Ahmed: Call out oppression

When I read about historical wars, mass murders and genocides, I wonder how people contemporary to those events felt about them. I have noticed that while we, human beings, take pride in our humaneness, we rarely act humanely. We are rarely conscious of the pain of others. We rarely feel bad about all the wrong that is going on in the world.

It is easy to feel pain for the oppressed when we ourselves are not party to the conflict. Think about Darfur. But what if we are the oppressors? What if our guns, our money, our political machine are used to kill, slaughter, torture, loot and plunder people, human beings, like you and me?

It is good to be patriotic. It is also OK to be conscious of one’s self-interest. But it is not OK to forget our humanity. It is not OK to kill and torture innocent people, even if we have been wronged in the first place. Supporting an oppressor against an oppressed people is just as bad and can never be justified.

The United States, for example, supports Israel. Israel, we are told, is the only stable democracy in the Middle East, whose existence has been threatened since its birth by the hawkish Arab states surrounding it.

But we forget that Israel is the oppressor. When you take away a people’s land, when you drive them into exile or cage them in a virtual prison, you are an oppressor. When you take away from a people their right to a government, an economy, to health and education, to freedom, to life, you are an oppressor. You become an oppressor the day you become selfish, the day you stop thinking of other people as human beings, the day you bulldoze people’s houses, when you sanction indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians.

Gaza is a prison. It has a nonexistent economy and a frail health and education system, as it has been under siege by Israel since January 2006. No one can enter or leave Gaza. The area has been short of medicine, food and fuel supplies for the past two years. This is the punishment Israel meted out to the Palestinians because they elected — yes, elected — Hamas in a free and fair election.

Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. But in case no one has noticed, neither does Israel recognize Palestine’s right to exist. Palestine is still not a country; it was never given a chance. I guess a country cannot be wiped off the map if it has not been born yet. Here the Israelis have outdone Ahmadinejad.

Israel and Hamas are similar entities. Both kill civilians: Israel kills 100 for every one killed by Hamas. Both do not recognize the other’s right to exist. Both claim to be democracies but in fact are completely dependent on their militaries. But there are key differences.

One is an oppressor and the other is the oppressed. One is good at public relations and propaganda, the other is not. One claims to kill in self-defense, the other threatens to kill but lacks a strong capacity to do so. Both are evil, but one is more evil than the other.

This is a war, and we are the people contemporary to it. How do we feel about it? We do not have to take sides, as it does not take long for the oppressed to become an oppressor. What we can do, and for some this would be the most we could do, is to be conscious, in our hearts, never to support evil, be it by hand or mouth.

We must not think that Israel is right in killing Palestinians. We must not be arrogant and think that the lives and property of Palestinians are expendable. We must remind ourselves not to forget our humanity, to at least feel the pain.

This would be a good first step.

Syed Salah Ahmed is a sophomore in Saybrook College.


  • Y '10

    Excellent article, Ahmed. It's truly painful to see so much suffering, and thank you for saying that.

  • Y'11

    This ought to create an uproar. Excellent article btw salah.

  • Observer

    Ahmed characterizes Israel as the oppressor while conveniently ignoring the fact that all the Arab states in the region refused to admit palestinian refugees, refused to grant them any aid whatsoever, cynically deciding that the palestinians' pain would drive them to do what Egypt, Jordan, and Syria could never do -at least not succesfully: attack Israel.
    So the question arises: Is Achmed merely ignorant, or is he yet another willing terrorist apologist? Since he appears to be bright enough to be a Yale sophmore, I must conclude it's the latter.
    By the way, Achmed: your pals in Hamas don't impress us with their courage when they lob rockets at women and children, and hide themselves in schools and hospitals. Tell them to come out from behind the skirts of their women if they want respect.

  • Hieronymus

    KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — One morning two months ago, Shamsia Husseini and her sister were walking [to school] when a man …pulled Shamsia’s burqa from her head and sprayed her face with burning acid.

    Allahu al-Akbar.

  • Ali

    Check out Geert Wilders' film "Fitna."

    It's available on Youtube.

  • Genocide Witness

    Extremely well written article!

  • Reader

    great article!

    You should Frank Griffel's article on the same topic.

  • Anonymous

    Finally, someone has the courage to speak out.

    By using Jeff Dunham's corruption of the name Ahmed, you disclosed how ignorant and biased you are.

