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     Volume 4 Issue 15 | October 2, 2004 |

   Cover Story
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Straight Talk

The Voice of Reason

Nadia Kabir Barb

The face I see staring at me from the newspaper is of an old man haggard and tired wearing a blindfold. It is nothing like the picture next to it of a laughing, carefree man with what almost looks like a twinkle in his eyes. His name is Ken Bigley, a Liverpool born, yet another hostage taken in Baghdad by a group known as al-Tawhid wa-al-Jihad (Unity and Holy War) under the leadership of the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The militant group has already beheaded two Americans, Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong, who were abducted with Bigley. The brutal decapitation of Armstrong was even put on an Internet website used by the group. This is the new face of Islam as seen by the rest of the world. It is with growing dismay that we observe Islam gradually becoming synonymous with barbarism and extremism and Muslims the perpetrators of an ever growing wave of violence and terrorist activity.

The demands made by the militant group are for the release of Iraqi female prisoners held in the two jails Umm Qasr and Abu Ghraib. The US claimed that they were not holding any Iraqi women prisoners apart from two female "high-value detainees" - Dr Rihab Taha, and Dr Huda Ammash, who were both said to be involved in Saddam Hussein's biological weapons programme elsewhere. We have seen heartfelt pleas by Bigley's family including his mother and Thai wife for his safe release. But all they can do now is play the waiting game. There has also been a direct plea by the hostage himself to Tony Blair. In his speech, Ken Bigley pleads with Blair to "please show some of the compassion you say you have" he also adds to the utter poignancy of the situation by saying, "I'm nothing to you … am only a small man." But Britain, like the US, is reluctant to start bargaining with terrorist demands. In response, the Bigley family has taken matters into their own hands by speaking openly on national television and has even tried to appeal to the terrorists themselves despite Foreign Office recommendation to refrain from doing so.

The only good thing to come out of an utterly wretched situation is that The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has sent a delegation of British Muslims to Baghdad to plead for Ken Bigley's life. It said the mission was, to some extent, intended to show that British Muslims were as appalled by Bigley's predicament as anyone else, and to reiterate the conviction among British Muslims that Islam forbids the taking of civilians as hostages, let alone their killing. It represents the voice of every moderate, right-minded Muslim that is usually drowned out by the deafening roar of the fundamentalist factions. The British group of representatives sent by the MCB consists of Daud Abdullah, a respected community leader, and, Musharraf Hussein, a senior scholar from the Muslim Council of Britain. The council's secretary general, Iqbal Sacranie, said even in this 'dire situation' they still had hope. Abdullah said that he believed they could exert some influence on the kidnappers. "I believe and always maintain hope in the mercy of Allah," (Guardian). We can only sit and wait to see if in the next few days they will be able to assist in the safe release of Bigley or if it is a fait accompli as far as the terrorist organisation is concerned.

Another organisation that caught my attention was the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). My first introduction to the MCB and MAB was during the 9/11 disaster where at a time where Islamophopia was rife. I was heartened to hear them condemning the actions of Al Qaeda and trying to make the British public aware of the disgust felt by Muslims not just in Britain but around the world and to put forward the fact that Islam does not propagate violence. As always, not much notice was given to organisations that actually reflected the views of the vast majority of Muslims in the UK at the time. Moderate views never make the news. During the war in Iraq, they were responsible with other anti-war groups for organising one of the largest peaceful anti-war demonstrations in British history.

In the last few days, media coverage has been given to the actions of the MCB and also that the Muslim Association of Britain has said that it had made a direct appeal to the kidnappers on Arabic television station Al Jazeera for Ken Bigley's release. In fact, at the Ar Rahma mosque in Toxteth, Liverpool, Muslims met for Friday prayers where they dedicated part of their prayers to Bigley and his family. We can only pray with them. Being a British Muslim, living in the U.K., it gives me a sense of relief that finally the media is waking up to the fact that not all of us are members of some Islamic fundamentalist or terrorist group, nor do we condone acts that are barbaric and senseless.

I can only hope and pray that by the time you read this, Ken Bigley will be a free man reunited with his loving family.



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