Healing begins at home
We must all have the courage to speak out against the carnage in Lebanon.
by Fareena Alam
I guess this is what the "birth pangs of a new Middle East" sound like: the scream of jets, the wailing of bombs, the terrified cries of victims and the death rattle of innocents. The slaughter at Qana lays the excuses of Israel and her spin-doctors and apologists in bloody, decisive ruin. Not that their explanations held much water to begin with.
In this astonishing two and half weeks of death and carnage, over 700 Lebanese, almost all civilians, and over 52 Israelis, at least 18 of whom were civilians, have been killed. In this mad, stubborn campaign of destruction, the Israelis have failed miserably in their so-called goals: Hizbullah is stronger and any apprehensions of peace in the region are now no more than a blood-coloured mirage.
Tony Blair, in an evolutionary miracle that would make Darwin's head spin, has overnight started showing some signs of backbone and independent thought. Yet, in his shamefully late call for a ceasefire, Blair shows that his government's foreign policy is in full-scale drift. There was a time when there was at least some pretence of ethics and "doing the right thing". With this crisis, that veneer has fallen away.
Mr Blair, it took the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers for you to give a carte blanche to Israel and on the other hand, the deaths of over 700 Lebanese civilians, mostly women and children for you to finally call for a ceasefire (the humanitarian catastrophe and destruction of Gaza has unfortunately been almost forgotten). While some British pundits may wax lyrically about how little the Arabs care about life, it is Bush, Blair and their allies in the international community who have shown how cheap Arab blood is.
To call for "democracy" and "freedom" in the Middle East now will be treated as laughable hypocrisy. Dead men and women don't make good voters, last time I checked. The world is watching and will remember this outrage. Birth pangs of democracy, indeed.
Time and time again mainstream Muslims have condemned terrorism in the name of Islam until we have gone blue in the face, not least because we truly believe vigilante acts of violence committed in the name of religion are a scourge on our faith. This hasn't stopped Tony Blair from demanding we do more to root out extremism.
Where then is Blair's message to Jewish leaders in Britain? Is it ridiculous to hold Jewish leaders responsible for Israel's actions?
Pundits and layman alike constantly hold the entire Muslim community responsible for the actions of a few but it is only when the tables are turned and another community is accused the same way that objections are raised.
At the recent pro-Israel rally in Kenton, Anglo-Jewish leaders affirmed their "special relationship" with Israel. Some young British Jews move to Israel and undertake military service. There is a constant flow of money, people and support for Israel-based projects and initiatives. All this surely means that Britain's Jewish community must have some influence, some moral sway in Israeli policy circles, just as Muslim "leaders" are assumed to have some sway over "extremists" locally and Muslim opinion abroad?
Isn't the Qana massacre enough for the Anglo-Jewish community to raise their voice courageously and unequivocally in condemnation of military action that has not just failed in its own stated goals, but has savaged Lebanese and Palestinian lives and communities, and turned back the clock on their development by years, if not decades? Don't give me the buts. There is no comparison between Hizbullah and the Israeli state.
The 300 plus signatories of the July 6 public letter in The Times wrote, "Israel is using its enormously superior military might to terrorise an entire people."
Michael Lerner, a progressive American rabbi, heads an organisation called Tikkun, which aims "to heal, repair and transform the world". In an explanatory note to their New York Times advertisement, he wrote: "We do not accept that one side is the 'righteous victim' and the other side the 'evil aggressor'. But we do recognize that at this moment Israel has far greater military power, and so we ask for Israel to take the first steps toward ending the cycle of hatred and violence, even as we condemn Hizbullah for initiating the current escalation of violence."
Come on, prime minister. Doesn't the Jewish diaspora need to use its influence to bear down on the Israeli government for its deadly policies? Why don't you give them a nudge from Number 10?
Britain is home to several important Jewish-Muslim projects and foundations. So, I ask our Jewish friends and colleagues, especially those who work on interfaith and intercultural initiatives, why are you silent? Why won't you stand up and be counted against this madness that is being done in your name? Where are your voices distancing yourself from this violence?
The signatories of The Times letter, and Bella Freud on BBC's Newsnight, have faced attack and censure for speaking out. But that's the price of courage and given the monstrous and deadly scale of the current campaign, I am sure they agree it's a small price indeed.
Heal, repair and transform the world ... We know that such noble work is most difficult when it, as it must do now, begins at home.
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