Category Archives: islam

Closure at last, and a significant event, but the end is still a long way away

Bin Laden's reign at the head of Al-Qaeda is at an end.
Osama bin Laden

Waking up to the news of Osama Bin Laden’s capture, and ultimate death gave a sense of relief, but also a sense that this significant landmark is only a mark in the long path to defeat terrorism. We can only wonder and hope that there is some closure now for those that have lost loved ones, friends, colleagues and family in the atrocities before, on, and after September 11th 2001, but it won’t be the end of this story. Bin Laden was a figurehead, the head of an organisation that had, for the last 15 years, been at the hub of multilateral actions against the West, and, as is often overlooked, many Muslims around the world. Seeing the events and reaction unfold today brought a rush of the blood, but not excitement. While the man behind so many deaths is now gone, it gives me no pleasure to rejoice the death of another human being.

Scenes in America have been more colourful than in the UK. It’s understandable when their operation resulted in the killing – with, tellingly, no direct assistance or involvement from the Pakistan government – and their country was so horrifically affected. I can’t imagine how those friends and relatives of those lost in the Trade Centres must have felt over the last nine years as bin Landen evaded the clutches of the allied forces, and countless American soldiers and intelligence, prolonging the agony and seeing the man responsible taunting the West with videos, messages and more attacks. Dancing and cheering in the streets – from a mostly young and sometimes well-oiled crowds – didn’t sit too comfortably with me, as I can’t bring myself to celebrate a death, however repugnant the person may be. But the US has invested so much emotionally, financially and ideologically into finding and killing Al-Qaeda’s leader that the reaction was always going to be different on the other side of the pond. Watching some of the reactions today of the bereaved to the news, and how they conducted themselves with such dignity was very moving. For them, the victory, however hollow, must bring an end in part to a harrowing period.

For Britain, it’s also a landmark. We’ve been – justifiably or not – invested into this battle ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the United States since its beginning, and we’ve been directly affected by the spectre of Al-Qaeda, its operations and figurehead looming over the last decade. For teenagers and younger adults, they’ll struggle to remember a time before this was so. Having attended a funeral after 7/7 – something I hope I never have to go through again, let alone seeing the pain it caused to the family – it’s a relief to be at this point. But the reality is that little will change. In fact, we may see things escalate if revenge attacks are orchestrated. London will be a more tense place for a while. But we can only hope that this is the beginning of a new chapter, and that, with all the change that’s now afoot in the middle east, that Al-Qaeda’s lustre is reduced, and that their dominance ebbs in the coming years.

And predictably, even as the news surfaced, there were naysayers already debunking the news. However low governments and the military may stoop – whatever we may say, we left thousands dead in Afghanistan and Iraq – it’s hard to believe that this would be an untruth. It would be one that would dwarf the spin that so ashamedly took us to war in Iraq. The US and its allies have invested way too much time, money, resources and emotion in this claim otherwise, and there have been none of the usual denials from the terror groups that form the cabal involved. I’m a skeptic, but this is one thing that I am taking on face value. And cheeringly, Obama will have a grandstand moment to validate his presidency, giving him a boost that even grudging Republicans can’t deny him. The States are united for a short time, and great that is too.

We will be talking about this day for many years, and the main hope is that it can be a positive landmark, that we will look back at this as a turning point. But to think that cutting the head from one of the snakes in Medusa’s hair renders the rest of the beast incapacitated would be short-sighted. But at least for many, this will hopefully be some sort of closure, and draw a line under the terrible events in New York and London. It’s the least that the bereaved deserve.

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When celebration on 9/11 is not glorification

Islam is taking a¬†hammering in the US¬†press at the moment, most of all from the traditional right-wing (read: intolerant) suspects over its so-called increasing influence in America. Witness the reaction over the plans to build the ‘9/11 mosque’ (an Islamic centre to be run by an organisation that aims to build bridges between the Islamic and Western world, but why let the truth get in the way of a good polemic?) near Ground Zero in New York recently – and the battle is still ongoing – to see that Islam is under fire as much as any time since that terrible day in September 2001.

