Only the US Can Tame This Monster

January 9, 2009
View from Dubai
Only the US Can Tame This Monster
Aijaz Zaka Syed

Watching the mind-numbing savagery unleashed on Gaza in utter helplessness with the rest of the world and listening to the statements of Israeli and Western leaders over the past few days, I’ve often wondered: ‘Are we all on the same planet?’

On Monday, Israel’s Shimon Peres told visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy that Israel was committed to peace. At that precise moment, Israeli jets were bombing the daylights out of Gaza, literally.

While the Peres-Sarkozy meeting was shown live on CNN with the Israeli leader singing paeans to world peace, Al Jazeera English showed how the peaceful state of Israel has been promoting peace in Gaza.

The narrow strip, the world’s largest prison, has been on the fire for the past two weeks with Israeli jets constantly raining death and destruction on the ‘terrorists’ below. And on the ground, Israeli tanks take care of those escaping the punishment from skies. Hospitals are deluged with those who have ended up as another faceless number, another statistic in the Zionist war for total supremacy in the Middle East.

While Sarkozy and other EU worthies hold forth on the virtues of peace during their whistle-stop tour of the Middle East, the heart-rending scenes of wailing parents with dead children in their arms are too disturbing to watch even from the comfort and safety of one’s drawing room. Even though camera swiftly pans across the Shifa hospital in Gaza, you can’t help notice men, women and children with their limbs blown off all over the place. One farmer carries a dead toddler in one arm as he points television cameras to his two other dead children in the hall.

Why did those children die? What was their crime? Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, locked in a battle for power with Labour’s Ehud Barak, sweetly points out this is something every civilised country has to do to protect its people.

What civilised country? Protecting what? What’s she talking about? You first occupy someone’s home by force and then kill his children to protect yourselves!

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who used to visit the Middle East almost every week, is not to be seen now. In any case, even if Condi had decided to honour us with her visit, you need no foreign policy experts to tell you which side she would take.

Speaking after Israeli attacks killed more than 300 people on the day after Christmas, Condi said: “We are deeply concerned about the escalating violence. We strongly condemn the attacks on Israel and hold Hamas responsible!”

As British stand up comedian and activist Mark Steel says it’s like being asked to comment on teenage knife-crime in UK and saying: “I strongly condemn the people who’ve been stabbed, and until they abandon their practice of wandering around clutching their sides and bleeding, there’s no hope for peace.”

As for Condi’s irrepressible boss, he remains as steadfast as ever in his devotion to Israel. Rejecting calls for ceasefire, Bush said: “I understand Israel’s desire to protect itself. The situation now taking place in Gaza was caused by Hamas.”

I wonder if there are any television sets in the White House and whether W watches any of them when he gets a break from his gym and bicycle regime. Does the world’s most powerful man ever pause and ponder when he sees those children crying for their dead parents? Does he ever wonder where those kids will go and who’ll take care of them? Does he ever watch Palestinian parents grieve for their kids and think of his own?

But then as far as the born-again believers and the Zionists are concerned, the Palestinians are not human. They don’t even exist, as Israel’s first woman leader Golda Meir famously said. And who cares if they are exterminated and expended if it will save and protect the great state of Israel? Israel’s security is all that matters.

Okay, we never had any expectations from this administration. But why is Bush’s successor silent?

Where’s the man whose message of hope and promise of change had electrified the entire Middle East and the world only weeks ago? I remember Palestinian children and students in Gaza plumping for Obama in the run up to the November 4 election. Raising slogans for Obama as if they were voting for him, Palestinian kids would shout, ‘Inshaallah’ with their fingers making victory sign.

Was it because Obama’s middle name happens to be Hussain? No. The Palestinians, like the Americans themselves, believed in Obama’s extraordinary message. They believed, like many others in the Muslim world did and still do, that someone who promised change and a fair deal to all Americans would be fair to the Middle East too and could correct historical injustices.

Which is why Obama’s deafening silence on Gaza is most intriguing. (He broke his silence Tuesday night by expressing ‘grave concern’ on civilian casualties ‘in Gaza and in Israel’. But we expect more from Obama!)

Since Israel’s brave forces, armed to the teeth with the world’s deadliest weapons, unleashed their awesome firepower on a population that can’t defend itself, the Middle East has been asking this question time and again: ‘Where’s Obama?’

The Palestinian children who cheered and prayed for your victory are waiting for you, Mr Obama. They need you and they need you to speak out against this shameless aggression against a 
besieged people terrorised from all sides.

As I key in this, UN-run school has become the latest casualty of Israel’s so-called quest for security. Forty-two people, most of them children, have been killed in the Tuesday night attack on the UNWRA compound that has been a shelter for hundreds of uprooted Palestinian families uprooted by this war.

Meanwhile Arabs are once again pushing for another UN resolution on Gaza. But even if the UN manages to pass such a resolution, where’s the guarantee that Israel will heed it? The UN has passed many such worthless resolutions in the past, including the one asking Israel to end occupation and return to its pre-1967 war borders. They have been consigned to the dustbin of history. So what difference will this one make?

Let’s face it. If anyone can tame this monster, it’s only those who created it in the first place. If the US puts its foot down, there’s no reason it can’t rein in Israel. So if the Arab and Muslim states really want to stop the Palestinian holocaust, they should be pushing the US, not the UN.

The buck stops in Washington. And please don’t tell me the Muslims with all their numbers, resources and oil wealth cannot persuade the US to 
deal with the Frankenstein it has created. They can —  if they really want that is!

(Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times, Dubai. He can be reached at


Gaza: We are all guilty

January 3, 2009
Gaza: Are we all not guilty?

Aijaz Zaka Syed

Just when you think the Palestinians have suffered enough and nothing more can test their fortitude, trust Israel to come up with more ingenious ways of winning hearts and minds.

Just look at the shock and awe of the Gaza offensive. What perfect timing and what a surprise to spring on a fatigued and famished people. A perfect Christmas present from Israel when the whole world is either away on holiday or in a general celebratory mood to ring in the New Year. The weather is great. This is perhaps the best time to be in the Middle East and Holy Land — the land of olives, peace and prophets.

At a time like this, the Palestinians are burying their dead. They’ve already buried hundreds of them. And by the time Israel is done dealing with “Hamas terrorists,” they might have buried thousands of their loved ones.

What Israel has unleashed on Gaza is outrageous even by Israeli standards. Amira Haas, a correspondent for the Israeli daily Haaretz, in her dispatch aptly titled, “Christmas in Gaza: No More Room in the Morgue”, says: “There are many corpses and wounded, every moment another casualty is added to the list of the dead, and there is no more room in the morgue. Relatives search among the bodies and the wounded in order to bring the dead quickly to burial. A mother whose three school-age children were killed, and are piled one on top of the other in the morgue, screams and then cries, screams again and then is silent.”

Another first person account by Safa Joudeh for an online publication talks of a “surreal” experience comparing deluged Gaza hospitals to slaughterhouses: “Never had we imagined anything like this. It all happened so fast but the amount of death and destruction is inconceivable. The streets are strewn with bodies, their arms, legs, feet, some with shoes and some without. Hospitals and morgues are packed and some of the dead are still lying in the streets with their families gathered around them. And even after the dead are identified, doctors are having a hard time gathering the right body parts in order to hand them over to their families. The hospital hallways look like a slaughterhouse. It’s truly worse than any horror movie you could ever imagine.”

Israel of course assures the world that all these victims were “Hamas terrorists” and they deserved to die. Even the young children and infants dying in the arms of their parents were a clear and present danger to Israel. Like the family of Anwar Balusha who lost five of his daughters when Israel bombed a mosque in Beit Hanoun. The five sisters were asleep when one of the mosque walls collapsed on to their small asbestos-roofed home and they were all killed in sleep. The eldest one was 17 and the youngest just four. But of course their death was necessary for Israel’s safety.

Tzipi Livni, the “moderate” successor of Ehud Olmert, reminds the international community that Israel has to protect itself. “We need to give a better life of peace and quiet to our citizens,” pointed out Ms. Livni after two days of bombing that killed nearly 300 Palestinians. Killing Palestinians and flattening Palestinian towns and cities is the only way of protecting the Jewish state that was carved out of Palestinian land.

And as always, Israel’s loyal American friends second her view. The honorable US Ambassador to UN Zalmay Khalilzad holds Hamas responsible for the whole thing. “Sequence wise,” Khalilzad pointed out after another of those pointless UN Security Council meetings, “it’s the Palestinian rockets that started this!”

If we are talking of “sequence” and history, Ambassador Khalilzad, why not go back a bit more in time and look what started those homemade, rudimentary rockets in the first place? The answer is Israeli occupation of the past six decades. By the way, over the past seven years, 14 Israelis have been killed by those rockets made from fertilizer while more than 5,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel with the weapons given in aid by the US. The Europeans are more nuanced in urging “restraint by all sides.” In other words, victims are once again to blame for inviting this upon themselves. The familiar charade! There has been no Western denunciation of the Israeli slaughter. Such aerial destruction is after all routinely visited on Iraq and Afghanistan.

As for the UN, that boneless wonder and handmaiden of big powers, the less said the better. Three days after Israel unleashed its blitz on Gaza, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stirred out of his slumber to call for an end to violence! When it comes to standing up for the Palestinians, the world body’s record has never been spectacular. But under Ban, it has truly been a headless chicken. It knows not what it’s doing or where it’s headed.

As for the Arab and Muslim world, it has yet to prove it exists and is alive. Let alone confront Israel or respond to the Palestinian suffering, for the first three days the Arab and Muslim states couldn’t even agree on when and where to meet to discuss the crisis.

So while Israel relentlessly pummels and pulverizes Gaza and the world watches in silent indifference, all the Arabs and Muslim countries can do is condemn the Jewish state for its “flagrant violations of the principles of international humanitarian law.” As if Israel cares for what Arabs and Muslim think about it!

But then what’s new? This is how it has always been in this utterly one-sided conflict. Israel kills, burns and brutalizes Palestinians at will and the world watches in morbid fascination as if it was a Hollywood production; as if it wasn’t real people of flesh and blood dying in front of our eyes but actors on silver screen play-acting to entertain us.

Where’s the civilized world for God’s sake when we need it? Where is the international community with all its hallowed institutions and august organizations? Where are all those human rights agencies and NGOs that never tire of talking of all kinds of rights and charters and conventions? And where are the Arabs and Muslims? What is the point of their trillions of dollars of wealth if it cannot protect a tiny, helpless and homeless community? What’s the point of their swelling numbers — a billion plus of them — if they cannot stand up to a ruthless killer and prevent it from killing innocent children sleeping in their homes?

