This is one in a series of ‘Open Letters’ addressing non-Muslim neighbours, colleagues, family and others in Britain. Please pass it on to anyone who you think might find it useful or interesting.
The media war regarding Gaza is as fierce as ever, with spokesman after spokesman filling the airwaves hoping to get their view across.
Many in the Muslim community feel intense frustration, as well as hurt and anger. Islam teaches us to have concern for all human beings and we view other Muslims like our brothers and sisters. At the time of writing this letter Israeli missiles and bombs have killed over 100 Palestinian men women and children in Gaza. In the last similar conflict in 2008 over 1000 Palestinians were killed and many more injured, including by chemical agents like ‘white phosphorus’.
Islam also teaches us to be against injustice – regardless of who is the perpetrator and who is the victim. In this conflict we see both current and historic injustice surrounding the conflict – relating to the military assault by Israel, as well as to the behaviour of politicians in Europe and America, mainstream media, Arab states and what the average person knows about Palestine.
There is an historic injustice: The case of Palestine is like people being invited by the council to occupy your house without your permission, confining you to the bathroom, and then coming in to beat you for banging on the bathroom door!
Gaza became open to Islam almost 1400 years ago in the year 635. It was occupied by Britain in 1917, who maintained control until 1948 when Palestinians were ‘ethnically cleansed’ from much of the area. Britain had promised the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland areas of historic Palestine so Europeans, Americans and Russians of Jewish descent could migrate and settle there in a Zionist ‘homeland’- in exchange for financial and political backing during the war – even though it was not their land to give.
Many Palestinians were forced to settle in Gaza, becoming refugees in their own land. Gaza was directly occupied by Israel from 1967 till 1993, which the UN considered an illegal occupation. Since then some day-to-day management has been transferred to a ‘Palestinian National Authority’, but essentially it has remained under Israeli dominance to this day.
There is huge political bias: When a Hamas official was assassinated by a targeted missile strike at the outset of the current crisis – without any due process – President Obama, Foreign Secretary William Hague and others including former PM Tony Blair (whose now meant to be a peace broker in the Middle East!) all repeated the same line, that Israel had the right to defend itself – but then went on to blame the Palestinian side and make demands of them in order to restart a ‘peace-process’.
For the Palestinians, what is called a ‘peace-process’ has at its end, a fraction of the land they were ‘allocated’ when their homes were usurped in 1948 – fragmented, unable to defend itself and not likely to bring peace.
I am under no illusions about the interests of colonial and former-colonial powers. But I am aware many sincere people do expect their governments to be just and even-handed in crises such as these. So, there is huge frustration when we see blatant bias from politicians fuelling misinformation.
There is talk but no action from Arab governments: For decades Arab monarchs and dictators have offered words and conferences in support of the Palestinians, but done virtually nothing to help them. Even the newer governments have done little so far. Not one government has used its influence based on its oil, strategic location or military power to decisively rescue the people of Gaza, and Palestine generally. This adds to the sense of injustice.
There is unacceptable media bias: Generally people have higher expectations of media organisations like the BBC than they do of politicians. The BBC tows the Foreign Office line on overseas issues, but the overt bias – over and above the unbalanced airtime given to Israeli spokesmen & women – is unacceptable.
We have become used to seeing an equivalence made between dead Palestinian children, devastated buildings and families ripped apart by grief, with pictures from ‘Israel’ showing pockmarked apartment blocks and remnants of rockets that ended harmlessly on wasteland.
We are rarely made aware that 38 percent of the population of Gaza live below the poverty line – with the number of refugees completely unable to secure access to food or who cannot afford basic items like soap, school stationery and safe drinking water has tripled to 300,000 in the past few years.
We are not told on mainstream TV that the Israeli military offensives of the past 16 years – like in Lebanon in 2006, Gaza in 2008 and this one – were initiated just before national elections in Israel.
We do not see the BBC name and shame the likes of Gilad Sharon, the son of former Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, who publicly argued that: “We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a cease-fire.” Or that senior Israeli politician Matan Vilnai was on record of saying that Palestinians firing rockets from Gaza would be punished with a “bigger holocaust” from Israeli armed forces.
Furthermore, it has become a cheap and easy attack to simply say that some Palestinian factions are ‘extremist’ or ‘Islamist’ as a means to counter any sympathy for them.
Islam’s history in the region – and what many Islamic people labelled as ‘extremists’ or ‘Islamists’ argue for as a model of governance in the Muslim world – has an excellent and proud track record of unifying diverse people as citizens. Jews, Muslims and Christians lived largely in peace and security for much of the last 14 centuries in Palestine, in Islamic Spain and under the Ottoman Caliphate. Indeed, the Ottoman Caliph famously said that Europe’s loss was the gain for the Caliphate when welcoming Jewish refugees from Europe in 1492.
This is because Islam’s system of governance is built upon a concept of citizenship regardless of race, gender or creed. The Qur’an makes this clear when it states “O mankind! Indeed we have created you from a single male and female and We have made you into peoples and tribes so that you know each other, Verily the noblest among you in the sight of Allah is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him.” The rights of Jews and other non-Muslims are enshrined within statuary Islamic law (Sharia). The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) laid these down when he established the first Islamic state in Medina in the 7th century, when he said, “Whoever harms a dhimmi (non-Muslim citizen) has harmed me.” The hostility between different communities in the Muslim world is an aberration of the past 50 to 80 years.
Many have acknowledged this history. Carly Fiorina, ex-CEO of Hewlett-Packard, commented on this period of Islamic rule saying: “Perhaps we can learn a lesson…it was leadership based on meritocracy, not inheritance. It was leadership that harnessed the full capabilities of a very diverse population – that included Christianity, Islamic, and Jewish traditions. This kind of enlightened leadership – leadership that nurtured culture, sustainability, diversity and courage – led to 800 years of invention and prosperity.”
The indomitable spirit that has driven the resistance to occupation for over sixty years is the same principled reason why those resisting would have to be fair to Jewish citizens in an Islamic society. Yet you are unlikely to ever be told this.
Bearing all this in mind, I suspect that many open-minded people would share our calls against injustice if they looked at the facts and history of the region themselves.
“Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both” (Translated meaning of Quran 4:135)
With good wishes
Chairman, UK-Executive Committe
Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Liberation Party)