Taking an Ethical Stand on the System That Led to A Genocide

Ramadan is approaching. It is only days away now. We receive this coming Ramadan with a reality that puts all of us, all 2 billion plus Muslims in the world, to shame. We are all aware of this reality. Whether we express it or repress it, whether we deal with it consciously or allow it to act on our subconscious, the fact of the matter is that our existence on this earth at this time is marked by the fact that we are living through a genocide committed against a largely Muslim people. And the stunning reality of this genocide is that 2 billion Muslims in the world are unable or unwilling to put a stop to it. Whether due to a lack of ability or a lack of will, we are observing it unfold, day to day, and the cumulative power of Muslims in the world is unable to affect this genocide in any real way.


South Africa went to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and, as expected by any expert in international law, it proved entirely ineffectual. The ruling was literally of no consequence. The International Criminal Court (ICC) sits aside, entirely inept and useless. The system of the United Nations, with all its branches, has proven to be thoroughly ineffectual when the sole superpower that controls the world today, the United States of America, wants that international order to be entirely ineffectual. Look at the plight of UNRWA, the organization created to put a rubber stamp on the suffering of the Palestinian people after they lost their homeland and became a displaced people. The U.S. is intentionally starving UNRWA. The European Union has announced that it will give UNRWA $50 million, but the financial woes of UNRWA are endless after the U.S. withdrew its support and also ordered its allies to stop supporting UNRWA.


It is at every level. I just heard a senior UN official talk about how Gaza is confronting a literal starvation, and I heard him describe how ineffectual the system of the UN is in getting aid to Gaza—even the inadequate amount of aid that exists. This is because of a very simple reason. Aid convoys are waiting for days at the Egyptian border to be allowed to enter Gaza. UN aid needs security once they enter Gaza, and Israel attacks Palestinian police when they show up to provide UN aid with security. The Israeli military prevents Palestinian police or Palestinian forces from providing security to UN aid, which leads to UN aid being mobbed by crowds in an entirely chaotic and disorderly fashion, which then further starves the Palestinian people.


So, even when Israel allows some aid to enter, Israel will not allow for the simple mechanics for the distribution of aid. We all know that starvation in Gaza is no longer theoretical. Just this week, a number of Palestinian children died because of dehydration and malnutrition. The Israeli army is using starvation as a weapon of war, which is against the rules of war and the Geneva Conventions. They are using starvation, a lack of medical supplies, and a lack of gas and oil as weapons of war. They have not even made it a secret. They have announced it clearly and repeatedly.


We have witnessed something entirely shocking in Jenin—in the West Bank, not Gaza—at the hands of Israeli forces. Israeli forces dressed as civilians, stormed a Palestinian hospital, and assassinated injured people in the hospital. Imagine if such an act was undertaken by Muslims against any Israeli, regardless of what that Israeli had done. Imagine if Muslims had entered a hospital and murdered patients in the hospital. Even when starving Palestinians show up for food supplies, as has just happened, Israeli forces deemed these unarmed Palestinians to be threats. Israel decided that these unarmed, starving Palestinians were approaching their forces in a “threatening” manner, so they committed a massacre, killing over one hundred and injuring 700. And because Palestinian hospitals have run out of supplies, it is expected that many of those 700 injured are also going to die. 


The Biden administration called upon Israel to do an investigation, and we all know the result of Israel's investigations of its own forces. Not a single time has Israel convicted or found wrongdoing among its own forces. Some European countries also called for an independent investigation, as did the Secretary-General of the UN, but we all know that nothing will come of these calls, and we all know that 2 billion Muslims in the world are entirely beside the point.


You wish that matters stopped there. One of the biggest embarrassments in the midst of this genocide is that the Israeli government is bragging about how its supply lines of merchandise and commodities are secure: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan have given guarantees to Israel that their merchandise and shipping lanes will not be affected by the conflict with the Houthis in Yemen; supplies will move over Saudi and Emirati territory into Jordan and then onto Israel. The reality is that the “Custodian of the Two Holy Shrines,” the country that has occupied the Hijaz ever since colonial powers decided that Al Saud should be the inheritors of the Hijaz, had last week a major entertainment and fashion carnival, as if nothing is going on a few miles from the heart of the Muslim world. The Saudis had this carnival at a moment in which this genocide is in full force.


