Arafat's serious illness and the possibility of his death encourage
us to look once again at the life and legacy of a man and what it
has meant to others.
Mohammed Abder Rauf Arafat
al-Kudwa al-Husseini was born in Jerusalem in 1929 of Egyptian
parents. He adopted the name Yasser meaning 'easy-going' adding ABU
AMAR after a companion of the Prophet Muhammad. He is a practising
Muslim, has performed the Haj to Mecca, and wears a pendant engraved
with a verse from the Qur'an.
"The Peace Encylopedia"
As a way of summarizing the
political aspects of his life and its influence on a people, the
following article is worth reading:
Accountability." (Nov. 5, 2004) http://www.tompaine.com/articles/after_arafat_accountability.php
article, written by the Executive Editor of the Beirut-based
newspaper, Daily Star,
Arafat: Palestinians love
and honor him because of his dogged ability to carry the banner of
Palestinian rights throughout the world, and gain universal support
for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. His
greatness, and the reason his people always backed him in the face
of Israeli, American and occasional Arab attacks, was his symbolism
of the powerful Palestinian will to struggle against enormous
The above article
offers an excellent historical analysis of Chairman Arafat's
considerable influence on Palestinian history and politics.
Describing his primary contribution in terms of 'ideology' and his
primary deficit in terms of 'biology', (or, the holding on to power
long after he should have let it go), the author paints a broad
picture of what Arafat's contribution has been in the shaping of a
nation. Unfortunately, in treating his life, he also leaves out
entirely the issue of Arafat's support of terrorist activities
through al Fatah and Hamas. This oversimplification of a man and his
legacy is perhaps based on the author's point of view about such
activities. Nevertheless, the article does an excellent job in
picturing the positive legacy of an historical figure and in helping
us understand more deeply how the action, beliefs, and destiny of
one person can overlap with the destiny of a
The fact that Yasser
Arafat's leadership has been tainted by violence which he directly
or indirectly supported is something that we each must grapple with
as we appraise the influence of a man. For in seeking to understand
anyone, we must hold in our hearts both compassion and truthfulness.
As we do so, we learn something important - that most people,
political leaders as well as the 'man-on-the-street', terrorists as
well peace activists, are complex in their motives. High idealism
may combine in someone with the worst kinds of darkness. Often, the
idealism is far from pure. That doesn't mean that it is not
. It means that it can easily be corrupted by a
willingness to sacrifice other fundamental ideals in service to the
more immediate goal or vision. Such goals as the establishment of a
Palestinian nation, the protection of Islamic life and culture, U.S.
national security, and even the goal of 'creating peace', may all be
virtuous in themselves but pursued by methods that are not so.
Sometimes the noblest ideals
can be greatly corrupted by darker motives. Sometimes, the truly
great price of causing many deaths and much suffering to others is
seen as a small
price to pay for the more sought after goal.
The perpetrators of Sept. 11th held this view. The perpetrators of
violence to innocents in Iraq hold this view, however unconsciously.
As we grow spiritually, we
learn how to hold ideals and how to stabilize them in the light. We
learn that the end does not
and cannot justify the means,
that the means and the end must be made of the same thing. We learn
that no matter how light-filled, noble, or compassionate a wish may
be, if we are willing to stray from love in order to accomplish it,
if we are willing to leave love and respect for life behind, we will
not be able to achieve what we most desire. In this sense, peace of
an enduring kind cannot be achieved through war. A 'strategic' peace
may, indeed, be accomplished, backed up by an ongoing military or
civilian presence, but not a lasting peace. Nor can respect be
achieved through coercion or the creation of fear. Thus, whether
leader or follower, whether powerful or powerless, the same
principle holds true - the highest ideals that mankind strives for,
the ideals that are of God - peace, harmony, respect, love, freedom
- cannot be achieved by violent means.
How then can they be
achieved? Such ideals can only be achieved by inner transformation
which allows the convergence in an organic way, between two or more
dissimilar points of view. For this to happen, we must be committed
to peace not only outwardly, but inwardly. We must be committed, and
we must be patient at the same time. We must work toward the goal,
and we must listen, in order to become able to reconcile differences
that are the obstacles to peace.
This was not Yasser Arafat's
life. He was a soldier, not a peacemaker - even though he was
awarded one-third of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. His character
and life were built on a foundation of responding militarily or
through counterforce to Israeli provocations. And though his
ideology and behavior united a people against
preserved their identity, it ultimately did not create peace, nor
has it yet created nationhood, though it has certainly fostered
movement in that direction and created sympathy, on the world stage,
for that movement.
To return to
the question of the legacy of Yasser Arafat, in our hearts we must
honor the good in him - the love, loyalty, courage, and vision that
aligned him with the suffering of a people, with their hopes and
dreams. But we cannot align with the entirety of means he employed
with which to achieve his goals. Arafat hovered between passionate
idealism and a desire to end oppression for his people, and a lack
of vision which caused him to be limited in the ways in which he
could achieve his aims. Thus he was both protector and avenger. Both
idealist and terrorist. It is within this context that we can honor
him as a leader and representative of a people at a deeply troubled
time in their history.
dual action of honoring and disavowing is important for each of us
to learn to do. For among the world's great and among the ordinary,
the mixture of light and darkness can be plentiful on both sides and
we must be willing to praise what is of the light while not aligning
with that which is of darkness. In the end, compassion wedded with
truth will enable us to be clear-sighted in our appraisal of others.
Neither one, on their own, can paint a complete picture, but both
together can help us appreciate the expression of a soul upon the
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