  • BK '12

    Re: Observer

    How do you account for the fact that most Palestinian refugees live in neighboring Arab countries? You don't know any Palestinians.

  • Concerned Yalie

    Ahmed's analysis is spot on! The only way to reconcile and support Israel's actions is by simultaneously denying the humanity of the Palestinian people. When we assume that the Palestinians are base, vengeful, incapable of restraint and reason, that they are of a genus distinct from others, only then can we justify the collective punishment of 1.5 million people. What Ahmed has done is to reassert that like all of us, the Palestinians are people too and should be treated as such.

  • y08

    It is equally cowardly to fire rockets from attack helicopters into crowds.

    israel is an apartheid state reaping what it sewed.

  • Anonymous

    great article Salah! thanks for speaking the truth!

  • Anonymous

    @ observer

    waow, thats funny coz the last time I checked your pals in the Israeli army have killed more women and Children in Palestine than the number of ants killed by Hamas rockets.

    What is more funny is that I don't remember Ahmed sympathizing with Hamas or advocating for their respect.

    anyway, I wont stoop to your level and make personal attacks and silly judgments the way you make on the author.


  • Y'11

    Racist, Islamophobic comments on this article do more to support Salah's point than their rambling attempts at critiques do to address it.

  • Hieronymus

    "Racist, Islamophobic comments on this article do more to support [blah blah]…"

    Examples, please.

    I remain astounded--indeed, frightened--at the enormous vitriol continuously aimed at the tiny Westernized, industrialized, democratic outpost of Israel.

    Racism? Yes--the thinly veiled anti-semitism is scary. Thank you for pointing it out.

  • Crimson

    Nice article, Mr. Ahmed.

  • Y'10

    To Hieronymus:
    How is Israel a democratic state when it banned two Arab Political Parties from running in the current elections?

    Your Israel is anything but a democratic, peaceful state

  • Hieronymus

    to #17

    Yes: a social force that stones homosexuals to death, demands the veil of women (and prohibits the education og girls), publicly and continually demands the annihilation of the Jews (and America), hasn't added to world knowledge since stealing (er, developing) the number zero is CERTAINLY worthy of praise and defense…

    But perhaps I am ignorant: could you please list for me the democratic, progressive Islamic-founded nations?

    So truly bizarre--most especially at Yale--to have gone from the support, nay lionization of Israel to its demonization. It is scary, I tell you--I only hope that we can reverse it before we are all subject to Dar al-Islam.

  • Y'11

    Well said Salah!

    I'm sure it took a lot of courage to write this article (which in itself is a sad thing). You speak what is on the minds of many but the tongues of few - the truth.

    It is impossible to condone Israel's use of indiscriminate force (not to mention white phosphorous) in Gaza, even if the motive is purely self-defense (which is highly debatable). One cannot justify Israel's actions by pointing a finger at Hamas. Terrorism, be it provoked or not, doesn't cease to be what it is.

  • Y11

    All the anti-semitic, pro-Hamas commenters on this board should leave Yale. Now. We don't want you.

  • Anonymous

    A brave effort, Ahmed. Well done.
    And Hieronymus, I am a MMES major and have taken several classes on Islam. You should talk to Prof Gutas, Griffel or Gruendler about your misinformed world view.

  • Y'10

    To Hieronymus,

    I feel quite sad that the only thing you think Muslims contributed to the scientific community is stealing the number zero. This shows how ignorant you are about the many contributions and discoveries made by Muslims while the Europeans were still lurking in their dark and medieval ages.

    I am also ashamed that you can't tell the difference between Arab and Muslim. In my previous post, I mention that Israel has banned two ARAB parties from running along Israeli ones in this upcoming election. Is the line too blurry for you to see the difference? Maybe you are watching Fox news a bit too much?

    The question in hand-contrary to what you think- isn't the number of democratic Muslim states. The issue is a massacre committed by what you believe is a democratic state. Killing hundreds of lives, trapping them in a prison, shelling them with illegal weapons (white phosphorus), stealing their land and deliberately trying to eradicate whatever culture they have left is definitely not characteristics of a democratic state.

    And don't worry, Islam doesn't coerce anyone to convert. You shouldn't be worried about being subjugated by Muslims, unlike the Palestinians who are under the vicious rule of the Israelis every single day.

  • Anonymous

    The comments on this article are confusing. The writer never talks about Judaism or Islam, or any religion whatsoever. The case in point is Israel's oppression of the people of Gaza, and that has got nothing to do with any religion. After all, a fifth of Palestinians are Christians.

