In Focus Headlines
|Written by Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan|
|Friday, 06 April 2012 17:11|
When I was a child my aunt wrote an Urdu verse in my autograph that, roughly translated, said:
"Everything is happening in this age of progress,
what a horror, then, that Man does not become a Human Being."
The world was at the time gripped by the Second World War which was soon followed by the dismantling of the British Empire. The subsequent partition of India brought about the slaughter of a million people and the uprooting of 15 million people simply because they were born into the “wrong” religion.
I grew up in Bhopal, India, where Hindus, Muslims and others lived in friendship. The ruler was a Muslim, most of his subjects were Hindu. My father taught me Islam by example. He said his prayers, he valued integrity, and he helped people. He sent me to a Christian school before shifting me to a public school. He hired private Hindu and Muslim tutors for me. We had Hindu and Muslim servants.
The Holy Quran taught me that the best human being was one whose words and actions were the noblest. Some of my Hindu and Christian friends were better in character than my Muslim pals and this remained my experience when I studied in the Philippines and the U.S. and later lived in Pakistan and then in Canada.
I have witnessed the creation of the United Nations, enormous technological advances, man landing on the moon, the internet connecting the world instantly, and medications that produce miraculous recoveries, however temporary.
In the United States and Canada I have seen the rule of law being implemented, freedom of religion and expression, democratic and free elections and citizens receiving equal treatment irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity.
As a Canadian journalist and a refugee judge deciding on asylum requests I also observed discrimination, hypocrisy, hate, occupation, oppression, torture and wars. I saw that democracy enables people to choose their leaders but that these leaders are often swayed by political expediency and not by principles, integrity, justice, wisdom and accountability.
Not long ago, when Palestinians sought membership in the United Nations all hell broke loose. Some Western governments, including Canada, were horrified by the request, as if seeking membership in the UN was a crime, or a terrorist attack. Their response was that Palestinians should negotiate with Israel.
This advice would have made sense if there was a realistic prospect of a just peace or if the Western governments had pushed energetically for a settlement. In the absence of both, this amounts to advising the Palestinians to continue to suffer an oppressive occupation. If they resist they'd be branded terrorist. If they turn to the United Nations they'd face Western condemnation.
West Bank Palestinians and Gazans have been under occupation since 1967. There have been numerous negotiations. But Israel keeps violating both United Nations resolutions and international law. It continues to build illegal settlements.
Half a million illegal Israeli settlers live in occupied territories, subsidized by the state; harassing Palestinians. They are protected by Israeli forces and roads have been built for their exclusive use. Israel is building a massive wall that goes well beyond the 1967 borders and grabs more of the already fractured Palestinian land. Palestinians are arrested at will of the Israeli army and detained indefinitely without charges. Numerous checkpoints control their movements disrupting their everyday lives. Gaza is kept under a strict siege. There is no evidence that the Likud government has any interest in a just peace.
The U.S. response is to provide billions of dollars annually in military and economic aid and supply intelligence, diplomatic and other assistance that enables the Israelis to defy the UN, control the Palestinians and dictate to their neighbors.
Israeli leaders are now threatening to attack Iran if it continues its nuclear program. The U.S. response is to assert that Israel has the right to do whatever it wants to ensure Israel’s security, and that the U.S. will support it fully. It is apparently within Israel discretion to determine who or what it sees as a threat.
Specialists agree that even if Iran wishes to build nuclear weapons it won't have that capacity for at least one year. That said, Israel and the U.S. have the capability to down any missile or plane heading towards Israel. And there is no credible evidence that Israel faces a military threat from Iran or elsewhere. Nevertheless it is targeting Iranian scientists and may launch a full attack on Iran with U.S. weaponry.
To underline this hypocrisy, Israel is the only Middle East country that has nuclear weapons; hundreds of them. The U.S. is the only country that has dropped nuclear bombs on civilian cities. During the Second World War, the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, incinerating civilians, leveling the two cities and hastening Japan's surrender. The U.S. also used chemical weapons in its massive, undeclared war in Vietnam.
Together, Israel and the U.S. possess huge numbers of mass weapons of destruction. Israel has used them even in civilian areas, as has the U.S. The U.S., prodded by Israel, attacked and occupied Iraq on the basis of false claims, wreaking innumerable deaths and massive destruction
Undaunted, and their own nuclear arsenals notwithstanding, they are talking of attacking Iran. The U.S. is urging restraint on Israel for now saying it hopes that Iran will give up its plan because of sanctions and that, if it does not, the U.S. will use force to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The U.S., meanwhile, will keep showering massive aid on Israel inspite of its nuclear weaponry, defiance of the UN and obstruction of a just and peaceful settlement with the Palestinians.
Democracy gives people the right to choose their leaders and enjoy freedom of expression and vote. But the system also makes politicians compete for the support of interest groups, volunteers and donations. This results in hypocrisy, injustice and conflicts. After all, Britain and France were democracies when they attacked other countries to build their empires and the U.S. is a democracy though it invades other countries, seeks to topple governments it doesn't like, and tries to have its way in all parts of the globe.
My aunt passed away decades ago. But the words she wrote remain with me and remind me of the imperfections of man even in this age of technological sophistication.
Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian newspaperman, public servant and refugee judge. He has received the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario and the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal for his work as a journalist, leadership of Muslims and efforts to promote understanding between Canadians of different faiths. ■