What does it take to call killings a massacre? What does it take to call killings genocide? Is it a numbers game? I hope not. However, much of the debate surrounding Jenin or Gujarat seems to indicate so. While all major religious traditions speak eloquently against the killing of innocent civilians, the Quran goes further and says, “Whosoever kills a human being without (any reason like) manslaughter, or corruption on earth, it is as though he has killed all of mankind and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he saves the life of all humanity [5:32].” Despite this unambiguous and clear directive in the Quran, people with sinister agenda continue to vilify the Muslims by using phrases like “Islamic terrorism” while never (and rightfully so) linking terrorism to any other faith. Terrorism smells just as bad no matter who commits it. The issue of terrorism is not just in the counting of the dead but intrinsically linked to the cloud of fear and hopelessness that hangs over the living.
An action that dehumanizes the essential dignity of human beings is terrorism. War may become a way of preserving human dignity when engaged against evil. But war does not imply an excuse to terrorize innocent people. The art of humane and just war is part of every religious tradition and it is part of Article 48 of the Geneva Convention. Any war or resistance must distinguish between combatant and non-combatant populations. Currently two regimes stand out as having abandoned these principles. Israel and India today together comprise the tale of two renegades.
Israel’s latest brinkmanship over the Jenin inquiry is baffling. The debate over Jenin should not just be over the numbers who died but the all the lives that have been perhaps permanently altered. The inquiry process must ask the question was the excessive force/massacre avoidable? Was the excessive application of force a pre-planned attempt to terrorize millions? Certainly firing missiles from Apache helicopters into a city block looks like nothing more than deliberate targeting of civilians. Further, Israel’s refusal to allow humanitarian aid during and in the days following the end of fighting in Jenin, its insistence on “dictating” the composition of the U.N. fact-finding team and its claim that only a few fighters were killed, helps to harden world opinion that a cover-up is perhaps underway. The world needs to know, what dark secrets lie under the rubbles of Jenin? Moreover, do the capture of a few fighters require the flattening of a few city blocks? Guilt by association is dehumanizing. And dehumanization is terrorism.
Just as the Israeli tactics are reprehensible so are the suicide bombings directed towards civilians. Especially when people were engaged in remembrance of their Creator. Such actions serve no cause, no matter what the justification. It too represents a crime against humanity. However, it must be borne in mind that suicide bombers are not born to be so but made by the circumstances they inherit. Suicide bombers are the result of Israel’s brutal occupation that has now spanned decades. Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu describes the dehumanization of Palestinians as akin to “apartheid.” In his words Israel will “never get true security and safety through oppressing another people.” Let us not forget that the occupation preceded the suicide bombings. Thus, the suicide bombings are indeed desperate acts of defiance by individuals not the seemingly systematic, pre-meditated and cold-blooded murder perpetrated by the Israeli Defense Forces under the auspices of a ruler spuriously labeled “a man of peace.”
In spite of the incalculable sufferings faced by Palestinians, my advice to them is that the use of violence against non-combatants serves to only undermine their noble cause of fighting injustice. They must look beyond this immediate conflict. Some day they will have a homeland. But what homeland will it be if erected on the graves of innocent civilians?
While much of the world attention is being focused on Israeli-Palestinian conflict, another “genocide” is almost slipping under the radar screen. A European Union investigation into India’s worst religious riots in a decade concludes that the violence in Gujarat was not spontaneous but a pre-planned policy involving state ministers to “purge” Muslims and destroy their economy. One EU source suggests that killing of over 2,000 Muslims and displacing another 140,000 into refugee camps is “ethnic cleansing.” As EU ponders what to do next, the United States government must also take a hard look into the matter. The political parties in India who are responsible for this crime must be labeled as terrorists and dealt with appropriately.
At one time the world community did successfully deal with nations that embarked upon the path of “apartheid” and “genocide.” South Africa and Yugoslavia both were ultimately made to comply with the collective opinion of the world community. Today Israel and India both use the same rhetoric of “this is an internal matter” to defend their status quo. Just as the Somalia, Rwanda and Kosovo invited external intervention because of their “internal” crimes against humanity so should Israel and India.
The Author is a Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Finance, The Pennsylvania State University – Harrisburg and Chairman of the Board, Central Pennsylvania Chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).