I was worried that I was not going to have time to blog about this, but as I waited in rush hour traffic and enjoyed the gentle breeze and pleasant weather, I was reminded of how grateful I should be. Grateful that I am not living under the extremely violent, horrific, and turbulent conditions that others endure on a daily basis. With this realization comes purpose and meaning. In Islam, we are taught that everything has meaning, even the smallest details that we tend to overlook. No leaf falls without God’s knowledge, as the Qur’an says (6:59). For those of us in the west, we typically do not think reflect on the hardships and struggles that people on the other side of the globe are battling (look at what’s happening in China today). Many times, I believe that one of my purposes in this life is to help people in all possible manners. Not just through words, but more through action.
For most of the west, May 15th of 2008 is the 60th birthday for the state of Israel, but for the Muslim world, it is Youm al-Nakba — “The Day of Catastrophe”. I have seen other people decorate their blogs and Facebook profile pages with Palestinian flags and “Free Palestine” slogans. I’ve seen people change their profile pictures to images of themselves wearing a Palestinian scarf, or keffiyah. I have no intention to generalize about people, but from the certain individuals that I know, they display such patriotism for Palestine and yet they hardly know anything about the current events, the history, or even about the politicians. I remember when I was directing my short film, “A Flower from the East,” my main characters were Palestinian, and my film professor asked, “what is the significance of the Palestinian scarf? Does it serve any religious significance?” This question made me reflect on what the Palestinian cause means to me personally, and I believe this is a question we all should ask ourselves. What do the flags, scarves, and slogans mean and symbolize? We have to avoid chanting slogans emptily. It’s like the young and proud Pakistanis who shout “Pakistan Zinadabaad!” (Long Live Pakistan) just for the sake of showing off their Pakistani pride, but not really understanding what they’re saying.
The Palestinian people have suffered a great deal and their story is still neglected by the mainstream media, which is what frustrates Muslims around the world, myself included. A common mistake that many anti-Islamic and even well-intentioned conservatives make is that they think anti-Zionism equates anti-Jewish (yes, I’m one of those people who refuse to say anti-Semitism, since Arabs are Semites too, not just Jews). This is absolutely false. Another mistake is that they think Islam teaches Muslims to hate and kill Jews. Again, this is false. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has nothing to do with Judaism and Islam; this conflict needs to be understood in light of historical context. More than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were brutally and systematically evicted from their homes by the terrorist organizations known as Irgun, Stern Gang, and the Haganah, “the precursor of the Israel Defense Forces.” Examples of where these groups evicted Arabs can be found in the villages of Deir Yassin and Duwayma. According to Dan Freeman-Maloy of ZMag, the Zionist forces controlled 78% of mandatory Palestine by 1949. They declared the State of Israel after razing “some 400 Palestinian villages to the ground.” As mentioned earlier, to this day, the creation of Israel is infamously known around the Muslim world as a great historic injustice and/or the Nakba (Catastrophe). In the years that followed, the Israeli military occupation (or the Israel Defense Force) patrolled the Palestinian settlements for “security” purposes. This is not to insult or stereotype the Israreli Defense Force, but just to point out that so many horrific crimes against innocent Palestinians have been committed by countless Israeli soldiers, who are not branded “terrorists” or charged with war crimes. In 1982, the prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, ordered the massacre of Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps. He formed an alliance with a Lebanese Christian militia-men, who were permitted to enter two Palestinian refugee camps (Sabra and Shatila) in an area controlled by the Israeli military. They massacred thousands of Palestinian civilians — something that the Palestinians and the Muslim world will never forget.
And the west ponders why the Muslim world is so antagonistic towards them and Israel. Extremist televangelists like John Hagee claim that this is a “religious war,” which sounds very medieval if you ask me. It reminds me of the Crusades, when the Pope Urban II called for a holy war against the Muslims. The truth of the matter is that Christians, Muslims, and Jews have coexisted for centuries. Contrary to the “Islam-spread-by-the-sword” myth, Christians and Jews were allowed to practice their religion, pray in churches and synagogues, and hold honorable positions in the government (for example, the Christians would translate the Greek philosophical texts into Arabic). When the Muslim leader, Salah Al-Din, captured Jerusalem in 1187, he did not slaughter a single Christian civilian. He established peace and coexistence among the Christians, Muslims, and Jews. To read more about Salah Al-Din, read my entry on the Crusades here.
Why do I mention history? Because if we really care about the Palestinians and peace among human beings, we must learn from our history. Salah Al-Din and the Christian King Baldin IV were not afraid of negotiating with one another. Right now, President Bush is heavily criticizing Barack Obama for wanting to negotiate with “terrorists.” Notice the terminology: “terrorists.” In the mind of right-wing extremists, the Palestinian leaders, along with the Iraqi and Iranian leaders, are nothing less than “evil.” According to tonight’s CNN report, there are many Jewish-Americans are concerned about Obama’s wanting to negotiate with the aforementioned leaders, particularly with Hamas. My question is: what’s the alternative? Violence? War? Salah Al-Din and Baldwin IV negotiated to prevent bloodshed and slaughter. Salah Al-Din and Balian of Ibelin negotiated for the same reasons. What happens when there’s no communication and understanding? People start to fear one another, and fear leads to anger, anger leads to hatred, and hatred leads to suffering (I learned that from “Star Wars”).
