Going to War Has Cost Everyone Dearly

Yesterday at the Chilcot enquiry (which has been set up to find out the lessons learnt from the Iraq conflict), the walls resounded to a withering and devastating testimony from the former head of MI5 – the internally (UK) focussed security service.

Eliza Manningham-Buller told the Chilcot inquiry that civil servants were frightened to speak out about their belief that the war on Iraq would raise the terrorist threat to the UK and that it had radicalised a number of ‘home grown’ young Muslims who saw the attack on Iraq as an attack on Islam. She went onto say that “(the invasion) was a highly significant factor in how ‘home-grown’ extremists justified their actions.” She disregarded the link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida and also commented that by invading Iraq, “(the US and UK) gave Osama Bin Laden the Iraqi Jihad.”

The disaster of the war in Iraq and the deceit that surrounded the case for war made by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has led to a whole generation of displaced and stateless individuals. The smoke and mirrors employed by those who were pro-war to create the illusion of a dangerous Saddam, have led to over 1.8 million Iraqis seeking shelter overseas primarily in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey and the Syrian Government estimates that there are 1 million refugees in the country, the vast and overwhelming majority coming from Iraq. Those Iraqis in the country are in a state of legal limbo. With savings used up and with precious jewellery and items sold on the informal markets, they have no assets and cannot integrate into local communities. Syria and Jordan though, provide access to assistance, basic education and primary health care and the Syrian Government is laying the groundwork for a national asylum law which will formalize the principles of international refugee protection. In 2007, the Syrian Government estimated that the cost of hosting Iraqi refugees amounted to about $1 billion and social services have deteriorated quickly due to immigration pressures.

In Jordan, estimates for Iraqi refugees amount to between 600,000 – 700,000 people and the influx has also led to a steep rise in prices within Amman and throughout urban areas. Many Jordanians have felt the price rises and there is increasing resentment towards refugees and the price hikes that their migration has caused. Furthermore, in Turkey there were 5,478 Iraqis living in the country as of the 31st of May 2010.

These victims of the illegal and catastrophic Iraq war have no savings, many cannot work legally and many end up being abused since they work in the informal economy. The rest have no viable prospects for income and rely on handouts, aid and charity. Furthermore, of the refugee population of 1.8 million people, 40% are children and 60% are younger than 25. The war has therefore created an underclass within Syria and Jordan who will not go away for decades to come. Bizarrely, one of the major policy drives of Tony Blair and his Labour Government in the UK was the reduction of child poverty. His actions and those who made this war possible have created hundreds of thousands of children who will live in poverty for the rest of their lives, though I am sure that the irony of this will pass him by.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Iraq had high levels of literacy and infant mortality levels were low and comparable with European and western nations. There was a burgeoning middle class and the infrastructure of the country was well developed. Many Syrians and Jordanians moved to Iraq since times were good and Iraq was also a place where families and their children could receive a good education. Now, the refugee youth of Iraq have no access to meaningful jobs, training or education and the consequence of Bush and Blair’s war has been a ‘lost generation’ of young people. They have been denied their basic right to a peaceful existence and the enjoyment of their childhoods and many will grow up with traumatic experiences which may mean that they will show violent tendencies and erratic behaviour patterns. Some will even be pathological in their outlook to other people and time will only tell whether Iraq will fall prey to such an individual who will have echoes of Saddam and his reign of terror.

So, let us hope that the inquiry has the courage to say what is glaringly obvious to all. That this war was a fabrication based on a decision made in 2002 and which was led in the UK by the then Prime Minister who had already made his mind up. We marched in 2003 against the war like fools, but it is increasingly the warmongers who fit this description.

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Touching on the Illogical?

We have all heard the same phrases in one way or another. ‘I have black friends down the road and we have nothing against them. But the family down the road do not fit with our area. They are………different.’ It is funny how this statement seems to have the same meaning generation after generation yet, is used by people who should know better and they should realise that the identity of our country is not under threat.

Some may regard people who make such statements as being inherently racist though I would suggest that their irrational fears have overtaken proper logical thought. That the difference they see in their area is viewed as a threat, rather than an opportunity and that fear generated so easily says something about the lack of identity within some of those local communities.

