Friday, February 6, 2009


A Muslim Voice For Peace

I have written more than 5,000 columns but this one from May 5, 2002 in the Toronto Sun continues to be a favourite on the Internet because it came from the other side of the great war between Muslims, Jews and Christians. The names of the leaders have changed, and there would be changes in the figures - although refugee figures are often frozen cruelly - but the anguish and the blindness and the hypocrisy continues.


Downstairs in the wine cellar of a trendy Yorkville restaurant is an unlikely setting for an Islamic scholar as he rips at Saudi Arabia for its destabilizing evil and condemns those who pretend the Koran justifies the slaughter by suicide bombers.

To further confound those Muslims who will never rest until they drive all Israelis into the sea, Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi points to passages from the Koran showing the land of Israel was given to the Jews.
For example, Palazzi, chief imam (cleric) of Italy's Muslim community, quotes the Koran (17:104, The Night Journey): "And thereafter We said to the Children of Israel: 'Dwell securely in the Promised Land. And when the last warning will come to pass, we will gather you together in a mingled crowd.'"

For this controversial cleric, who says his views are more traditional than the present "politicized" consensus of Mideast Islamism, world terrorism and the agonies in Israel can be blamed on the Wahhabis, once just a tribe of Bedouin nomads but now a primitive sect which rules Saudi Arabia through wealth and control of Islam's holiest sites.

He calls Saudi Arabia the "roguiest nation in the world." It isn't a word, but the knot of journalists at the table know what he means, that when you talk about rogue nations, three others of which belong to George W. Bush's "axis of evil," Saudi Arabia must be the leader as it has a foreign policy of using petro-wealth to spread terrorism via fundamentalism.

Those views are the reason Palazzi was busy last week from Montreal to Winnipeg, brought here from his professorial post in Rome by the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research to speak to synagogues, to religious leaders and at the University of Toronto.

When we in the media kept pointing out how different his views were from those coming out of the Arab world, Palazzi reminded us there are Islamic voices speaking out for Israel in the non-Arab Muslim world, from Turkey to the republics of the former Soviet Union. He doesn't brandish his doctorate, by appointment of the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, or his studies at Italian and Egyptian universities, but points out many Koran interpreters are unordained and little educated; that one, for example, a charismatic Hamas leader, admits his title of "sheikh" is honourary.

Palazzi is a roly-poly 40-year-old whose commendable ecumenical beliefs are rooted in family. His father converted to Islam after marrying his Muslim mother, and he's married to a Catholic. There's nothing roly-poly about his rhetoric or logic, though. So much so, a colleague wonders whether he fears death threats from an Islamic world that finds it easy to kill infidels.

He has been "criticized, attacked, insulted, nothing more," he replies. Besides, he imagines the fundamentalist Muslims of Italy - who control more than 90% of the mosques despite their few numbers, thanks to the fact, he says, that they get all the money they need from the Saudis - talk to each other about leaving him alone because, "We can buy space in the media, we can buy politicians, so what do we care if someone is criticizing?"

He demolishes any religious excuse for suicide bombers.

"They (Muslim clerics) play with words to justify it. They are lying in order to please their governments. It is anti-Islamic because suicide is, by itself, anti-Islamic in principle."

Indeed, there are many moral people and faiths who would support his argument, which goes this way: "You are permitted to kill for three reasons in the name of Islam. When you are a soldier, part of an army, you can kill the soldiers of the enemy, not the civilian population. You can kill in self-defence, if all of a sudden someone is trying to kill you, you have a right to defend yourself by killing him. You can execute someone by order of a court for a capital commission. Apart from those three cases, there are no others in which someone is legitimized to kill in the name of Islam, or in which Islam permits killing."

But then a colleague asked about martyrdom, when a Palestinian feels his land is occupied and he has no hope and his children have no food or future. Palazzi said there is no moral difference between this man throwing himself under an armoured vehicle and blowing it up, or running into a pizzeria and blowing up 20 people eating dinner.

It would be wrong, the cleric said, even in the case of oppression where a regime denies religious freedom. Resistance can be organized against the military if religious freedom is denied, but where religion is respected (as in Israel) but there is other oppression, then Islamic law says you "have passions and bear that injustice or you have got to exile and settle in a land that has no oppression."

Palazzi is savagely cynical about the Saudi-American relationships. He says attacking Afghanistan after 9/11 made as much sense for the U.S. as attacking some other country than Japan after Pearl Harbor. The Americans "attacked the soldiers of terror but not the generals of terror," he said. "If they invaded any country, it should have been Saudi Arabia where they must feel invincible."