But even more worry is now placed on the Eid festival this year, which falls on or near September 11th. For Muslims this is a celebration of the end of Ramadan, a religious period of fasting that goes back to the very core of their beliefs, but there’s a real danger that certain parties in the United States will use any show of elation as Islam glorifying the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001.

With some of the reaction in the US over the decision to go ahead with the mosque two blocks from Ground Zero (a church’s “burn the Qu’ran day” and “Islam is EVIL” signs being some of the most shameful) coupled with growing Republican support, particularly from the far-right ‘Tea Party’ movement in the last year, September 11th 2010 is likely to be arguably the most tense anniversary of the terrible day since the event, but one can only hope that it can be treated with some perspective, and some understanding, a reminder that the US constitution is based on freedoms, including that of religion, and that all religions should be resepected, however unlikely that may be.

The worry is that those that seek to spread the message that Islam = Al Qaeda, and that all Muslims supported 9/11 – shocking untruths that still are too readily accepted by those that hear what they want to believe – will use this unfortunate clash to “prove” that the Islamic world and terrorists are one and the same. One can only hope that sense wins out, and this vocal minority (and it is, thankfully, whatever you feel of the US, still that) is put in its place. We are, after all, still claiming we live in a civilsed society where freedom still has value. And that, after all, should extend to everyone, not just those that we feel it should.

Crossing the line…. again and again

The sadness of the Israel/Gaza conflict over the last two weeks has been that, every day, there seems to be a fresh and even more disheartening episode of anguish and sadness. Every day there is fresh horror.

When the Israeli army bombed a UN shelter at a school – which it had GPS coordinates for, knowing that it was being used by the UN – killing more than 40 Palestinians (Hamas terrorists if you’d believe the propaganda, but women and children among them if you believe the hospitals) it seemed, with the fresh hope of peace talks and ceasefire, that the conflict had reached its nadir. But today, the 8th, brings even more terrible atrocities.

News that children had been found by the Red Cross, lying almost starved next to their dead mothers, with Israeli troops less than 100 metres away. The Red Cross had not been allowed in over the past week to give vital aid to those hundreds of thousands that depend solely on it to survive from day to day. Only yesterday had the ‘humanitarian corridor’ been opened by Israel (is disgracefully late action, no doubt to be hailed as a sweeping grand gesture of compassion by their own spin office), at a time when many of Gaza’s residents may be beyond hope. This episode has sadly proven this to be true. And we have no idea how many more are in the same position, lying dead in their rooms, not from bombs or shells, or attacks from ground troops, but from simple lack of food and water, prevented by an illegal and despicable blockade that’s lasted well back to 2007, but yet seems to be swept under the carpet by the apologists that support Israel.

Added to this, the UN has now suspended their aid operations after a UN marked truck was hit by an Israeli shell, killing two aid workers. What sort of country and people can see this as justified actions of war? How blinkered can we be, can the world be? How can this disgusting behaviour be accepted? It is not even the scantest form of self-defence, but yet our own government, the US, Canada, and Australia, who recognise Hamas only as terrorists, and not as any legitimate political party, continue to stay almost silent on the matter, calling only for ceasefire, not condemning the senseless acts and the continual blockade that has engulfed the area way before this war began. It’s actions that make me embarrassed and ashamed to call Labour my government. That we cannot see what is happening in front of our eyes, and see that it is inherently wrong.

It was Israel that overstepped the line on November 4th 2008, breaking the ceasefire with a raid into Gaza that killed six Hamas fighters. But this is again something that’s been conveniently papered over, like much of anything that seeks to further the Israeli cause. But for the past weeks, and in the past few days in particular, it’s made these pale into insignificance by its actions, as if it’s challenging itself to stoop lower each time. History will look back on these days as dark times, ones that we, as those that live in countries that support the Israel movement and condemn the actions of Hamas outright, should be deeply ashamed. Because people are dying in squalor and poverty, and we sit by and watch it happen.

