On December 14, 2012, late in the afternoon - I became aware of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. It was painful to read the stories, emails and newsfeed as they poured over the tragedy. In times of crisis and pain like this, as a Muslim I immediately turn to prayer to gain strength and to reflect on the situation. In the evening, I joined an online prayer service on SeekersHub in Toronto.
The Toronto team was able to gather a large crowd at the Hub and online for our prayer for the victims and families of the murder in Connecticut. "The believer is pained by the pain of another," said Shaykh Faraz Rabbani while leading the prayers for the affected families of Connecticut.
Mainly through social media discussions, I began reading various viewpoints regarding the shooting. Some argued for greater gun control. Is this tragedy due to a lack of gun control policies? Maybe. We can consider this argument. But let us consider the argument that frequent mass shootings of innocent people are not symptoms of lack of gun control policies as well. Did Timothy McVeigh use guns in the Oklahoma bombing?
"My third reason [for opposing the war] moves to a deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the past three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked me, and rightfully so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today my own government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent…”
I was preparing an article to respond to the current violence in Gaza when I realized that history is just repeating itself. Thus, I looked at previous articles and decided to simply repeat what was written before. It appears to me peace to some means a hope that the Palestinians would just disappear and stop seeking their rights protected under international law. Palestinians are simply fighting for their survival, not the destruction of Israel.
“Israeli hawks represent themselves as engaged in a ‘peace process’ with the Palestinians in which Hamas refuses to join. In fact, Israel has refused to cease colonizing and stealing Palestinian land long enough to engage in fruitful negotiations with them. Tel Aviv routinely announces new, unilateral house-building on the Palestinian West Bank. There is no peace process. It is an Israeli and American sham. Talking about a peace process is giving cover to Israeli nationalists who are determined to grab everything the Palestinians have and reduce them to penniless refugees (again).”
“You can’t defend yourself when you are militarily occupying someone else’s land. Call it what you like, it is not self-defense.”
Some will argue that Israel left Gaza. However, to Palestinians, Israel did not leave Gaza, but instead turned it into an open-air prison. There was a recent report by the IDF to determine what the minimum caloric intake for Gazans should be in order to determine how many trucks of humanitarian aid can be allowed into Gaza without facing starvation.
"The tactics used by Israeli military armed forces in the Gaza offensive are consistent with previous practices, most recently during the Lebanon war in 2006. A concept known as the Dahiya doctrine emerged then, involving the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations."
“Following the 2008-2009 war in Gaza, detailed on-the-ground investigations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UNHRC and others took place that were quite critical of Hamas and accused them (and Israeli forces) of a number of war crimes. Yet they were unable to find a single case of Hamas using ‘human shields.’ (See pp. 75-78). And I'm seen no evidence that Hamas is doing that now, either. Yet members of Congress and others are still insisting that civilians being killed by Israeli bombardments are because Hamas is using ‘human shields’."
"If the Palestinians go to the UN General Assembly with a new unilateral initiative, they must know they will be subject to severe measures by Israel and the United States," the station quoted Lieberman as saying on October 24.
“I am pained by the parallels I observe between my experiences in Germany prior to 1939 and those suffered by Palestinians today. I cannot help but hear echoes of the Nazi mythos of ‘blood and soil’ in the rhetoric of settler fundamentalism which claims a sacred right to all the lands of biblical Judea and Samaria. The various forms of collective punishment visited upon the Palestinian people — coerced ghettoization behind a ‘security wall’; the bulldozing of homes and destruction of fields; the bombing of schools, mosques, and government buildings; an economic blockade that deprives people of the water, food, medicine, education and the basic necessities for dignified survival — force me to recall the deprivations and humiliations that I experienced in my youth. This century-long process of oppression means unimaginable suffering for Palestinians.”
"When we view ourselves as the protagonist of a story in which we are always right, we collect grievances about other people by noticing everything we do and noting the 'injustices' that are done to us. All of this builds resentment within us and instigates conflict. Dr. Umar’s words deepened that lesson, and were a reminder of how easy it is to remember one’s own good in worship or social relations while forgetting the good of others. Dr. Umar’s lesson taught us that instead of clinging to our actions, it is critical to do as much good as possible without caring about how our actions compare to the actions of others."
“It seems to be an attempt to mirror Al Qaeda, exactly in reverse.”
"The first is that Islamophobia is not merely confined to a war of words against Muslims. Islamophobic words, of which Breivik shared many in his 1,500-page document, often spiral into deeds."
"In light of Oslo killings, will Juan Williams suddenly become afraid of his white peers at Fox News?"
"Got a couple of media calls today about the terrorist attacks in Norway, since they consider me to be an expert on 'Islamic terrorism.' Since it appears the person responsible is a far right-wing Norwegian, I told them to find an expert on Lutheran terrorism."
