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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Martyrs died so UAE’s dreams might live

Commemoration Day is a time to remember the sacrifices that underpin the nation

Wahat Al Karama memorial in Abu Dhabi. Satish Kumar / Reuters
Wahat Al Karama memorial in Abu Dhabi. Satish Kumar / Reuters

The UAE’s first martyr, shot dead in the defence of his land as the leaders of the emirates were preparing to sign an agreement to unite as one country, gave his life for a nation he would never know.

Salem Suhail Al Dahmani, a 20-year-old police officer, died 47 years ago while resisting the Iranian invasion of the island of Greater Tunb.

It was an opportunistic attack on the last day of a 118-year-old treaty that guaranteed the protection of the Trucial States by Britain’s armed forces.

Hopelessly outnumbered, the young officer from Ras Al Khaimah refused to lower the flag and paid with his life.

His death on November 30, 1971, gave the fledgling nation a date never to be forgotten.

Commemoration Day, although marked this year a day earlier, traditionally falls two days before National Day because Al Dahmani’s ultimate sacrifice was made just 48 hours before the flag of the UAE flew for the first time.

Ever since, the UAE has relied upon the willingness of its young people to make the ultimate sacrifice in defence of their country and its values.

Sadly, the names of many more have joined that of Al Dahmani on Abu Dhabi’s Wahat Al Karama memorial.

Since 1976, when the still young nation stepped forward to play its part in the Arab peacekeeping force dispatched to intervene in the Lebanese civil war, Emirati lives have been laid on the line in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen.

The ongoing Yemeni conflict has claimed the greatest loss of life but still the UAE’s youth have responded unflinchingly. The military’s blackest day to date was in September 2015, when 52 Emiratis were killed in a missile attack.

No modern, progressive country seeks war. Left to its own devices, the UAE’s focus would be solely on its ambition to improve the lives of its people and elevate their homeland to the ranks of the best nations on earth.

But as it was born in the face of naked aggression, so the UAE has matured in a world in which threats are ever-present and demand the need for vigilance.

As we honour the dead with a minute’s silence at 11.30am today, so we should also remember the living, the men and women putting their own lives on hold in the name of national service, so that we might all rest more easily in our beds.

Had he lived, Al Dahmani would have been 67 this year, perhaps a doting grandfather. The country may be barely recognisable from the one he knew. But he would surely feel a sense of pride in how the names of fellow soldiers continue to be honoured.