Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Why Muslims Should Rethink Palestine
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, August 2, 2010
Thousands of faithful
assiduously listened as I outlined the challenges facing Palestine and its
people. Cries of ‘Allahu Akbar’ – God is Great – occasionally resounded from
a corner of the giant South African mosque. Many whimpered as I described
the tragedy that had befallen Gaza as a result of the Israeli siege. They
cheered, smiled and nodded as I emphasized how the will of the Palestinian
people would not be defeated. A few older people at the front simply wept
throughout my talk, which preceded a Friday sermon in Durban a few months
If passion and kindness were powerful in and of themselves,
then the compassion that poured from those Muslim faithful could surely
better the world in a myriad ways. The sheer love and concern displayed by
men and women of different races, age groups, class affiliation and
languages was most uplifting and validating.
As a collective,
Palestine and its struggle for freedom and justice is closer to the hearts
and minds of Muslims all over the world than any other group I have reached
out to. To garner support among Muslims, one is never obligated to make a
case, to justify, or to respond to accusations heralded from left and right.
Needless to say, Muslim affinity to Palestine is historic, based on Islamic
principles articulated in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah (the legacy of
But over time, something went astray. While the
sentiment remained strong, there was little unity in the way in which the
energy was harnessed, or the consensus galvanized. In their attempts to
reach out to Muslims, many manipulated the genuine feelings of ordinary
Muslims for personal, political, ideological and even financial reasons.
Various Muslim leaders, organizations, and individuals presented a limited
understanding of the situation in Palestine, and offered an exclusivist
roadmap as to how the agonizing conflict could be resolved.
result was most disappointing. There was no clear strategy, no attempt at
relevance, and no tangible difference to be yielded from the support of
hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide.
In a way, such failure
is symptomatic of a much greater ailment that has long befallen Muslims.
After the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the concept of Muslim Ummah (nation)
– demarcated by real spatial and political lines – was replaced by
references to a nation that existed within indefinable intellectual
boundaries. This concept was shrewdly patronized by various Arab and Muslim
leaders throughout history, who insisted that they - and they alone -
represented the political centrality of that impalpable Muslim body.
Therefore, owing to the centrality of the Palestinian cause to Islam, these
leaders also adopted the Palestinian cause as there own, even if that
relationship remained confined to fiery speeches and heart-rendering Friday
In other words, Palestine, for many Muslims existed as
part of a collective imagination, solidified with unifying symbols such as
al-Aqsa Mosque, and references to specific verses in the Holy Quran. Such
tactics worked wonders, as helpless but fervent Muslims donated generously,
or chanted the name of whomever posed as the savior of the ‘Islamic land of
Palestine’ and its holy mosque.
Ultimately that rapport yielded
three distinct groups. The first group is largely content with the mere
designation of Palestine as a ‘Muslim cause’, which they can serve through
the occasional donation and regular supplication for Muslim victory in
Palestine. Another group comprises those who have grown cynical of the
mainstream Muslim interpretation of Palestine, and who have become
increasingly radicalized and isolated. The third group is completely
disenchanted, and thus removed.
Predictably, none of these groups
was affectively involved in contributing to a long-term strategy of bringing
the Israeli occupation to an end, or to empowering the Palestinian people in
their resistant to achieve such an outcome.
Meanwhile, the Second
Palestinian Intifada (uprising) of 2000 defined and successfully galvanized
a growing international movement around Palestine. In this movement,
Muslims, as a group, were no longer a primary contributor. There were a few
resulting gains, such as depriving Israel and its allies from reducing the
conflict to that of religious war, with Israel naturally serving the role of
the bulwark of Judeo-Christian values. But there was also much to lose, as
millions of ardently passionate supporters of the Palestinian cause reverted
to their role of mass protest, flag-burning and angry chanting. That image
too, was cleverly manipulated, especially after September 11, to link
Palestine to Muslim extremism. Many were driven to believe that every
bearded Muslim was somehow linked to al-Qaeda.
The rise of Hamas as
a political power in the Palestinian elections of 2006 once again reaffirmed
the Muslim relevance to Palestine. Hamas’ attempt at exploring its
‘strategic depth’ by reaching out to Muslim countries did not translate into
the desired political gains, but it did enliven the more or less dormant
Muslim link to Palestine and to the conflict as a whole. More, thanks to
Hamas’ ability to impress itself as a long-term actor in the conflict, some
Muslims outside Palestine began exchanging sentimentalities with real
political language. Meanwhile, many Muslim communities tried to find
practical platforms to express their solidarity and to aid the Palestinian
people, with Gaza representing the primary rally cry.
Unfortunately, some resorted to the same exclusivist language of the past,
itself rich in religious positivism. This may not always be intentional, but
it is likely to weaken international solidarity, or, at best, relegate
Muslim relevance to a group of people whose link to Palestine is merely
At this advanced stage of the solidarity, which shows
Palestine once again at the top of international agenda – including in civil
societies around the world – Muslims must redefine their link to Palestine,
based on the values and principles reflected in Islam. But they must also
present it in universally shared ideal, speaking a unified and unifying
language. While they must proudly embrace their symbols, they should also
understand that the fight is one for freedoms and rights, and not specific
Muslims must stand, hand in hand, with people
from all different backgrounds, not as exclusive owners of the Palestinian
struggle, but as proud contributors to a global movement that wishes to
ensure that justice is served, rights are attained and peace for all is
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), now available on Amazon.com.