At the source of Polish Islamophobia.

  

Whenever I go back to Poland I ought to be careful what kind of subject I discuss with my friends and family so I can see them off at the airport and be keen to plan next visit. Like many of my nationals, also my relatives are not really welcoming towards people of different origins and believes, in particular Muslims.
 

 To understand this antagonism we should go back to 17th century, when both sides met for the first time in so to speak rather unfriendly circumstances. In September 1683 Polish king and commander in chief Jan III Sobieski led two (Polish and Austrian) armies against Ottoman enemy in the Battle of Vienna and defeated Sultan’s Kara Mustafa forces. The victory went down in history not only as a great military success but also as a triumph of Christianity over Islam, and was breaking point in the Ottoman conquest of Europe. The battle became very significant for many Poles, who started to think about their own country as bulwark of Christianity and defender of the religion in whole Europe. Nowadays, 334 years after the battle some people still think alike and can see only threat in Islam.

 Nevertheless, the time has changed, but people’s way of thinking unfortunately hasn’t. Even those whose role is to explain to society the core of the problem and show bigger and fair picture fail to do so. Some, government controlled and most popular media channels or journalists not even mentioning politicians did not make even slightest effort to bring to the conversation table serious and badly needed point of view alongside well researched contra arguments against general and biased viewpoint about Islam and its worshippers. Not only they gave up on delivering what their profession requires them to deliver but also they fuel existing dangerous hostility. To give an example, during 2015 refugee crisis Poland totally turn its back at the European Union and refused to accept and host those in need. And instead of showing refugees as who they were – civilians escaping war and terror, some Polish media pictured them as mob of young men hoping for benefits and free accommodation in Europe, with presumed terrorists between their ranks. Already conservative society completely ignored those who tried to explain the real situation of the refugees and where the came from and selectively chose to believe “informations” which would confirm their views as a right ones. Moreover plenty of self called journalists posted home made videos of the new invasion of Islam and supposed terrorists brainwashing the society even more. Shamefully I also need to admit that many of us, Polish emigrants to Great Britain and elsewhere in the Old Continent do not help the case, but opposite. Exposed to different culture, but without getting to know it we tend to make unfair judgements based on very often totally ludicrous things like the way people dress or look. What comes next is obvious. We share our views and “experiences” with the nationals in the country. 

 

Yet other ingredient of Polish closed-mindedness and intolerance in general, not only towards Muslims lay this time in the latest history. After losing independence in 1795 we fully got it back together with the collapse of communism in 1989. Still many people remember tough times and hardship of the regime. Moreover many of liberal governments elected since then proved to be deeply corrupted and left people with feeling of betrayal. There was not enough time to even fully rebuild cities from damage done by Second World War. No wonder all that created fertile ground for right wing party to take over. 
 

Although there is one argument used by the antagonists of immigration, which I cannot so easily cast aside. Why so many wealthy Arab nations are so reluctant of helping refugees? Well, the answer for this question would probably make another blog post. But should inaction of some countries justify ours? As Europeans whose ancestors created Human Rights and preached openness and understanding towards those escaping wars and injustice, values we are so proud of, we are somehow obligated to give them asylum they need so much. Also worrying and unfortunately hardly ever mentioned in any discussion about immigration is leaning big groups of people of the same nationality or background towards one another. Vast majority of them just do not become true citizens of the country they camd to live in. Instead they tend to create and live in some sort of equivalent of their homeland, with some not even making an effort to study a language of their new country. And while vast majority of immigrants from vast majority of countries do not cause big troubles, some are keen to use sick ideology and twisted interpretation of Koran to preach intolerance and hatred in order to confuse and push vulnerable fellow worshipers to commit as hideous acts of crime as driving a car into a crowd of innocent people. And this as a consequence plays only into the hands of anti immigration populists, who are more than happy to say that if we let Muslims in, sooner or later we will have to face the problem of religiously driven acts of terrorism. 
 

With all those issues new questions arise. Are we good citizens ourselves to require from newcomers to become ones? And actually what does it mean? Should they forget their homelands and start to live as Europeans? Where should we draw the line and give a name to the hostile and foreign behaviour? Is it terrorism? But Europe had to face this problem long before Muslims came to live in our continent. And finally, coming back to Islam and so called its invasion of Europe. Maybe the problem is not solely in radical version of it but in Christianity, which used to be the religion of many countries and is now replaced by more and more secular lifestyle? Will it ever fulfil common for people of any race or background simply human need of God, however we call him. And what comes with religion, guidance of how to live. 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 

 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 

 

 
 

 
 

Land of Canaan. Part III, 50 years of turmoil.