So, here we go! The Muslim community is under the spotlight again, this time for less than 0.5% of Muslim women in the UK covering their face. Yes, less than 0.5% and this figure is also being generous in the assessment. Judging by the raging debate, you would think that all Muslim women are covering up and that this is a matter of national significance. Yet, the assessment made by armchair pundits and those who will not accept Muslims or Islam in Britain is that this is not acceptable to British values. Well I find many things offensive like watching an overweight 50 plus male or female walking without a shirt or top and thinking that they are God’s gift to beauty. Or the bright make up that is plastered onto the face of so many people today and which looks like Ziggy Stardust is back in fashion. So cutting to the chase, what you wear is a matter of personal freedom and choice and whilst I may not like the rotund pink belly undulating with the owner waddling to the pool, it is my choice not to look at them.

There is however, another argument that personal freedom should not be at the expense of safety to the state. There has been one incident when the Niqab has been used by one of the 21/7 bombers when he fled the UK for Italy. This is one case to date and there have been no other cases which link the Niqab to terrorists or terrorism related incidents. Bearing this in mind, does this piece of small clothing pose a national security risk and the answer is clearly no. Does it also pose a risk to society? Well, I suggest that it only poses a risk if local communities are not at ease with themselves and further work on developing local identities and cohesion are needed. However, harking back to monoculturism is not the answer in a Britain whose strength globally is its diversity of communities.

Finally, the recent comment by Damian Green stating that the Niqab ban will not take place in Britain is the right call. For a coalition Government to rightly suggest that our freedoms were eroded by Labour and then to propose a ban on a piece of clothing would be a significant u-turn on the protection of personal liberties. It would also undermine the libertarianism which is core to the Liberal Democrats and which has some roots within Conservative philosophy. Thank God we have some common sense in our politics today and those who bring some logical sense into the politics of communities.

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Responding to those who conveniently hide their hatred of anything Muslim

Recently, we (www.faith-matters.org) launched a booklet on the Righteous Muslims which looked at the history of those people deemed to be Righteous by Yad Vashem and who had saved Jews and others from death by their actions. They did this without the promise of money, personal gain or through external pressure applied to them. They did this because it was right and they did this driven by ideals that were based on values shaped by their faith in Islam.

The launch of the book produced postings on this site suggesting that the book did not describe those who had collaborated with the Nazis. As if the booklet in 32 pages was to take a critical approach to the complex arena of the role of all Muslims in the Holocaust and with postings even suggesting that the individuals could not be driven by Islam and their faith and that they did so because they just wanted to protect people. Increasingly, the dehumanisation of Muslims and the demonization of Islam is pervading its way into the minds of people who should know better!

There were even suggestions that Muslims should feel a collective guilt on the Holocaust, which was just plain wrong. The collective guilt was and should be felt within Europe where some governments did nothing during the Holocaust even though they knew that the extermination camps had been developed and a systematic plan to exterminate people had been triggered within the Nazi administration. Furthermore, the much used example in postings on the Mufti of Jerusalem did not represent all Muslims and some of the postings continued to support a blanket assumption that all Muslims cannot be trusted due to the actions of the Mufti of Jerusalem. I would seriously questions the motives and the basis of these assumptions and statements and the actions of the Righteous Muslims are a clear counter to that.

The aim of the booklet was to look at a brief snapshot of some of the stories of the Righteous Muslims. It was also to give the wider public and those within Jewish communities an understanding of these deeply shared histories between Muslims and Jews and to shine a light on a few of the roots of social justice that existed during this catastrophic time in Europe’s history. In fact, the e-mail responses from individuals within Jewish communities on the booklet has borne this out and many have suggested that they simply did not know about these facts and were heartened by them, rather than the negative light always shone on Muslim and Jewish relations.

A further aim of this booklet was to develop a sense of understanding within Muslim communities, so that they gained an awareness into their own histories. Histories that included people like Ali Sheqar Pashkaj who saved Yeoshua Baruchowic or Destan Balla and Lime Balla who saved the Lazar brothers; or Selahattin Ulkumen who saved the lives of 50 Jews on the island of Rhodes. It is also hoped that some within Muslim communities will be inspired to take an interest into their history and research the role of Muslims since this has been a neglected area and which has thankfully been supported mainly by Jewish investigators and researchers like Robert Satloff and Norman Gerschon. The actions of these investigators and researchers has protected these stories and for that they should be truly commended.