Don’t we realize that by remaining silent and doing nothing to stop these crimes against a literally starving and long terrorized people, we actually prove our guilt by complicity? As Edmund Burke warned, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. The world is watching the Arabs. If they fail to act now, history will never forgive them.



No Time to Hide for Muslims

January 3, 2009
30 November 2008
View from Dubai

No Time to Hide for Muslims

Aijaz Zaka Syed

Watching the terror nightmare unfold in Mumbai over the past three days with me on television, my kids have repeatedly asked me: “Who are these terrorists and why are they doing this?” And every time I wished I could offer them a convincing answer. 


What could I tell them? For one, I was equally clueless why these guys had taken over India’s financial and cultural capital and were targeting people who had nothing to do with them and had done nothing to harm them.  

For two, I was too ashamed to tell them these guys were ostensibly Muslims and came from a country that was created in the name of Islam.  

At work, while my colleagues went about covering the madness in Mumbai and laying out special pages with the images of the incredibly beautiful hotel, Taj, with its Islamic arches and domes, go up in smoke, I find it hard to look my colleagues in the eye. 

And this happens all the time. Every time innocents are targeted in the name of Islam around the world, one can’t face one’s non-Muslim friends and colleagues.  I feel like burying myself in the ground.  Growing up in a religious family, one never thought one would see the day when being a Muslim could be a source of shame. 

A distraught friend who has devoted her life to speaking and fighting on behalf of Arabs and Muslims wrote in yesterday saying “I’ve had it with the Arabs and Muslims and Islamic militancy. Forgive me but I am throwing in the towel.”

I couldn’t write back to her but understood her pain.  She grew up in Mumbai and is understandably upset. 

My friend went on to say: “The Muslims and Islam have a problem and only they can solve it.  If they do not, the whole world will turn against them.”

If this is how our most loyal friends feel, imagine the sentiments and reactions of the rest of the world.  Can you blame the world if it’s turning against Muslims? What do you expect when not a single day passes without the name of our faith being dragged through the mud by fellow believers around the world? 

How many innocents have to die in the name of Islam before Muslim leaders and countries take effective action to deal with the nuts, who are out to destroy us all with their nihilistic cult?

I know that the Muslim leaders including those in the highest echelons of power have lately started speaking out against the extremists. 

Darul Uloom Deoband in India, one of the oldest and most respected centres of learning in the Muslim world, issued a fatwa against terrorism at a large gathering of Islamic scholars and leaders in June.  Last month, nearly 5,000 scholars backed the edict at a huge congregation in Hyderabad. 

The OIC, the organisation of Muslim states, and Saudi Arabia, the leader of the Arab-Islamic world, have of late been equally vehement in condemning these repulsive acts of violence targeting innocents. 

Eminent Muslim intellectuals and journalists like Tariq Ramadan, a grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan Al Banna, and India’s MJ Akbar and numerous others too have repeatedly protested this distortion of Islamic teachings and spirit.  

These calls of conscience on behalf of mainstream Islam have however proved voices in the wilderness.  Clearly, we need to do more to be heard by the world and to stop this shameful victimisation of innocent people in the name of religion.

The great irony of the Mumbai attacks is the killing of Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare and his colleagues.  Karkare, a brave and decorated officer investigating the Malegaon blasts and other recent terror attacks that he established to be the handiwork of Hindu extremists, not Muslim groups like SIMI, was killed by the terrorists outside Cama hospital Wednesday night.   Obviously, Muslims do not know who their real friends and enemies are. And, pray, why is India increasingly being singled out for this savagery?  What do they think this country is? A Hindu country or an anti-Muslim nation? 

Do the ignorant dummies repeatedly being sent out on the so-called jihad know that this great country is home to the world’s largest Muslim population? Almost twice the size of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan!  India’s greatest superstar is a Muslim, not to mention the countless achievers in other fields. 

Why are our friends across the border bent on destroying the whole world with themselves? Is this what Islam and the noble Prophet teach and stand for?

It’s all very well for us to say Islam has nothing to do with extremism and terrorism.  We can go on deluding ourselves these psychopaths do not represent us. 

However, the world finds it hard to accept this line of argument because it sees the extremists increasingly assert themselves and take the centre-stage while the mainstream Islam remains silent.   

The great religion that preaches and celebrates universal brotherhood, equality of men and peace and justice for all has been hijacked by a demented, miniscule minority. And, as my friend says, only Muslims can solve this problem.  Only Muslims can confront these anarchists in their midst. 

Only they can get their faith freed from the clutches of extremism. This is no time to hide. It’s time to stand up and speak out. For the terrorists will continue to speak on our behalf, until we do not speak up.  This is no time for silence.  Enough is enough!

c. Khaleej Times

No Time to Hide for Muslims (Der Spiegel article)

January 3, 2009



12. Dezember 2008, 18:30 Uhr


“Die Muslime müssen gegen den Terror aufstehen”

Kaum eine Woche vergeht, ohne dass islamistische Terroristen irgendwo auf der Welt zuschlagen. Wirkungsvoll gegen die Gewalt vorgehen können nur die Muslime selbst, glaubt der Journalist Aijaz Zaka Syed. Auf SPIEGEL ONLINE fordert er von seinen Glaubensgenossen mehr Engagement gegen den Terror.

In den drei Tagen, in denen wir am Fernseher dabei zuschauten, wie Mumbai vom Terror-Alptraum heimgesucht wurde, fragten mich meine Kinder immer wieder: “Wer sind diese Terroristen und warum tun sie das?” Jedes Mal wünschte ich mir, ich könnte ihnen eine überzeugende Antwort geben.

