ISRAEL-PALESTINE: A wall of protection
July 4, 2005
On visits to Muslim-majority nations and in interactions with Muslim citizens elsewhere, I am often surprised at a lack of knowledge about real Muslim heroes.
One such was Abdul Ghaffar Khan of Pakistan`s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), better known as Badshah or Bacha Khan, who died in 1988 in Peshawar, at the age of 98. This Pashtun opponent of British imperialism and Pakistani authoritarianism spent a total of 27 years in prison, 12 during British rule and 15 after independence.
One of his greatest achievements was to create the Khudai Khidmatgars, or the Serving Volunteers of God, a nonviolent army that for 50 years delivered the message of autonomy, unity, equality and self-reliance to the Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns of the NWFP.
A devout Sunni Muslim who also cherished the pre-Islamic past of his land and proudly took guests to the Bamiyan Buddhas, Badshah Khan sent a son and, more significantly, a daughter to study in the West in 1931. Also, he was a close friend and political associate of my grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi. Thrice in the late 1930s he hosted Gandhi in the NWFP, and it is a remark that Gandhi made there in October 1938 that I would like to present in regard to Palestine/Israel today.
Referring, in the town of Tank, to Hindu and Sikh minorities living amidst Muslim majorities in the NWFP, Gandhi asked the Pashtun Muslims to `become a living wall of protection to their [non-Muslim] neighbors.` Added Gandhi: `A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.` (Speech of 31 October 1938 reported in Harijan, 19 November 1938)
A wall of protection was what Badshah Khan also desired for minorities, and what he and Gandhi again and again asked India`s majority Hindus to offer to their Muslim neighbors.
The walls that today disfigure the Holy Land, encircling and confining Arabs in their own lands and dividing them from one another, reminded me of the different wall that Gandhi and Ghaffar Khan, whose wife Nambata lies buried in Jerusalem, sought to build.
Let me attempt to describe this different wall that Arabs and Muslims generally may seek to build today around the state and population of Israel.
Firstly, as distinct from the concrete walls that confine many Arabs today, this Muslim wall will be a human wall, consisting of numerous individuals believing in it.
Secondly, it will be a long, crescent-shaped wall, running from Turkey to Morocco, and taking in all the Muslim nations of the Middle East and North Africa.
Thirdly, it will be a confident wall, for the Muslims constituting it will be confident about the justice of the Palestinian demand for a fully independent Palestine with just boundaries with a sovereignty as complete as that of any other state in the region.
Fourthly, it will be a resolute wall, for the Muslims forming it will never yield their determination to secure a fully independent Palestine with just boundaries, or their determination to ensure a nuclear-free Middle East, where neither Israel nor Iran nor any other nation keeps or acquires any nuclear weaponry.
Fifthly, it will be a nonviolent wall, for those forming it will not bear any lethal arms, nor harbor any intent to kill Jews or Israelis.
Finally, it will be a wall of protection, and Muslims forming it will pledge themselves to protect every innocent Jew or Israeli, drawing inspiration from past periods when Muslim rulers and citizens protected Jews, according them rights not then available to Jews in Christian lands.
Many Arabs and other Muslims individually share these characteristics and thus already constitute a slender, fragile and invisible fence of protection. The question is whether it can become a thick, strong and visible wall.
There are at least three reasons why the concept of such a wall should not be rejected out of hand. One, since world intervention in respect of Palestine/Israel is not working, solutions will need to grow from the region. Two, since the world is not free from anti-Semitism, Muslims may wish to take the lead in ending it. Three, the concept will remind Muslims of the confidence and tolerance existing in their past.
As Gandhi said, `A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.` The mission today is peace and justice in Palestine/Israel.
Rajmohan Gandhi, a former member of the Indian Parliament and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Acknowledgement to Common Ground News Service.