  • Ehud Barak

    Great Article! Well written, and points well made. Finally a fresh perspective at Yale!

  • Hieronymus

    to #19

    Courange? COURAGE?! To write such on a left-wing campus in the United States?

    Geert Wilder is up on charges for "offending Islam." The Organization of the Islamic Conference has criminalized "criticism of Islam." Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld is being sued in Britain for a book she wrote and published in the US deemed "offensive to Islam." The Canadian Society of Muslims is suing to uphold their views blasphemy and apostasy in Canada:
    "The entire global Muslim nation determines what is blasphemy and apostasy and what is the correct punishment for each." (FYI: punishment for apostasy in Islam? Death. Blasphemy? Death.)

    So, to #19: COURAGE? "Courage" is not required here in the coddling confines of the US--at least for certain groups and their fellow-travelers hell-bent on self-annihilation.

    Courage my arse.

  • Y oh Y

    Aren't the two parties banned for calling for the destruction of Israel? That sounds more Muslim than Arab. I do not think either party is, for example, an Arab *Christian* party.

    Just sayin'.

  • #19

    to Hieronymus,

    It's funny that you expand in depth on your objections to my first comment, without touching the second (and more relevant) one. Do you support the use of white phosphorous and the killing hundreds of innocent people?

    And please don't say "they attacked first." Israel's ongoing siege has strangled the economy of Gaza to the point of desperation. I am not condoning Hamas, but if their actions are deemed terrorist in nature, then so are Israel's.

    Please note, that I have nothing against the Jewish community (indeed many of my friends here are Jewish). You don't need to have any religious leanings to know that BOTH Israel and Hamas are wrong in the killing of innocent civilians. All you need is a conscience, and as Salah has pointed out, a little humanity.

  • mb

    Hieronymus, normally you contribute a rare modicum of reasoned thought to the discussion that goes on at this site. I rarely agree with you, but I usually appreciate reading what you have to say.

    Here, though, you've said things that are ugly, racist, and woefully ignorant. You glorify the un-nuanced "us versus them" viewpoint that is at the core of this entire problem.

    Can you really not distinguish Palestinian from Egyptian? From Afghani? Can you not even distinguish Arab from Muslim?

    I'm an Israeli. I'm ashamed that you think you're on my side.

  • Observer's Mom

    I am sorry for my son, Observer. He gets too excited sometimes. Really he doesn't know what he is talking about…I tell him to turn that durn Fox news off sometimes but what can you do with kids… he just wont listen.

    Ahhh well. Well written Mr. Ahmed. You have much courage, which is much needed today.

  • Hieronymus

    To #27:

    You frame the question in ridiculous manner; however, I will respond: 1) small action taken to head off larger action is justifiable (e.g., preemptive strikes at Iran's nuclear capabilities). 2) war should be avoided; however, once the decision has been made to make war, that war should be prosecuted at its maximum ferocity. Indeed, it should mimic the lifecycle of prehistoric man, i.e., "nasty, brutish, and short."

    That said: I *do* agree with you that neither Hamas nor Israel is perfectly correct; in a PERFECT world, the civilian residents of Gaza would rise up THEMSELVES and kill Hamas… It is HAMAS that works--and works actively--to bring down fire upon residential areas; it is HAMAS that is destroying any chance of peace in the region.

    To #28: Another charge of RAAAAAAAAAACIST! How droll. If pointing out the factual and documented activities and goals of a religio-socio-political movement is racism, well, gee, ya got me!

    The Muslim world is fighting over one tiny plot out of its vast dominion populated with ppl they don't like (just look at Palestinian "rights" in Jordan); Israel is fighting for its existence. The consequences of Israel being wrong and taking action is condemnation; the consequence of Israel being right and taking no action is annihilation. Tough to make perfect decisions with imperfect information, especially with asymmetric outcomes, no?

    To #22: I said (paraphrase): "no worthwhile contributions SINCE the number zero." Your immediate citation of Middle Age stewardship merely proves the point (and, to be fair, I remain grateful for such stewardship, even though, as you note, Muslim scholars did more to preserve Greek knowledge than toward creating new works.)

    To #21: oh, wow, MMES. Gee, my apologies: surely the several years life experience I have in the region cannot measure up to a few classes taught in the Ivory Tower. Ana mutasif, ya akhi. Insha'allah you will forgive me (Quiz: forgiveness being a primary aspect of what religion…?)

