Gaza Reveals History’s Familiar Tune

By Khaled Sabawi – Ramallah

As bodies of dead children and uncensored images of war from Gaza pervade the news stations of the Middle East, outrage and fury ripples through the Arab and Muslim world. Yet no Muslim leader dares to challenge the unfettered power of the State of Israel as it slaughters the civilian population of Gaza and with it, the dignity of the Muslim world. In such trepidatious times, reflection seems to be the only act that fills the massive void created by feeling utterly helpless.

It is astonishing how old adages emerge to illuminate perplexing and convoluted situations. History unfolds itself like an ever-familiar tune as the people of Occupied Palestine perish at the hands of Israel’s colonial settlement and Muslim leaders quiver in their collective boots; for those that do not know history are doomed to repeat it.

What University of Columbia professor, Joseph Massad, refers to as the “veritable open alliance” between Arab regimes, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel and the United States against Iran, Hizballah, and Hamas may seem as shocking news to some in the Arab and Muslim world but is no surprise to readers of history. A brief glimpse into history shows us that this scenario is highly plausible.

One may find it shocking that the Crusader advance into Muslim lands in 1098 could have actually been stopped on numerous occasions far before reaching Palestine and tens of thousands of lives could have been saved, was it not for the disunity and collusion of the Muslim Princes of Syria. Consider Fakhr Al Mulk, the Muslim ruler of Tripoli in 1099, who betrayed Duqaq, the Muslim Seljuk ruler of Damascus as he attempted to prevent the advance of the First Crusade into the lands of Syria. Fearing Duqaq’s success would portray him as the champion of Islam, Al Mulk collaborated with the Crusaders and caused the failure of Duqaq’s attempted ambush. Three weeks later the Crusaders invaded Jerusalem and established a European colonial state in Palestine, ethnically cleansing its Muslim inhabitants.

It gets worse. Duqaq’s sworn enemy, his own brother Ridwan, ruler of Aleppo from 1095 to 1113, quakes at the advance of the Crusaders and in act of cowardice begs the advancing army of the Crusader Prince Tancred, not to harm his city. In response, Tancred demands that Ridwan place a large cross on the minaret of the great mosque of Aleppo. To the shock and humiliation of his own people, Ridwan abides.

The disunity and collusion culminates in 1115 when Sultan Mohamed of Bagdad, raises an army of several thousands and marches to drive the Crusaders out once and for all. When the Sultan reaches the lands of central Syria, he is shocked by the surprise awaiting him. King Baldwin of Jerusalem and Tughtigin, the Muslim ruler of Damascus, are standing side by side with their own armies and those of the Syrian cities of Antioch, Aleppo, and Tripoli.

History has demonstrated that, when disunited, Arabs and Muslims are at their weakest.
This history is no less shocking then the current state of affairs that dominate the contemporary Middle East. The parallels that exist are terribly concerning. Some Muslims today see Israel as a European colonial settlement in the midst of Muslim lands; a state that not only bullies the region, but that expelled and ethnically cleansed the inhabitants of Palestine in 1948, as did the Crusaders in 1098. The growing outrage by Muslims populations around the world at Israel’s massacres in Gaza and the Arab states’ apparent collusion is defining the lines of a growing regional conflict.

It is well known how the Crusaders were driven out of Jerusalem and how Muslim lands were united and restored. This is by no means an incitement of the reductive fantasy held by some Muslims that a return to seventh century Mecca is cure for the problems of the Muslims world, nor is it an incitement to war. Furthermore, the Muslim world today is not one monolithic entity in a “clash of civilizations” with the West, as some polemicists would have it, nor is it a rigid mass of religious fundamentalists. On the contrary, the Muslim world is a dizzying diversity of cultures, languages, and different religious interpretations, liberal and conservative.

The disunity of the Muslim world today does not necessarily have to be amended by a common call to religion; rather, it should be a shared sense of justice that unites all Muslims. One thing is for certain, the absence of an applied international law and the failure of the Security Council to hold Israel accountable for its crimes against humanity and violations of the 4th Gevena Convention have left the Muslim people collectively disillusioned. The war in Gaza has left Muslims boiling in anger at the impotence and collusion of their leaders.

Will Egypt, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia be our modern day Tughtigin and ally with Israel and the U.S. in a regional war against Hamas, Hizballah, and Iran? Do not be surprised. Or will Muslims and Arabs finally unite around the call for justice? One thing is certain, Muslim leaders are as divided now as their predecessors were before them.   

– Khaled Sabawi is a Canadian citizen working in Ramallah. He is the President of MENA Geothermal, a private sector company installing environmentally friendly geothermal systems in the Middle East and North Africa. He contributed this article to

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