Archive for February, 2006
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98 UK service personnel killed, 4,017 medically evacuated from Iraq.
MoD must already hold records on the natures of injuries, but the details are not being released. Defence minister Ivor Caplin said in Jan ‘2005 that 790 service personnel had been injured in hostile action and accidents. but the department could not provide an equivalent figure for the past 12 months. However, it insisted that the number categorised as wounded in action at the main field hospital at Shaibah Logistics base, south of Basra, was less than 200.
comments from the UK effectees:
Sue Smith, whose son, Pte Phillip Hewett, 21, was one of three Staffordshire soldiers killed by a roadside bomb last July, described the injured as the “forgotten soldiers of the Iraq war”.
Reg Keys, whose son Tom was among six Royal Military Police officers killed in 2003, added: “Both the American and the British don’t want people to know about them.”Corporal Dave Corrigan, a Territorial Army Para, who has undergone four operations on his knee since injuring it while serving as a field ambulance commander during the initial war phase, said: “We are a statistic and they try to hide it and it is so easy to hide the TA because we melt into the background.”
Where is Khalil?
In a dimly lit small room, with a damp mouldy smell, six humans sit huddled together,
· Two old parents, bent backs, cataract in the eyes
· A wife, looking old due to having seen a good day only once in a while,
· Three children, two school going, having had their schooling resumed only after stops, third ready to go
fear evident from their eyes, waiting, waiting for Khalil!
But where is Khalil?
Perhaps I should start at the beginning, and tell you who is Khalil.
But what is the beginning?
Is the beginning before Khalil’s birth, or even before his parents were married? Is it when his parents had to leave their respective homes in India as a result of anti-Muslim riots in the wake of Independence?
This is how it happened: Lulled by assurances of a peaceful life, and told that all weapons, even kitchen knives, were being collected from everyone in the province, so as to ensure communal peace, Khalil’s grandparents were also persuaded to give up everything in their house that could ever be used in defence. Little known to them, the Sikh and Hindu Mahasabha were being armed by the police and the paramilitary armies of the neighbouring princely Sikh States.
On the night of independence and after that, these were let loose on the Muslim villages, or houses of Muslims, with murder, pillage, rape and abduction, often led by the police, or the Sikh regiments.
When the attackers left the village of Khalil’s grandparents with their booty, including ornaments and some girls, there was little left except dead bodies and a few injured ones who were left for dead. Among those were Khalil’s grandparents and one teenage son. They managed to walk part of the way, and to take a train through part of it, along the route experiencing yet more attacks and yet more dead.
They reached Lahore, but to live their lives meant a lot of struggle. They eventually made Lahore their home. Struggling to make a new life, they married off their son, to whom was born Khalil, whose parents decided that their son would get the highest education. Also living in poverty, they impressed upon their son the virtues of honesty, hard work and education.
Khalil did not disappoint them.
He studied and worked hard.
When his father fell ill and was unable to provide for his family, Khalil worked tuitions to support the family. He was fortunate in that his hard work was rewarded, and he even took a gold medal from the University.
That is where his good luck, or rewards for hard work, ended.
He sent in applications for jobs in the thousands, he appeared in hundreds of them, but was not lucky enough to land a job. Apparently he needed a “good” reference, which means from someone high up in politics, bureaucracy or the army. He knew no one in these.
Khalil was interested in knowledge. He became a member of four libraries in the city, but his membership brought him in contact with people who are considered unsuccessful in this world, so these clubs did not help him either. His networking was in the wrong nets.
He tried starting businesses with money borrowed from friends, or from selling his family’s meager possessions, but here too he was unsuccessful. In the presence of adulterated and sub-standard goods and services, in the need to bribe police officers and protection racketeers (which he refused), his businesses never flourished except for brief periods.
In one of such periods, Khalil’s parents found a wife for their son, and Khalil soon became a father in his own right.
Tired of failure in his own country, he sold off the family “silver”, and bought a visa to Saudi Arabia, which turned out to be fake, but not by the immigration authorities at the airport. So he managed to stay and work for two years, naturally not in well-paying jobs. Enough perhaps to pay off the debts incurred in his visa, but not enough to breathe easy for a while even.
