The deep and routine suffering of Muslims

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Israel’s attack on an apartment building in Ghazzah city on July 22, which killed Sheikh Salah Shehada and 15 other Palestinians, many of them children, was the latest in a long list of zionist atrocities against the Palestinians. It brought the Palestinians’ situation into the headlines once more, and pushed the Israelis onto the defensive, although few could take seriously the claim that the Israelis were unaware that civilians lived in the area. The choice of target and weapon both indicate that the Israelis’ object was to cause maximum damage and therefore deaths. Some observers, including western diplomats, have suggested that the attack was designed to scupper agreements between the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and other Palestinian militias to limit their operations to Israeli military targets. Knowing the Israelis’ record, this is entirely possible.

Such was the international outrage at this attack that even the UN Security Council and the US were forced to criticise Israel. Of course, such criticism is never likely to extend to sanctions against Israel, although the aircraft and missile used in the attack, indeed the entire Israeli state, are financed by US tax-payers. Like so many Israeli atrocities, this too will fade from most memories as Israel’s public relations machine, supported by the West’s governments and media, work flat-out to promote the image of Israelis as helpless and blameless victims, and Palestinians as uncivilised, fanatical, aggressive terrorists. This is a process we have seen so many times that it can be taken for granted.

It can be argued, however, that the cruelest crimes and atrocities against the Palestinians, and against Muslims and others elsewhere in the world, are not those that hit the headlines and then fade from memories; rather, they are the ones which never make the headlines at all. In Palestine, for example, only a minority of the 2,000 Palestinian deaths – approximately 30 percent of them children – since the beginning of the intifada have made headlines. Most have passed without comment outside Palestinian circles. But far more than those who died have been injured, many of them deliberately maimed. Even more have been bereaved or had their families torn apart by injury or arrest of members. And all Palestine is suffering from the economic effects of the Israeli occupation – the curfews that place entire towns under stifling house arrest, the military patrols by trigger-happy soldiers in armoured vehicles and tanks, the routine and random destruction of houses, orchards and other property, the harassment at checkpoints, and countless other apparently minor ways in which the Israelis make the Palestinians’ lives intolerable. Each incident in itself is too minor to be noted or reported; collectively, they create pressure that generates massive and permanent suffering, even when relatively few may be directly affected by the headline incidents.

The same is true elsewhere. In Kashmir, Muslims are living under Indian occupation which is very similar to the Israeli occupation of Palestine; yet it is only major incidents, usually targetting Indians rather than Kashmiris, that make the headlines and so define other people’s perceptions of the situation. In Afghanistan, the US’s accidental killing of friendly Afghans attracts the headlines; the routine killing of Afghan villagers who live in areas ruled by warlords hostile to the US goes without comment. The West’s feeding a few Afghans makes the headlines; the plight of thousands who lost everything in the US bombings does not. Russia’s war against Chechnya fell out of the headlines long ago, yet even today hundreds are dying every month, some in fighting, far more in Russian sweeps through villages, supposedly to look for mujahideen sympathisers. The world worries about “weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” and talks of “regime change strategies”; the reality is of a country that was bombed “into the stone ages” a decade ago, and that has been systematically prevented from rebuilding by Western policies ever since. The list could go on…

Public perceptions of the world are dominated by cold politics and high-profile flashpoints; the reality is of apparently permanent hopelessness, suffering and repression for most people in the non-West, not because of unavoidable circumstances, but because of the policies of the powerful. This is the background noise to world events that we cannot afford to tune out, because it is in these cries of suffering that we hear the real character and nature of the modern West-dominated world.

Mr. Iqbal Siddiqui is Editor of Crescent International and Research Fellow at the Institute of Islamic Contemporary Thought.

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