With one week left till the end of Ramadan, a holy month of piety and quiet reflection, one cannot help but recount that the Muslim world has witnessed anything but such temperance this year.
Wherever you look today in the Muslim world, there is a disturbance – to put it mildly. In Lebanon, schoolchildren, farmers, laborers and ordinary citizens are in constant danger of being killed by one of the tens of thousands of tiny bomblets the Israeli air force carpeted the country with before “withdrawing its forces. Unknown numbers of mines left over from Israel’s last occupation (you remember – the 1978-2000 occupation) are a continuing reminder that wars do not always end when ceasefires or armistices are signed.
The sheer amount of reconstruction required in Lebanon – yet again – is overwhelming. The Lebanese are a brave people, resilient and ready to rebuild what invading hordes destroy. But how many times are they going to have to do that . and with no help from the rest of the region? Arab monies are not enough. It is easy to dip into your pocket, it is an entirely different matter to pick up a brick and rebuild a school.
Despite official support (Egypt, for example, has hundreds of workers in Lebanon working on the electricity network, funded by the Egyptian government) Lebanese relief workers I have spoken with said they would love to see volunteers come to Lebanon and help in the reconstruction. After all, Lebanon is a lot more than a summer destination, right?
To the south, in Occupied Palestine, ruling party Hamas and former power Fatah are at loggerheads – if not each others’ throats – over forming a unity government. Accusations and counter accusations are filed by their officials who trip from one meeting to another in their top notch Mercedes Benz cars while the Palestinian people continue to face the specter of a slow and systematic starvation.
Israel has maintained a ruthless siege of most Palestinian towns and cities with almost no protestation from Arab countries. The Israeli tactic is clear – strangle the Palestinians, up the ante and make life more difficult and perhaps the Palestinians will turn on their own. Maybe even dislodge Hamas in the effort. The US tried that approach in Iraq for 13 years with something called the United Nations Embargo and Sanctions and the government of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein did not budge. Rather, his position was fortified as Iraqis sold their doors and window frames and most possessions just to put breadcrumbs on the dinner table.
Iraq s a mess. Sectarian warfare brought on by a US military presence which was billed as a liberator, not occupier (reminds one of George Bush’s “I am a unifier, not a divider pre-election speech). Iraq is divided. And the government in power now, “freely elected and supported by various intelligence services in neighboring countries has done more to fragment Iraqi society than any foreign enemy.
The country’s likely disintegration will usher in a period of unprecedented instability and turmoil, regional experts have told me. There are already 600,000 Iraqis in Syria – a country itself threatened by the Israeli military juggernaut and a misguided, ill-equipped and belligerent Bush administration. Unofficial estimates put the number of Iraqis in Jordan at just past the 1,000,000 mark.
And we hear of the apish beating of the caveman’s chest in Washington calling for invasion of Syria, Iran, and Sudan. Is there any other place that might pop up, Condi?
Into the middle of these political and military crises comes the wave of Islamophobia – the latest Hollywood glitz drive to define popular culture. From Bush’s Freudian slip labeling Islamists as Islamic Fascists to Pope Benedict XVI’s allusions to a centuries-old racist treatise to the UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw’s fashion bite on Islamic garb, the Muslim world has never before been so under the microscope.
These are not coincidences; it has become popular to take a jab at a culture and religion that is hardly understood in the West. It isn’t far-fetched to believe there is an effort to polarize the world into ‘us’ (West) and ‘them’ (Islam). After all, was it not Italy’s brashly exuberant former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who said the West was far more civilized than the Muslim world?
But, let us not dither here. While the Muslim world may seem to be under cultural pressures, it is incumbent upon Muslims around the world to show that Islam is a divine faith, that the Prophet of Islam was divinely inspired, and that a Muslim’s mandate is to perform good deeds, with kindness and human compassion, intelligence and resoluteness.
Burning effigies of a public figure because we disagree with that figure’s statements is asinine and only serves to strengthen said statements. Targeting churches and Christian clergymen is demeaning to the very spirit and message of Islam.
The Muslim world must show – and lead – by example. And we must do it with care and sensibility. We must tend to our own and fix the ailments within our own societies before we tell others how to conduct themselves. And this is where the various Islamic organizations- and the Arab League – must step up to the plate and address the issues that affect more than 1 billion Muslims. It was encouraging to hear of a delegation comprising Islamic scholars meeting with the Pope last week but we need more of inter-faith dialogue.
Arab (Muslim and non-Muslim) communities throughout the world need to understand that their fates are all connected. We all live together and we all want to raise our children together. It is up to us whether we turn our swords into ploughshares or watch as our houses collapse on us.
Meanwhile, I would only hope and pray that those writing foreign policy advice in Washington heed warnings coming from Cairo and elsewhere. I remember just four years ago when President Hosni Mubarak warned that an invasion of Iraq would not only fail to terminate Osama bin Laden and his miscreants but also create a thousand mini-bin Laden’s.
Our region is paying the price because no one listened.
Firas Al Atraqchi is the Editor of THE DAILY STAR EGYPT.