The actions of communities within the Holocaust has always been an area which has had to have been dealt with sensitively for fear of alienating communities or pigeon holing them 65 years later. As I suggested before, the actions of some Muslims (a small minority) in the Second World War were wrong and no doubt some made choices through agreement with Nazi ideology, through ‘just going with the flow’ or through pressure that was applied to them by the Nazis to join up. Furthermore, some joined because of local and regional disputes that were long standing and which the Nazis cynically manipulated. It seems that the politics of local and regional issues and other pressures had over-ridden the social justice element that is strongly a part of Islam.

Yet, this is not the whole view and the shrill voices that attempt to caricature Muslims by regarding all as being in agreement with the Nazi war machine, purposefully fail to look at the whole picture. That the vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims fought on the side of the Allies and many millions fought in the green fields of France, through to the swamps of Burma. Many lost their lives in Italy, France, Tunisia, Egypt and Albania and the list goes on. Those that choose to be selective in their analysis of Muslims fail to look at the dearth of evidence which showed that many Muslims were driven by the desire to do what was right and which was driven by their faith in Islam and a strong sense of social justice that was shaped by it.

We hope that this booklet provides the inspiration for its readers to research the area of the Righteous Muslims further. We also hope that it provides hope and inspiration to Jews and Muslims around our shared histories, even in the darkness of the Second World War and the Holocaust. We also hope that the memory of those Muslims, who inspired by their faith, local codes of honour and a strong sense of social justice, lives on. Their histories should be an inspiration for us all.

The Righteous Muslims booklet can be downloaded on http://www.faith-matters.org/resources/publicationsreports/171-righteous-muslim

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Righteous Muslims (http://www.faith-matters.org/resources/publicationsreports/171–the-role-of-righteous-muslims)

Five years ago, I had a crazy idea and that was to leave my job and to undertake a programme which commemorated 60 years after the Holocaust and 10 years after the massacres of Muslims in Srebrenica. The physical journey was to start in Fieldgate Street where the Fieldgate Street Synagogue and the East London mosque are located side by side with each other. The journey was to take young Muslims and Jews on a coach journey through 9 EU countries and 13 cities to look at the history of Muslim and Jewish interaction in those cities and through Auschwitz to Srebrenica. Needless to say after 18 months of trying and receiving lots of supportive statements, I did not manage to get the programme off the ground and it helped to break up my first marriage. However, it started a personal journey that over the last 5 years has led me to look at ways of highlighting remarkable stories of heroism undertaken by Muslims and Jews who were just ordinary people doing extraordinary things. This has become even more acute given the consistent corrosive narratives around Israel and Palestine between Muslim and Jewish communities.

This booklet was initially inspired by the story of Selahattin Ulkumen, the Turkish Consul to Rhodes which was then part of the Ottoman Empire during the Second World War. I came across the story by chance when I was in Istanbul in a library in the City looking through old diaries for research that I was undertaking on the Mughal Empire in India. My fascination with my ancestors, the Mughals of India, had led me to Istanbul and in that journey, I found another path to a remarkable story that is listed in the booklet. That story, was of the heroism of Selahattin Ulkumen and it led me to search for more stories on Muslims who saved Jews and there I found many, many more extraordinary acts of human heroism and kindness. The remarkable work of Robert Satloff also helped and this booklet is also based on his work.

When thinking of stories of heroism in the Holocaust, the Muslim Righteous and their histories have never really caught the public’s imagination. Yet they should, especially when so many are frail and may not be around much longer to give first hand testimonies. Their passing away will be a huge loss which can never be filled, though at the very least their voices can be kept alive for the future.

Furthermore, to those who try and drive a wedge between Muslim and Jewish communities, these stories stand testament to the fact that our histories and our futures will continue to be shared ones. To those who believe that Muslims had no role to play in the Holocaust, these stories are a factual testimony against such thinking and to those who believe that the Holocaust never happened, these stories and many others show up the pathetic nature of such thinking. Finally, my real hope is that we can continue to learn that man’s inhumanity to man has no place in a modern civilised world and that we treat each other like we would hope to be treated. The Righteous Muslims certainly met that objective and many, many more.

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