After 1967 Six Day War further history of Israel resembles the first 20 years of its existence, with more military conflicts with Arabs and Palestinian insurgency. Great Jewish victory didn’t deter their foes from trying to retake the land. In some cases it actually proved to cause exactly opposite effect. Humiliated Arab leaders decided to recuperate their armies and punish Israel. As a consequence many calamitous sequence of events followed.
“Black September”. In 1972 during Olympic Games in German City of Munich Palestinian gunmen took Israeli team hostage and eventually killed its members. 
  Only one year later, on 6th of October 1973 coordinated attacks of Syria and Egypt hit targets in occupied territories in Sinai and Golan Heights. The surprise intervention was launched on Yom Kippur – the holiest day in Judaism. Fights lasted until 25th of the month and after suffering severe looses, with support from the USA Israel managed to push back the hostile armies and ultimately won the war. 
  Camp David Accord. In 1977 Sadat visit to Jerusalem brought long-awaited U-turn in the countries’ bilateral relations. Thanks to efforts of Jimmy Carter, the then US president, Israel and Egypt signed peace treaty, ending 30 years of war. The process which had stared in November 1977 resulted in Camp David Accord of 1978 and led Israel to expand Palestinian self-government in West Bank and Gaza, withdrawal from Sinai, as well as to Egypt’s recognition of Israel. 
 The next chapter of the Middle East history – invasion of Lebanon was one of the most tragic events in the region and a big disgrace for Israel and humankind. In June 1982 Jewish forces invaded its neighbour due to expel PLO leadership. In September the same year residents of two Palestinians refugee camps in Beirut Sabra and Shatila were slaughtered by allied to Israel Christians Phalangist movement. Hobeika’s (leader of Christians Phalagist) people did not spare anybody, raping women, killing hundreds of children, women and elderly. All coordinated and watched by Israeli commanders. In an action to get rid of ‘terrorists’ and to take reprisal for assassination attempt of Israeli ambassador to London by small Palestinian militant group. Three years later Israeli forces left Lebanon. 
Late 80’s and early 90’s was the time of first Palestinian Intifada – popular uprising against occupation, birth of Hamas and first talks between Palestinians, Syrians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Israeli representatives during Madrid conference. The efforts resulted in signing peace treaty by Israel and Jordan. Until the mid 90’s progress made in peace process gave short lasting hope for the end of the war and beginning of two state solution. Palestinian National Authority was formed from PLO administration members, who were finally allowed to came back from exile in Tunis with Yasser Arafat as its leader. Furthermore both sides agreed to transfer more power and territory to the newly created Palestinian Authorities. The course of better mutual understanding and good will finished in 1996 when conservative Likud Party under Benjamin Natanyahu returned to power. 
Beginning of the new millennium brought only more uncertainty and turbulence regarding reaching deal with Palestinians. Frequently changing Israeli government back and forth from conservative to liberal did not help the case. Moreover Palestinian street which seemed never to be happy with any compromise with Israel and the outcome of the talks in general, yet again started to attack Jewish nationals and the state. Second intifada and suicide attacks from one side and military actions (Defensive Shield) and building concrete wall separating two nations from one another became new-old reality of everyday life of Palestinians and Jewish alike. Alongside growing tension and hostility mutual efforts to find solution went ahead and in June 2003 both sides agreed for a plan brokered by the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations, a plan requiring halt of West Bank illegal Jewish settlements and an end to Palestinian aggression towards Israelis. Nevertheless in 2006 Hamas Islamist group won the elections in Gaza Strip. Attacks on Israel became more frequent, pulling into fights big numbers of desperate young man over the years. As a response Jewish forces launched three massive military actions against their enemies. First one, month lasting Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, the second Pillar of Defence in November 2012 and the latest one – Operation Protective Edge from July to August 2014, leaving this small piece of land reduced to rubble, with 3660 Palestinians casualties, most civilians and 85 dead on the Jewish side. And even though in 2005 Israel ended its military presence withdrawing also all its settlers, the state kept control over airspace, coastal waters and borders, not letting trucks of concrete and building materials to reach their destination and therefore stopping Palestinians from rebuilding their homes. Instead in June 2017 trucks full of concrete and building materials went elsewhere, to occupied West Bank, where for the first time in 25 years Jewish settlements works have begun.
It seems that none of the both respected 2003 plan, the plan Israelis and Palestinians agreed for. The peace process is in impasse for the years to come. Almost dead. 
 Knowing all that – the history from the moment of creation we are still left with more questions than answers. Why do Israelis overreacts so much? Responding with armed fire against teenagers throwing stones? Or maybe state of war is in favour of some influential people and help them to stay in power? Also there is hardly anything else which fuels economy better than well maintained war. So is it money what stops the peace process? And the most important one which comes to my mind is how is it possible that after so many of innocent lives taken both sides don’t do everything what they can to stop the war? I guess that the history can give only a few answers. There are so many different factors to this issue: honour, vendetta, independence, trauma, growing demographics, influential minorities inside respective societies and above all the land – for many much more precious than any human life. 