He had to return to Pakistan when the Saudi police, in one of their raids, found he had a fake visa, and the same old story of applications, small transient jobs, hunger and the kids’ intermittent education began.
He had a fine mind. He read a lot, and analysed it. He came to Islamabad once a week or so, met a journalist friend, told him what he had seen or analysed, and went back to Lahore. His journalist friend often used this input to write his column. Eventually, in one meeting, Khalil told his friend Javed that he could not take it any more. Life had been too difficult for him to carry on.
Javed tried to console him, but Khalil was now past consolation.
Javed advised him to start his own business.
Khalil listed the businesses he had started, finances he had gotten together, the hurdles in the way of principles he had encountered, and how his businesses had failed.
Javed felt too deeply for his friend, so asked him to think of a business he could handle best.
Khalil was a good driver. He mentioned this, and together they concluded that running one’s own private commuter van would be a good business for Khalil.
Javed asked around, and found a second hand van for Rs 1.10 million.
Khalil went quiet, but on encouragement, and Javed promising he would also chip in with Rs. 200,000. Khalil calculated and by selling his parents’ house, his wife’s jewelry, and loans from other friends, he could come up with only Rs. 450,000 – thus the total between the two friends was Rs. 650,000.
They were quiet for some hour or so, when Khalil said he would try to get the rest somehow, and to have the van kept for some time.
After a few days, Khalil returned with the balance.
He had sold his kidney and obtained his price in advance.
After a suitable match from one of those who needed a kidney transplant, his kidney was removed, and when he had recovered, he started driving his van. He enjoyed his work, and it paid him well.
It looked as if his troubles were now over.
Far away, in a land of which people like Khalil can only dream, a Danish paper decided that the time to test Muslims had come again, and commissioned 12 caricatures of the prophet (saw), mocking him and the religion which is all people like Khalil have left.
Peaceful negotiations failed; the Prime Minister of Denmark refused even to see the ten ambassadors of Muslim countries about the issue. The Muslims of Denmark sent a delegation to the ME countries, apprising them of the attack on their religion, and seeking support to have this resolved.
Little by little Muslims, tired of centuries of abuse, tired of an elite imposed upon them, protested, some burning down the consulates of the countries where this provocation had taken place.
Pakistan was late on the scene. A protest took place in Lahore. It was meant to be peaceful, but from somewhere an organized gang of motorcyclists appeared, bent upon destruction. They smashed windows, looted stores, set fire to buildings, and to transport.
Khalil was driving his van when the arsonists caught him.
He pleaded with them, to no avail.
In no time his van was on fire.
He tried to extinguish it with his shirt, but what an inadequate fire extinguisher a shirt is.
Finally, he threw his shirt towards the burning van, and disappeared.
He has not been heard of since.
The curse of the infidel
A century ago Muslim intellectuals admired the west. Why did we lose their goodwill?
Thursday June 20, 2002
On July 15 1099, the crusaders from western Europe conquered Jerusalem, falling upon its Jewish and Muslim inhabitants like the avenging angels from the Apocalypse. In a massacre that makes September 11 look puny in comparison, some 40,000 people were slaughtered in two days. A thriving, populous city had been transformed into a stinking charnel house. Yet in Europe scholar monks hailed this crime against humanity as the greatest event in world history since the crucifixion of Christ.
The crusades destabilised the Near East, but made little impression on the Islamic world as a whole. In the west, however, they were crucial and formative. This was the period when western Christendom was beginning to recover from the long period of barbarism known as the Dark Ages, and the crusades were the first cooperative act of the new Europe as she struggled back on to the international scene. We continue to talk about “crusades” for justice and peace, and praise a “crusading journalist” who is bravely uncovering some salutary truth, showing that at some unexamined level, crusading is still acceptable to the western soul. One of its most enduring legacies is a profound hatred of Islam.
Before the crusades, Europeans knew very little about Muslims. But after the conquest of Jerusalem, scholars began to cultivate a highly distorted portrait of Islam, and this Islamophobia, entwined with a chronic anti-semitism, would become one of the received ideas of Europe. Christians must have been aware that their crusades violated the spirit of the gospels: Jesus had told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. This may be the reason why Christian scholars projected their anxiety on to the very people they had damaged.