Was hätte ich ihnen sagen sollen? Zum einen war ich selbst ratlos, warum diese Leute Indiens finanzielles und kulturelles Zentrum erobert hatten und Menschen angriffen, die nichts mit ihnen zu tun und ihnen nichts getan hatten. Zum anderen war ich zu beschämt, ihnen zu sagen, dass diese Leute augenscheinlich Muslime waren und aus einem Land kamen, das im Namen des Islam gegründet wurde.

Eine verzweifelte Freundin, die ihr Leben dem Engagement für Araber und Muslime gewidmet hat, schrieb mir vor einigen Tagen: “Ich habe genug von den Arabern und Muslimen und der islamischen Militanz. Vergib mir, aber ich gebe auf.”

Ich konnte ihr nicht antworten – aber verstand ihren Schmerz. Sie ist in Mumbai aufgewachsen und ist verständlicherweise aufgebracht.

Meine Freundin schrieb weiter: “Die Muslime und der Islam haben ein Problem, das nur sie selbst lösen können. Sollten sie es nicht tun, wird sich die ganze Welt gegen sie wenden.”

Wenn sich schon unsere loyalsten Freunde so fühlen, dann stelle man sich erst mal die Empfindungen und Reaktionen des Rests der Welt vor. Kann man die Welt tadeln, falls sie sich gegen die Muslime stellt? Was ist zu erwarten, wenn kein einziger Tag mehr vergehen sollte, ohne dass der Name unserer Religion von Glaubensgenossen rund um die Welt in den Dreck gezogen wird?

Wie viele Unschuldige müssen im Namen des Islams sterben, bevor muslimische Führer und Staaten wirksame Schritte einleiten, um gegen die Verrückten vorzugehen, die uns mit ihrem nihilistischen Kult zerstören wollen?

Ich weiß, dass muslimische Führer – darunter jene in den höchsten Machträngen – in jüngster Zeit begonnen haben, sich gegen Extremisten auszusprechen. Das Dar ul-Ulum Deoband in Indien, eines der ältesten Bildungszentren der muslimischen Welt, hat im Juni bei einer großen Versammlung islamischer Gelehrter und Führer eine Fatwa (ein islamisches Rechtsgutachten, Anm. d. Red.) gegen Terrorismus veröffentlicht. Vergangenen Monat stellten sich rund 5000 Gelehrte bei einer Zusammenkunft im indischen Hyderabad hinter dieses Gutachten.

Die Organisation der Islamischen Konferenz sowie Saudi-Arabien haben zuletzt ähnlich vehement Angriffe gegen Unschuldige verurteilt. Muslimische Intellektuelle und Journalisten wie Tarik Ramadan – ein Enkel des Gründers der Muslimbruderschaft -, der Inder MJ Akbar und viele andere haben wiederholt gegen diese Verzerrung von islamischer Lehre und Geist protestiert.

Doch diese Rufe zur Besinnung im Interesse des Islams haben sich als einsame Stimmen herausgestellt. Wir müssen eindeutig mehr tun, um von der Welt gehört zu werden und diese beschämenden Attacken auf unschuldige Menschen im Namen der Religion zu stoppen.

Die große Ironie der Attacken von Mumbai liegt im Tod des Anti-Terror-Chefs Hemant Karkare und seiner Kollegen. Karkare war ein tapferer Offizier. Er hatte die Malegaon-Anschläge (dabei starben im September 2006 in Nordindien über 30 Menschen, überwiegend Muslime, Anm. d. Red.) und andere Terrorattacken der jüngeren Vergangenheit untersucht, die er Hindu-Extremisten zuschrieb – nicht muslimischen Gruppen wie Simi (Studenten der islamischen Bewegung Indiens). Karkare wurde von den Terroristen unweit des Cama-Krankenhauses in Mumbai umgebracht. Zweifellos wussten sie nicht, wer ihre wirklichen Freunde und Feinde sind.

Und bitteschön: Warum wird immer öfter Indien für diesen Irrsinn ausgewählt? Denken die Terroristen, dieser Staat sei ein reines Hindu-Land oder eine Anti-Muslim-Nation?

Wissen die Ignoranten, die in den sogenannten Dschihad geschickt werden, dass dieses großartige Land die weltweit größte muslimische Bevölkerungsgruppe beherbergt – fast doppelt so groß wie die Islamische Republik Pakistan? Indiens größter Superstar ist ein gebürtiger Muslim (der Bollywood-Schauspieler Shahrukh Khan, Anm. d. Red.), nicht zu vergessen zahllose erfolgreiche indische Muslime in anderen Branchen. Warum sind diese Menschen versessen darauf, die ganze Welt und sich selbst zu zerstören? Ist es das, was der Islam und der edle Prophet lehren?

Zu sagen, dass der Islam nichts mit Extremismus und Terrorismus zu tun habe, ist ja schön und gut. Wir können uns weiter mit dem Argument benebeln, dass diese Psychopathen uns nicht repräsentieren. Nur: Die Welt kann diese Argumentation schwer nachvollziehen, weil sie sieht, wie sich Extremisten immer stärker durchsetzen und in den Mittelpunkt drängen – während der Mainstream-Islam stumm bleibt.

