Thought Box



by HUMRA QURAISHI October 22 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 7 mins, 0 secs

“All that ordinary people across the globe want is peace and dignity, the right to live in their homeland,” writes Humra Quraishi.

The title of this article is a slightly reworked line from a song of The Beatles, ‘Eleanor Rigby’. Paul McCartney talked about the origin of the song in an interview with GQ in 2018, “When I was really little I lived on what was called a housing estate – there were a lot of old ladies and I enjoyed sitting around with these older ladies because they had these great stories, in this case about World War II. One, in particular, I used to visit and I’d go shopping for her – you know, she couldn’t get out. So I had that figure in my mind of a sort of lonely old lady”.

Normally I send my column for publishing every Wednesday, but I skipped a couple of days this week because I wasn’t able to write after seeing the pictures and videos of the bombings in Gaza and the destruction. I was anguished. Never before in the recent history of the developed world, have hospitals  been targeted! Mothers, fathers, babies, teenagers, health workers, rescuers, volunteers…hundreds are killed!

How can anybody bear the pain of being torn away from their homes and made refugees in another country? The hurt remains for generations, as we have seen post partition in India and the many displacements everywhere else where mindless battles are fought by greedy corporations and corrupt politicians. Those waging wars remain safe, and innocent people lose their lives to pay for the sins of the crime mongers.

In earlier days, Indian citizens protested against atrocities on Palestinians. I’ve personally witnessed demonstrations in New Delhi, Lucknow and Srinagar. A rather disturbing change, which is palpable, is how difficult it has become for students, activists and ordinary people to march on the streets and raise their voice against what’s going on in Gaza. The big guns keep on talking tough, but their words carry no weight any longer.

Several heads of State have sided with Israel for obvious political and expansionist motives. But in their speeches, these men in power should confine their ideas to themselves and stop attributing them to the common people. Why should they drag masses into their thinking? Populations are no longer so naïve and immature that they don’t recognise brutality. This isn’t a cricket match where one takes sides? It is a genocide taking place.

Several neighbouring countries of Palestine are facing civil strife. When I see the images of people killed in car explosions, bombs strapped on teenagers, homes, buildings, infrastructure being fiercely bombarded, families fleeing, settlements razed under the  garb of  ‘search for terrorists’, I wonder who is behind it! ISIS has become a vague term. Who set it up in the first place? Where does it get its funds from? Who strategizes destruction to the minutest detail? Who are the  masterminds behind these deadly tactics that place millions at risk in landlocked states? Who is a terrorist?

In an interview with me, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s grandson, Asfandyar Wali Khan, explained the reasons behind the turmoil in the world. He said, “If you have  two  badmashes in a  village it’s okay, because they will be busy settling scores with each other. But there will be chaos and confusion if there is only one badmash left! That is the trouble in today’s world. Also, where’s the leadership in the Muslim world? Religion was  used by the Americans in Afghanistan to create a base. Prior to that, Afghan struggles were about nationalism and not about religion. Also, the  ongoing atrocities against the Palestinians are bound to hurt the Muslims the world over. Post 9/11, the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan is being looked at as if they are similar, which is not the case. The true  essence and meaning of Islam is being overshadowed in this chaos, which is unfortunate. Islam stands for justice and peace. It’s a known fact that way back in early 1990s madrasas and other religious institutions, well camouflage, were set up by the CIA along the Afghan-Pakistan border.”

While in Latin American countries, it’s best to hear what the well-known Mexican writer and columnist Juan Miguel De Mora had to tell me in 2004 when he was visiting New Delhi. He quoted two former Mexican presidents and said, “Mexican President General Porfirio Diaz (he was President till 1910) had said, ‘Poor Mexico. So far from God and so close to the  US.’ Then Adolfo Lopez Mateos said that the biggest problem faced by Mexico is the US. But in my opinion both the Presidents were too diplomatic. President Bush’s democracy is like Stalin’s – I have been writing in my columns that they are a danger to humanity”.

When, in 2001, I had asked Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Saif-EL Islam, to comment on the  ‘terror-tags’ heaped by Western powers on his father’s government, he said, “It all depends on your perception. Many liberation leaders were viewed as being terrorists but later became heroes. In the sense when Nelson Mandela was in trouble we helped him out, when Mugabe was having problems we helped him too, so does that mean we helped terrorist outfits! Both these men fought liberation wars and later emerged as heroes. In my country’s war for liberation from the Italians, we lost three-quarters of our population, so realize the problem…it’s all a matter of perception and image.”

And Chomsky has said that ‘in the Reagan years alone, US sponsored state terrorists in Central America left hundreds of thousands tortured, mutilated corpses, millions orphaned and four countries in ruin. In the same year, Western backed South African depredations killed 1.5 million people’. He further said, “I need not speak of West Asia or much else. All of this, however, is barred from the annals of terrorism by a simple device - the term, ‘terrorism’. Like most terms of political discourse, it has two meanings, one literal and the other propagandistic. Needless to add that the propagandistic version is preferred and pursued by the US. Terrorism is terrorism that is directed against the US and its friends and allies.”

Chomsky had also drawn parallels between the  US  and the Nazis. He said, “The Nazis, for example, bitterly condemned terrorism and conducted what they called counter-terrorism against the terrorist partisan. The US basically agreed, and it organised and conducted similar counter-terrorism in post war years”.

This week I will end with this verse of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish – ‘I Come From There’.

I come from there and I have memories/Born as mortals are, I have a mother/And a house with many windows,/I have brothers, friends,/And a prison cell with a cold window./Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,/And an extra blade of grass./Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,/And the bounty of birds,/And the immortal olive tree./I walked this land before the swords/Turned its living body into a laden table.//I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother/When the sky weeps for her mother./And I weep to make myself known/To a returning cloud./I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood/So that I could break the rule./I learnt all the words and broke them up/To make a single word: Homeland…

Translated by Anton Shammas from “The Bed of the Stranger,”
Riad El-Rayyes Books, Beirut, 1999.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.