And going after Iraq is just the U.S. doing what the Saudis desire. Palazzi says Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Liberation Organization don't want a state because PLO leaders make more money now than they would running one. If it happens, he says, the Saudis would just say they had won the first stage of a war and Hamas should keep going.

His arguments spill out in a richer mix than the meal.

Then I climb to the street from the wine cellar and walk by the patio tables under the budding trees, where weather is the only concern, not the fear of those who would kill you because they have been deluded into thinking it is a holy act.


The second part of the column appeared May 12, 2002 under the headline:FINDING A HOME FOR THE PALESTINIANS. It dealt with the sheikh's argument that Israel isn't the only mideast country that should be considered as a home for the Palestinians. Surely we must pay attention to this argument as Gaza continues to be a running sore for the Israeli state.


No wonder so many world leaders ignore the history of the bloodstained rocks of Israel and demand the Palestinians be given their own state. They don't want more coming to their country, as they proved again last week when it became so difficult to find a place to deport the 13 Palestinians from the birthplace of Jesus.

They were said to be militants, proven troublemakers. But there's nothing new about not wanting Palestinians in your backyard. For 50 years, thanks to their leaders, they have proven a troublesome, costly crowd with their home industry of terrorism.

Just ask Israel's neighbours, who are so insistent it give up vital defensive space because they don't want Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority in their cities and towns.

There's Lebanon, with 376,000 Palestinian refugees, Syria, with 383,000 such refugees, and Jordan, with 1.57 million refugees. In fact, in Jordan, the Palestinian state already exists that is the hot wish of the UN and now, George W. Bush. The population of Jordan is over 55% Palestinian, making things unstable for the supposedly purer Bedouin tribes.

The only reason it wasn't called the kingdom of Palestine when it emerged from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, as some suggested, was to make it plain it was exempted from a Jewish home state.

It was the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan then. And Transjordan became just Jordan in 1949 after its Arab Legion seized the Jordan River's West Bank. The UN designated these biblical lands of Judea and Samaria as Arab lands, not giving them to Jordan or Israel (and Israel should have got them, not only because of their history but because Israel got less than 50% of the land it had been promised in the original British declaration). When Jordan formally annexed the West Bank, it was resented by Arab states as well as Israel.

I remind you of this history because when the UN insists Israel withdraw from "illegally occupied Palestinian territory," diplomats are making several mistakes as they kowtow to Arab oil. It is not an occupation and it is not illegal for Israelis to be there. It is disputed territory that Israel conquered in the Six Day War with Jordan, land the world had never recognized as being Jordanian after Jordan seized it against the UN's wishes.

Got that? I don't have enough space for all the language of the Geneva Convention showing that land taken in a defensive war may be kept until a treaty is worked out. Yet I quote the past for another reason, to justify the answer two weeks ago when Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, the Muslim scholar and Italy's grand imam, was being interviewed here.

We asked about this demand for a Palestinian state. The sheikh argued there are already two Palestinian states, Israel and Jordan, and what the world is calling for is a new one on the Jordan's West Bank, one he's not confident the Palestinians really want because their leaders like Yasser Arafat are getting so rich from terrorism.

Palazzi doesn't think the Mideast agony would end with a new state. Surely, only the foolish clutching at straws think it would. Such a state, with or without Arafat, who once again is giving us doubletalk on stopping his suicide bombers, would have terrorism as its largest export, an offensively gross national product. And not just against Israel. What about the old Jordanian targets, especially the royal ones?

I doubt it is ever far from the mind of Jordan's King Abdullah, who met with George W. Bush after another suicide bomber had Ariel Sharon cut short his own talks with the president. After all, his great grandfather, the first King Abdullah, was assassinated by a Palestinian in 1951, a terrorist killed the prime minister in 1960, there was a civil war with the Palestinians in 1970, then in 1971 another PM was assassinated by Black September, a Palestinian guerrilla group, and his father was wounded by a Palestinian assassin in 1971. And there was unrest in between those lowlights.

King Abdullah and his country enjoy good relations with the West since such real peace emerged with Israel in the mid-1990s that Jordanian airliners could fly over the Holy Land and no longer have to go around. I was in Israel the day the king's father was at the controls of the first such flight.

I loved Amman and the great archeological treasures of Petra and Jerash on a visit in 1996, after a world media organization tried to meet in both Jerusalem and Amman but the Jordanian part failed. Old habits die hard, especially where the press isn't free. But I enjoyed the country and its great expanses. Plenty of room here, I thought, if a new Palestinian state was established on both sides of the Jordan River.

After all, Jordan has nearly five times the land Israel has, and its history intertwines with the Palestinians. The only reason the UN isn't hammering it like Israel to donate land to the Palestinians is that they're not the Jews or Christians that evil Saudi billionaires want to exterminate.

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