Diese großartige Religion, die universelle Brüderlichkeit, Gleichheit, Frieden und Gerechtigkeit für alle predigt, ist von einer verrückten, winzigen Minderheit als Geisel genommen worden. Wie schon meine Bekannte sagt: Nur Muslime können dieses Problem lösen. Nur Muslime können diesen Anarchisten in ihrer Mitte entgegentreten. Nur sie können ihren Glauben den Klauen des Extremismus entreißen. Es ist jetzt nicht die Zeit, sich zu verstecken. Es ist an der Zeit, aufzustehen und Stellung zu beziehen. Denn die Terroristen werden weiter in unserem Namen agieren – solange, bis wir selbst für uns sprechen.

Dies ist keine Zeit zum Schweigen. Genug ist genug!

Übersetzung: Florian Gathmann

Hand on heart, Blair’s right!

May 27, 2007

“NEVER part with your illusions,” advised Mark Twain. “When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.”

I am reminded of the inimitable American and his earthy wisdom every time I hear Bush and Blair, the two illustrious leaders of the coalition of the willing, hold forth on the war on terror and why they are still fighting it.

As his departure day approaches, Blair appears particularly desperate to ‘protect’ his legacy. Like the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof, he is hopping from London to Washington to Baghdad to leave a lasting impression that will outlast his successor Brown.

Conservative leader David Cameron is spot on in likening Blair to a fading pop star on a farewell tour. But then Blair has always been a pop star. He has always been there to engage and entertain the media while his friend Bush went about the business of ruling the world.

But if you thought the British leader would shed a tear or two before his departure over the mess in Iraq, think again. In his farewell speech to the Labour party earlier this month, there was no hint of remorse over Iraq: “I did what I thought was right,” said the prime minister with a smirk and without batting an eye.

The next stop was Washington where Bush, ever in awe of his smooth-talking ally from across the Atlantic, rolled out a red carpet for him.

And there he was on the White House lawn defending the indefensible even as Bush watched his friend’s gift of the gab with uninhibited veneration: “We took a decision that we thought was very difficult,” Blair told the almost reverential reporters. “I thought then, and I think now, it was the right decision.”

And while you are at it, how could you miss Iraq? There couldn’t be a more appropriate, more picturesque photo opportunity than shaking hands with the boys in Basra. Ah! What perfect way to say adieu to a beautiful war. And what better way to sign off from 10, Downing Street.

Brown will never be able to claim this war as his own. This will only be remembered as his and of course Bush’s war.

So there Blair was in Baghdad shaking hands with Nuri Al-Maliki and Jalal Talabani and grinning into the camera. Again, if simpletons like you and me thought a chastened Blair would perhaps make a mention of making ‘mistakes’ over Iraq, they were in for a disappointment. “I have no regrets about removing Saddam, no,” a smiling Blair told a news conference with Maliki and Talabani.

But this one really takes the cake.

Blasting Iraq’s ‘interfering’ and ‘uncooperative’ neigbhours, the British leader thundered: “The future of Iraq should be determined by Iraqis in accordance with their wishes and it is important that all the neighbouring countries understand and respect that.”

Can you better that? Never mind the bitchy critics like me who wonder if Blair, Bush and other worthy members of the ‘coalition of the willing’ had done the same — that is, respect the wishes of Iraqi people allowing them to determine their own future when they invaded Iraq?

I for one find it difficult to forget the fact that the coalition invaded Iraq to bring down the regime, ignoring all appeals by the United Nations, OIC and Arab League for giving diplomacy a chance to resolve the issue.

Iraq was attacked despite the protestations by the IAEA teams that their inspections had failed to turn up a smoking gun or the so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Even the unprecedented peace marches around the world — largest ever to take place before a war — failed to dissuade those who wanted to make an ‘example’ of Iraq for the Arab and Muslim world. And oil, of course! Oil was the big bonus, the real incentive for going to Iraq.

I know the successful politicians like Blair can take any thing in their stride. They wouldn’t allow any inconvenient pangs of their conscience to affect their never-ending reverie. As far as they are concerned, what is happening in Iraq is but a stream of lifeless images, to be observed from a safe distance — from London or Washington.

But it beats me how you could sleep in peace at night when you know that you have sent nearly a million people to their deaths?

Announcing his retirement in Sedgefield, his constituency in northern England, earlier this month, Blair had declared: “Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right!”

Is lying to your people, and the rest of the world — hand on heart — that Iraq has the ability to unleash a WMD attack on Britain within ’45 minutes’ and attacking a defenceless nation ‘right’?

According to Britain’s own health journal, Lancet, more than 655,000 Iraqis had died in this war until last year, when this report appeared. Hand on heart, is this the ‘right’ thing to do, Mr Blair?

Okay, even if you give the invaders benefit of the doubt that they genuinely believed Saddam’s Iraq posed a ‘clear and present danger’ to the civilised West, has nothing changed over the past four years?

Now that we know Saddam’s WMD were indeed a figment of the neocon imagination, you would think Iraq’s liberators would squirm in their seats before insisting what they did was the ‘right thing’ to do. The fact that all those hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people — and the US and UK soldiers — died for a lie and continue to die doesn’t seem to have made any difference to the world Blair and Bush inhabit.

If the Bush administration is guilty of initiating this unjust and unreasonable war on Iraq, Blair’s Britain is responsible for aiding and executing it.

