Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Halabja: Not to Be Forgotten

The world ended for many on March 16, 1988.

By the end of the day, over five thousand civilians lie dead or dying, and over ten thousand more are crippled, blind, or cannot breathe. The worst chemical weapons attack since the First World War has taken its toll on this mountainous border town.

None could imagine that just fifteen years and three days later, paratroopers would be falling from the skies; shaking hands and giving food and water, instead of chemical shells. Over the next three weeks, the people of Halabja, and all of the world watched as one of the worst regimes in human history fell to the might of will. Within months, students from Tehran University demanded to know why their country is not liberated.

Not more than one and a half years earlier, forces of the Northern Alliance, formerly led by Ahmad Shah Massoud, rolled their rusty T-55 tanks down the thoroughfares of Kabul and into the celebrating masses of ordinary folk.

Just four and a half years after the fall of the capital of Afghanistan to the mujahadeen, the people of Beirut staged illegal demonstrations in order to secure free expression; that Lebanon is the property of Lebanon’s people, and of no foreigners. Just last year they had free elections.

What do all of these events have in common? They all share the thread of people’s yearning to be free. With the help of outsiders of thousands of miles away, speaking in foreign tongues and worshipping at different houses, this was accomplished. But how?

For one of the first times in Middle Eastern history, it is becoming accepted to raise one’s voice, and to say what one wants to say, and not what one’s forced to say. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon, democracy has sprung forth with tangible force. In Jordan, Egypt, and Kuwait, people are experiencing their first inkling of a constitutionalist society. Even in Iran, Libya, and Saudi Arabia are people starting to shake off the ashes of fascism and learning that they can be heard.

In 1938, the Third Reich was staring hungrily at the central European democracy of Czechoslovakia, while outside powers debated what to do. All knew that National Socialist Germany had remilitarized the Rhineland, seized the Saar, and had just invaded Austria under “peaceful” guises. The government of Czechoslovakia, under Eduard Benes, saw the lies of the Nazi regime and broadcast them for the Western democracies to hear. This would not just end in the Sudetenland, as Hitler had promised, but also spread to Prague, Memel, Warsaw, Amsterdam, and Paris. No one listened to the wise man, for no true prophet is taken at their word.

The democracies balked and gave into the “reasonable” demands of Germany. Not only this, but they had the supreme lack of foresight to declare “peace in our time.”

But Benes was right. Within six months, all of Czechia was in the hands of the Nazis, and just six months after that, the Wermacht was crossing the border into Poland. Just eight months after that, the Maginot line was nothing more than a heap of concrete and steel.

Today, the cries of appeasement and Chamberlainism can be heard loudly today, echoed from the West; but unfortunately, as in 1938, those that would benefit from such a policy are feeding the fire of evil and hegemony. Today, those nations that were given up to Hitler, then conquered by Stalin have screamed again, this time to let us know what they went through. These nations, like the Czech Republic, Holland, and Poland, had no second thoughts providing their best support to the anti-fascist movement against dictatorship in the Middle East, led by the United States. Now, women can go outside their house in Kandahar without a veil on, and people can speak their mind in Mosul, without their wife and daughter being raped.

This dream is on the precipice, though. It has marginally succeeded in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon, and is spreading like the Holy Word to the rest of the Middle East. If this is pressed by those that have known despotism and wish to see it ended throughout mankind, possibly it could succeed.

There will be obstacles. Ba’athists continue to murder children with the help of their al Qaeda allies. Ba’athism is still in control in Syria, running a despotism that is a hotbed of terror. The Islamic Revolution still reigns in Tehran, where it is seeking man’s worst weapons for man’s worst reasons while denying man’s worst crime. In Saudi Arabia, freedom is appearing too slow and in Azerbaijan; elections do not seem as fair as they should be.

Still, despite all of these hurdles, inaction would be far worse than anything that the partners of freedom could do. Halabja would be seen as a glorious act, September 11th, 2001, will be seen as a relatively low-casualty day, and the people of the world will think Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti a mild man compared to those that replaced him. To turn away now, at the turning point, would be the same as the Munich agreement of 1938. It will fill our hearts with hope and our brains with images of a false peace. This time, when the troops cross the Polish border, they will not be riding on Panzer IIs, they will be strapped with weapons of mass destruction, which will at first be used for its name’s sake, and then will be used as blackmail for mass injustice.

Then the world would end for everyone else.

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