is not an option.
(Aijaz Zaka Syed writes a weekly column on the Middle East and Muslim world affairs in Khaleej Times published from Dubai. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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