Saudi Arabia, with all its money, is not only oblivious to the suffering of Palestinians and the genocide, but there is a stunning reality. Saudi Arabia itself is under no obligation, and no one can hold the Saudi government accountable in any way. No one can hold them to a simple duty of disclosure. The reality that we must confront is that it is not the Saudis who told us about the merchandise reaching Israel through Saudi lands. It is not the Emiratis, and it is not the Jordanians either. It is the Israelis who told us. The reality is that there is no power on the face of this earth that can force the Saudi government to provide accurate and honest disclosures about what they allow over their territory, land or airspace, and what they do not allow. For it is within the exclusive province of the Saudi authorities. More specifically, the Saudi ruler, MBS, decides, and no one can second-guess MBS. No one can force MBS to disclose.


Pause for a second and reflect upon that. We are all pained by a genocide, Ramadan is coming, and 2 million people in Gaza are starving to death. You may have seen the Palestinian children standing in long lines with empty pots, waiting for a little bit of rice and a little bit of soup. This Ramadan is coming to a starving people, to 2 million Palestinians whom Israel is intentionally starving to death, and the funny thing is that the U.S. announced that it will start doing food air drops. So, the U.S. is going to drop food by air, which does not even amount to 1% of what the Palestinian people need. It is entirely cosmetic. It is something that makes us feel good, but it addresses nothing. Even if they drop food, it is with the assumption that Palestinians can safely retrieve the food packages, because Israelis shoot to kill without discretion. 


This very morning, three Palestinians in the West Bank, not Gaza, were picking berries in a field. They were shot. Two of them died, and the third was injured. They were unarmed and yet they were shot as they raised their hands in a sign of surrender. The Israelis shot them regardless. So, the idea that we are dropping food packages all over Gaza is ridiculous.


The inheritors and the custodians of the Hijaz, the heartland of the Muslim world, can do with Mecca and Medina whatever they want, and have been doing so since the '30s. They can destroy whatever they want, they can build whatever they want, and no Muslim has the power to even ask why or how. But even amid a full-blown genocide, the citizens of Saudi Arabia cannot even find out whether their government is allowing commodities and merchandise to pass through Saudi lands to reach Jordan to then reach Israel so that Israel, as it starves the Palestinian people, will remain unaffected by its genocide. No one has that power in the UAE either. Jordan is slightly better, but if you push the issue too far, if you are too vocal, then you will eventually be arrested and visit the political police, where you will be tortured and punished for your activism. Two billion Muslims are witnessing a starving people trying to get food being massacred. Not just massacred, in fact, but Israeli soldiers even bulldozed the bodies of dead Palestinians after the massacre. The pictures are harrowing. Even after the latest food massacre, Israel still committed 16 massacres, killing 200 civilians. 


The Prophet was once asked about ethical character, and one of the things he said should stay with you, if you are a reflective person. He first says, "Be a forgiving human being.” But being forgiving is then immediately balanced with “Pursue goodness” and then “Stay away from the ignorant.”


This only begs a question. In every day and age, what is the substance of this “goodness”? Who are the “ignorant”? What constitutes the defining elements of ignorance in any particular age? To make the image more concrete and more specific, let us consider the American airman, Aaron Bushnell, a hero by all measures, a serviceman who set himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in D.C. He is not the first. Before him, someone in Atlanta in December set themselves on fire in front of the Israeli Consulate. Ethical perception and ethical understanding is, indeed, powerful for those who have a conscience.


Let me get to the heart of the matter. Not only does the Egyptian army not pressure Israel for supplies to enter Gaza, but the Egyptian army has stolen much of the aid that is waiting to reach Gaza, selling it on the black market. I know someone whose brother was leaving a mosque in Gaza last week. His brother prayed ‘isha in a mosque in Gaza and, as he was leaving the mosque, he was bombed and killed. The brother in the U.S., upon finding that his nieces have become fatherless, wanted to get his brother’s children and wife out of Gaza. He learned that it is possible, but the Egyptian army charges $10,000 per head. He was able to get the children and the wife out of Gaza but only because he paid $10,000 each. A thoroughly corrupt army, with a thoroughly corrupt ruler. Not only is Egypt complicit in genocide, but the military in Egypt is affirmatively profiting from the genocide.