"Events in Norway suggest the primary threat to European democracy has never been 'Islamofascism'--that clunking, thuggish phrase that keeps lashing out in the hope that it will one day strike a meaning--but plain old fascism. The kind whereby mostly white Europeans take to the streets to terrorize minorities in the name of racial, cultural or religious superiority."
Another important voice that I felt necessary to bring to the discussion on the flotilla attack is Dr. Norman Finkelstein.
Dr. Finkelstein received his doctorate in 1988 from the Department of Politics at Princeton University. For many years, he taught political theory and the Israel-Palestine conflict, although he is currently an independent scholar. Finkelstein is the author of five widely-translated books. He has just completed a new book entitled A Farewell to Israel: The Coming Break-up of American Zionism.
Dr. Finkelstein is Jewish, and his parents were Holocaust survivors. He shared some photos on his website and asked a very important question to reflect on. "At what point does it become too close for comfort?"
In this interview, I asked Dr. Finkelstein to address some questions and claims raised in the media about the flotilla attack.
Wazwaz: In the article “Turkey's off balance, and tilting the wrongway,”
Thomas Friedman argues that Turkey is "joining the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran resistance front against Israel." In Friedman's view, the anger in Turkey is not a result of 9 people shot at close range 30 times by armed commandos but due to a tilting to extremism. Do you agree with this analysis?
Finkelstein: Friedman is a preposterous blowhard. Erdogan spoke out against the Gaza massacre in winter 2008-9 -- as did most of the world. Alongside Brazil he brokered a diplomatic settlement with Iran - which is what most of the world wants. He supported an end to the illegal Israeli siege of Gaza -- as did most of the world. He deplored Israel's murderous assault on a humanitarian convoy in international waters -- as did most of the world. So, where is the extremism?
Wazwaz: A local Rabbi, commented the Israeli defense story which is that the deaths of the nine humanitarian activists were a result of a conflict. She said, "I am convinced that the activists on all seven boats were angered by Israel’s decision to defend its blockade of Gaza with this military operation. Only on one boat, the Mavi Marmara, did some of the activists respond to the Israeli commandos with physical violence. In the conflict that ensued, tragically, nine people were killed." Have you seen the new videos that emerged by Iara Lee from Culture of Resistance? And how would you respond regarding this Israel defense story?
Finkelstein: Even if one grants for argument's sake that Israel had a right to stop the humanitarian convoy, it had many nonviolent options. It could have disabled the propeller or the rudder and towed the ship to port. Israel has said that it didn't expect forceful resistance from the passengers: so, why didn't it board the vessel in broad daylight? It chose the most violent option of an armed commando raid in the dead of night because it wanted to show the Arabs/Muslims that its armed forces were still up to snuff and because it wanted to humiliate Turkey.
Wazwaz: Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren commented on Stephen Colbert Show, that he is worried that calling for an international investigation into the Flotilla Attack, would allow Libya and Sudan to investigate Israeli actions. The UN did not send Libya or Sudan to investigate the bombardment of Gaza in 2008, but Judge Goldstone, a respected jurist with an impeccable record as well as a Zionist. Can you briefly comment on Michael Oren's fears that an international investigation allows Libya and Sudan to investigate Israel?
Finkelstein: Oren is a congenital liar. The proposal by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was for a commission composed of the former head of state of New Zealand, the U.S., Turkey and Israel.
Wazwaz: As we look at the discussions happening across the US on this incident, I rarely see voices of Palestinians or intellectuals with a clear knowledge of the facts on the ground invited to comment to the claims being made. Were you invited to any discussion taking place on this issue by any major paper or TV network? CNN, NY Times, etc.?
Finkelstein: I have NEVER been on a national radio or television program in the U.S. except for Democracy Now! I have never been on National Public Radio. My last two books did not receive a single review in the mainstream press (including the Nation).
Wazwaz: In the aftermath of the attack, a campaign is being waged to project the Turkish Charity Organization, IHH as a terrorist organization. There were even calls by democrats to refuse visas to any members of the Flotilla. First have any of these members of congress contacted you to hear the opposing argument - since they took an oath to serve this country and not themselves? I am not aware of any Congressional hearings where Palestinians, especially abused by Israel have taken place. And second, what are your views on reconstructing the Flotilla activists as terrorists?
Finketstein: It's one of the wonders of American life that after an armed Israeli commando unit stormed a humanitarian vessel in international waters and killed ten passengers, Congress wants to have the victims declared terrorists; and it is one of the wonders of Israeli life that it has managed to turn the perpetrators of wanton murder into the victims of a "lynching."
Wazwaz: Noam Chomsky argued that since Israel is militarily occupying someone else's land, then it cannot be defending itself. The occupation is against International Law, and it existed way before Hamas came in power. Yet, as Israel continues the settlement building and Arab home demolition and confiscation of Arab land, and the UN failure to stop clear violations of International Law, what options remain for Palestinians to protect themselves from being pushed into disconnected reservations?
