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SCOTT RITTER, former UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq, spoke at the Palestine Center in Washington DC on April 25, 2003. He was honest, fearless and powerful, better than most American Muslims. He charged President Bush with lying to the American people about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and other matters. He said, in the long run America will not win in Iraq. Militarily, he said, there was no comparison between Iraq and the U.S., but as far as winning the hearts and souls, the U.S. is losing all over the world.
THERE ARE REPORTS OF NEW FIGHTING IN IRAQ. The U.S. says "pockets of resistance" continue. Some fighting occurred in Tikrit (April 24). In Al-Kut, 4 U.S. troops were killed and 7 injured in what was said to be an "accident." Some reports of fighting are coming from Baghdad itself. Is it possible, people ask, that Saddam might be alive and leading the resistance, or is it autonomous fighting by mujahideen groups?
[by Special Permission granted to New Trend by the author.]

Uncle Osama
By Sarah Louise Baker

It wonít get you much mileage in the playground if you get into a fight and you say: "My uncleís George Bush." But mention Osama and the enemy backs off. To be the hardest kid on the block you would get no credibility saying your grandfather was Tony Blair, but kids who claim their grandfather is Osama bin Laden get instant respect, especially if they have some Middle Eastern credentials. Iíve heard stories of schoolchildren saying they were Taliban and watched the admiration from other kids. It isnít only Muslim schoolchildren, although they feel they have a prior claim. Even British kids with no claim to have Middle Eastern or Afghan connections would roam the playground chanting "We are the Taliban ban ban. Give us your bananas!"

Playground politics is black and white and it cuts through to the point. To a little kid in the playground, Osama bin Laden is the defender. Mention his name and bullies back off. Kids like people who stand up to bullies. Kids donít watch interviews with Osama bin Laden or read the analyses of his psyche in the broadsheets. A Robin Hood figure is a Robin Hood figure and thatís plain to see.

They are not unlike the oppressed working people of the Muslim world who carry portraits of bin Laden. We have heard from reporters about the shops stocked with Osama related goods, like T shirts and such like. Ironically, Osama bin Laden would probably heartily disapprove of this practice of making images of people and idolizing them.

Who would blame a person living in what now by the troops of Sharon has become the rubble of Jenin, if he were to look to Osama bin Laden as a hero? His situation hasnít changed for the better despite the concern of people in the West. There are concerned people everywhere in the West who march in the street, write to their Members of Parliament, fax their Congressmen or write nice articles in newspapers, but it never seems to reach the man in the street.

There are battalions of journalists, students, and PR people with loud voices and wide reach who are speaking up for the Palestinian people but who is going to help Umm Ali at the crossroads today? She is on the way to the hospital for the umpteenth time trying to get a kidney complaint sorted and some young kid, the same age as her grandson is pushing a gun in her face and saying "No! Get back old woman. No hospital for you today."

Meanwhile, the MP is reading your letter and answering it with a well-known formula: "I share your concern about the plight of the Palestinian people and I am writing to the Foreign Office to get you a reply. That should be with you in fourteen days." Just long enough for Umm Aliís kidneys to fail.

Meanwhile, a Zionist Brit is also lobbying her MP and she reads in her letter. "I share your concern about the plight of the Israeli peopleÖ" If Umm Ali knew that someone was writing to their MP about her fate she might be perplexed: "Someone with power? Can he get me treatment?" I donít think so, Umm Ali.

This is why the words of Osama bin Laden seem so much more relevant to the people of Palestine. At last, someone seems to be speaking for them before the US government and stating the injustices that they have been enduring every day, and for far too long now.

There was another Palestinian lady on TV whose little boy had gone missing. Arrested? Wounded? Killed? She had no way of knowing. She could get no help and no answers. There she was standing in the middle of the street, panic stricken: "My son. Where is my son?" she kept saying, "I canít find my son."

What use are her chair-bound supporters in the West whose only weapon is the send button and the online petition? Three weeks later we find 6000 people in 30 countries cared about this woman and others like her. But did they get her son back for her? Did they get all the other imprisoned people out? Did they foil the trigger-happy Israeli soldiers or send back their tanks which stalk the street like malevolent dinosaurs?

Not yesterday, the day before, or even today did our concern reach them. Concern is cheap, as cheap as Muslim lives have become. The currency of a Muslim life only seems to go up when an avenger speaks and faces the enemy as an equal. When the mission of the Prophet (pbuh) was in its infancy the small group of believers consisted mainly of women, young people, the poor and slaves who were looked down upon. The tune only changed when Hamza, the Prophetís uncle, known for his charisma and popularity, appeared and declared that he too was for his nephewís religion.

But for now we are beholden to the machinations of the foreign office and so it is left to the children of Palestine to take the struggle of the whole Ummah on their tiny shoulders. They know that somewhere, rich powerful men with wealth and resources, men who care about them, are doing their best with a mouse, and are waving flags on their behalf. But for today, still no sign of the cavalry coming. So better take up this stone.

So when someone like Osama bin Laden, who inspires such fear in the most powerful governments in the world, speaks up for those people, no wonder they see him as their hero. No wonder they think their savior has arrived. And no wonder concerned young men from all over the globe flock to lend their support.

This was what most people understood to have been al-Qaeda before September 2001, when they were very little spoken of in the media. What we call the first base al-Qaeda were the militia who were called upon to fight on behalf of the Muslims in Chechnya, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Kashmir, all of whom were suffering horribly. Those were people who needed emergency help and who couldnít wait for MPs or committees to get their act together. I assume these are the mujahideen constantly referred to by Osama bin Laden in his many talks. He seems to know many of them by name, their home countries and situations.

As for what we might call the "off-base al-Qaeda" who, according to the media, seem to have their finger in every pie, are they of the same ilk? There are those who claim to be devoted Muslims but who drink and womanize, or the petty criminals who falsify papers and milk the benefit system and say they are Osamaís boys in the same hushed tones that fantasists claim they are working for M15 to impress girls.

Does Osama bin Laden have any idea how many people claim to be with him? Enough to populate a small country I would think, almost as many as those who are now trying to distance themselves from him for fear of being branded as extremists or terrorists. They only have to look at recent history during the McCarthy era to know that, no matter what they do to avoid that label, it just doesnít work. They take you out row by row.

As for me, there is a verse of the Qurían I love which I know brings solace to all the suffering Muslims who pass before my eyes daily and whom I have failed to help adequately. The translation of the meaning reads:

Or do they think they will enter the garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They encountered suffering and adversity and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: ĎWhen (will come) the help of Allahí. Ah! Verily the help of Allah is (always) nearí. (2/214)

This Allah has promised, and Allah never breaks his promise. When those who have suffered greatly in this life are shown Paradise they will be asked if they ever knew a momentís suffering and they will say no, they never did, whilst those who enjoyed all the pleasures, if shown the fire, would be asked if they ever knew a momentís pleasure and they would say no, they never did.

Whatever Muslims make of Osama bin Laden, they will be of one voice about one thing: his prayer that we may meet Our Lord during an hour when He is pleased with us.

Sarah Louise Baker is a Muslim British novelist who lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. She embraced Islam while working in Japan in 1990. Her novel, From Utah to Eternity, on Islamic conversion, was based partly on personal experience. She just finished a book about everyday experiences of wearing the hijab (the Islamic headscarf). You can reach her at

2003-04-26 Sat 08:38ct