Why not ‘why’ and why ‘when’? Qatar crisis.

  

On Monday 5th of June several Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain) followed by Egypt and the Yemen cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, gave its’ citizens two weeks to leave and only 48 hours its’ diplomats to quit. Additionally Gulf countries closed land, sea and air borders isolating tiny peninsula. 
  The reasons for those actions were quite loudly vocalised with Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism, close ties with Iran among many others. But the truth is that Qatar had to face those allegations and was on the edge of severe conflict with Gulf countries for years. Therefore the question is why now and not any earlier or any later the temperature between Doha and other Arab capitals reached boiling temperature. 
  Hardly anything in politics happens by accident, everything is thoroughly thought through by one or the other. Few important things had happened before the crisis erupted. One of which was the USA new administration state visit to Saudi Arabia. Like many journalists and publications pointed out before good relations with the US are essential for every Gulf government. Oddly enough and fortunately for the Saudi King, president Trupm for his first state visit decided to choose not Mexico or Canada, one of the country’s neighbour and big trade partner but Arabian Kingdom. No wonder the presidents’ choice flattered Saudi Monarch, who decided to take his chance and win the battle for Mr Trumps’ heart. And so it happened, the visit went magnificent, with the president touching ‘glowing orb’, taking part in traditional sword dance and talking to Arabs. Whatever they talked about, after the crisis had happened US president expressed his full support for the Saudis.
Only three days after the visit, on 24th of May Qatar claimed as if hackers attacked its’ state run news agency and published fake story quoting ruling emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani making controversial statements about Iran, Israel, Hamas. Alleged comments were shown on a scrolling ticker at the bottom of the screen. Shortly after Saudi Arabia and UAE had blocked Qatari media. 
Money. Since 2014 when due to oversupply of oil, prices of the crude dropped dramatically and never came back to the previous level, Saudis must think how to maintain their expensive budget without sacrificing royal luxurious life. Also in the meantime Saudi led coalition against Houthis in the Yemen is not showing signs to end any time soon. Given all that, long lasting crisis with one of the Gulf countries and member of GCC will definitely upset very sensitive market and the oil prices are highly probable to go up again. If only house of Saud control it wisely, without letting the situation to escalate into confrontation or military conflict the country and royal treasury could actually benefit. But if they won’t be able to do so, Qatar left with no better option will do exactly what King Salman is the most afraid of and get even closer to Iran. 

My face is my identity

 Burka. With or against
 People recognise one another not by looking at each other hands or backs but by looking at each other faces. There is something deeply disturbing and inhuman in forcing somebody to cover it and live behind the veil.
 Nevertheless, given the opportunity I would not vote to ban burka. Mainly because the consequences of doing so could be quite opposite to desired ones. If somebody is able to force their wife, sisters or daughters to completely cover their bodies, is probably also capable of not letting them leave their houses at all if not behind the veil or with their company, and already isolated women would be even more secluded from society. Moreover all the opponents of burka tend to point their finger at Muslim men accusing them for all the evil which happens to their women, at the same time forgetting that also many Muslim women are conservative themselves and share the same views about women’s modesty and their role in society. Therefore are they really forced to wear veils? Definitely not, by any law in the world. Even Iran and Saudi Arabia, the only two countries following sharia law do not require women to do so. Both oblige them to wear head scarfs, not the veils. Although in Saudi Arabia, where vast majority of women wear burkas some cases of women being arrested after they uncovered their faces were reported. And as long as it is accepted and preferred by the respective societies there is nothing we can or even should try to do about. It seems that they are not quite ready yet for such an enormous change. Also even if we ban it the question is how the new law would be implemented? Would police officers be instructed to rip the veils off women’s faces? Or maybe those disobedient would not be allowed in public places? It’s really easy to change the law, but not so much to change customs and social norms of people from different cultural background. It requires education and takes generations.
 

