Sunday, April 06, 2003

Sand Storms

Often time as I run in Boston my mind takes me back to Cairo, the city of my childhood, and I look at the Charles River but I really see the mighty Nile before me. The long Mass Ave Bridge transforms itself to Qaser el Niel Bridge; Longfellow becomes Abu el Ala’a Bridge and Cambridge become Zamalek. Not last night, that wasn’t the Charles River I was running by, it was the Tigris. The cars going by me were not cars they were Cruise missiles. I heard the air raid sirens too, three times in fact and I never heard the all- clear! Last night I run in Baghdad, under bombing! As I ran last night, I thought of myself a traitor, doubly so. As I went running last night, I pictured myself on the streets of Baghdad and I felt fear, I felt helpless and I felt sorrow.

I was not anti war, but I have now become anti war. All I wish for now is sand storms …sand storms and more sand storms that will slow down the tanks, make it difficult for the laser to see, difficult for the planes to fly difficult for the killing to go on. Sandstorms that will prevent Iraqis from killing anyone, its own sons or America’s finest. Just sand storms, bad enough to stop the killing but not to increase the misery and the suffering.

Saddam Hussein represents the absolute worst calamity that has hit the so-called Arab World. His propaganda machine, his internal security apparatus, his torture chambers, his killing squads, his ethnic cleansing, his belated false commitment to Islam and his pretend care for the Palestinian struggle have lasted for way too long, far too many years. He has killed too many people, tortured and tormented too many people and his thugs have raped too many people and destroyed too many families and villages. I, for one, want him gone.

I supported the US policy in tightening the noose around Saddam’s neck. I supported the military build up that forced him to accept UN inspections and lowered his standing in the eyes of the whole world including those who supported him in his brutal invasion of Kuwait. I would have even supported and offered my help in a war to remove him, but such war had to be sanctioned by international law and had to be very clear and public about its objectives.

I can’t support the current war. Call me inconsistent! I am not a politician I don’t have to be consistent, I only write to get my feelings and thoughts out…to communicate what I now, right this minute, think is right, not to prove that what I thought was right three weeks or two years ago turned out just that.

This war started out almost like vendetta by the Bush Administration. In my eyes the US failed to prove any real danger from Iraq to us here in US. It looked to me more like electioneering and a focus group driven war, a war to show Bush as resolute leader and in the process to get rid of one nasty thug. I was willing to go along with that but the Bush Administration in its bullying of the UN and later in its defiance of the UN changed the equation, for me, completely. It is no longer just about Saddam losing; it is also about Bush winning.

Last night as I ran on the bend of the Tigris in the heart of Baghdad, I felt so much for the Americans POW’s, the kid from New Jersey and Shawna from Texas, the young mother, the Asian American kid, I wanted to reach out across the TV screen and hug them, I want to bring them back to their kids, mothers, fathers, husbands and wives, I wanted them home. I felt the same way about the little olive skin Iraqi boy screaming with the white bandages around his head, I so wanted to comfort him. And the young Iraqi man whose brains were literally blown out and pieces of his skull and hair were barely attached to the rest of him made me just want to die to get out of this whole horrible mess. These images can’t escape from my mind, the dread in Shawna’s eyes and the pain in the eyes of the Iraqi boy and the skull fragments with hair on them. I wanted this war over now, I wanted the bombing over me to stop, I wanted the all-clear siren, wanted it in the worst way.

The Bush Administration may well be wining the public relations war in US; not me! though, they had me but no more. I am appalled by the double standards and their lies. I can’t believe the propaganda war coming out of the Bush Administration directed at me! at us; Americans! What is this stuff about a coalition, am I supposed to believe that having starving countries like Eritrea in the coalition as a substitute for France. Is distant El Salvador the equivalent of Europe’s largest economy Germany and is Bulgaria with its heritage of compliance under Warsaw Pact a substitute for including Russia? Why lie to me about a coalition, why not tell me, we are doing this alone? I resent the insult to my intelligence. Tony Blair does not dare talk about a Coalition of the willing, I respect his honesty.

Come the issue of POWs and treatment of POWs. Again I am disturbed by the double standards. The US took it in its own hands to define who is a POW and who is an “unlawful enemy combatant” during and after the very legitimate invasion of Afghanistan. Those captured were shown on TV in shackles. Instead of showing the world that supported our liberation of Afghanistan our respect for the rule of law, we aimed to redefine the law. On to Iraq, AOL and most US TV showed Iraqis in civilian cloths surrendering and being told to kneel down before their captors, in another shot Iraqi captives were shown marching with their hands over their heads. We can’t win hearts and minds through double standards, but do we care? I don’t think so! the Bush Administration seem to have bought into the Fouad Ajjami & Paul Wolofwitz doctrine, that the Arabs and Muslims will not like America no matter what, so we should not care one iota about their views and get on with doing the right thing.  It is the American hearts and minds that the Administration is really after not those in the Middle East, Europe or even Eritrea.

I am sick of the soft questions of vast majority of American media, I am sick of an American correspondent’s incitement to the military to “take out” Iraqi media, I am sick of American press not asking the really tough questions about Geneva Convention and about the human cost of the war. I am sick of media acting as if covering military product exhibit. I am sick of idiotic use of words such as terrorism that only ultimately serves to equate the Anglo-American “liberation” forces with the Israeli occupation forces. More importantly, why not comment on the fact that the Iraqi Army is a conscript army? As liberators we don’t want to shoot Mohammad or Ali to free their parents and we should indeed expect that Ali’s mom and Mohammad’ dad may not really object to being used as human shield to protect their kids. Mohammad & Ali never enlisted, they were forced into the service. As an American patriot and an American by choice, I fear we got it so badly wrong. We are surrendering American values. Our news briefings are sounding somewhere between the Sharon Spokesman and Tariq Aziz; we are creating whole new definitions for the law .. for morality ..for accuracy in reporting …and for truthfulness.