We are told that the Palestinians “hate freedom and democracy”. This is probably one of the biggest insults to human intelligence. By promoting this mentality, we are ignoring what is called cultural responses. When people are oppressed by a foreign invader, they develop a stronger connection with their culture and religious background. When the British occupied India, for example, they stripped the Indians of their language, culture, and religion. Many Indians who studied in England would come back to the India and didn’t even know how to speak their own language. They were culturally confused. The rebellion against the British was sparked by the violent and brutal treatment of Indians, but the Indians also used their culture and religion(s) to energize and motivate them even more. “Why should we be like them?” they thought, “they’re taking away our culture and religion.” So they established a stronger and more patriotic connection with their ethnic identity and used that to fuel their energy to rebel. Cultural response.
Palestinians shout “Allahu Akbar” and other Islamic slogans because of the same reasons I mentioned above. War splits people into a duality, it separates humankind. Dehumanization occurs in the media, in the newspapers, on the battle field, and in society. Terms like “rag-head,” “dune-coons” and “camel-jockeys” (among much worse slurs) are used to dehumanize the opposition. The media needs to vilify the “enemy” in order to rally more supporters of their political agenda. The Nazis did this with the Jews – they depicted them in cartoons with hooked noses and ugly features so that the rest of the country didn’t feel sorry about killing them. The American cartoons even did this to Africans, drawing them ridiculously ugly and mentally retarded (see Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled”). It’s important to understand that the same is happening to the Arab/Muslim world. Instead of understanding why people behave certain ways, the media just simplifies it for us. They simplify it so that the rest of the west doesn’t feel like they’re supporting the deaths of other human beings; they want to know that they’re killing “terrorists,” and saving the “innocent” Israel (notice how Israelis use images of children on billboards and television advertisements). No one is born a suicide bomber, something happens to them in their surroundings and environment that cause them to behave that way.
Do I know what it’s like to have a Loved one murdered? Do I know what it’s like to see my home demolished? Do I know what it’s like to be evicted and deported to another country? I have not been in these situations, yet I am deeply saddened and disturbed whenever I hear about what happens. Both the Israelis and Palestinians are suffering heavily, and whenever I speak about Palestinian causalities, I am accused of being a “terrorist sympathizer.” I would like Israelis (and those who support Israel) to know that Muslims do not hate Jews and that there is nothing within Islam that teaches us to hate or kill them. Whenever Palestinians are killed by the Israeli military forces, those soldiers are never called “terrorists.” When Israel bombed Lebanon in 2006, we were told by the mainstream media that it was an act of “self-defense.” And yet, when a Palestinian defends him/herself, it is an act of “terrorism.” I had a neighbor who was once an American soldier stationed in Israel. He saw with his own eyes, Israeli soldiers taking two Palestinian teenagers on top of a hill and then beating their faces in with rocks. He wanted to stop it, but his fellow soldiers held him back and told him to “let it be.” The next day, as my neighbor told me, there was nothing on the news about what happened to those two Palestinian teenagers. What were their names? Who were their families? Who cares?
To my fellow Muslims, I say that we cannot allow hatred toward Jews and Israelis to persist. There were some people on my Facebook who wrote something against the Jews and I was really disturbed by it. I personally do not feel that the state of Israel should have been created without a Palestinian state. Since there are human beings living in Israel now, I do not believe it is practical or even humane to say that they should be annihilated or evicted. They have homes there and they shouldn’t be punished for what their ancestors did. We need to think forward. I believe in a two-state solution. I believe a Palestinian state needs to be established and I don’t think we should rely on the United States government to make that happen. One of the major lessons in life: If you want something done, do it yourself. Never rely on someone else to give you “freedom”. We are all born as free human beings. That is our God-given right.
We must learn from our history. We must learn that despite our differences, we can still get along and establish a much needed understanding. Christians, Jews, and Muslims are the descendants of Abraham — the children of Abraham, peace be upon him. Promoting hatred towards Palestinians/Muslims or promoting hatred towards Israelis/Jews is not going to solve anything. The more we promote these of attitudes, the more of a mess Jerusalem will be. Allah says He does not help people until they change what is in themselves first. I believe there can be peace in the Holy Land. I believe in it because it has happened before. Deep down in my heart, I wish to see the Jerusalem that I see described in the pages of history — a Kingdom where people of all walks of life can live peacefully and together. Allah did not bring us into this world to fight each other. He brought us here to Love.
I dream of a day when the world will announce, “Jerusalem has come!” and over the ruins of war, there is a congregation — a new generation of Muslims, Christians, and Jews who will not tolerate the violence and hatred that greedy and corrupt politicians have fueled relentlessly for so many years. A new generation that will restore the world with consciousness and understanding. Jerusalem is not just the land of our Holy Prophets, it is in your heart. The Kingdom of Heaven is one of unity, peace, acceptance, and Love; it is within us all. And just like anything in life, if you want to accomplish something, you must have the confidence. You must have Faith, and the Universe will open a path for your dreams and aspirations. If we don’t believe, then how do we ever except to achieve anything? What would we be without Love?
Wa ana ba’min be-mamlakt al-Janaah
Wa ana ba’min be-mamlakt al-Houb
Wa ana ba’min be-mamlakt al-Janaah
Wa an-nour al-Hayaat hiya al-duniya
La ilaha illa Allah
And I believe in the Kingdom of Heaven
And I believe in the Kingdom of Love
And I believe in the Kingdom of Heaven
And in the Light of Life of this world
There is no god, but God
~ Natacha Atlas
From the “Kingdom of Heaven” soundtrack