umm Abdillah, Radio Islam Programming | 2015.02.10 |19 Rabiul Aakhir 1436
By all accounts Leila Khaled is a revolutionary icon. By her own account however she is not the sum of “Palestine” nor the solution to the Palestinian struggle. As a rational, educated and Muslim adult I admire the 71-year-old activist and her feral spirit - however - I wouldn’t want her to address my son at school, nor am I comfortable with hijacking being glorified before South African schoolchildren and youth, writes umm Abdillah.
Marxist freedom fighter Leila Khaled, most infamous for hijacking not one, but two planes is currently on tour in South Africa promoting boycotts and sanctions against the State of Israel. Her tour has been well received among South Africa’s ruling party, the (SACP), and our communist-dominated coalition of labour unions, COSATU. It’s natural that Zionist groups are up in arms. The South African Board of Jewish Deputies released a statement strongly opposing her visit. It has labeled the move by BDS to host Khaled as nothing more than "importing terrorism and glorifying violence."
Even if we were to ignore the Israeli lobby, the (Zionist) Jewish Board of Deputies, there is some merit to the argument of rashly and indiscriminately importing external terror logic. Let us for a moment focus merely on South Africa. The recent spate of armed and violent attacks in South African townships; violence as an answer to poor service delivery; violence against children, violence as an answer to marital problems; violence as a response to drug, alcohol and sex addictions, and violence to quell violence. Botched car hijackings have killed thousands on our soil – would we ever glorify that? You could argue no passengers died in those plane hijackings. They were just lucky. My son and his classmates deserve to learn how to deal with problems first in this country, and then in every country in a non-violent manner first. They need to learn how to use words and their democratic rights meaningfully. They need to understand hijacking a plane or a car is abnormal – an abnormal response to abnormal circumstances. This is their right, regardless if Muslim or not, whether Palestine matters to them or not. At the risk of sounding anti-BDS, which I’m not, South Africans reserve the right to support Palestine without being told who or what element of the struggle to iconise.
That said however, no South African is oblivious to the military role played by Umkhonto we Sizwe in disbanding apartheid. In the 1950’s it became clear to some members of the ANC and the SACP that passive resistance and non-violence were not working. After warning the South African government in June 1961 of their intent to resist further acts of terror if the government did not take steps toward constitutional reform and increase political rights, MK launched its first attacks against government installations in December 1961. It was subsequently classified as a terrorist organisation by the South African government and the United States, and banned. How do we expect our youth to understand global politics, when we can’t even explain the role of the MK in the struggle for freedom in SA? List the countries that trained MK cadres for example? What did they gain? Why did they do it? People claim to understand the nature and reasons for armed conflict, but often its merely bluff. By Sharpeville standards, every week involves rash violent protests in South Africa. These often involve schools, universities and schoolchildren. Sure, Palestine is close to our hearts, and before the retort – “but Palestine is sacred in the Quran” – yes, Palestine: not plane hijackers!
Leila Khaled underwent no fewer than six cosmetic operations on her face since 1969 - after her first hijack of a TWA plane. She elected to have surgery without a general anaesthetic; because, as she said in her autobiography: "I have a cause higher and nobler than my own, a cause to which all private interests and concerns must be subordinated."
When someone says something as surreal as that, it’s a reminder that Leila Khaled is from a very different time: an age when hijacks were a political tool of the moment, when extreme risk and foolhardiness were admired and romanticised. Despite our past history, is she the role model young South Africans need right now?
Although there have been plane hijackings from 1931 to the present, their peak period was 1968-72. During that period there were 326 hijacking attempts worldwide, or one every 5 to 6 days. These included 137 attempts by individuals who boarded flights in the United States, or one such attempt every 13.3 days. Newspapers, television, and other mass media constantly carried stories about aircraft hijackings, and it was often suggested that the motivation to hijack planes spread from individual to individual as a result of the media coverage.
Indeed plane hijackings were the bell to ring in that era. It brought global attention to the Palestinian plight. That era has passed -- and Leila’s strength, enduring personality and current activism is to be lauded. She overcome patriarchal restrictions of Arab society; she got divorced and had the courage to remarry; she had children in her late 30’s; she rejected vanity by having her face reconstructed for her cause. This is reason enough to appreciate her. She reflects our firm anti-ISIS stance, (the ISIS we’re being sold at least). As an adult however, I have the privilege of weighing her life accomplishments soberly. Our kids and youth on the other hand merely feel and experience contagion. All they read, see and hear is “HIJACKER”. They believe we’re glorifying and rewarding a HIJACKER. And yes, listening to a former plane hijacker doesn’t mean our kids are dumb enough to hijack an arbitrary plane, but they deserve to understand contexts. From what I’ve seen and experienced in my beloved, yet violent country – even some adults don’t.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily representative of Radio Islam.