Thus it was, at a time when Christians were fighting brutal holy wars against Muslims in the Near East, that Islam became known in Europe as an inherently violent and intolerant faith, a religion of the sword. At a time when the popes were trying to impose celibacy on the reluctant clergy, western biographies of the prophet Mohammed, written by priests and monks, depict him, with ill-concealed envy, as a sexual pervert and lecher, who encouraged Muslims to indulge their basest instincts.
At a time when feudal Europe was riddled with hierarchy, Islam was presented as an anarchic religion that gave too much respect and freedom to menials, such as slaves and women. Christians could not see Islam as separate from themselves; it had become, as it were, their shadow-self, the opposite of everything that they thought they were or hoped they were not.
In fact, the reality was very different. Islam, for example, is not the intolerant or violent religion of western fantasy. Mohammed was forced to fight against the city of Mecca, which had vowed to exterminate the new Muslim community, but the Koran, the inspired scripture that he brought to the Arabs, condemns aggressive warfare and permits only a war of self-defence. After five years of warfare, Mohammed turned to more peaceful methods and finally conquered Mecca by an ingenious campaign of non-violence. After the prophet’s death, the Muslims established a vast empire that stretched from the Pyrenees to the Himalayas, but these wars of conquest were secular, and were only given a religious interpretation after the event.
In the Islamic empire, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians enjoyed religious freedom. This reflected the teaching of the Koran, which is a pluralistic scripture, affirmative of other traditions. Muslims are commanded by God to respect the “people of the book”, and reminded that they share the same beliefs and the same God.
Mohammed had not intended to found a new religion; he was simply bringing the old religion of the Jews and the Christians to the Arabs, who had never had a prophet before. Constantly the Koran explains that Mohammed has not come to cancel out the revelations brought by Adam, Abraham, Moses or Jesus. Today, Muslim scholars have argued that had Mohammed known about the Buddhists and Hindus, the native Americans or the Australian Aborigines, the Koran would have endorsed their sages and shamans too, because all rightly guided religion comes from God.
But so entrenched are the old medieval ideas that western people find it difficult to believe this. We continue to view Islam through the filter of our own needs and confusions. The question of women is a case in point. None of the major world faiths has been good to women but, like Christianity, Islam began with a fairly positive message, and it was only later that the religion was hijacked by old patriarchal attitudes. The Koran gives women legal rights of inheritance and divorce, which western women would not receive until the 19th century. The Koran does permit men to take four wives, but this was not intended to pander to male lust, it was a matter of social welfare: it enabled widows and orphans to find a protector, without whom it was impossible for them to survive in the harsh conditions of 7th-century Arabia.
There is nothing in the Koran about obligatory veiling for all women or their seclusion in harems. This only came into Islam about three generations after the prophet’s death, under the influence of the Greeks of Christian Byzantium, who had long veiled and secluded their women in this way. Veiling was neither a central nor a universal practice; it was usually only upper-class women who wore the veil. But this changed during the colonial period.
Colonialists such as Lord Cromer, the consul general of Egypt from 1883 to 1907, like the Christian missionaries who came in their wake, professed a horror of veiling. Until Muslims aban doned this barbarous practice, Cromer argued in his monumental Modern Egypt, they could never advance in the modern world and needed the supervision of the west. But Lord Cromer was a founder member in London of the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage. Yet again, westerners were viewing Islam through their own muddled preconceptions, but this cynicism damaged the cause of feminism in the Muslim world and gave the veil new importance as a symbol of Islamic and cultural integrity.
We can no longer afford this unbalanced view of Islam, which is damaging to ourselves as well as to Muslims. We should recall that during the 12th century, Muslim scholars and scientists of Spain restored to the west the classical learning it had lost during the Dark Ages. We should also remember that until 1492, Jews and Christians lived peaceably and productively together in Muslim Spain – a coexistence that was impossible elsewhere in Europe.
At the beginning of the 20th century, nearly every single Muslim intellectual was in love with the west, admired its modern society, and campaigned for democracy and constitutional government in their own countries. Instead of seeing the west as their enemy, they recognised it as compatible with their own traditions. We should ask ourselves why we have lost this goodwill.
· Karen Armstrong is the author of Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet (Weidenfeld); The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (HarperCollins), and Islam: A Short History (Weidenfeld).