 Women’s rights activists think that they know better than the women themselves what is good for poor and oppressed Muslim girls. Myself, I would rather advice us all to stop telling people what should they wear and how should they live. It’s time to listen instead.
 

Land of Canaan. Part II Six Day War

Not even one week. This is how long it took Israel to almost paralyse three armies and tripled its size. Up to now the country has been involved in four wars, thirteen military conflicts or violent events with its neighbours and is in the constant state of emergency due to Palestinian insurgency in the occupied territories. But one of those four wars played especially significant role in shaping the region the way we can see it today. It has changed the borders, forced thousands of people to seek refuge in the neighbouring countries, from one hand strengthened the country inside out but from the other made it more ignitable place to live in. As well as partly caused civil war in Lebanon. All of it started 50 years ago on 5th of June 1967. 

 

After the war of independence had finished and all the fights had finally ceased by July 1949 some of the Arab countries hostile to the Jewish state became more preoccupied with their own problems and local disputes over the power rather than focusing on erasing Israel from the world’s map. Nevertheless the issue came back in the mid 60’. In 1964 on the initiative of the Arab League Palestinian Liberation Organization was created to support their effort in fighting the occupant. Moreover in 1967 Egyptians persuaded the UN to withdraw from the Sinai and shortly after began a blockade of Sharm al-Sheikh and therefore made impossible Israeli export from Gulf of Aqaba to the Red Sea. New war started on 5th of June.

 

On the very first day only Israel almost destroyed Egyptian air force before the planes even took off, did the same to Syria, Jordan and Iraq gaining therefore air supremacy, its ground forces entered Sinai to fight Egyptian army. West Jerusalem alongside the other cities were shelled by Jordanian forces. Heavy fights in the West Bank continued on the second day of the conflict, during which on the 7th of June Israel captured Old City of Jerusalem. Following day Jewish army reached Suez Canal and took over Sinai Peninsula from Egypt on the south front and the West Bank on the east . On the two last days Golan Heights were captured and after ceasefire declaration war was over.

 

 Who has started the conflict is a matter of dispute between two sides, with Jewish accusing Egypt of attacking them so they were forced to fight back and the Egyptians claiming that strong Arab military presence in Sinai made Israel launch massive air strike which completely destroyed Egyptian air force. It seems that whoever says the truth no longer matters, given all the Arab actions and their unabated hostility war was hanging by a thread anyway.

 

 As for the consequences, nations of the Middle East still have to deal with them in everyday life. Israel gained territory and what they wanted the most, control over the city of Jerusalem. Even though international community didn’t accept it and in Resolution 242 UN asked Israel to come back to the pre-1967 borders, it didn’t happen. Spectacular victory helped the Jews to strengthen their position in the region and in the long term even made some of their neighbours to accept their presence. But it also made as much as 300 thousands Palestinians to leave their homeland and live as refugees elsewhere in the Middle East or Europe and 80 thousands Syrians to give up on everything they had and move from Golan Heights. In Lebanon big number of newcomers contributed to sectarian tensions and as a result to civil war. Also Israel had to pay the price for its great victory and getting control over the land they wanted. Palestinians who did not leave occupied territories still fight for independence, organise intifadas and attacks on Jewish people, what cost hundreds of lives on both sides, majority of them on their own. Growing hostility and lack of trust makes it impossible to reach any agreement, so the two nations live in constant fear and uncertainty about their future. 

 

Meir Shalev, one of the Israeli soldiers fighting in Six Day War after capturing West Bank said “We took a bite we will suffocate on”

50 years later his words sound like a prophecy. 

Refugee diary

WH Auden Refugee Blues 

Say this city has ten million souls,

Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:

Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.
Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:

We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.
In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,

Every spring it blossoms anew:

Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.
The consul banged the table and said,

“If you’ve got no passport you’re officially dead”:

But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.
Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;

Asked me politely to return next year:

But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?
Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;

“If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”:

He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.
Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;

It was Hitler over Europe, saying, “They must die”:

O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.
Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,

Saw a door opened and a cat let in:

But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.
Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,

Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:

Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.
Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;

They had no politicians and sang at their ease:

They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.
Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,

A thousand windows and a thousand doors:

Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.
Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;

Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:

Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me. 

