On 12th April, Ali Salam Naser, nephew of the London based world renowned artist, Yousif Naser, was shot by a British army sniper. Curious to know about the commotion on the street outside, Ali opened the front door to look. Just as he did this, the sniper shot him above his left eyebrow, instantly killing him. Yousif was talking to his brother on the phone during the incidence “all I could hear was my brother screaming that Ali had been shot and that there was blood everywhere”.
The reportage in the newspapers generally of the events in Basra that day were about the battles between the insurgents and the British forces. There was no mention of civilian casualties. Writing to the Daily Telegraph about the incident, Yousif alerted the paper that there was at least one civilian casualty, the killing of his nephew, Ali Salam Naser. The irony was that his brother’s family, including Ali and Yousif here in London had supported Britain invading Iraq to end the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. They had had enough of the sadistic regime that had lasted for over 30 years.
As we spoke, I could sense the fatigue in Yousif’s voice. We were trying to come up with a description that suited both the British army and the insurgents. I said to Yousif that there is a word in Urdu, Jahil, which describes an individual as uncouth and immoral. Yousif commented that this description suited both the parties aptly and pointed to the prophet Mohammed describing pre-Islamic Arabia as Al-Jahiliya. We quickly came to the conclusion that the insurgents in Iraq, the militias, the British and Americans and their allies along with Al-Qaeda were in fact Al-Jahiliya. Yousif commented that if I understood Arabic I would be horrified to hear what the insurgents say: “If we can’t have Iraq back then nobody will”. I commented that apparently there were more death penalties and subsequent hangings now then during Saddam Hussein regime.Yousif pointed out that Saddam was too busy throwing people down wells, into the sea by helicopters, into tanks of acid and making people run to the border of Iran “to be martyred rather than shot” and onlookers watched as they got blown up by landmines instead – and that was the only reason why there weren’t that many deaths by hanging during his days.
In the Terrorism Monitor for the Jamestown Foundation, Andrew McGregor wrote in 2003 on Al Qaeda and the war on Jahiliya instigated by Al Qaeda stating that: “If the war on terror is to be won, we must first understand the perspective of our opponent. One of the principal inspirations for the type of Islamist ideology pursued by Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian chief lieutenant, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, is the work of Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb (1906-66). Qutb was an important theorist in the Islamist movement and a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun). His opposition to the secular Arab nationalism of Nasser led to his execution in 1966; he was accused of plotting to overthrow the Egyptian government. Qutb’s elegant prose barely conceals the rage against injustice and immorality that drove him, but it was his militant interpretation of jihad (“striving in the cause of God”) that would later inspire Dr. Abdullah Azzam (1941-89), the late founder of the organization that would become al Qaeda. While studying at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University (Sunni Islam’s preeminent theological school), Azzam became close to Qutb’s family and legacy. Working in large part from Qutb’s ideas, Azzam transformed radical Islam from a group of disparate national movements into a potent international force during the Afghan-Soviet war”.
In light of McGregor’s detailed analysis, there is no question that the Islamic right wing factions such as that proscribed by Qutb and Azzam have damaged the region from which it will take decades if not centuries to recover, particularly if Iraq ultimately enters a civil war. In the final analysis one has to question the definition of who constitutes a terrorist – killing innocent civilians and being cold hearted as reported in the Daily Telegraph that “the report stated that no civilians are believed to have been killed in the fight, the military reported, although it could not rule out innocent casualties caught in the crossfire” is an attitude that spells out the cheap regard for the lives of Iraqis.
Yousif’s letter to the Telegraph clearly shows his pain and loss of his nephew, where he said that “the British army is trying to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, but they have killed a young man from a family which believed in their mission. The British army in Basra should investigate this killing thoroughly to find out how one of their soldiers came to murder this innocent young man, who supported them in the fight for the new Iraq”.