As former president Jimmy Carter has argued, it’s almost certain that the US wouldn’t have gone to war on its own, if Britain hadn’t joined the invasion. No wonder Carter describes Blair’s support for Bush as, “Abominable. Loyal. Blind. Subservient.”

The honourable members of the coalition may be too vain to own up their guilt. But can they really escape the consequences of their crimes against humanity?

There is undeniable evidence to suggest that some sort of divine justice has already come into play. All those responsible for or associated with this most unjust of all wars have begun paying for their crimes.

Pentagon chief Don Rumsfeld, who had dismissed Abu Ghraib and other crimes against Iraqi people shrugging off, “stuff happens,” is out in the cold despite Bush’s best efforts to save him.

Ditto his lieutenant and fellow architect of Iraq disaster Paul Wolfowitz. The White House picked up Wolfie to head the World Bank ignoring all protests from human rights groups. He had to go equally ignominiously last week, albeit for different reasons — for mistaking the World Bank to be his love nest.

Even secretary of state Colin Powell, who was not part of the neocon inner circle and is said to have opposed the invasion, is paying for his now infamous argument before the UN calling for the war.

And CIA chief George Tenet, who sat next to Powell in the UN even as he claimed to have ‘credible’ evidence that Iraq posed a clear threat to the civilised world, is gone with the wind too.

Scooter Libby, the chief of staff of Vice President Dick Cheney and another high profile member of the neocon brigade, is currently facing a long prison sentence for his role in CIA leak case.

And Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara, King George’s most cavalier knight, is going to be history soon too. The only remaining dramatis personae on history’s stage are Bush and Cheney, the original players of this absurd play. As Shakespeare tells us in Julius Caesar, “the fault, Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves.”

If one player after another is falling from grace in the tragedy called Iraq, the fault is not in their stars, but in themselves.

Although the jury is still out on this administration, which Carter terms as the most unpopular in US history, this president already holds the unique record of the first White House occupant with the lowest ever popularity ratings.

But it’s not history’s verdict that Iraqi people — fighting for survival every single day, every single minute — are interested in. All they are asking and waiting for is justice — justice for those who have denied them justice.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times and a commentator based in Dubai. He can be reached at

Jinnah’s dream

May 25, 2007

View from Dubai


20 May 2007

SOME of my closest friends and colleagues are from Pakistan. Which is hardly surprising in a multicultural melting pot like Dubai where you get to meet and work with some of the best and brightest people from around the world.

We Indians and Pakistanis share a unique, emotional relationship that is not easy to understand for the rest of the world. There are hundreds of thousands of families who have their loved ones on both sides of the divide.

Hundreds of families in Hyderabad Deccan, where I come from, have ties beyond the border. I have no relatives on Pakistani side. But someone close to my heart — closer than blood relations — prides herself on being a Pakistani.

It’s little surprising then that millions of Indian and Pakistani families are affected by political and social upheavals on the either side of the line drawn by Sir Henry McMahon.

So if Indian Muslims closely follow developments in Pakistan, they are only being human. And this isn’t limited to Muslims. There are thousands of Hindu and Sikh families who care for what goes on in what was once their homeland or the land of their ancestors.

This occasional expression of concern doesn’t make us in any way unfaithful to India, as our Shiva Sena and RSS friends in India suggest.

I don’t want to get into a Partition debate here. Pakistan is a reality and all of us, whether we like it or not, have to accept it as such.

We Indian Muslims love our motherland, as much as anyone else. But we do not hate Pakistan, if that’s what our saffron friends want. And we would like the country that was created in the name of Islam and Muslims to prosper and do well as a modern state that stands for all that is celebrated by Islam and humanity: Peace, truth, justice, equality and freedom.

Unfortunately, what has been going on in Pakistan over the past few weeks and months does little to promote the ideals and objectives of the architects of the “land of the pure”.

I know my Pakistani friends wouldn’t like this — especially coming this as it does from an Indian Muslim. But as a friend and well wisher of their country, one has to say this.

The manner in which the Chief Justice episode has unfolded and been handled is most shocking, to say the least. But what has been really embarrassing to all Pakistanis and Muslims in general is the absurd drama that followed the suspension of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Soon after the CJ’s sack, writing in these columns I had commented that by taking on the judiciary, Musharraf might have made the biggest blunder of his political career.

And Chaudhry, I had the audacity to argue, might end up accomplishing what powerful politicians Benazir and Nawaz Sharif have tried and failed: That is, stop the Musharraf juggernaut.

Well, Musharraf is far from gone. But after what happened in Karachi, obviously with the blessings of the powers that be, no leader can survive long in power — even if he has the powerful military establishment behind him.

I doubt if the Generals waiting in line behind Musharraf would back their top gun in total defiance of the unprecedented public anger and frustration.

After the 24-hour long march from Islamabad to Lahore during which Chaudhry was mobbed like a rock star and welcomed with rose petals, drums and firecrackers along the way, no general or politician with any sense of self-preservation would find it easy to stand alongside the regime.

What began as an initiative seeking justice for the chief justice has turned into a powerful, nationwide movement for the restoration of democracy and against all that this regime has come to symbolise.

And I have an uneasy feeling that the cheap show of muscle and plain hooliganism in Karachi, organised by a party that claims to champion the cause of Mohajirs (migrants from India), may have driven the last nail in the regime’s coffin.

The spectacle of young men lying on the streets like dead flies all over the city making Karachi look like a war zone has repulsed and disgusted many diehard supporters of the MQM.