 

I watched it one week ago, under the same title, short documentary by Stephan Bookas and Tristan Daws’. As beautiful and sad as the poem. 

 

 

Almost half a year ago, on 24th October 2016 French authorities started to dismantle the Jungle – Calais Migrant Camp. But like report some papers still interested in the tragic fate of its’ inhabitants people started to come back to the neighborhood of the town. After accommodation centers they were transported to started to close many of migrants decided to return to the port town, around 15 a day according to The Telegraph. Moreover the latest report by The Independent estimates that about 400 refugees live on the streets of Calais, many minors. 200 more new migrants are coming every week to French capital from Italy after crossing Mediterranean, many of which will probably attempt to reach UK via Calais. Situations is not any better in nearby city of Dunkirk, where the number of refugees doubled from about 700 since the Jungle was closed. The camps is overcrowded, living conditions very poor, it doesn’t meet international humanitarian standards. No wonder some young migrants clash with police and become violent even towards one another. Authorities response only add fuel to the fire. Many charities and social workers admit that refugees face brutality of police officers, sometimes unexplained one like kicking and beating up sleeping people so the move elsewhere, like being refugee is a crime. 

Land of Canaan

On 14th of May 1948 after 2,000 years of absence David Ben-Gurion officially established State of Israel. Country which from the very first day of its existence is at the state of war or constant conflict with its neighbours.
Nevertheless modern history of Israel goes back few decades earlier – to the end of 19th century and the birth of Zionism – a movement created in the Russian Empire by the persecuted Jews, calling for the return to their homeland in Palestine and establishing sovereign country. Yet real progress towards their goal came together with Theodor Herzl and his devotion for the case. Thanks to his engagement during first Zionist Congress in Switzerland in 1897 World Zionist Organisation was created. With the growing anti – Semitism inside Europe and Russia the movement quickly became popular between the Jewish Diaspora and Herzl was slowly able to persuade wealthy and influential nationals to support the movement.
The second chapter of the way to sovereign country is written by the then superpowers with many more nations and conflicts of interest involved. In 1917 Britain issued the Balfour Declaration, in which announced its support for creating Jewish state in Palestine. Only one year later, in 1918 with the end of World War I and collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Britain got the mandate over Palestine and Jewish people could immigrate to Holy Land. Despite Arab state protests the declaration was included in the British mandate and therefore authorized by the League of Nations in 1922. 1920s and ‘30s were times of uncertainty for both – newcomers to Israel and those still living in Europe. Due to disapproval of Arab population influx of immigrants was restricted while their fate in the Old Continent was about to be decided by Nazi Germany and upcoming war. Even USA and Switzerland were putting obstacles for big numbers of those wishing to escape genocide. Regarding the Jews already living in Palestine, they were not welcomed at all by their neighbours. British rule had to be in place until proclamation of independence.
The very next day on May 15th 1948 forces from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq invaded.
Historians are divided who to blame for the tragedy of the Jewish people and all the aftermaths of the First World War including nowadays terrorism. Pointing finger at Nazi Germany is an easy way to explain the core of the problem. It ignores the rest of the aspects of this complicated issue. Other European nations were also anti-Semitic. After World War I victorious superpowers failed to bring the order to the nations left behind collapsed Ottoman Empire and divided the land the way, which rather contributed to divisions between forming Arab nations than to helping them build their countries. The feeling of betrayal was common between Arabs, who fought alongside British troops, did not want to share their land with the Jews and were not told about European plan regarding Palestine. As a consequence newborn states in the Middle East refused to accept UN two state solution as it was envisaged in 1947. Furthermore none of them wanted another state to get Palestine territory after planned military intervention and supposed retaking it. Long lasting desire of Arab states to recapture Holy Land left Palestinians living with the refugee status quo for generations. From the other hand also the Jews, who from ages used to live all over the Middle East and those from north Africa were forced to leave their homes and emigrate to Israel. And nowadays it seems that Palestinians paid and still pay the price for the new order. Another nation which did not show desire to create their country for 2,000 years started to claim the rights to the land which was home for people of different faith and origin for all this time. The question is also what were supposed to do the Jews after persecutions and genocide they had been through in Europe?
After almost 100 years since the defeat of the Ottoman Empire we still have more questions than answers.