Over the years, I’m sad to say, I have become inured to news of bloodshed, murder and calamity. A massacre here, a car-bombing there, an attack on worshippers at a Christian church in Pakistan or a terrorist attack on shoppers, like the recent one at Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
UAE officials have consistently condemned the acts of those who inflict terror in pursuit of cynical goals they falsely portray as not only justified but authorised by Islam.
But am I shocked by each event? Rarely. The death toll is too great; the frequency of such attacks is, to a certain degree, no longer news. I usually read the stories briefly, scarcely moved by the death toll.
Yet once in a while, a particular incident grabs my attention and revives my sense of horror. One such incident was the one that took place in Iraq last week. The first sentence of the report in the New York Times noted: “A suicide bomber detonated a truck filled with explosives on the playground of an elementary school in northern Iraq … killing 13 children and the headmaster, the police said.” Eighty others, mostly children, were injured.
The school was in Qabak, a village inhabited by Iraq’s Turkomen minority. In this case, the victims were Shia by faith, suggesting that the culprits were affiliated to a terrorist group such as Al Qaeda’s local franchise, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which is well-known for its slaughter elsewhere in Iraq and now also in Syria.
What kind of human being believes that the murder of innocent children can in any way be justified? What kind of monster can organise such a crime, carefully cultivating someone with a weak mind to commit suicide by carrying out such an act? It is beyond my understanding.
The culprits – the truck-driver and those who sent him – presumably had the dual objectives of trying to put Iraq’s Turkomens to flight and of killing Shia, merely because of their beliefs. The response of Qabak’s mayor was: “The terrorists are trying to stop us from living and sending our children to school, but they will not, as we have our unity.”
These children were born into a faith and an ethnic community, and in neither case is there any crime.
Such acts do not just take place in schools. They occur wherever an opportunity of a target presents itself: crowded malls, shopping streets, even houses of worship. What is it that lets these murderers think they have the “right” to judge others in this way? To kill the innocent, even in the house of God? That is a perversion of all of the precepts of any faith.
We hear much about human rights – the right to equality, to education, to a decent standard of living and to freedom of expression. A whole industry has grown up to advocate them since the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights came to life in 1948. Some are achievable; some are merely dreams. The extent to which they are available depends on the country in which people live and no country can claim that it fully implements each of the 30 articles of the declaration.
Perhaps the most important of all is the right of individuals to follow their own religious beliefs, to worship God – or not to do so – as they choose. We may believe that they are right, or wrong, but that is their choice.
During the Middle Ages, the Inquisition in Spain unleashed enormous brutality against those suspected of straying from what inquisitors believed to be the true path of the Catholic Church. Horrendous tortures, mutilations and burnings were inflicted on the innocent by inquisitors who had convinced themselves that they were doing God’s work.
Looking back, it is a source of shame for those who follow that faith today.
Those crimes are paralleled today by the murderous exploits of terrorists who pervert Islam to kill those with whom they disagree, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. They know nothing of the word of God or of humanity.
What, I wonder, does one say of those who fail to condemn them or who give them succour?
The UAE has been firm in its condemnation of terrorism for years and is actively engaged in the international campaign to eliminate it, in all of its manifestations.
As I look again at a picture of an injured child from Qabak, I am proud of this country’s determination to ensure that the phenomenon will not be permitted to take root here.
Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE’s history and culture