This shocking display of lawlessness has dramatically eroded Musharraf’s support base in and outside Pakistan. Many in the Muslim world and elsewhere were once drawn to the General for the manner in which he constantly rose to meet the challenging situations — from the ever-tumultuous relations with India to the impossible pressure from the United States.

We in India respected him for his bold approach to improving relations with the old and uneasy neighbour and making genuine progress on the issue of Kashmir.

If thousands of Indians and Pakistanis are freely moving across the border including the Line of Control in Kashmir, the credit should go to Musharraf.

I particularly liked his initiative for dialogue between the West and Muslim world. Acting as a bridge between the two worlds, the General put across the idea of Enlightened Moderation calling on both Muslims and the West to address each other’s concerns for a better and peaceful world.

Watching Musharraf address a poorly-attended public rally in Islamabad last week, in response to Chaudhry’s Karachi rally, I wondered whatever happened to that thinking, sensitive leader who once seemed to have his finger on the public pulse.

For the tough talking man in salwar kameez, who constantly waved his arms and jutted out his chin like a Punjabi movie hero, wasn’t the Musharraf we all knew.

This Musharraf was different from the one who won hearts and minds in most trying circumstances wherever he went — from New Delhi to Washington to United Nations.

What happened? Was this Musharraf or unchallenged power speaking? Perhaps, the General has come to convince himself that he is essential to the future and survival of Pakistan.

This is unfortunate considering Musharraf didn’t take power by force like others. It was thrust on him, as Shakespeare would put it.

This is a familiar phenomenon across the Muslim world. The old and corrupt power structures built and perpetuated by colonial powers continue to make good governance and democracy an impossible dream.

This is all the more tragic in the case of Pakistan. The architects of this utopia intended it to be a citadel of Islam and a modern, progressive and model Islamic state.

I can’t help recalling the incredible sacrifices made by the proponents of Pakistan and their followers. Believing in those ideals, millions of people gave up the land of their ancestors and everything in it to call themselves the citizens of Pakistan in 1947.

At least, a million people died on both sides in what was to be the biggest and bloodiest migration in human history. As Qurratulain Haider portrayed in her seminal novel, Aag Ka Darya, travelling to this ‘promised land’ was indeed like crossing a mighty river of fire.

So whatever happened to Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s dream? Unfortunately, after Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan, the first prime minister, Pakistan did not get the leaders who really understood or identified with the lofty ideals of the country they were chosen to lead.

And the country that was created on the basis of a democratic mandate — the legislatures of Muslim-majority provinces in undivided India voted for Pakistan — has not seen democracy — real democracy, that is. In its short history of 60 years, Pakistan has been ruled for at least three decades by the army.

The result has been the acute political and institutional instability that continues to rock the country from time to time.

While India had veterans like Nehru, Azad and Patel to lead from the front and build a united, strong new India, Pakistan lost Quaid-e-Azam and Liaqat Ali Khan within a couple of years of each other.

Well, this brief history may help you make sense of upheavals in Pakistan. But this cannot be an excuse for Pakistani leaders to take their people for granted and play around with national institutions.

Imagine what a democratic, modern and peaceful Pakistan with its infinite natural and human resources and strategic location can do to help the Muslim world. Remember it’s the only Muslim country that possesses nuclear weapons and boasts a powerful, world-class army. Not only a peaceful, moderate and forward-looking Pakistan can be a source of inspiration and guidance to the rest of the Muslim world, but it can also help restore the battered image of Islam and its besieged followers.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times and a commentator based in Dubai. He can be reached at

Inside Europe

May 25, 2007

View from Dubai


What is El Emara? asks my Belarusian friend and journalist with a beatific smile that never seems to touch his deep-set, sad blue eyes. Andrej Dynko has had a far from pleasant experience in his native Belarus. He had to spend some time in his country’s notorious prisons for hurling too many uncomfortable questions at the powers that be. That hasn’t stopped him from coming up with more questions though.

We are taking a late evening stroll along the sleepy boulevard next to our hotel in Brussels. It’s half past eight. Yet the sun doesn’t appear to have gone home. There is so much light it looks as if it’s still 5 in the evening. And there’s a reinvigorating nip in the pleasantly caressing, fragrant air. Having spent the past couple of weeks back home in a typical Indian summer, it is refreshing to be in Brussels.

The city is home to the headquarters of the European Union, the powerful economic club of 27 nations and the world’s biggest free trade zone. Dynko, who edits a political weekly Nasha Niva, is visiting Brussels like me in connection with EU’s Lorenzo Natali Journalism Prize ceremony. He obviously thinks coming from the Middle East I could have the answer to his query.

Unfortunately, yours truly is as familiar with the glory of Arabic language as Bush had been with Musharraf and Vajpayee before his election by the US Supreme Court.

Which is a real disgrace. Having lived and worked in Dubai for years, one should be ashamed of oneself if one’s familiarity with the Arabs and their rich language and culture doesn’t go beyond the regulation shawarma, sheesha, desert safaris and a mindless emphasis on ‘khallas’ and ‘maafi mushkil’.

The trouble is, you may live and work in the UAE for years without ever really bothering or requiring to learn the local language. Which is what most expatriates from India, Pakistan and the West do. They live, work and move often all their lives in the limited spheres of their communities, without ever trying to understand the host country or society.

