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Hunt the Living, Praise the Dead….

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Hunt the Living, Praise the Dead….

The famous nineteenth century poet, Ghalib, once said:

کی مرے قتل کے بعد اس نے جفا سے توبہ –  ہائے اس زود پشیماں کا پشیماں ہونا

‘The beloved has repented from oppression having killed me – Ah the remorsefulness of the remorseful.’

This is the attitude we see the oppressors demonstrate these days. Some of the most prominent freedom fighters or human rights activists were hunted by their respective oppressors and once the heroes had been killed or incarcerated, giant monuments or praising biographies were dedicated to their memories. This is a well calculated tactic employed by some of the most tyrannical powers in our history. This method has been quite effective to do away with the blame of being guilty of oppression. I will now document some historic examples to highlight this point.

We have heard as to how Jesus was hunted by the authorities of his time and was later embraced by the Roman Empire as the saviour of humanity. We also know of many Native American chiefs, such as the Red Cloud (d. 1909), demonised as trouble makers and then praised as honourable defenders of their people by later commentators, albeit with a biased spin. President John F. Kennedy even considered naming one of the ballistic missile submarines after Chief Red Cloud. We learn from history that William Wilberforce (d. 1833) had become a pain in the neck for slave holding British parliamentarians but was later praised as a hero of the Anti-Slavery movement. Even the current British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, quite ironically, hailed Wilberforce as “the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner” in a biography. So this tactic of “hunt first and praise later” is historically established as far as the land plundering settlers, racist apartheid driven establishments and colonial powers are concerned.

Tipu Sultan (d. 1799) is one of the best known figures in Indian history due to his ardent defence of Indian political freedom against the British colonial advances during the eighteenth century. As far as his contemporary British authors were concerned, Tipu Sultan (or Tippoo Sultaun) was a religious bigot, an Islamic fanatic or a merciless tyrant. However, immediately after the Sultan’s martyrdom a grand ceremony was conducted by the British to honour this great freedom fighter and he was buried with proper military protocol. Bahadur Shah Zafar (d. 1862), the last Mughal emperor, however, was not so fortunate. He was deposed by the British following the Indian Mutiny (or the War of Independence, depending on perspectives) of 1857. He was treated very harshly until his exile to Rangoon (Burma) where he died a very sad man. A biography titled “The Last Mughal” was dedicated to his memory recently by a British author named William Dalrymple. Gandhi was another figure in this struggle who was imprisoned, demonised and despised only to be hailed as a hero later in movies and biographies. It appears that the true value of such men is only realised once they are no more or are no longer a political threat.

Malcolm X (d. 1965) received much attention from the authorities due to his civil rights activism. He was called an extremist, radical and hate monger etc, even though his demands to be treated fairly in an institutionally racist country were legitimate. According to his autobiography, he was despised by the security services and was hated by the powerful due to his firm stance to defend the rights of his people. He was shot dead mercilessly by his enemies. He himself predicted his assassination a number of times knowing well what happens to those who stand for justice. A movie was later produced by Spike Lee to commemorate Malcolm’s legacy. It was too late, nevertheless, for Malcolm (aka Malik Shahbaz) to see himself appreciated for his work. Nelson Mandela (d. 2003) was not shot dead, however. He was incarcerated for the best part of his life i.e. 27 years. He was thrown behind bars so that he can either die or come out when he is too old to be a significant political threat. He was even called a terrorist by the Iron Lady, the then Conservative British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Later on, however, another Conservative British Prime Minister attended Mandela’s funeral to hail him as one of the most admired political leaders of our times. This was none other than our own David Cameron, who had allegedly asked for Mandela’s execution as a student. A movie on the life of Mandela is being screened in cinemas as this piece is being penned. This world is full of ironies. Our political establishments condemn human rights activists when they are alive and most deserving of honour but when they are no more (or no more a threat), tributes are paid to their legacies.

Nothing has changed and things are getting worse in our days. Moazzam Begg seems to be another victim of this “hunt first, praise later” tactic. Anyone who knows Moazzam’s history will have nothing but respect and admiration for such a hero alive among us. He has worked tirelessly to defend the victims of injustice. Who could imagine him to see the darkness of another prison cell after what he had been through at Guantanamo Bay prison? His fascinating book “Enemy Combatant” describes his ordeal in Bagram air base and then subsequently in the notoriously infamous Guantanamo Bay prison. We know he suffered innocently as is clear from his testimony and the compensation he received for his ill treatment. He dedicated his life to helping people who are facing similar situations, if not worse. When are we going to realise his true worth? Will the authorities honour such a hero by releasing him or are we going to see a repeat of history in his case? Are we going to write biographies on him when he is no more? Are academics going to publish research journals to condemn his oppressors when it’s too late? Is there a plan in place to incarcerate him until he is too old to be of any use so that a giant monument can be resurrected at Trafalgar Square (London) in his noble memory? Are any Hollywood producers interested to highlight his work while he is alive or are they waiting like vultures for him to die in prison so that they can produce a blockbuster then? Are we going to see a bunch of Prime Ministers and Presidents deliver speeches on his funeral so that they can score political points? What good will all your tributes do if he is not appreciated for his work and sacrifices during his lifetime? This “hunt first and praise later” game is not going to fool those who are awake. We demand that our hero Moazzam Begg is released immediately and is awarded handsomely for his noble work. We are not interested in any TV documentaries, movies, monuments, news reports, academic journals, political speeches, biographies and tributes produced to remember Moazzam’s work after his death or incarceration (God forbid). We are only interested in honouring him for what he is: our hero, our activist and our prince. May God protect him and those who support him, ameen.

Among the believers are men true to what they promised Allah. Among them is he who has fulfilled his vow, and among them is he who waits. And they did not alter [the terms of their commitment] by any alteration. [Quran 33:23]

Adnan Rashid

The Hittin Institute