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Commemorating 9/11: A Close Look at the Face of Hate

September 11, 2011

by Avi Melamed

As the world commemorates September 11, 2001, I would like to share with you a powerful testimony that provides a close, intimate look into the face of the hate.

Before I do, allow me to briefly explain how I came across the poignant story I’m about to share with you.

In November 2010 I launched a unique web-based initiative called Feenjan, in which I create short videos in Arabic (with English sub-titles) that present different aspects of Israel to the Arab world.  My goal through Feenjan is to add an Israeli-Jewish voice, in Arabic, to the narrative about Israel and to develop a platform for creating relationships between Israelis and Arabs around issues of common interest.

I am grateful that through Feenjan I have established a dialogue with people across the Arab world and I hope that this dialogue will continue to grow and expand.

One of the individuals I have developed a relationship with is an Egyptian Coptic journalist, Medhat Klada.

Last year, Mr. Klada generously shared me with an article that he published entitled “When I Cried” (click on the title to read the original article, any translation mechanism you have on your computer will translate well enough for you to understand the essence of the article even if it isn’t a perfect translation).

In this article he shares the testimony of an Iraqi Christian that survived an Al-Qaeda  terror attack on a Catholic church in Bagdad, Iraq.

Here is the story:

On October 31, 2010 a group of Islamic militants entered the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Bagdad during Sunday evening Mass and took about 120 people hostage – many of them women and children in the midst of praying at the time.

The militants demanded the release of their comrades who were imprisoned in Iraq and Egypt.

After hours of negotiations the Iraqi Special Forces stormed the church.  After all was said and done, more than fifty people were killed; among the casualties were the survivor’s wife and daughter.

The master-mind behind this terror attack was a person named Huthaifa al-Batawi, known as “The Emir of Bagdad” and one of the most senior Al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq.  Al-Batawi was later arrested in November 2011 and imprisoned.  In May 2011, he led a violent prisoner-uprising in which he was killed.

Here is the testimony of the survivor of the attack as quoted in the article:

“I was sitting with my little daughter Sarai in the back of the church. Suddenly she called out in joy – “Daddy look here’s uncle Haitham!”  as she pointed to a group of armed young people that had stormed into the church shouting Allah Hu Akbar! (in Arabic – God is the greatest).

I recognized him.  Haitham was the son of our neighbor, Hajj Ramadan Abdalkarim.  I remembered that he had told me that their son, Haitham had left his studies in the University, joined an Islamic religious group and had left his parents’ house.  Haitham had become a source of problems for their family, said his father.

I remembered that Haitham used to bring my daughter Sarai candy.  He was very friendly…always hanging around with his friends, telling jokes…mostly political ones….But when he went to university he disappeared…He became associated with other people, people that were totally different than his childhood friends.

My daughter wanted to put her arms around his neck like she used to, but I stopped her.  I looked into his eyes, but he turned away screaming “Death to the Infidels!”

The worshippers in the church were terrified and panic-stricken.  Some were crying, others were praying loudly.  The militants ordered them to be quiet.  Some of the militants wore explosive vests and others were waving with the Jihad flags.

I went over to Haitham.  I wanted to talk some sense into him.

He screamed at me “Aren’t you afraid of me?”

“No” I said “I’m not afraid to die”.

He went ballistic. “Aren’t you afraid to die?” he screamed.

The priest approached us, but Haitham shot him dead. My daughter screamed. Haitham shot her dead. My wife, who used to advocate so many times for Haitham and to protect him from his parents’ anger, came running screaming…..Haitham shot her dead.

The militants opened fire inside the church…massive explosions rocked the church as some militants detonated their explosive vests….

The responsibility for the lust for slaughter does not lie solely on the shoulders of the radicals like Osama Bin Laden or Omar Abdel-Rahman.

The responsibility also rests on the shoulders of the Muslim clergy and politicians who keep silent.”

End of testimony.

Klada concludes his article with the next sentence.  “Imagine how many young people there are like Haitham in Egypt.”

This testimony and the concluding sentence of Klada’s article, to a large extent, tell us the story of what is described as “Radical Militant Islam.”

The majority of the Muslims are peaceful, regular, honorable people.

Yet, contemporary Islam has given birth to people, who – due to a totally distorted outlook and skewed moral values – take upon themselves the liberty of slaughtering other people in the name of god, in the name of religion, in the name of twisted ideology.

The Muslim world, sinking more and more into the mud of desperation, gave birth to people like Haitham.

In different parts of the Muslim world – Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan Saudi Arabia, Somalia,  Sudan,  Syria, The Gaza Strip, Yemen, and others  – people like Haitham grew up in abandoned and underachieving societies and amidst chaos and violence.  Confused and overwhelmed by their unstable and intimidating environment, while at the same time disfranchised from the big world that now has become a small village due to the mass communication revolution, people like Haitham were totally lost.

Therefore, people like him became easy targets for other morally distorted and viciously manipulative individuals, like Osama Bin laden, Omar Abdulrahman or Anwar Al awalki.

They preach people like Haitham to hate.  They teach people like Haitham to kill.

Killing does not require sophisticated skills.  All you have to do is to squeeze the trigger.

They make Haitham feel omnipotent.  And therefore, Haitham screams in the face of his victim — “Aren’t you afraid of me?”

Too often you see the same picture in different parts of the Muslim world.   In Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia, The Gaza Strip, Yemen and other places, you see young people – sometimes even teenagers – massively armed.

The radical militant Islamists are not representative of Islam or of the Muslim world.  They are symbolic of a horrifying phenomenon that was born in the Muslim world.  Radical militant Islamists vow to slaughter of “infidels.”  Yet, the majority of their victims are Muslims.

In a way you could say that the Muslim world itself is in sustained 9/11 mode – caused and perpetrated by people that grew up in the Muslim world, that are part of their world.

Just today, there was an article published by an Iraqi journalist, Jaber Habib Jaber, in Asharq al-Awsat, the leading daily Arab language newspaper entitled,  The Victims of Suicide Bombers in Iraq: Those who Killed and those who Justified it (click on the title to read the original article, any translation mechanism you have on your computer will translate well enough for you to understand the essence of the article even if it isn’t a perfect translation).  The occasion of Mr.Jaber’s article was not September 11, rather it was the release of a study announcing that over 12,000 Iraqis have been killed by suicide bombers between 2003 – 2010 and more than 30,000 have been wounded.  In this article the author blames the media and the leaders that keep silent as violence, in the name of twisted and distorted ideology, engulfs the region.  For more imformation on this phenomenon you are invited to read my article “Osama Bin Laden is Dead and Alive.”

The current events in the Arab world may signify the genesis of a positive course. What we are witnessing today may indicate the beginnings of a struggle to change, to create a new environment, a better one, that will dry up the swamp upon which radicalism and hate thrives.   However, it will be a long and agonizing journey and the aftereffects may only be realized many years from now – if at all.

But as we commemorate the tenth anniversary of September 11, we should remind ourselves that as of now, and for the foreseeable future, people like Haitham and Anwar Al-awalki are still out there.

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