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Ali is an economist and political analyst, working at a private UK-based company. He worked previously at the World Health Organisation and has an MSc in Development Studies from SOAS. You can follow him on Twitter (@alialsaffar).

Setting a benchmark on morals

The attack on a flotilla of boats bringing aid to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip has, quite rightly, captured the attention of people across the world. It has also opened up a whole Pandora’s box of questions that I am asking myself: what, and how do I feel towards Palestinians? I was, like many British Iraqi youth, completely immersed in the Palestinian cause in the days of yore…before Iraq turned me sceptical.

I couldn’t stand it that the downtrodden in Palestine would come out in support of the regime that had itself trodden on so many Iraqis. Pictures of Saddam, Uday, Qusay and even Zarqawi adorned Palestinian protests, and I hated it. So I decided to not care.

But, there’s a problem.  Palestinian feelings towards Saddam and others who have Iraqi blood on their hands does not justify their murder or their oppression. Injustice is injustice, this is not a matter of politics or religion, it is a matter of morality and decency. We should not allow others, who we may despise, to set the benchmark for our morals and our ideals.

This is particularly true in Iraq.  The torture of those accused of acts of terrorism should not, in my opinion, be condoned. They should be brought to justice under due process. I say this not because I care, even remotely, for terrorists. But because I care about the standards we ourselves, who often think of ourselves as agents of change and activists pursuing a brighter future for Iraq, go by, which I hope we can set for ourselves without allowing others to dictate them for us.

12 Comments on “Setting a benchmark on morals”

  1. JA June 2, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    Too many times we’ve seen Iraqis not care much for the Palestinian cause due to their love of Saddam and his cronies. However, as fellow human beings, two wrongs do not make a right and we need to stand against all injustice, not just injustice towards us and our fellow country men and women.

    As for Saddam, it would have been easy to give Saddam Hussein to the families he broke apart and let them deal with him, but justice prevailed; he was trialled and found guilty in a Court of Law. We need to stand for what is right and fair.

  2. Mohammed Abdullah June 2, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

    I share you sentiments.. Another way to look at it is this: that there are a great number of people around the world who are neither Arab nor Muslim taking a stand for what they perceive as injustice. This in itself is a worthy cause to support. Whether the Palestinians deserve our sympathies or not is perhaps a secondary issue behind the highly laudable unified global stand against injustice. Even if you believe that they are misguided in their rage (as many Iraqis believed in 2003), the principle itself is one that should be supported.

    In any case, children having their lives destroyed is never ok, no matter whose children they are.

  3. Shkara June 3, 2010 at 12:36 pm #

    A very valid point, injustice is injustice. These issues that call to the human need for justice as well as other values that are deeply embedded in the hearts and minds of people should (ideally) never be influenced by political or ideological inclinations. The sense of justice and acting upon it should not only be done for the benefit of those who are wronged, but is a statement and measure of the prinicples and values of that individual. Iraqis refusing to support Palestinians for their stance on Saddam and co in the end cannot justify the apathy towards the Palestinians.

    Regarding their view on Saddam, to be fair it should be kept in mind that the Palestinians saw him as one of the few Arab leaders who not only openly stated his stance with Israel and the rights of the Palestinians, but the fact that he launched missiles at Israel back in 1991. This had a powerful impact on the Palestinian psyche. Given the social and psychological consequences of decades suffering and humiliation, not to mention the economic and social oppression they have had to endure, you cannot help but understand to a certain extent why they feel the way they do about Saddam, despite the reality of his cowardice and brutality.

  4. Ali June 3, 2010 at 5:06 pm #

    Yet, the Palestinians were fully aware of the atrocities committed by Saddam towards the Shais, Kurds, etc. Where were their voices, sympathies, more Shias and Kurds have died than all the Palestinian deaths put together…it was Sheikh Ahmed Yassin who issued a fatwa deriding the Kurds as Zionist agents, the whole affair is hypocritical, political propagandistic crap, if the hypocrites that are those who march against Israel want to see real injustice, indiscriminate killings, then they should turn their attentions to Iraq where their fellow Muslim “brothers” maim innocent Muslim civilians – and they know it. Stop the bullshit anti-Israeli/Anti-americanism/Gallowilian activism….Iraqis should feel sorry for no one, especially not these hypocritical bastards, but feel sorry for themselves.

