A Muslim Rhodes scholar in Oxford contemplates "Why Iraqis celebrated the fall of Baghdad?"
Ali Abbas is a Rhodes Scholar pursuing a Doctorate in Economics at Oxford
University. In this column for the Lahore newspaper, The Daily Times, Ali
Abbas angrily criticizes Muslim hypocrisy in dealing with the modern world.
He writes, "Today we have two choices before us. We can continue to moan,
indulge in hollow anti-infidel rhetoric and pray for a miracle that will
wipe out the trio of Bush, Blair and Sharon. Or we can opt for introspection
and self-reform...Merely waiting for Allah or the Mahdi will not get us
Ali Abbas can be reached at ali.abbas@...
Read and reflect.
Why Iraqis celebrated the fall of Baghdad?
By Ali Abbas
The Daily Times, Lahore
Why must a white paper on Iraq or Afghanistan be presented in the House of
Commons and not our own parliaments? Is all going so well for Muslims in
Muslim countries that we can focus our energies exclusively on events in
Kashmir, Palestine and Chechnya?
It is clear that certain sections of the Muslim media were taken by surprise
by scenes of Iraqis celebrating the fall of Baghdad; some channels tried to
distort or underplay the scenes; others discarded them as staged. While
these attempts at censoring facts or willing suspension of disbelief are
likely to continue for some time, the underlying reality of the scenes will
eventually have to be confronted. We will have to accept that a Muslim
citizen can contemplate welcoming a foreign infidel army into his homeland
and not be bothered by the collapse of his native Muslim regime.
Digestible? Perhaps not but real. Indeed, this lack of patriotism is not
limited to Iraqis alone, it extends to virtually every Muslims country in
Many Muslims were hoping that the Iraqis would assess the situation on its
historical merit; i.e., by recognising Saddam as the lesser evil and
rejecting the US-UK coalition. That they would remember that it was this
very coalition which had patronised and armed Saddam during the 1980s; which
had kept silent, conveniently, as he crushed the Shia rebellion in the
South; and which had adopted a never-mind policy to his use of chemical
weapons against Iran and his own Kurdish population.
But was this expectation on our part that the Iraqis would demonstrate
perfect memory justified, given that we are chronic amnesia patients
ourselves? The Gulf War had the effect of wiping off our memories Saddams
aggressions against Iran. The Iraq War made us forget his brutalities
against his own people in the 1990s. Truth is the first casualty of war, but
the first casualty of both the Gulf wars has been the memory of those who
fell victim to Saddams oppression in the preceding decade.
It is deeply ironic that for 21 non-stop days every Muslim newspaper and
television channel tried to give an intelligent history lesson to the
Iraqi civilians, reminding them that the coalition was not to be trusted and
responsible for their woes. And on the 21st day, the Iraqis themselves
taught us a chilling history lesson: that Saddam was a monster, and this is
what they chose to remember.
Hats off to the Iraqis for raising the no Saddam no Bush slogan so quickly
after the war. With every third family in Baghdad reporting a missing
person, every second woman in Kerbala a widow, and every other Kurdish child
holding on to the memory of an elder gassed by Saddam, it would not at all
have been surprising if the Iraqis had chosen to accept Bush as the lesser
evil. They did not: that shows their greatness.
Yet our pride has been injured deeply by the defeat of a Muslim army, and
cannot heal overnight. The ummah remains petrified, to date, by prospects of
American and British control of Iraqi oil. What good has this oil in Iraqi
and Arab hands done for Muslims over the last three decades, is of course, a
question we shall never ask. Stashed (and now trapped) in US banks; booked
as losses in European casinos; devoted to maintaining royal harems and
palaces; and consigned to feeding armies that could terrorise their own
people, the Middle Easts oil revenues were a golden opportunity gone
totally a begging.
There are those among us who say it is not oil or military defeat per se
that is so painful. It is the overthrow of a Muslim regime and the
occupation of a Muslim state by infidels that is difficult to swallow.
This is, for all sums and purposes, a war on Islam by infidels. This view
has been very popular with some of our newly launched television channels.
But accepting it would be as naive as accepting the US branding of the war
as Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The millions who demonstrated against this war in Europe, America and the
Far East were non-Muslims I was myself part of the massive anti-war
protest held in London on February 15 and can testify to this. Also, the
Pope has certainly not embraced Islam! Just because President Bush was dumb
enough to use the word crusade in his post-9/11 speech does not mean we
Muslims should adopt the phrase as well. Rather, we must try to understand
the politico-economic motives of the war; the threat it poses to
international institutions and to global order in general.
This is what makes this war so wrong and dangerous and not the fact that
Saddam or his nobles were great Muslims. Indeed, the number of statues of
himself that he had put up all over Iraq testified to his Pharaohic desires.
I do not dispute that the sight of coalition forces walking the streets of
Kerbala and Najaf is discomforting. But I will ask why Muslim honour was not
pricked when Saddams military itself drilled bullet holes into the Zareeh
of Imam Husain (AS), killing thousands that had taken refuge there or when
his air force bombed the shrine of Hazrat Abbas (AS). Anyone visiting these
holy places can see the signs of Saddams wrath; they still exist and are
difficult to digest! Yet, there was not even a whimper in the Muslim world
when this happened. Why? What is the big fear in admitting to our own
Why must it always be the White House spokesman or the British Prime
Minister who lay bare our naked truths before us? Why must a white paper on
Iraq or Afghanistan be presented in the House of Commons and not our own
parliaments? Is all going so well for Muslims in Muslim countries that we
can focus our energies exclusively on events in Kashmir, Palestine and
The origin of this brush-your-truth-under-the-carpet psyche goes back a long
way, to the very early days of Islam, i.e. the end of the
Khilafat-e-raashida. From about 30 AH onwards, malookiyat (monarchy) became
the dominant political system in the Muslim world. Human rights,
representation, freedom of expression and criticism were unwelcome guests in
such setups. Debate was considered healthy if it happened in the areas of
fiqh, mysticism and science, and forbidden if it hinted at the need for
political or social reform. When Imam Husain (AS) resisted Yazids pressures
to obtain baiyat, most of the wise men of his time adjured him to keep
quiet. But the Imam knew that silence in such situations was tantamount to
acquiescence, and the latter akin to poison that would slowly but surely
devour the ummah from within. The great sacrifice that he offered was not
for the reform of Christians, Hindus and Jews but for the Muslim ummah which
had become morally bankrupt. More than anything else, this underscores the
importance our religion assigns to reforming our own societies first (before
looking to others).
Today we have two choices before us. We can continue to moan, indulge in
hollow anti-infidel rhetoric and pray for a miracle that will wipe out the
trio of Bush, Blair and Sharon. Or we can opt for introspection and
self-reform. The latter will require sincere attempts at uniting the Muslims
masses, heavy investment in education and alliances with non-Muslim powers.
Merely waiting for Allah or the Mahdi will not get us anywhere. As the Quran
says: There is nothing for man except what he strives for (53:40).
Muslim states must begin to value their own citizens before looking to
non-Muslim regimes for respect. And I direct this message not to Muslim
leaders but to the Muslim masses, who can and must win dignity and justice
for themselves. For if they dont, our destiny will remain sealed as per
Hazrat Alis (AS) quote: Nations can survive under kufr (infidelity) but
not under zulm (injustice).