Thought Box



by HUMRA QURAISHI October 29 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins, 0 secs

Humra Quraishi recalls the days of New Delhi’s past when the cultural hub was celebrated by envoys, especially from Arab lands, and when the city was embracing refugees. 

Before the US aggression in Iraq, the Iraqi Embassy in India was ‘alive’ with over 40 Iraqi diplomats at work. As the ‘mother of all wars’ peaked in the 1990s, I visited the embassy to interview the then Iraqi envoy. I met many upper middle class Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus there, who had gathered in large numbers to express their support for Saddam Husain because he had taken on the super powerful America! I saw men and women carrying food containers and medicine cartons, pleading that they be sent  to the Iraqi soldiers. And, contrary to the Western propaganda that Saddam Husain was a regressive tyrant, Iraqi diplomats and their families residing in New Delhi seemed far ahead of the times.

The envoys and their spouses were well educated, their attire western, and most spoke fluent English. I recall receptions hosted by the Iraqi envoys at an impressive bungalow on the Prithvi Raj Road, which was gifted by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to the first Iraqi envoy posted to India in the 1950s. When July 17th heralded the celebration of Iraq’s national day with a series of receptions, the Iraqi intellectuals, editors  and writers, and the top creamy brass would fly to New Delhi. Of course, all before Iraq was invaded by the American and Allied Forces to ‘look for weapons of mass destruction’, which were never found.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, the cultural scene in New Delhi was centred around classical music baithaks held regularly. Memories of cultural evenings held in the residences of Arab envoys to India are still fresh. I recall the first time I heard a Dhrupad concert - it was at the residence of the envoy of Qatar, Dr Hassan Al Nimah. He was a suave diplomat who hosted classical music evenings in the traditional baithak style.

Also, the envoys of Arab countries would host interactive meetings at their residences and embassies. Right from the mid ‘80s, I have been covering the cultural and the diplomatic scene in New Delhi. And, that took me to cover diplomatic receptions. I have never been a foodie and I am a teetotaller, it wasn’t food or drink that held me captive, it was refreshing to interact with people from different lands.

Today I am too sure whether the once well-functioning Arab League office in New Delhi still works with that level of out-reach. After all, there’s been a noticeable decline of the vibrant and spirited strength of the Middle East and the West Asian countries. Perhaps several countries are battling for sheer survival, devastated by externally sponsored intrusions by the use of the age-old Western ploy of creating civil war-like situations that provoke local communities to kill and destroy each other!

All through the 1990s, envoys of several Arab countries would often say that people’s anger was mounting against Western powers as masses had started to realize that American policies would ruin them one day. They also commented that the Arab governments were cautious in their approach but the masses were openly talking of the ‘invisible army’. In fact, academics too unearthed the mystery behind the surfacing of well-organized terror outfits. When I questioned one, he said, “The fact is that rebel groups have been set up by the Intelligence agencies in the midst of the so-called ‘Muslim world’. With internal strife and civil war accelerating everywhere, leaderless masses ruled by proxy governments have nil resources to fight the masterminds!”

If only the Arab leaders had paid heed to forewarnings, perhaps the Arab world and its leaders, also its countless civilians, would’ve been saved from the brute force of the invaders.

One of the major problems that arise from civil strife is the refugee crisis. A large number of refugees are victims of the political wars. Hapless people flee, leaving their homelands, never having imagined that a day would come when they will be forced to run from their own lands to the sub-zero temperatures of Europe! Even those who manage to reach Europe are aliens to the new countries and are often targets of suspicion, they are called intruders and left to beg for their survival.

For months I couldn’t  get over the picture of the Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi, lying dead by the sea shore. The innocence of the refugee child, compounded by the pain of hundreds of refugees escaping to a nowhere of sorts, brought to focus this grim fact: no country wants to accept these refugees. Political lobbies come in the way, sealing the fate of scores of Aylan Kurdis, who ironically are reduced to refugee status because of civil wars triggered by untenable Western policies.

Before I recovered from Aylan Kurdi’s death, the haunting photographs of the four year old injured Syrian child Omran Daqneesh were in front of my eyes. He looked lifeless, covered with blood and dust, he didn’t cry in pain or shock. Then came news of Omran’s older brother, 10-year-old Ali Daqneesh, having succumbed to his injuries. There are hundreds of children and their families killed or disabled in Syria. The bombardments in Syria, civil strife in Arab countries and the Middle East have ruined lives of millions.

News reports of hijabs and burkas being pulled off Muslim women, in upmarket eateries of America,  by hysterical  characters fed on the poisonous  propaganda that all Muslims are terrorists are also doing rounds. Hatred against Muslims has been generated to such an extent that today a ‘Muslim looking’ man or woman is attacked on the streets of a ‘civilized’  Europe or a ‘super-civilized’ America - attacked by phobia-stricken Westerners basis as flimsy an excuse as that they heard the victim talking in Arabic or chanting Allah! Yes, such is the level of intolerance spreading in the Western world that refugee children are viewed as potential threats. Sadist cartoonists lampoon dead refugee toddlers! Why did French publications like Charlie Hebdo mock the tragic death of the Syrian child Aylan Kurdi?

And, though refuge-seekers haven’t reached this part of the continent, possibly because of geographical barriers, when they do they will experience another darkness. Ironical it is, that more than half of New Delhi’s population was refugees once – if not them, their parents or grandparents leaving undivided Punjab during the Partition riots were - yet their brazen behaviour towards the Bangla and the Burmese Muslim refugees, the Rohingyas, when they reached the capital in conditions hard to describe, is condemnable. Their plight remains unchanged today – they’re treated like outcastes in several towns of North India and also in Delhi.

I’m ending this week’s column with this quote of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish - “And I tell myself, a moon will rise from my darkness.”

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.