This says something about this great country and its amazing people, especially their tradition of tolerance and respect towards guests and guest workers. Returning to Brussels, I told Dynko that El Emara was perhaps an improvisation on Amara, a common Arab and Muslim female name. And in this Brussels neighbourhood, from where the EU parliament and headquarters are only a stone’s throw away, you come across hundreds of Arab and Muslim sounding names of cafes, shops and fast food joints.

Watching roadside cafes with animatedly chatting North African Arabs enjoying their steaming Turkish coffee or kebab, you would think you have stepped back in time or landed in Cairo or Casablanca thanks to your pilot’s error of judgment. Indian and Pakistani takeaways greet you as soon as you step out of Brussels’ Midi Station, where our high speed train had taken us, promising you ‘Islamic’ food. My apprehensions about ‘halal’ food had been clearly far from justified. Unlike the rest of Europe, this great city steeped in history and tradition somehow managed to escape the destruction of the two World Wars thanks to Belgian leaders’ clever diplomacy and business sense.

Having been repeatedly invaded by almost all its big neighbours, especially by the French, the Belgians have over the centuries mastered the fine art of diplomacy and political tightrope walking.

Which is perhaps why Brussels has for over the past century or so remained the economic and political hub of Europe. The birth and success of the European Community and later the EU have only ensured and emphasised this unchallenged preeminence of Brussels.

Not for nothing Brussels is considered Europe’s heart. And the large Arab and Muslim community in Belgium, especially in Brussels, is working hard to win it over. There are more than 200,000 Muslims in Brussels alone, a city of one million people who appear to be remarkably at peace with themselves and their incredibly serene city.

From flight and train attendants of North African descent to hotel receptionists of South Asian origin, the Muslims are everywhere. And there are plenty of headscarves too.

If you thought the 9/11 events and Bush’s war on Muslims have forced the believers to lie low or recede to the margins of European society, think again.

Far from retiring to the oblivion of their ghettos, Arabs and Muslims form a healthy part of the mainstream and host societies in this part of the world. At the same time, they are comfortable with their religious and cultural identity.

And it’s a proud and assertive Islam that continues to spread its wings, constantly conquering new territory in what is considered the citadel of Christian Europe. The Muslims, after Christians, are already the largest religious community and Islam is the fastest growing faith across Europe. No wonder Pope Benedict XVI is getting increasingly concerned over the changing religious profile of the continent and his flock.

But whether Europeans love or hate Muslims, they are there to stay and the hosts can do little about it. Besides, if the Muslims and other immigrants continue to pour into Europe in droves looking for jobs and a better life, the aging Europe too needs the young arrivals.

Not only the continent is not getting any younger, constantly falling birth rates in the indigenous, Caucasian populations pose a serious challenge to the continent’s future. The immigrants fill this vacuum. So this is a mutually benefiting, win-win relationship.

But it would be a disservice to countries like Belgium if you don’t recognize the fact that they have gone out of their way to welcome the never-ending stream of visitors.

Although Belgium doesn’t have an awfully good record in Africa in its colonies like Congo, it hasn’t been bad to Arab and Muslim immigrants. It wooed hundreds of thousands of North African Arabs and Muslims after the World War II to work in its coalmines.

The present generation of Arabs and Muslims in Belgium are mostly the children of those miners. Significantly, instead of forcing their own culture and ethos on the new arrivals, the Belgians have allowed them to live and flourish in their own space retaining their distinct identity.

It’s this approach to integration that is at the heart of the EU experiment.

As a result, the modern Belgian Arabs and Muslims are equally at ease with both Arabic, the language of their forefathers, and Flemish, the language of the country of their choice. So contrary to what Kipling warned, the East and West not only meet in modern Europe but also appear to be enjoying the encounter.

And just as the large expatriate community in the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries has played a decisive role in building their host countries, Arabs and Muslims can proudly claim they have a stake in the progress and development of Europe, especially states like Belgium, France and Germany, the original architects of EU. If Belgium and France are home to Arabs, Germany hosts a huge community of Turkish Muslims.

It’s often noted with regret by Muslim historians that Europe would have been part of Muslim world if only the Turks had persisted in their siege of Vienna in the 16th century. The powerful Ottoman army had swept through the Balkans, Greece and Asia Minor to reach Vienna by 1529. The long siege of Vienna, the gateway to Europe, however failed to open the way for Islam. The Turks returned in 1683, under the leadership of Mustafa Pasha, to knock at the gate of Vienna once again.

The second attempt too failed to succeed despite the perseverance and huge losses suffered by the Turks. The Muslim armies were faced with an impregnable wall of resistance largely built by the Pope Innocent XI. The Pope managed to unite the Christian Europe against the ‘infidels’ in the name of God and the survival of Christendom.

As a result, the Muslim armies were forced to retreat from Vienna once again. The Ottoman tide turned at the Gates of Vienna and receded gradually, beginning its long withdrawal through the Balkans and Greece into Asia Minor over the next two centuries.

But, you know, history has an annoying habit of repeating itself. For what the Turks failed to accomplish four centuries ago — conquer Europe — by force appears possible today. The Muslims are winning Europe, not by force as the Ottoman Caliphate had repeatedly sought to do and failed. The once all-white, all-Christian continent is being changed from within.

The Europe that steeled itself against the onslaught of invading Turkish armies four centuries ago is opening itself to the soft power of Islam. The continent that once proudly stood its ground in the face of the legendary Muslim firepower has submitted itself to Islam’s power of persuasion. Never underestimate the power of faith.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times and a commentator based in Dubai. He can be reached at