From Gaza to Mosul, the carnage lingers

Nothing justifies the tanks of the Israeli “Defense” Force shelling the homes of 30 Palestinian families, none of whom had any chance of taking shelter or escaping.

This happened in the town of Khuzaha, in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, just days after the streets of the Shejaiya district became the scene of an atrocity that shook the conscience of all who witnessed it. But two opposing sides - Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his staff, as well as the leaders of Hamas – have been insisting on continuing the tragedy, as has happened several times before. They have showed their “valor” in their willingness to sacrifice helpless people for their political games, whether under the pretext of lifting an unjust blockade imposed on the Palestinians or protecting Israelis from barrages of rockets.

The distance from the Gaza Strip to Mosul in Iraq may be great, but both now have one thing in common: the killing of innocent, harmless people in the name of religion or patriotism.

Recalling Rwanda

There are many things that must be considered, but for now I recall a specific incident similar to what is happening today, though it occurred 20 years ago. In the first quarter of 1994, the world suddenly woke up to the fact that more than half a million people had been killed in a series of massacres in Rwanda. But the attention came too late; by the time the news began to make headlines the urge for killing and revenge in the leaders of Rwanda’s Tutsis and Hutus had taken hold. Within days, the number of dead jumped to more than a million. It was the worst genocide of the late 20th century.

I recalled this scene when comparing the quick reaction of the world powers, their politicians, peoples and media to their response to crises in the Arab world. I wanted to contrast their degree of concern about what is happening as a result of the many tragic conflicts taking place on various continents, regardless of how shocking the tragedy is or the number of victims and extent of destruction.

But, of course, the reasons powerful countries are interested in the Middle East are well known. The region has been caught in the middle of global struggles for centuries, if not longer, going back at least to attempts to control the old Silk Road trade routes.

Middle Eastern appeal

However, although the Middle East has long been an arena for competition due to of its location and natural resources, we must remember that the international interest in the region began even before the discovery of its economic importance. This interest was there even before it became the cradle of the three great monotheistic religions.

The interest is directly linked to the fact that the region was the cradle of urban civilization. It played an important role in scientific, economic and social development thanks to the sciences and arts of the Pharaonic civilization. (An article by Erin Griffith about the spread of ‘emoji’ phenomenon in an issue of Fortune magazine this month caught my attention. The article was headlined “A return to hieroglyphics.”)

Are the leaders of organizations that on the surface are carrying the mantle of Palestine—but under the table are serving the ambitions of others in the region—satisfied yet?

Bakir Oweida

The region was also home to the Babylonian, Assyrian, Sumerian and Phoenician civilizations. These civilizations gave rise to empires that fought each other from the far north of Africa to the coasts of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and from the forests of central Asia to the boundaries of the Caspian Sea. Alexander the Great traveled eastwards from the Balkans to India, while Cleopatra of Egypt traveled west to Rome.

The Sasanians prevailed for some years over the Byzantines, but were ultimately defeated by them. The Byzantines’ triumph over the Persian Sassanids pleased the Muslim believers at the time of early Islam, particularly as the victory of the Byzantines, who were People of the Book, coincided with the day of the Battle of Badr.

It should not be a surprise, then, if the Middle East, with all its civilizational and religious heritage and its economic wealth, attracts the attention of influential world leaders.

Downplaying its importance

But it would really be strange if some people from the region downplayed its importance. It would be even more bizarre if some of them went further and used its religious heritage to further a political agenda set for them by other parties, either to boost a presence or serve a role, or both.

With the attention now focused on the developments in the region, it is natural for the confrontation between Israel and the Hamas movement to lead to a decline in interest in the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Before the three settlers were kidnapped, Netanyahu failed to seize an opportunity to make progress on the road to peace with the Palestinians after President Mahmoud Abbas reached a reconciliation deal with Hamas. Israel’s prime minister failed again in the way he responded to the developments that followed the kidnapping. He bombarded the people of the Gaza Strip by air, sea and then land. The images of the killing of hundreds of helpless civilians and the displacement of tens of thousands of Palestinian families from their homes and villages in northern Gaza were seen by people around the world.

The painful impact of these images has overshadowed other pain, such as the displacement of thousands of Christian families in Mosul by the militias of “Caliph” and ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Those who remained had to choose between forced conversion to Islam, paying a head tax, or being beheaded by the swords of terrorists.

But the temporary decline in the international media’s attention to the crimes of ISIS is an occasion to remind people that confronting the atrocities of these organizations is the responsibility of Muslims, and particularly their religious authorities, first and foremost. These authorities are best suited to protecting their religion and the heritage of the civilizations of their region, and they must do so before the flood of violence destroys what hope remains.

Has the damage done to Islam at the hands of some of those claiming that they follow the religion reached its zenith, or is what lies ahead more gruesome?

Are the leaders of organizations that on the surface are carrying the mantle of Palestine—but under the table are serving the ambitions of others in the region—satisfied yet? Or is it the destiny of the Palestinians, as a people, to endure suffering seemingly beyond human endurance?

Nobody can claim with certainty to know the future, but conceding that whatever happens is predetermined does not mean surrendering to apathy. Conversely, the worst should be expected and its consequences prepared for, because planning ahead often leads to better results.

 

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 25, 2014.

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Bakir Oweida is a journalist who has worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for the Opinions section, until December 2003. He can be reached on bakir@hotmail.co.uk and bakir@darbakir.com
 

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