The western media tends to focus on one major story at a time. While Kosova dominates the news, other international stories have been largely ignored. For Muslims, however, this is not good enough. While the Muslims of Kosova are being slaughtered by the tens of thousands - despite the US’s ‘air war’ - the suffering of Muslims elsewhere also continues. Indonesia, Bosnia, Algeria, Chechenya, Sudan... the list is almost endless.
But there is a particular irony in the suffering of the Muslims of Iraq. While some Muslims are welcoming the west’s bombing of the Serbs as ‘the first humanitarian war’, there appears to be little realization that the same air forces, directed by the same politicians, are maintaining an almost daily bombardment of the Muslims of Iraq. Unlike the war on Kosova, however, this is not a major media event. In place of the daily briefings by senior NATO senior military officers, broadcast live on CNN and other international television channels, information on the war on Iraq is issued through bland Pentagon press releases which merit barely a paragraph in a few newspapers. The International Herald Tribune, for example, seems to have been running virtually the same short story - headed ‘NATO jets strike in no-fly zone’ or words to that effect - almost daily since the beginning of the year. The effect, as undoubtedly intended, has been to make the US attacks on Iraq seem routine.
Muslims, however, must not be taken in by the west’s news management. The west’s persecution of Iraq must not be allowed to become routine. Too often Muslims allow their news-consciousness to be defined by the western media. The tragedy in Kosova is not new -Crescent International, for example, warned of the risks that Serbian nationalism posed for Kosovar Muslims as long ago as 1989. But Muslims have been largely unaware of it because the west chose not to play it up. Now that the west is up in arms about Kosova, Muslims are too. (Note, for example, the number of Muslim charities who have suddenly started collecting for Kosova.) That in itself is entirely proper, of course - provided we do not fall into the trap of ignoring the suffering of our brothers and sisters in other places, just because the west wants us to.
The suffering of the Iraqis is not new, and it is not caused by the bombing alone. Far greater is the suffering caused by economic sanctions. At a time when the west is making such righteous noises about the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Kosova, remember that the same west has been responsible for the virtual decimation of Iraqi children. That word, signifying the killing of one in ten of the population, is not too strong: the combined effect of the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure during the 1991 attack - when US president George Bush pledged to bomb Iraq ‘into the stone ages’ - and of the subsequent sanctions has been a rise in infant mortality rising from 3.7 percent before Operation Desert Storm to more than 12 percent now. One UN report estimates that some 40,000 children are dying each year as a direct result of the sanctions. Other estimates say that up to 100,000 adults may also be dying annually. From 1991-98, this adds up to well over one million people killed by sanctions. This compares to some 750,000-people killed by the allied economic blockade of Germany during the first world war, and some 100,000 killed by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Statistics are cold. The eye-witness accounts of the suffering and the courage of the Muslims of Iraq which Ramzy Baroud has been writing tell the same story in more human terms. Considering the extent of the sanctions, which limit the amount of oil Iraq can export, the amount of money it can spend on food and medicines, and the limits placed on its imports (which extend to essential items such as medical syringes), it is no exaggeration to call them a ‘weapon of mass destruction’ which has proven far more potent than any weapons Saddam has or has been accused on planning.
Numerous events in the world today, from Iraq to the illegal bombings of Sudan and Afghanistan last year, to the open-ended support for Zionist Israel, testify that the US and the west have no qualms about life whatsoever. The Muslims of Kosova - may Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala help them - are not the only Muslims facing genocide in the world today. And the Serbs are by no means our worst enemy.
Muslimedia: May 16-31, 1999