Most Arabs are nationalists, and have few if any similarities to non-Arab Muslims, especially South Asian Muslims.
I remember, once in 1990s, a bunch of Palestinians rented a house in my area in Pakistan. They had received scholarships from the local university. At that point in my life I was very pro-Hamas. When I found out Palestinians were renting a house in my area, I felt I had to meet them. The image I had in my mind was of God-fearing people, deprived, poor and religious, sporting beards and dressing like real Mujahedeen, praying five times a day in masjids (mosques). I had never seen a Palestinian Mujahedeen before, let alone met one, so I was so curious and delighted at the opportunity to do so. I set out and hurried toward their home, which was just a few minutes from my own.
I rang the bell and a tall guy, around six feet tall and clean shaven, with whitish skin like European, brown hair and a strong, muscular body, wearing a black T-shirt, black jeans with black boots and hat came to the door and said, “How can I help you”? “Asala’am Aleykum,” I said.
To which he replied in kind, before repeated the same question.
“I am here to welcome you to my area and want to talk to you,” I said.
He thanked me for the welcome, but said, “Sorry, we cannot meet you because we are taking a rest, please come tomorrow evening.”
After that, I met with them regularly. I was curious to learn about them, about their struggle against the Zionists. But every time I expressed my admiration for Hamas and my desire for its victory over Israel, they started laughing at me.
Slowly I began to discover that these Palestinians were very different than I had imagined. They never prayed in a mosque except for Jummah (Friday) and Id prayers.
They thought Pakistanis were stupid, and thought of us as second-class Muslims.
They rode bikes of a kind I had never seen in my city, except in Hollywood movies such as The Terminator.
They dressed, walked, behaved and spoke exactly like Hollywood actors. They had not a single feature in common with the Afghan Mujahedeen who were everywhere in Pakistani cities. Every night, they drank alcohol and brought prostitutes home. Once they fought with local university students; I saw one Palestinian beat up 10 students. These were fully trained fighters living among us, who disdained us non-Arabs.
After a while I realized they belonged to the PLO; they were nationalists cum Marxists. They followed the European way of life, not the Islamic one. They were fighting for their land. They nurtured hate against the Zionists, but theirs was a nationalist Arab struggle.
One time there was al-Quds rally in the city; all the business was shut and all the mosques were full of people chanting “Death to Israel, Death to Zionists and Hell to Jews,” etc. As I finished my Jummah prayer, I noticed none of the Palestinians were at the mosque. I went straight to their home to ask them to join me at the rally, which after all was organized for their land, for liberation of al-Aksa Mosque and the freedom of the Palestinians.
I was shocked at their reply. I felt great humiliation for my people, my country and myself.
They said: “We have nothing to do with al-Aksa day, rallies or demonstrations because we do not need help or support from Pakistanis. We need Arabs support and assistance, not non-Arabs rallies or demonstrations. It is not your war, it’s our [Arab] war. You are stupid people, you demonstrate for an Islamic system after the liberation of Palestine; we need only our land, not Islam. We fight against Israel for land only – if she agreed to give us our land ... we have no any problem with them.”
Here all the Pakistani Muslims in our city were demonstrating in solidarity with our Palestinian Muslim brothers and sisters, walking miles with our families and kids on a hot, sunny day, hungry and thirsty, chanting “Death to Israel and Death to Zionists” all day, and my Palestinian friends were drinking alcohol and watching Hollywood movies in their cosy air-conditioned rooms, courtesy of the government of Pakistan. They were laughing at our stupidity and mocking at us because we were not Arabs, they felt no sympathy with us and no respect for our efforts in solidarity with their occupied people.
I had seen Yemenis and Sudanese studying in my country before, but they were living with their families, studying and praying five times a day in a local mosque.
They had nothing to do with local or international politics, they just studied and went back to their countries.
The Palestinians were different. What I found out was disturbing. Our mosques were getting funds from international Islamic NGOs run by Saudi Arabia and Iran to promote anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and Anti-Jewish sentiment in the country, to further their political agendas.
Local mullahs were trained to recruit innocent Pakistani Muslims – many of whom would willingly give their lives based on these imams’ fatwas. The government of Pakistan had continually sponsored PLO fighters by issuing thousands of university scholarships. These mullahs had never visited Israel, had never met with any Palestinian before and had never studied the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. These hateful mullahs had only one concern: international Islamic funds to satisfy their greed.
PLO fighters were more interested in their un-Islamic activities than in study, they were fighting with locals and police had strict orders not to arrest them.
I was heartbroken, crushed. All my life I had been taught to hate the Jews – but my Palestinian neighbors forced me to change my thinking. In Pakistan, we are taught the lie that al-Aksa is in danger, that the Israelis are faithfully plotting to destroy our first house of Allah and that we need to stop the Zionists. What we are not told is that Jordan maintains administrative oversight of the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif. There is effectively no Israeli control of al-Aksa whatsoever.
In over 40 years, despite the constant religious incitement I have yet to see al-Aksa endangered by Israelis in any way. Palestinians, on the other hand, have disrespected the purity of the Holy Masjid several times during that period – and no Muslim ever condemned these unholy acts committed by violent Palestinians.
The author is an independent researcher focusing on counter- terrorism and violent extremism.