  • Hieronymus

    On another topic: let us return to the title of the article:


    Do you, fellow Yalies, consider, say, Freedom of expression worthy of defense? Would you consider its absence a form of "oppression?"

    If some (non-Muslim) French women in certain Paris suburbs feel compelled to wear the veil in order to avoid sticks and stones, is that a form of oppression?

    If a critic, say, a distant relative of Vincent Van Gogh, is murdered for his ideas--and that murder is celebrated--is that a form of oppression?

    Is the murder of homosexuals a form of oppression?

    In the U.S., if it were determined that, say, a man could marry a girl of 16… or 12… or 9… does that fully protect the minor? Or could it be construed as a form of oppression?

    Exactly which oppressions are we to "call out" and about which must we remain silent?

    And here I quote an infamous and ubiquitous campus maxim:


    Here's a more practical one:


    Europe is on its way out (heck, Russia has already aborted itself into oblivion: it's got 50 years, TOPS). France, Italy, Denmark, even Britain: none has a birthrate sufficient for sustenance. Indeed, Italy, Greece and the aforementioned Russia are beyond critical, are past saving (ceck it for yourselves, you're all Yalies). Japan, too, most likely.

    The media here in the US cannot catch a breath what with their constant, high-stream harping about THE CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALIST RIGHT WING CONSPIRACY! And all this time, they have been targeting the wrong population (and while Christians may not CONDONE homosexuality, for example, they do not, these days, KILL you for it…).

    Luckily for the US, we may lag far enough behind to avoid being (our current leader notwithstanding) Europeanized (euroeuthanized?). That is, when Paris, London, and the Haigue are in flames, we may have time enough to make some tough decisions.

    Those of you--such as #28--who will undoubtedly find these thoughts disturbing (and, of course, RAAAAAAAAACIST!) might also spend some time researching the data, as odious as the outcomes may be. [Oh, and to the poster who trotted out the "some of my best friends are Jews" line: you'll be happy to know: some of my best friends are Palestinians, Lebanese, Egyptian, Pakistani, and Kurdish--for what it's worth.]

    My goal here, mostly, is to spur thought. Despite what you think, do note that I rarely stoop to ad hominem attack, and I also TRY to back up my statements with researchable datapoints, rather than the more qualitative and subjective "reasoning" of "ugly" or "ignorant."

  • Hieronymus' Parents

    We clearly made a mistake.

  • The New Blood Libel

    New Blood Libel: the charge that the modern Jewish State murders Palestinian civilians, especially children, in the name of Zionism.

    At rallies around the world organized by Muslims (and reported by Western media) protesting Israel's recent invasion of Gaza, the chants of "baby killers" and "Israelis are Nazis!" were repeated again and again by the protestors.

    The time has come for Jews and Gentiles--defenders of democracy and Israel's right to exist as a sovereign Jewish State--to respond to the haters of Israel and expose their new charge of blood libel to be as destructive and utterly untruthful as the medieval accusation [of the Damascus Affair].

    Is a Gaza City in partial ruins due to Israel's response to repeated Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, indeed, a "concentration camp," as was the description recently put forth by a Vatican representative? Any of us not trapped in an Orwellian world of "Newspeak" know that Gaza City is not a post-modern version of the Warsaw Ghetto. [No mass murders, no mass graves, no gassing, no Final Solution.]

    Blockades and checkpoints are not mass murder. They are safeguards to protect Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from suicide bombers; they would not exist if the Palestinians truly wanted to live in peace with Israel.

    ["Critics"] propagate this modern blood libel because they hate Jews. [T]hey want to rob Israel of its legitimacy and ensure that, one day in the near future, the Jewish State will be wiped off the map.

    Read more: http://tinyurl.com/bzze4n

  • anonymous

    I agree with 33 that it is dangerous to compare Israel with Nazis, apartheid, etc. A little trip to Wikipedia should dispel these outrageous comparisons.

    I don't think that anti-Israel people are anti-Semetic, or pro-Islam, or anything of the sort--religion has nothing to do with it. They don't like seeing lives lost unfairly.

    I personally supported Israel's mission in the Gaza strip, though not to the extent that so many civilians should die. I think it is important, though, to look at Hamas's role in the loss of its civilians' lives (in addition to Israel's role, of course). Hamas did not instigate an operation of these proportions, but instigate they did. Also, while this has nothing to do with what I've just said, I find the idea of hiding weapons in mosques repulsive.

