Published at Islamonline.net (now OnIslam.net)
It is an odd thing reaching the age of 32 and not having participated in a single rally. Neither the war in Iraq, nor the previous “Peace in Gaza” demonstrations in London drew me in. At times I wondered what effect my participation would bring. At other times I wondered about the influence of such rallies. But then the real reason really must be put down to my laziness believing that I can only contribute more effectively in other ways. I was wrong.
London third national rally for Gaza took place on January 17th 2009. With more than a thousand dead, of whom at least 400 were women and children. Many thousands more injured, and the literal destruction of one of the most populated geographical spaces on the planet – as one Israeli soldier said: “It looks destroyed, demolished, like we were bombing it for years. You can’t imagine what damage we have done “- (Times Online). I felt it was time to share in the solidarity of the day.
For me it was an odd experience, my first rally, my first participation in such surrounds. Aside from televised broadcasts of other protests, I now found myself in the midst of a fairly impassioned one.
But for the life of me, every time the crowd chanted one two three four, the next words that came to mind were “I declare a thumb war”
I do not know how many participated in the event suffice to say, standing on the raised platform supporting Nelson’s column crowds filled as far as I could see into Trafalgar square.
The young, the old, the men, the women, every shape, size and color, present. Present to voice their concerns, present to object to the actions of a nation whose blatant disregard for human rights includes bombing United Nations shelters inside the Gaza strip where hundreds of civilians sought shelter.
To the front of Nelson’s column was a small area reserved for press. Cameramen, photographers and of course chaperon’s to keep the peace. From this vantage point I watched protestors’ expressions as they listened to the speeches and watched short video clips of the atrocities afflicting the residents of Gaza.
Nothing moved me more than the solitary tear by a middle aged lady. Unlike the crowd around her who participated in the chanting, she just stood, watched, listened, and cried. Why only a single tear I wondered? Perhaps she had exhausted the rest, I rationalized to myself. And as it rolled down the side of her cheek to be caught by the lower part of her scarf, it was as if time stood still.
A thousand thoughts flooded my mind and I wished for a moment that what she felt could be shared by the world: for indeed a dose of such empathy would solve many of our problems in but the blink of an eye.
We were blessed with a great line up of speakers though at times certain members of the crowd, rather rudely, tried to drown out the speakers with their pro-Palestinian chants. It seems ironic that instead of having the needed civility to listen and support positive speech, some individuals are so self-centered that unless they are the ones receiving the attention, they will not participate. Such attitudes, at least in my mind raise two very simple thoughts. A lack of community spirit, greed, almost questioning the sincerity and intention of such individuals: are they there to support the victims of Gaza, or are they there to be seen to be supporting the victims of Gaza?
Rather the organizer’s should have had a team of bouncers to remove individuals and small groups – those causing disruptions – to ensure the message of those who were invited to speak can reach the audience with minimal disruption.
Midway through the event the program broke in two. The stage show continued while a large group of children, representing the loss of children’s life in Gaza, marched from Trafalgar square, down Whitehall to Downing Street, towards the residence of our Prime Minister.
As we made our way in a tightly controlled police cordon it transpired that the event organizers had the wrong type of permission. Apparently, there are different types of marches and protests, some allow you to be vocal, with chants and others must be silent. I believe the frustration displayed by some police officers reflected the misunderstanding between the organizers’ expectation and their knowledge of the different forms of protest.
Suffice to say that aside from a brief moment of quiet, the crowd continued the vocal chants…
How many of us understand the plight of the citizens of Gaza that for more two years they have been under a siege, caged in at all sides, have limited freedom of movement, restrictions placed on food, water, even their own energy supplies.
“One two three four, occupation no more, five six seven eight, Israel is a terrorist state” and “Free Free Palestine” they chanted.
It then occurred to me then that this is perhaps what is happening in many parts of the world, including among our British community. I got this thought: Let us remove the label Palestine and Israel and refer to them as Group A and Group B. If group A launches missiles that kill even one civilian from Group B, there is outrage as an innocent civilian has died. But when Group B counters strike killing ten times more civilians than Group A, instead of there being outrage, that murder is justified by ‘defending’ themselves (!)
I have visited the Auschwitz concentration camp. There is no doubt that the murder of more than a million Jewish people there signified one of the world crimes of the 20th century. But when even Cardinal Martino, the head of the Vatican council for Justice and Peace says, “Let’s look at the conditions in Gaza: these increasingly resemble a big concentration camp” (Times Online), more questions than answers come to mind. The children who led this leg of the march towards Downing Street, lay down, one on top of the other. Before I knew it, a thousand flashes were shot as the press photographers couldn’t get enough of this display.
Sensationalism? Perhaps. But how else to portray the murder of hundreds of children at the hands of one of the world’s leading armies?
As the official rally came to an end, smaller groups, mostly comprised of young angry men, took what appeared to be a mob like mentality. From burning flags – whose significance I can understand but do not personally support – to stirring the emotions of a disenfranchised youth who feel that their government have not listened, mocking the democratic process. Thankfully, while the actions of our government were slow to begin with, I am glad that they took a stance to call an end to hostilities. However as many have pointed out, we could have acted much faster. As the sun set and the crowd stirred, from our position in the center of the square, a friend and I saw the crowd surge to the left, then to the right, then to the left again, then to the right again. As it turned out, riot police had encircled many of the exits from Trafalgar square – perhaps not the best of tactic as it caused more tension amongst the protestors who began to feel caged in. Of course at that point I thought, perhaps this is similar to the experience of those in Gaza. On the one hand they are told to leave their homes if they do not want to die when Israeli weaponry fires, on the other hand, because of the checkpoints, and the small space that is the Gaza strip. There is no where to go! Strange how two experiences can be so similar yet so different at the same time?!
As the police allowed the protestors to walk up towards Leicester square, a small number of them, now enraged, began hitting the cars. I called out “Don’t hit the cars!” to which one replied “Why not?!?” and I said, “It is wrong” – a call sadly, upon deaf ears. If that was his car, he was struck in traffic, how would he feel if someone came and banged on it? This is the problem.
We, living outside the Muslim world, have been blessed with the opportunity to express our opinions. If we use this freedom correctly, with our non-Muslim brothers and sisters in humanity we can and do have the ability to exert influence on our governments; after all, this is the democratic process, we elect those who represent us.
If we want to appreciate the blessing that positive influence can have, we must adhere to some basics: from being patient, being a team player, and listening to speakers when they go on stage to respecting the property of individuals and passerbys.
If we as a community cannot even understand these very simple and fundamental aspects of faith, then how do we expect to be able to have any positive influence? Indeed no truer a statement was said than when Prophet Muhammad said, the best of people are those who have the best manners.
Allah Almighty says in the Qur’an, that He (created us from a single pair of male and female, and made us into nations and tribes, that we may know each other) 49:13. Humanity must stop killing each other, instead, try to know each other, for indeed, when the angels asked Allah, (will You place those who will make mischief and shed blood, while we (angels) glorify You with praises and gives You thanks?) Allah responded, (I know that which you do not know.) 2:30 If the One who created us has confidence in our ability to get along with each other, then we too should have confidence knowing that there is a way for us all to live together in peace…