Reflections of an American Muslim

(Shahid Athar , M. D.)

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Today we have gathered to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and see how it relates to the people of Bosnia On April 19, 1943, 50 years ago, the Nazis moved onto the Warsaw ghettos with plans to liquidate the 60,000 Jews remaining there after 400,000 had already died from starvation. With almost no support from the outside world and few arms, 1,300 Jews resisted this Nazi action and held off fully-armed German troops for 27 days. Now history has repeated itself after 50 years again. Not far away in Europe, 60,000 Muslims are packed into the town of Srebrenica refugee camp which, after a long resistance of several months, has now suffendered to the Serbian Army who are also doing "ethnic cleansing." This thing happened again in history because "evil flourishes when good people do nothing to oppose it."

I am glad to be in the company of so many young Americans today. We have great hope in their peace movement. It was the peace movement by young Americans in the sixties which finally helped to stop the bloodshed in Vietnam. I am happy also to be in the company of artists, musicians, and poets. They are very sensitive people. They understand the sufferings of humanity and in their talented way, can express this is their art.

The previous speaker, Jeanette Hablallah, spoke about what is happening in Bosnia in terms of the killings, torture and rape, but at the beginning of her speech, she told how different she looked being a Muslim woman compared with the rest of the crowd. As a physician who has spent two years in anatomy, I must tell the youth that this difference is superficial only. Once you remove the skin, the flesh is the same color, the blood is the same color, and the bones and the nerves are the same color. So the difference between you and me and among yourselves is not how we look, but how we behave. There are some who are peace-lovers and human in their behavior as the people who have gathered today to hear about what is happening in Bosnia. Also, there are some who may look like you, but they are animals in their behavior in killing innocent people, raping women, and torturing many many people of all ages and sex. They are Serbians.

This event is sponsored by the Peace and Justice Center to which I am very thankful. I want to ask a question,"Is there any difference between peace and justice and justice and peace or are they the same?" The first category describes that we must have peace by any means and then justice will prevail. We Muslims do not believe in the peace that reigns over the graveyards of Normandy, Hiroshima, nor of concentration camps, or of holocausts because a lack of peace is due to injustice. In order for peace to be established, justice must prevail first. We have an example of this in the second verdict in Los Angeles. If people had accepted the injustice after the first verdict and there was no opposition to it, there would have been non second trial and, therefore, justice would not have been established to insure peace as it happened after the second trial.

The Serbians say they are a superior race and want to get rid of others including Catholics, Croatians, Muslims and Bosnians and establish themselves as a great Serbia. For this, they are doing what is considered ,,ethnic cleansing." Close to 400,000 people have died. Close to two million have been made refugees in Croatia Close to one million people are disabled, and close to 65,000 women have been raped. Out of that, according to Physicians for Human Rights reports, 35,000 became pregnant. They were not allowed to leave these "rape camps" until the pregnancies reached to the extent that abortions could not be performed. This was the Serbian way of insuring a Serbian child in that land.

The humanitarian and medical needs of those unfortunate people are great. I am a diabetic specialist and I was told by the Diabetes Association that there are 75,000 diabetic patients who are without insulin. Many of them are dead by now, most likely.

Let's discuss what we can do. Fourteen-hundred years ago, a great man said this, "If you see a wrongdoing, try to stop that by your hand; i.e. do everything possible in your power to stop that wrongdoing." Most of us are not in a position to do that He said, "If you are weak and cannot stop the wrongdoing by your hand, then try to stop it with your tongue;" i.e., you should speak against it, you should write against it, and you should educate people and start a movement so that somehow those that have the power of the hand will realize this wrongdoing. He said that, "If you are so weak that you cannot stop it with your tongue, then at least feel bad in your heart and that is the weakest of faiths." That was Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

My dear friends, being neutral to a scene of injustice is equal to contributing to the continuation of injustice. Therefore, we cannot remain passive spectators to what is happening in that part of the world, or, as a matter of fact, anywhere in the world where people are being oppressed. What is happening there can happen here 50 years from now. We must do whatever we can in the weakest position that we may be by donating our money, by donating our time, by calling our congressmen and senators, by calling the President, writing letters to the editor, and organizing a movement; whatever we can do, we should do it. None of you are too weak to do anything. When you go home tonight, after having a good time of music, food and drink, think of all those women who have been raped and having pain, think of all of those women who have lost their brothers and husbands, think of all of those men who have lost their wives and daughters, and think of those old men who have lost their children, their homes and everything. How can we sleep with happiness when there is so much suffering for our fellow human beings?

My dear friends, let me tell you, if there is a God, He is testing us to see how we respond to these human sufferings. If we are not able to do our job, His patience may run out and He may take matters in His own hands. And if He does that, He may not only punish the criminals, the Serbians, but also their silent partners, like us. I hope that does not happen. So as we gather today to commemorate the holocaust and the Warsaw ghetto uprising, we must tell the world, "No more holocaust, no more Bosnia, enough is enough."
Peace by upon you.