On my way through Heathrow airport to the United States, my mind was preoccupied with what I read about the Palestinian child Huda Ghalia, who has lost her entire family to Israeli fire, and the offers to adopt her. A British Airways advertisement caught my eyes: “One World.” I couldn’t help but wonder if ours was truly one world. My plane took me further away from where Huda comes from, while on board, everyone was busy reading about the World Cup. The world was not one after all; Huda and the other Palestinian children were suffering, while my fellow travelers were cheering for their winning teams. Where Huda comes from, human life did not seem equal to other lives on this earth.
International reactions to human tragedies in our region are quite startling. It was hard to believe what the UN General Secretary said in reaction to the killing of Huda’s family while sitting peacefully at the beach in Gaza: “I have always told governments that they should be careful and accurate.” He didn’t even mention the Israeli government, as if the massacre was committed on some other planet. On June 14th the Guardian published an article entitled: “Israel blames Hamas for death on the beach.” The Israeli culprits were themselves assigned the mission of preparing an investigative report about the “accident.”
David Ignatius said in his article “Shut down Guantanamo because it has turned jailors into prisoners”: “This is what war does when people stop seeing their enemies as human beings.” In fact, this is exactly what is happening in both Iraq and Palestine. The world has stopped seeing the victims in both countries as humans. The Iraqi and Palestinian dead have become mere numbers.
In a larger sense, the war on terrorism has bred the Western conviction that Arabs and Muslims are second class humans. They deserve to be punished because they are responsible for terror in the world. They are the “suspects” that are duly put away in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the other secret prisons around Europe and the US.
Studies in Europe and the United States concur that citizens of Arab and Muslim descent feel discriminated against. Discrimination has started or increased after September 11th. They continuously feel suspected by the police and the media. Hate crimes have increased in the United States from 28 in 2000 to 281 in 2001. In Holland, 475,000 foreigners (half the total number) feel subject to discrimination and hatred, especially relevant to color and religion.
In our “One World,” some are preoccupied with the World Cup, while Arabs are busy grieving massacres in Palestine and murderous chaos in Iraq, with Bush’s words in the background: “if you want to say that success in Iraq means the end of violence, then I don’t think it is the appropriate way to judge success or failure. It’s a criterion impossible to achieve.” At the Shanghai Summit, whistle-blowers tried to get the world’s attention to the dangerous repercussions of discriminating against Arabs and Muslims. The West only saw in the Summit an alliance against the West or the United States at best.
What is happening in our world today on political, cultural and social levels shows, beyond doubt, that we no longer live in one world. Speed in transport, communication, and money transfer is not the criterion. For our world to become one, we need to talk about the same human values everywhere. The world will be one when families in London and New York sympathize with the pain of Huda’s loss of her entire family, just as families in Gaza, Ramalla and Damascus do. Until then, we will still be worlds apart.