    • Ali MM June 3, 2010 at 9:40 pm #

      In addition to that, it is important to realise it is not a caricature black-and-white issue of oppressed Palestinian good guys and evil Israeli bad guys. The Israelis have a very important right to security, and to be free from Palestinian terrorism including Hamas rocket attacks, as well as the right to protect the integrity of the state and national sovereignty at a time when most Arabs and many Palestinian-sympathisers believe it has no right to exist at all! I am admirable of Israel’s considerable achievements over the past 60 years given their situation which Iraqis can relate to (we are also surrounded by neighbours that are opposed to our success and growth), their democracy (especially considering almost all Jews in Israel came either from countries that were not democratic at all) and their struggle against terrorism (again something Iraqis can relate to). Although I condemn their many crimes, they have done nothing worse than Iran, or further off China etc. nothing to make them deserving of special vitriol and for my sympathies for the Palestinians to be any greater than my sympathy for Tibetans or Turkish Kurds. At least the latter do not glorify Saddam, spite the Shia and follow terrorist leaders like Bin Laden, Ahmed Yassin and Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

    • JA June 5, 2010 at 12:04 am #

      Israeli people may have a right to security but that doesn’t mean they have a right to build on land that isn’t there’s and destroy the homes of others. By this standard, the Palestinian people equally have a right to security.

      Israel have an awful human rights history no matter what “paperwork” says belongs to Israel or not. Their constant defiance of the UN is a joke and the fact they seem to be above international law needs to be sorted by the international community. Their use of illegal weapons is not justified and neither is their use of brute force. Time and time again, Israel, have not been held accountable for their actions in ways other countries have. We should not accept these double standards.

      Ahmed Yassin, Hamas and Iran or not, we need to leave politics aside and consider the numerous human lives at stake. The Palestinians have a right to live securely; just as Iraqis had a right to live in security. If we learn anything from the Baathis and Saddam, it’s that we do not accept fellow humans beings being treated in such a horrific manner. If we learnt nothing about human rights from Saddam, then we do not deserve to speak about justice and injustice. Just as your heart breaks when when you see images of the gassed Kurds, how can it not break when you see images of children with charred skin and limbs blown off?

      Just as Saddam was held to account, Israel should be held to account.

  5. Shkara June 6, 2010 at 1:41 pm #

    Ali, what you say is not based on fair grounds but based on rage and a reactionary approach. Granted, it makes no sense how a people can have strong support for Saddam when the world knew who he was and you have every right to be angry about that. But you must understand that justice transcends all of politics and worldly affairs and is rooted in people’s moral and ethical principles, and it is these principles that people use to guide them in their conduct with the world. No fair-minded person should tolerate INJUSTICE and OPPRESSION, regardless who is the victim. Sanctifying the Palestinian’s oppression is not the way to get justice for their unacceptable stance with Saddam.

    Ali MM, if you admire Israel’s “achievements” then I think you should seriously question your moral compass, and I sincerely hope you don’t get into any position of power or influence in the future. Israel’s inclusion of so many Jews of different nationalities is not out of democracy but because Jews have no demographic location. I think you know very little of the dirty history of Israel and seem to be wholly accepting of the idea that the ends justify the means; the history and struggles of Israel is very different from that of Iraq (especially post-invasion Iraq). Be very careful of the values you carry.

    If Iraq ever followed the footsteps of Israel, I as an Iraqi could never be proud of it, but I also believe that Iraqis are very different from Israelis and would never allow their government to transgress so badly.

  6. Ali June 8, 2010 at 12:45 pm #

    Shkara, you speak of the so-called moral compass yet then go onto state that :If Iraq ever followed the footsteps of Israel, I as an Iraqi could never be proud of it”….aren’t you being a bit naive?

    Wasn’t it your beloved Iraq that committed genocide against the Kurds, killed and maimed tens of thousands of Shias, discriminated against Kurds and Shias when it came to power and decision making? And I’m not just referring to the post-1963/Baathist/Saddam era. That’s what I thought.

