Friday Discourse (228)
Dubbed al-Anfal, Saddam's campaign against the Kurdish population of Iraq which took place between 1987 and 1988 was one of the most inhuman campaigns ever undertaken by any Muslim leader. We are blessed with terrible totalitarians like Naser and his successors – Sadat and Mubarak in Egypt, with the late Shah – Mohammed Reza Pehlavi in Iran, with Qaddafi in Libya, and with Hafiz al-Asad in Syria. They were all grossly intolerant; they have tortured thousands of their citizens; they have killed many eminent Muslim scholars; they have served as agents and collaborators of either the CIA or the KGB to suppress particularly the resurgence of Islam over the past fifty years; they have denied their citizens the freedom that is necessary to their relevance in today's global village. Yet, among them Saddam stood like the Eiffel Tower. Throughout history, declared the Bureau for Public Affairs in Washington, Saddam was the first ruler to use chemical weapons against his people.
By the end of the Anfal Campaign credible sources have reported the destruction of over 2000 villages, 1,754 schools, 270 hospitals, 2,450 mosques and 27 churches. According to Wikepedia, the Campaign involved
a) mass summary executions and mass disappearance of many tens of thousands of non-combatants, including large numbers of women and children, and sometimes the entire population of villages;
b) the widespread use of chemical weapons, including mustard gas and the nerve agent GB, or Sarin, against the town of Halabja as well as dozens of Kurdish villages, killing many thousands of people, mainly women and children; and
c) the wholesale destruction of some 2,000 villages, which are described in government documents as having been "burned," "destroyed," "demolished" and "purified," as well as at least a dozen larger towns and administrative centers (nahyas and qadhas); Since 1975, some 4,000 Kurdish villages have been destroyed by the former Iraqi regime."
The crime of the Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria is none other than their desire for autonomy, a unified Kurdistan, if possible. But all the four countries have denied this and subjected them to brutal treatment of one form or another. Their case in Iraq and, to a lesser extent Turkey, is simply intolerance to opposition politics taken too far. Our leaders appear to suffer from the chronic ignorance or disapproval of the fact that people as a group could have aspirations, some of them nationalistic, and their right to challenge their composition in colonially configured nation states of today cannot be denied. That was the pretext used by Pakistan to break way from India.
Atrocities could be committed and the world many times is left with a vague picture of what actually happened. That is what the Holocaust is suffering from. Not in this case. So intoxicated with power were Saddam and his cousin, Ali Hasan al-Majid who is rightly dubbed "Chemical Ali", that they took no steps to hide their brutality from the future. They recorded and kept their speeches on the atrocities in their houses and offices. The world is awed by the contents of the discovered tapes; they sounded so flagrant and so insensitive. As a correspondent of al-Jazira put it, they were discussing mass murder of human beings just like treating flies. Here are excerpts published by the Human Rights Watch, with Ali Hasan al-Majid addressing a gathering of the Ba'ath Party in Northern Iraq:
"Jalal Talabani asked me to open a special channel of communication with him. That evening I went to Suleimaniyeh and hit them [the Kurds] with the special ammunition. That was my answer. We continued the deportations. I told the mustashars that they [the Kurds] might say that they like their villages and that they won't leave. I said I cannot let your village stay because I will attack it with chemical weapons. Then you and your family will die. You must leave right now. Because I cannot tell you the same day that I am going to attack with chemical weapons. I will kill them all with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them! The international community and those who listen to them…"
Among the tapes discovered in the house of Chemical Ali was another tape which was also reported by Human Rights Watch. At a meeting held in August 1988, Ali was heard saying:
"We deported them from Mosul without any compensation. We razed their houses. We said come on, go, go! But those who are already fighters, we tell them from the beginning that they must go and settle in the complexes. After that we will tell them to go to the Autonomous Region… The Ba'ath Party director must write to me saying that the following people are living in that place. Immediately I will say blow him away, cut him open like a cucumber. I will bury them with bulldozers. Then they ask me for the names of all the prisoners in order to publish them. I said, "Weren't you satisfied by what you saw on television and read in the newspaper?" Where am I supposed to put all this enormous number of people? I started to distribute them among the governorates. I had to send bulldozers hither and thither…"
