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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Recruiting For Life by Mona Eltahawy


There is no more “us” and “them” It is all “we”.

When London, Beirut and Sharm el-Sheikh are all attacked in less than 48 hours, there is no more Muslim or Christian or Jew. There is no more believer or infidel. There is no more East or West

When the dead in Sharm el-Sheikh included Britons, Dutch, Egyptians, French, Kuwaitis, Spaniards, and Qataris, it is all we and we are all in this together.

For just one example of how small the world has become and how nowhere is immune from terrorism anymore, look no further than London policeman Charlie Ives who survived the bombings in Sharm el-Sheikh. He was on holiday in the Egyptian resort after dealing with the aftermath of the July 7 London bombings.

I am writing this column just a few hours after terror ripped through Sharm el-Sheikh. As the death toll rose amid news of the coordinated suicidal attacks, I remembered something that Syrian human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bounni told me in Damascus recently.

“Our problem is that we have ideology and we use people as fuel for it. Ideology is supposed to be in the service of a person, to make his life better not so that he can die for it. This is a culture of death - that people die for an idea. I want an idea that will die for me,” Anwar told me. “If it doesn’t serve people it should die.”

Stop for a second and reflect on what a beautiful concept that is – that an idea or an ideology should die if it doesn’t serve people or improve their lives. In the face of so much carnage, how do we kill ideas and not people?

How do we stop these “holy cowards” (I refuse to call them warriors as they label themselves) from dying for a twisted nihilism that takes too many of us along with them?

One way to start is give faces to all those whose lives these holy cowards ended. We’ve heard a lot about the video tapes that use images of Muslim suffering around the world to recruit many of these terrorists.

So let’s see those who have suffered from the barbaric violence of these cowards. How many children did a victim have? What was the name of their wife or husband? What was their dream?

One of the most heartbreaking images from the July 7 bombings in London was of Marie Fatayi-Williams who flew to London from Nigeria to look for her son, who had been on the No. 30 bus that exploded in Tavistock Square.

He had taken the bus to work that morning because of Underground train delays.

Holding her son’s photograph in her hand, Marie said it was time to stop "this vicious cycle of killing…How many mothers' hearts shall be maimed?" the BBC reported.

Anthony, 26, was an oil executive who was born and raised in London. He loved rap music and hoped to launch his own record label, the New York Times said. His mother is a Catholic, his father is Muslim. Anthony’s cousin told a British paper that his ambition was to become a politician and fix Nigera’s problems.

It was important to get this sketch of Anthony’s life. As British police released closed-circuit television images of the bombers on their way to wreak mayhem on the London transport system, it was important to see Anthony’s face as clearly as we saw the bombers’.

In Egypt, we must know about those who were murdered as they slept in their hotel rooms or as they drank coffee and smoked shisha at an outdoor café. Arab media needs to start injecting human interest stories that make the victims of the Sharm el-Sheikh attacks as real as the British media made Anthony.

In addition to giving faces and names and life stories to those who were so brutally killed, let’s show the livelihoods that were killed in Sharm el-Sheikh.

The Sharm el-Sheikh attacks were the worst in Egypt since the 1997 Luxor massacre that killed 58 tourists and four Egyptians. That bloody attack at the temple of Hatshepsut was brutal not just in the terrorists’ use of machetes but for the damage it and other attacks on tourists wreaked on Egypt’s tourism industry.

Tourism in Egypt is the country’s highest foreign currency earner. And it is the country’s largest private sector employer.

So let’s show all those Egyptians who have lost their livelihoods. Alongside the profiles of whatever group of cowards claims responsibility for these attacks, we must profile those Egyptians who will no longer be able to support their families because tourists have been scared away.

Is there anything more pressing for the majority of Egyptians than poverty and unemployment? Weekly demonstrations have for months now been saying Kifaya not just to authoritarian rule and lack of democracy but to unemployment.

During my recent visit to Cairo, I spoke to several people who had joined the growing opposition movement. Most of them said unemployment was the reason. In June, some of the opposition groups took their demonstrations to poor and working class Egyptian neighborhoods to show solidarity with Egyptians whose lives every day are a struggle.

How morbidly ironic that while the opposition movement is trying to involve more and more Egyptians in the political process and to concentrate on the issues that most concern them, this latest group of holy cowards effectively blows all that apart by sending hundreds of Egyptians if not thousands into the ranks of the unemployed.

Not only are they deliberately targeting innocent civilians from around the world, but they are deliberately targeting an industry that keeps many Egyptian homes open.

Death came in many forms in Sharm el-Sheikh – the immediate and brutal of those who were ripped apart in the explosions and the economic death of those whose livelihoods have been ruined.

I am sick and tired of hearing that young Muslim men were recruited for death through video tapes. Where are the video tapes that should be recruiting them for life?

When are we going to stop telling them that they should die for ideas? When will we start telling them that ideas should die for them instead?

Mona Eltahawy is a journalist and columnist for the Arabic-language daily Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. Her opinion pieces have also appeared in The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, and The Christian Science Monitor. She can be reached at monaeltahawy@yahoo.com. This editorial appears in Asharq al-Awsat.


Mona Eltahawy

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

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