Keep in mind that there are over a hundred million Egyptians. Just like their Saudi, Emirati, and Jordanian brethren, they are entirely marginal and ineffective. You will not hear as much as a peep in Egypt. No demonstrations. No protests. No one setting themselves on fire in protest. No one saying anything. Muslims have truly become a self-disempowered people. 


Any thinking human being would pause and say, "What has gotten us to this point? What would be required for there to be a disclosure of material facts that concern the Saudi people and, in fact, concern the entire Muslim world? What would be needed to get a type of government in a place like Saudi Arabia that would be compelled to disclose material facts? And, once material facts are disclosed, to actually abide by the will of the populace? What would be required in a country like Egypt for us to actually hear the Egyptian people? For us to experience the will of the Egyptian people? Not a military junta that profits and hoards money in Swiss bank accounts and enjoys all the privileges while everyone else is in dire poverty. What is the ailment in the Muslim psyche that has made us such thoroughly disempowered people?” 


I would submit to you that it is our very relation to power.


Any Muslim today that does not understand that democratic governance, popular accountability, the obligation to participate in governance, and the importance of these for the future of Muslims in the world is among the jahilin (ignorant) that the Prophet was talking about. If you do not understand that what we call shura (democratic governance) is an obligation, even in the way you raise your children; in the way you discipline your own psych;  in the way you think about power, space, land, and holy territories; if you do not understand that it is immoral and un-Islamic for the likes of Al Saud to be in control of Mecca and Medina, and that Mecca and Medina must be subject to a democratic Muslim governance; then you are among the ignorant that the Prophet was talking about. Every age has its ignorance. The ignorance at the time of the Prophet in Medina is largely irrelevant today. Today, anyone who does not understand the corruptions of power and how corrupt power has rendered 2 billion Muslims useless is among the jahilin. 


The issue is deep, and it requires a great deal of thought, transparency, and honesty. Think about the fate of Muslims since the Khilafah (Caliphate) was abolished. There has been one factor at play every time Muslims have attempted to assert a political will. There is one factor that played the decisive card when Muslims wanted to force their will. That factor, put simply, is the invention of air power. Whether we are talking about a revolt in Saudi Arabia, a revolt in Iraq, a revolt in Persia, or a revolt in Syria, it was always the superiority of air power that ultimately rendered the will of Muslims irrelevant.


The technology of air power, from the 1930s to today, continues to develop in non-Muslim lands. Israel today bombs Lebanon and Syria at will. The U.S. has just bombed Yemen at will. Muslims are always on the receiving end of bombardments. Imagine the technological advancements needed if Muslims are to ever be in a position to neutralize that all-powerful card of air power. Why has this technological advancement not taken place in any Muslim land? And why does it look like it will never take place in any Muslim land? Why is it that despite the repeated pattern of colonial powers bombing natives to bend to their will, we have not seen the emergence of any effective counterpower and counterbalance to the favored long-arm reach of colonial powers?


We all know the reality. Whenever brilliant scientific minds emerge in the Muslim world, they cannot get away quick enough. All the brilliant scientific minds that emerge in the Muslim world end up migrating to the colonial world. The reality is that to have scientific advancement, to build upon scientific advancement, and to gain the fruit of scientific advancement, we need systems of administration that are efficient, effective, and that put the best talent forward and do not suppress or corrupt the best talent. We need systems of administration that are transparent and are accountable for their errors. In the 20th and now the 21st century, when we look at systems of administration all around the Muslim world, we see two clear things: despotism and corruption. And I submit to you that corruption goes hand in hand with despotism. 


Tell me, then, in our day and age, who is the ignorant? When the Prophet tells us to turn away from the “ignorant," is this a realistic diagnosis of where we are? China launches a full-scale genocide against Uyghurs, and the Muslim world is inept. Even a country as weak as Myanmar launches a full genocide against the Rohingya, and the Muslim world is inept. Those of you who remember the Bosnian genocide, again, the Muslim world was inept. 