The BBC…. impartiality evaporates

I was so incensed by the coverage on the BBC news this morning that I felt moved to, for the first time in my life, to write to them directly to question their impartiality. Or indeed the lack of it. While I expected the likes of ITV, Sky, Fox, NBC, and CNN to tow the commerical/US/UK line, I had at least hoped that the BBC, with its charter, and its supposed impartiality and balance, to give an even-handed view of the conflict. I was sadly disappointed. It wasn’t so much pro-Israel as acting as its mouthpiece at times. Almost no counterbalance to any point, no reply. Here’s my email. It sums up just how disgraceful the majority of the media coverage (apart from the brilliant and brave Channel 4) really is in the UK at the moment:

Over the last few weeks it’s become apparent to me that, despite being a public service broadcaster paid for by taxpayers like myself, that the BBC is sadly blinkered and censored by the pro-Israeli powers (Israel, the US for starters) that loom over the current conflict.

I’ve been a devoted follower of the BBC since I was old enough to watch tv or listen to the radio. I’ve defended it on numerous occasions when people have complained about the fee, the programming, the coverage, digital channels…. but watching the news coverage of the last few weeks has depressed me. This is a conflict with two sides, yet there seems to be an almost total absence of detail for the Palestinians, especially on tv.

This morning for BBC Breakfast, the headlines were about the 3 Israeli soldiers killed by their own troops, and about Israeli statements on ceasefires, and the ‘terror’ they seek to extinguish with their attacks. Only on the scrolling headlines below were there mentions of the number of Palestinians killed, with no mention by the newcasters themselves of the total killed, which at over 500 dwarfs the handful of Israelis. This 500 includes civilians – women and children – but it is almost as if everyone in Palenstine is a fair target from their association (or not) with Hamas. And the BBC is happy to broadcast the continuing rhetoric of the Israeli government, while an almost deafening silence emanates from Palestine.
I understand the news blockade is in place. There is very little direct coverage coming from inside Gaza, but this does not preclude the likes of the BBC, an organisation that should represent the best of unbiased and brave reporting, funded by the very inhabitants of this country, from presenting any argument whatsoever, but it is as good as this. The story should be the growing humanitarian crisis, the vastly disproportionate response to Hamas’ almost symbolic rocket attacks, the almost complete cessation of aid traffic to Gaza in the last 18 months, and particularly the last few weeks, that has left the 1.5 million inhabitants near starvation, without medical care, food, water, electricity or help. There are not 1.5 million Hamas fighters there, but yet we continue to treat them all as such.

It depresses and angers me that such a biased picture can be presented as ‘news’. It’s almost astounding that the likes of President Bush’s (in his last days as the lamest of ducks) weekly address, that lambasts Hamas and supports Israel in such a blinkered way that it is almost comical if it weren’t disgraceful, can be broadcast with no comment, no counterpoint. If this coverage continues then it is nothing better than propaganda, and for this the BBC should be held to account and ashamed of itself.

I’ve never felt the need to contact the BBC in the past like this, but this is beyond reproach. It’s a conflict that in any other location would be ethnic cleansing, genocide, yet here, in the UK, we’re saturated with reports that present an almost completely one-sided picture, and it’s one for which an organisation such as yourselves should be both rightly criticised, and completely ashamed.

This has formed part of the decision to go to protest this week at the Israeli embassy. It feels like the least we can do.

When staying silent is the most shameful act we can use…

Gaza conflict

It doesn’t take much to see the almost minute-by-minute news from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on our screens, airwaves, webpages this last few weeks. The fact it’s been going on for months, and in fact decades, is less reported or covered. Like with many things in our fractured planet at the moment, the emphasis is on the NOW. And now, right now, it’s a conflict that would only appear to have one side. Hamas, are the bad guys. And that is why this ‘war’ (though with the Palestinians so outnumbered and outgunned, invasion would be more appropriate) is so much an example of how this 2000s planet earth functions.