I find myself also so sick with the reversal of roles that seem to be happening now. Twelve years ago, after Saddam invaded Kuwait, he offered to get out of Kuwait if Israel got out of the West Bank. Much of the world denounced this “linkage” and while many Palestinians and sadly some distinguished Arab Americans fell for it, his whole offer was not taken seriously by anyone. Nowadays guess who is offering linkage? It is the Bush Administration that is over and over again promising to tackle the Palestinian suffering as soon as its gets its way with Saddam. Surely if tackling the Palestinian problems is the right thing to do, it has nothing to do with the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Will the Palestinians have to wait for the rest of the axis of evil, or is Iraq enough?

Al Jazeera and the new all news Arab media seem to have actively sided with Saddam and his army. A naive, but perhaps understandable reaction, to the Bush Administration failure to offer consistent and coherent reasons for the war and simple knee jerk reaction to the involvement of foreigners in our own messy affairs; and not any foreigner ..after all the US is the staunchest ally of the oppressive enemy Israel. So Al Jazeera and the so-called Arab street want to see more Iraqis and others fight America and die fighting America. No one talks of a simple non-cooperation with an uninvited occupation. Why not promote or even discuss refusing to fight for Saddam but also refusing to be liberated. A bus load of Iraqis charging an American tank is not an act of nationalist courage or Islamic commitment; it is neither is the product of ignorance and misinformation is the product of people being lied to by their own Government and by the free independent media, above all it is waste …a terrible waste of life. Jazeera and other Arab media are absolutely right to call it an Anglo American invasion but to claim that suddenly the brutal butcher Saddam is now DEFENDING Iraq or fighting on behalf of Islam and the all important Arab pride is a lie. Jazeera never quite makes the claim explicitly; it is however made over and over again in many ways that it never need to be verbalized.

Islamic authorities, the worlds over seem to be producing new fatwa’s by the hour. How can such a complex issue be resolved so simplistically by declaring that fighting against the invasion is an Islamic duty and those who die fighting against the occupation to be martyrs? Surely for this issue to be subject to Islamic legal interpretation the fatwa givers would have had to take account of all the facts and then issue a legal Islamic opinion. What facts have they taken into consideration and how sure are they of these facts? In accordance with Islamic jurisprudence, just like any legal codes, many issues have to be weighed and dissected. Do the fatwa’s address the crimes of Saddam? What do they make of the possibility that the Anglo-American invasion would indeed result in freedom for the Iraqis? Or do they simply adopt a view that anything America touches in the Muslim World is evil? Where are the dissenting Islamic views? How can the Sheikh of Al Azhar encourage martyrdom through suicide attacks against Anglo American forces; how can he square that with the Quranic commandment not to destroy ourselves? How many mosques must Saddam Hussein bomb and how many hundreds of thousands of Muslims must Saddam kill and how many rape squads must he employ before Sheikh Al Azhar can see that standing by Saddam is not really a commitment to Islam?

As I ran last night in Baghdad my brain was working so hard, in over drive trying to make sense of it all. I wanted sand storms, just sand storms.. I certainly don’t want Saddam Hussein to win ..As a Muslim, does that make me a traitor? Not in the least, Saddam is not fighting for Islam, Saddam’s party is nothing if not anti Islamic to its very core. During the Gulf War of 1991 the bombing of Iraq, a so-called Islamic state never bothered me, I so desperately wanted his defeat and the end of his atrocities. The US courageously jumped into the aid of the Bosnian Muslims when the whole world stood idly by watching the massacres. I don’t want Saddam to come out victorious. But, I am a traitor; I don’t want Bush to be proven right in his defiance of international law, and in his deceit about coalitions and in his contrived causes for the timing of the war. So as I run I can only wish for sandstorms and more sandstorms to stop these horrible sirens of air raids in my head. I want sand storms to silence the fatwa’s that trade in my religion that appeal to popular sentiment as cheap politicians do and in the process push more innocent Iraqis to their death. I want sand storms to help me put my own skull back together to re-find my non-conflicted identity, my whole being.

I worry about my own American identity in all of this. Is my opposition to this war and my desire for the killing to stop now an expression of conflict of identity or maturity of identity? I just don’t know, but my struggle with identity and disturbing images is nothing, those who are suffering are the troops and the civilians in Iraq, all of them.. I am just passing through their city of sorrows, city of rivers of blood.

As a Muslim, I am angry at the use and abuse of Islam. I am angry to see Islam evoked by Saddam Hussein’s propaganda  and at millions of Muslims the world over not getting clarity from their leaders but rather political driven hallucinations and racist hate of the west under the name of fatwa. I think of the difficulty we have every year agreeing on a day to start our fast in Ramadan…of the many different Muslim debates on such a silly, divisive and marginal issue ..they then speak out …not now is all silence. As if standing by Saddam is so very clearly Islamic, just like looking above your head and seeing the full moon in Ramadan …no argument then about the holy month..where is the dissent? Where is it, when it really matters?

I want our young soldiers to come back safe and sound; I don’t want them to be victims of propaganda, to be objects of hate the world over. I want Shawna to come back to her young child and I want the killing to stop. I don’t want a victor in this, because I can’t see truth prevailing and I see a clear victor as a recipe for more war in Iran, Libya or Korea. I just want blinding engine-stopping sand storms. And I run harder and harder to get my skull back together and to get home and as I cross Commonwealth Avenue I hear the massive explosions and my whole being is shaken ..shaken, desperate for sandstorm, desperate for sound Arab, Muslim, American and world leadership.

April 6, 2003