Today, in full view of the genocide in Gaza, as children starve to death, as every day a new massacre unfolds, we cannot even hold the governments of countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Jordan accountable. We cannot even force them to disclose material facts. Today, in our day and age, the “ignorant” is not the person who says that woman can give the adhan (call to prayer), nor is it the person who does not care whether women cover their hair or not. In our day and age, the “ignorant” is the person whose thinking is not conducive to the removal of the powerlessness and subjugation among Muslims. If you are not fully conscious of the evil of despotism upon the Muslim world, then you are among the ignorant that the Prophet told us, centuries ago, to turn away from. The “ignorant” are those who can witness a genocide like this and are not troubled by the fact that fellow Muslims, whether in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, or the UAE are complicit. If this was a criminal case, in fact, they would be co-conspirators in a criminal conspiracy, and they would be deserving of a conviction and prison sentences. The “ignorant” are those who look at a hundred million people in Egypt, see that they are entirely ineffective and useless, and yet still think that this is somehow okay, that this is somehow tolerable. 


There is no circumstance in which we can put our intellect and ethical consciousness to the side and pretend to be good Muslims. It is an impossibility. To truly follow the Qur'an and Sunna is to be anchored on full moral conscientiousness. It is, in fact, to be anchored on a moral and intellectual vigilance that can give effect to the prescriptions of the Qur'an and Sunna. The Prophet told us to “Pursue what is good.” Is ending a genocide good? How, then, do we put ourselves in a position to be effective enough to stop this genocide in its tracks? What if we fail, as we are today? How can we even talk about “goodness” when we can witness our sisters and brothers meet this Ramadan starving to death? 


This Ummah needs a rebirth. This Ummah needs a new consciousness. This Ummah needs a paradigm shift in how we think about power and our ethical responsibilities vis-a-vis power.


When I see someone like Aaron Bushnell, who was so ethically troubled by his country being complicit in a genocide that he decided to burn himself to death, it is a wake-up call. It really does put you in a position where you think, "What sacrifices am I prepared to make? What am I prepared to offer?" At a minimum, our entire way of thinking must shift to understanding that we, collectively, as Muslims are nothing if we are not even able to have a say in our own fate.


Keep in mind that in the modern age, Muslims hardly have a say about how their own history is constructed or narrated. In the last khutbah (sermon), I talked about all the manuscripts that can be found on eBay. We are not even aware of the importance of controlling the narrative of our history. We are not aware of the importance of understanding our history. We are not just asleep when it comes to our history, but we are also largely asleep when it comes to our present. How, then, can we be expected to have a future? If you are absent when it comes to your past and largely absent when it comes to your present, how do you expect to have a future? 


With what is happening in Gaza, I do wonder how many Muslims have decided to take a conscientious position about hajj, ‘umrah, or just visiting Saudi Arabia. Again, last week Saudi Arabia was partying and celebrating as if nothing is happening. How many Muslims woke up and said, "These people should not be in control of Mecca and Medina"? Al Saud is an obscenity inflicted upon the Holy Sites. How many people said, "I will not in any way support, aid, or be complicit in an authoritarian and despotic system of government like that in Egypt and the UAE”? How many people woke up and said, "What got us to this situation? Any system that has led to this situation is, by definition, immoral, and I must take a stand against a system that has led to complicity in genocide”?


I think that if an intellectual, moral, and ethical rebirth does in fact occur, then we will not only realize how thoroughly corrupt, despotic, and unethical the systems that colonialism has left governing the Muslim worlds are. We will also start to rebel against the international order itself. We will realize how hopelessly corrupt and colonial it is. We will then start thinking about a new Muslim order, an order united on our shared loyalty and identity as Muslims. In my view, the plight of Muslims in the modern world started when the Khilafah was abolished. In my view, only when we regain consciousness as to the importance of Muslim unity, exactly like the Europeans have done with the European Union, will the fate of Muslims in this world start to change. Maybe then, 2 billion Muslims will be in a position to actually put a stop to a genocide that is unfolding right before our eyes.

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