Finkelstein: The Palestinians have the right to use arms to resist an occupation that after nearly a half-century has become a de facto annexation and denial of their right to self-determination. However, the fact that morally and legally they have that right doesn't mean that it's the most prudent strategy. In my opinion, a national Palestinian leadership committed to mobilizing nonviolent resistance can defeat the Israeli occupation if those of us living abroad lend support to it.
Wazwaz: Quite a few people assume that peacemaking means that you speak and act like Barney the purple dinosaur and they quote Gandhi and Martin Luther King selectively. In fact, both men were considered terrorists in lifetime. MLK was very vehement against the war in Vietnam and very critical of American foreign policy. You recently explained that Gandhi also did not see non violence as allowing yourself to be raped and doing nothing. Can you explain non violence and respond to the call for the Palestinian Gandhi?
Finkelstein: Gandhi's opinions on nonviolence are complex and not always consistent. But it should be clear that Gandhi ranked courage and bravery as high as nonviolence, and he repeatedly said that if you don't have the courage and bravery to resist the oppressor nonviolently then you should use violence. He repeatedly denounced those who used nonviolence as a cover for their fear and cowardice.
Wazwaz: Thank you very much for this interview.
Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian Christian, is the founder and secretary-general of Miftah. She was also the first woman to be elected as a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee. In her works, Dr. Ashrawi has always been committed to principles of democracy and human rights.
Dr. Ashrawi will be coming to the Twin Cities today, Thursday, May 6, at Town Hall Forum at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nicollet Mall and 12th Street, in downtown Minneapolis. Dr. Ashrawi will speak in Westminster’s sanctuary from Noon to 1:00pm on Peace in the Middle East: A Palestinian Perspective.
Since it was established in the 80s, the Town Hall Forum at Westminster Presbyterian Church has wanted Dr. Ashrawi to be a guest speaker. Since the problems between Palestine and Israel have persisted for decades, the topic of peace in the Middle East is always timely, and a Palestinian perspective on the challenges to peace is rarely heard, or understood, in the U.S.
Local Congress people regularly vote on resolutions that affect the lives of many people. It is an injustice to do so without fully understanding the conflict. And what makes it worse, is most Congress people are afraid to be critical of Israel as there is a chance of losing an election and not enough Minnesotans are knowledgeable of the situation to support them to stand for a just peace.
The Church is expecting 800 - 1,000 Minnesotans, and we're hoping to top that number by encouraging all those who are put in a position to speak or vote on foreign policies that affect lives of people abroad to attend this important event.
In a recent interview with Haaretz, Dr. Ashrawi said that
"Israel acts as an occupier not only in the West Bank, Gaza but also in Washington."
"Sooner or later the U.S. has to end this culture of impunity, and Israel has to abide by rules. At least the sounds from the administration now are more firm than they were before. Netanyahu’s government went too far, even with the closest ally and a patron and the benefactor. They went too far and there is a certain degree of arrogance, an no one can take it. I am sure he knew about the settlements, and besides, not knowing doesn’t absolve one from crime. He should know, and if he didn’t know, it’s worse. Because he kept saying that these were plans from before. But then he started talking about all things 3000 years ago and Jerusalem is our capital and we will continue to build – this kind of ideology is not a contemporary language, it’s inconsistent with negotiations or peace. It’s ideological language. If you don’t want peace – it’s OK to talk like that. You will quote Bible, others will quote Quran or new testament. This is ridiculous.”
Very few people know the history behind Israeli leaders. Dishonest and insincere peacemakers keep people focused on the Palestinian charter or Hamas and overlook the voices and actions of Israeli leaders throughout history.
In 1989, in a speech at Bar-Ilan University, Benjamin Netanyahu stated:
"Israel should have exploited the repression of the demonstrations in China, when world attention focused on that country, to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the territories."
One can forgive him if he had a change of heart since then. But he didn't.
A few years ago, Benjamin Netanyahu commemorated the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, the headquarters of British rule, which killed 92 people. I do not recall any outrage or condemnations from the Jewish community regarding this event. And Connecticut Senator, Joe Lieberman who is always whipping up a hysteria in Capitol Hill against Muslims, welcomed him with open arms. And I do not recall anyone demanding Netanyahu renounce violence or terrorism either. Is terrorism bad if you are the underdog and okay if you are not?
People are resisting Israel not out of hatred or rancor for Jews. The resistance is because Israel was built on massacres, ruins, graves and ethnic cleansing of Arabs. It was built by terrorists and war criminals, whom Israelis freely choose as prime ministers, without facing starvation and sanctions like Palestinians did when they elected Hamas. These policies did not come to an end. It is not something in the past that people are rehashing and cannot move beyond.
More to point, the United States has also financed this atrocity although we do not like to talk about these realities as "experts" psychoanalyze to death the actions of ordinary people turned insane. Then, how are we going to solve the problem?
Please join us today at Westminster Presbyterian Church and ask your critical questions to Dr. Ashrawi.