Hamas are a terrorist group, according to the UK, US, Canada and EU. To their people they are freedom fighters. And since 2006, they are the elected government of Palestine. But, if you believe the media, specifically, the BBC, Sky, ITV, CNN, Fox, NBC et al, they’re the stone-throwing, rocket-launching terrorist instigators of this entire shameful and saddening conflict. Let’s forget the almost laughably disproportionate level of attack (100s of rockets from Hamas, single figure deaths – some figures from their own troops on Israel’s side – to 10 days of aerial and now ground bombardment, 600+ dead, 1000s injured, and lack of electricity, water, food, aid and medicine) and remember that whatever happens, Israel is acting in self-defence. Let’s enjoy the news ‘blackout’ (just because you are in Israel doesn’t mean you can’t report on Palestine) that means in the UK we only see Israeli politicians and soldiers giving their ‘balanced’ accounts of the conflict (though Channel 4 must be lauded for their egalitarian stance alone from all other broadcasters here). After all, if we are fed enough of this ‘truth’ then perhaps we will one day believe it.

To a friend today who said:

As far as i can see it Isreal keep saying they will stop any offensive as soon as Hamas stop firing rockets into their country. All Hamas seem to be bothered about is telling Isreal they will be crushed and killed in Gaza and have no intention whatsoever of stopping the firing of rockets. The only way anything can get sorted out now is by Hamas giving up. As soon as they do all this will end and the world can then look at sorting whatever issues palestinians have in Gaza.

I replied:

Do you agree that the response from Israel to Hamas’ rocket attacks (which have killed only a few people) is completely disproportionate?

Do you agree with the blockade of Gaza over the last 18 months by Israel to prevent fuel, money, water, food, medical supplies and general aid (currently less than 10% of the amount needed each day gets through, if at all) thus starving the Palestinian people?

Hamas, while I agree are a terrorist/military organisation as well as (people do sometimes seem to forget) an elected government, are defending the right of the Palestinian people to live in their own country. Did you not see the map Tony posted showing how Palestine has been encroached upon by Israel in the last 60 years? Would you agree with England being gradually eroded to less than 10% of its size by another country?

Israel are happy to use Hamas’ rockets as the excuse to totally destroy Gaza’s infrastructure. While they claim they are destorying Hamas’ system of government (they see a return to the Palestinian Authority that Hamas beat in the elections as a solution) what on earth do they think will happen when there’s a ceasefire? Gaza is being systematically pounded into the ground. Once there’s a ceasefire, Israelis will be going about their daily business while 1.5m Palestinians starve. There’ll be no country left to govern by the time this is finshed.

When this was Bosnia, we called it genocide or ethnic cleansing. What’s the difference here?

This was a person not ignorant or blinkered, just representative of the general population, taking their views of what is fed to them in the media. It’s depressing that we are led so much by those channels, some of which do have agendas, but some of which, like the BBC are publicly funded and are bound by their charter to be ‘impartial’. They should have it challenged, even more so than during the Iraq war.

And while it’s true to say the blockade has made it difficult to report directly, it’s not the whole truth. The BBC does at least have two Palestinian reporters embedded in Gaza, but then they also have reporters stood on the border overlooking the Gaza strip and reporting ‘on the spot’ and pretty much saying almost nothing about the Palestinian side of the conflict. It really is an amazing piece of propaganda and spin from Israel (who set up a political spin department last year for this very sort of issue) that they will counter almost every piece of news…

“the civilians were killed as Hamas have hidden in homes while they fight” (where else do you expect them to hide?)
“we are pursuing military targets but even sometimes civilian targets are hit” (the perfect excuse – though reports from inside the hospitals say the vast majority of casualities are civilian, including women and children)

Today’s blast at the UN-controlled school was particularly shocking – remember that the UN give the Israelis GPS coordinates of all their schools/safe houses so they no where they are and they don’t target them, yet they hit 3 today, one of which resulted in 40 deaths. Israel were on the news almost as soon as it happened claiming that they were only acting in self-defence, and that the explosions “didn’t relate to the ordanance we used” (ie. that Hamas’ had their own explosives in there – a UN safe area – which caused the deaths).

That’s what gets to me the most. The total lack of balance, (Channel 4 is the only one really providing this) and then the almost complete lack of opposition anywhere within the Arab world, UK, Europe (bar France). The UN is therefore appearing weak and powerless. Another blog echoes this desperate situation perfectly.

We can only hope the ceasefire talks and news of a humanitarian corridor are valid and that we shall see an end to the bloodshed. This is genocide by any other name.