Saladin, the greatest of Muslim warriors, died of fever and old age on the morning of March 4, 1124. He was the iconic believer. Malcolm Lyons and D
E P Jackson write in Saladin: The Politics of the Holy War, ''The imam Abu Jafar and al-Fadil were with him on the morning of March 4. The imam was reciting from the Quran. 'It is said that when he reached the words — There is no god but God and in Him I put my trust — Saladin smiled; his face cleared and he surrendered his soul to God'.''
On his last visit to Jerusalem, the holy city he had restored to Arab rule, in September 1123, he gave his fourth son, Abu Mansur al-Zahir, some immortal advice. As his son was about to leave, on October 6, Saladin kissed him, rubbed his hair fondly and said: be chary of shedding blood, ''for blood does not sleep''. He added, addressing his attendant emirs, ''I have only reached my present position by conciliation''.
Nine centuries later, blood has still not slept in that land. It keeps awake as a nightmare. No region in modern times has refused conciliation and invested as heavily in a nightmare.
Blood neither sleeps nor ceases; most cruelly, it does not discriminate between child and man. There is nothing new about war. But there is something new about the war raging on the sands of Israel and Palestine. Once, blood was lost on a battlefield, with honour. Blood is now spilt on the street. Civilians are no longer exempt from the havoc of war. Both sides target them, relentlessly. The difference is this: the Qassam rockets fired by Palestinians are crackers, pinpricks, compared to the overwhelming, bellicose firepower of Israel. Of all the images shivering into our consciousness from Gaza, none is more searing than the faces of children who have lost their laughter. Israel is building the foundations for war in 2025: children who are five today will be adults then. Blood will not sleep.
Israel has every right to protect its citizens, but there are grave dangers in a disproportionate action that punishes a population for the actions of a government. It is only the insecure who over-react, but why would Israel, with its overwhelming military superiority, feel vulnerable? Perhaps, after throwing a chain around Gaza and delivering maximum punishment, time after time, it is unable to deal with the persistence of defiance.
Defiance is courage, and courage is admirable, but courage is not victory. Victory too needs a definition, and it cannot be imposition. It must be justice, and equity demands that Palestine and Israel accept that neither will disappear. Both are nations. Facts demand peace, but fear engineers an essentially unequal war, its story told in cold statistics of dead, dying and destruction.
There is more than one reason why Palestinians are still in refugee camps and Israel is a regional superpower.
Gaza is imprisoned in two concentric circles. Only one is the blockade by Israel. The larger circle is a noose placed by cynical Arab ruling cliques who feed off Palestine's despair to perpetuate their own survival, using the alibi of conflict. When there is rage on the Arab street, as now, there is silence and wordplay in the Arab secretariat. Organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah have filled a vacuum created by military incompetence and pathetic governance. That is their appeal to Muslims beyond their borders.
Poor governance has created a knowledge deficit; and knowledge is the key to strength. An Arab friend sent me some startling statistics; the email was captioned 'A time for introspection'. Here are just a few: there are only 500 odd universities in the Muslim world. The United States has 5,758 and India has nearly 8,500. Literacy in the developed world is 90% against 40% in the Muslim world. If you removed Turkey from the list, the comparison would look grimmer. High tech goods and services constitute only 0.9% of the exports from Pakistan, and 0.3% from Algeria. They add up to 68% of Singapore's exports.
Men die for two diametrically opposed reasons: when they value what they seek to defend, and when there is nothing worth living for. Israel has created a state worth defending. The Palestinians must be given something to live for.