    To the people who will write angry responses to my post: I have nothing against the Palestinian people, but rather against the Hamas leadership that wrested away their government.

  • anonymous again

    I can't believe I didn't comment on this before:

    "Both are evil. But one is more evil than the other."

    Wow. "Evil"? Calling an entire country evil takes away the validity of your argument. You should stick to facts and figures, as your editorial makes sweeping assertions that ignore the nuance of the Middle East situation. Sorry to say, but there is no "good guy" and "bad guy," and when you write with such vitriol, I wonder how much fact-checking you did for this article.

  • Islamic Declaration of Human Rights

    Seems the UN Declaration of Human rights, which declared everyone able to think and speak freely, failed to "respect" the "unique sensitivities" of Islamists; hence: the Islamic Declaration of Human Rights.

    It insisted that you can only speak within "the limits set by the shariah [i.e., Islamic law]. It is not permitted to spread falsehood or disseminate that which involves encouraging abomination or forsaking the Islamic community"

    In other words, you can say anything you like, as long as it precisely what the reactionary mullahs tell you to say. The declaration makes it clear there is no equality for women, gays, non-Muslims, or apostates.

    Recently, the UN's Rapporteur on Human Rights (a Pakistani Muslim) -- formerly tasked with exposing and shaming those who prevent free speech -- that his job description be changed so he can seek out and condemn "abuses of free expression" including "defamation of religions and prophets". The council agreed

    Anything which can be deemed "religious" is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN – and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah "will not happen" and "Islam will not be crucified in this council" – and Brown was ordered to be silent. Of course, the first victims of locking down free speech about Islam with the imprimatur of the UN are ordinary Muslims.

    Here is a random smattering of events that have taken place in the past week in countries that demanded this change. In Nigeria, divorced women are routinely thrown out of their homes and left destitute, unable to see their children, so a large group of them wanted to stage a protest – but the Shariah police declared it was "un-Islamic" and the marchers would be beaten and whipped. In Saudi Arabia, the country's most senior government-approved cleric said it was perfectly acceptable for old men to marry 10-year-old girls, and those who disagree should be silenced. In Egypt, a 27-year-old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman was seized, jailed and tortured for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah.

    To the people who demand respect for Muslim culture, I ask: which Muslim culture? Those women's, those children's, this blogger's – or their oppressors'?


  • Anonymous

    Exactly who coined the term "axis of evil"?

    I wonder why people keep attacking Islam here. What exactly is the connection between Israel's human rights violations in Gaza to Islam?

    For those who don't know, Jews lived peacefully in Muslim lands for 12 centuries. If there is a problem today in Palestine, that is not because Israelis are Jews, but because they are Zionists. Creating your own homeland is a noble idea, but displacing millions of people while doing it is not that noble.
    Zionists are to Judaism as Jihadists are to Islam.

  • Hieronymus

    "What exactly is the connection between Israel's [right to self defense] in Gaza to Islam?

    "For those who don't know, Jews lived peacefully in Muslim lands for 12 centuries. If there is a problem today in Palestine," perhaps it is because Islam has changed from the religion of peace to the religion of oppression.

    I would argue that, while both Judaism and Islam have changed, one has changed far more, and far worse.

  • Just moved to London

    Hieronymous, if you actually think London, Paris and Haigue will be in flames before, say, New York, then you are in a state of utter denial. Actually, come to think of it, New York has already been doused in literal (9-11) and metaphorical (financial crisis) flames. Oh, and let's not forget New Orleans being underwater…Looks like been eating their "Freedom fries" lately.

    On a completely separate note: To all those who think that Israel is acting disproportionately, I ask them: what would you do if a group from Windsor, Canada started lobbing rockets into Detroit, Michigan? Do you think we would be discussing proportional behavior?

  • #35, @ #37

    Bush coined the phrase "axis of evil." That has nothing to do with my point. If Bush were writing an editorial in a newspaper, I would likewise ask him to back the word "evil" with facts that prove it, rather than relying on emotional appeal, blanket statements, generalizations, and other such indiscriminate censure. Regardless of who uses it, an author's ethos is called into question when he describes an entire country as "evil."

    Also, I'm not sure how exactly I mentioned Islam…all I said was that I found it repulsive to store weapons in mosques. That has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with Hamas's military tactics.