In Iraq's Crime of Genocide, Human Rights Watch gave us a full snapshot of the standard treatment which the Kurdish populations were subjected to prior to their mass murder, citing the camp at Topwaza as a sample. It said:
"Men and women were segregated on the spot as soon as the trucks had rolled to a halt in the base's large central courtyard or parade ground. The process was brutal ... A little later, the men were further divided by age, small children were kept with their mothers, and the elderly and infirm were shunted off to separate quarters. Men and teenage boys considered to be of an age to use a weapon were herded together. Roughly speaking, this meant males of between fifteen and fifty, but there was no rigorous check of identity documents, and strict chronological age seems to have been less of a criterion than size and appearance. A strapping twelve-year-old might fail to make the cut; an undersized sixteen-year-old might be told to remain with his female relatives. ... It was then time to process the younger males. They were split into smaller groups. ... Once duly registered, the prisoners were hustled into large rooms, or halls, each filled with the residents of a single area. ... Although the conditions at Topzawa were appalling for everyone, the most grossly overcrowded quarter seem to have been those where the male detainees were held. ... For the men, beatings were routine.
"Some groups of prisoners were lined up, shot from the front, and dragged into predug mass graves; others were made to lie down in pairs, sardine-style, next to mounds of fresh corpses, before being killed; still others were tied together, made to stand on the lip of the pit, and shot in the back so that they would fall forward into it -- a method that was presumably more efficient from the point of view of the killers. Bulldozers then pushed earth or sand loosely over the heaps of corpses. Some of the grave sites contained dozens of separate pits and obviously contained the bodies of thousands of victims."
In Halabja, the most famous town that suffered chemical weapons attack, an Iranian journalist, Kaveh Golestan, who was the first to arrive at the scene after the attack, had this to say:
"It was lifefrozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame. It was a new kind of death to me. You went into a room, a kitchen and you saw the body of a woman holding a knife where she had been cutting a carrot.
"The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl's mouth and she died in my arms."
After reading this, I will leave my reader to ponder over some simple questions: Honestly, do the perpetrators of these people deserve to go Scot-free? When they are tried and found guilty, do they deserve our pity, simply because they are Muslims? If we sympathise with them at their execution, doesn't our sympathy portray how irrelevant we consider life in spite of whatever Islam says about its sanctity? Can we consider the perpetrators as martyrs despite the crime they committed, as some of us were calling Saddam? Is this the equitable reward that with which the Muslim World will pay the Kurds from whom Salahuddin (Saladin) Ayyubi once emerged to emancipate al-Quds from the Crusaders?
Everyday in Iraq, we learn about the mass murder of innocent people, particularly by our so-called Sunni brothers. Is this what they consider the sunna of the Prophet? Does being sunni justify anything we do? Can't we muster the courage to rise and assert, of course to the discontent of such criminals, that crimes like mass murder of ordinary citizens – including children, women and the sick – mosques, hospitals, schools, markets and houses are against the tenets of Islam? Why the sympathy for the criminals then, I continue to ask?
The above is not history. For many years now the Sudanese government has been committing genocidal atrocities in Darfur. The janjawid phenomenon is another big shame on contemporary Arab leaders. The same Sudanese government suppported the Lord Resistance Rebels who maimed innocent citizens in Uganda. What are we Muslims doing to stop the murder of these innocent Africans? Aren't we approving it by our silence? Or are we waiting to reward Omar al-Bashir also with martyrdom one day perchance he is tried and executed like Saddam Husein? I continue to find solace in a verse that defies our misplaced sympathy, claims and wishes. God's standard is the same, always: "It shall not be in accordance with your wishes, nor shall it be in accordance with the wishes of the People of the Book. He that does evil shall be rewarded with it, and there shall be none, besides God, to protect or help him".
We better listen, reason and act. Otherwise tyranny will remain our lot.
11 January 2007