    My earlier point was about Palestinians being a bunch of hypocrites, you can’t pick and choose when it suits you the principles you mention and speak of.

  7. Shkara June 9, 2010 at 10:30 am #

    I was not referring to Iraqis at the time of the authoritarian, dictatorial regime when the Iraqi people did not have a choice, I was referring to the new democratic Iraq where the voices and votes of the people now have a say in the governing of the country (of course not to the same level as the other much more mature and established democracies of the West).

    You cannot blame the Iraqi people for the choices of a rulership that absolutely did not tolerate any opposition to their ways, especially from the Shi’a and Kurds. In pre-Baathist rule the situation was never as bad. There were always sectarian differences between the different ethnic groups but at the same time there was a subtle and long-established peace among them, despite there being a lack of common identity of “Iraqiness” or unity between them. Pre- and post- Baathist eras are two different chapters in the long history of this intricate and complex country and its people.

    The Palestinian stance may be hypocritical (but is not strictly that, when considering the other factors I mentioned in my previous comment i.e. the sociological and psychological outcomes from decades of humiliation, betrayal, loss of rights as well as attack on all that which forms their identity and who they are), yet that does not mean you stand idly by and accept the injustice being endured by them. Again, it’s a matter of principle which transcends the theatrical stage of the causational world and our engagement in it.

  8. Ali June 9, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

    Shkara, firstly no one’s blaming the Iraqi people. Second, if you’re going to be proud of your country on the basis of a mere 7 years without dictatorship then that’s up to you, but Iraq in general is nothing to be proud of. Sure the ethnic and sectarian tensions werent as bad under the monarchy, but the state was equally repressive, you seem to have forgotten the autocratic Nuri Said and his British backers. The Shias, just so you know, have in general always been marginalised.

    Second, you avoid the point I was making about how Palestinians can’t pick and choose…you’re referring to the conditions they’ve been under but the Kurds and the Shias were under extreme and exceptional conditions too, yet where were they? Busy issuing Fatwas depicing the Kurds as zionists…in fact you should go and check the figures, the Palestinians have been much better off than the Kurds and Shias. Put together the number of Palestinians killed throughout the conflict and you’ll find that it’s no where near the number of either Kurds or Shias killed under Iraq’s numerous regimes.

    And the reality I’m afraid is that Iraq’s oppressed would have been much better of under the current and previous Israeli government than any of the Arab and Muslim governments they had to endure, that says a lot – the Palestinians don’t know just how good they’ve had it.

  9. Shkara June 10, 2010 at 9:41 am #

    Ali, regarding Palestine, I am not condoning their stances on Iraq, they are blatantly wrong and unjustifiable. There has also been an unfortunate Wahhabi influence in the Palestinian movement over the decades which did play a part in their perspectives on things. But when judging a people, I believe we have to look at all the factors. We live in a world of cause and effect, and their views on Saddam, I believe, are pretty much tied to the fact that he openly championed their cause and actually fired missiles at Israel, which they loved. It is nowhere enough to support him, but for the Palestinians in their desperate state it was. Regarding their stance against the Shi’a and Kurds, it baffles me why they say the things they say, other than to say the Wahhabi element surely played a part. But still, I would not wish injustice against them nor be apathetic about it as a matter of principle.

    Regarding Iraq, I think that in general when you talk about its character or actions you should distinguish between the state and its people. As a political entity you’re right, not much to be proud of, a bloody history indeed. But ask any Iraqi and he’ll identify himself not with the state but with its people. I think that should be the more accurate measure and representation of Iraq. And this should not be viewed in isolation over the last 20 years or so, but over a longer term so their achievements (when given the opportunity to progress) can also be seen.

  10. Ali June 10, 2010 at 12:09 pm #

    Shkara, I understand what it is you’re saying…but you’re simply being apologetic here…if it’s all about cause and effect and how because Saddam was championing their cause it was okay to screw the Kurds and Shias and that it was ok to support Saddam because of all this, then what does that say about the Palestinian people then? This is the mentality you’re dealing with here.

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