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A pleasant surprise

By Donu Kogbara
I HAVE just read a book called An Illustrated History Of The Jewish People. It was written by my dear friend, Lawrence Joffe; and it moved me to tears.

I have always sympathised with Jews – who have, in my opinion, suffered even more than Black folks. Though we have endured colonialism, slavery, racism, theft and violence at the hands of White Christians, there has not, to the best of my knowledge, been any serious attempt to wipe us off the face of the earth. We have mostly been subjugated and cheated rather than exterminated.

Jews, on the other hand, have been the victims of widespread hatred and homicide that I will never understand. Six million Jews were murdered in Germany and its fiefdoms between l939 and l945, thanks to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime; and there had been many previous attempts in many previous centuries and many other countries – Russia, for example – to destroy the Jewish People.

Unfortunate mistakes

Anyway, despite the unfortunate mistakes that Israel has undoubtedly made since it was founded as a homeland for Jews in l948, I feel that Jews – who had until then been scattered across the globe in largely hostile terrains – deserved a safe haven in the land of their ancestors; and I am doggedly pro-Israel.

It is common knowledge that most Arabs and Muslims loathe Israel and regard Jews as The Enemy, so when Al Jazeera, the international TV station, was launched in Qatar in 2006, I was initially suspicious, assuming that it would churn out crude, heavily biased anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist propaganda.

But I have gradually fallen in love with Al Jazeera because it is a brilliant provider of news about parts of the world that are neglected by other channels.

Al Jazeera’s stated objective is “to give voice to untold stories…and challenge established perceptions”. And it is certainly achieving this objective.

If you want to know more about developing nations and can afford a satellite TV subscription, please do yourself a BIG favour and tune into Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera does not promote the standard Euro-American worldview. But, even though I am unapologetically Western in orientation, I am totally hooked.


I recently watched a wonderful Al Jazeera documentary about Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian President who was ejected from his glittering throne in 2011, during the famous Arab Spring protests that swept across North Africa and also toppled Presidents Ghadafi of Libya and Ben Ali of Tunisia.

One of the topics the documentary dwelled upon at some length was how Mubarak, who quietly rose through the ranks of the Egyptian Air Force until he became its Commander, wound up becoming the Number One citizen.

His origins were humble – he grew up in an impoverished peasant community; and he had been a very modest man who had led a very quiet suburban existence. And he was just doing his job to the best of his ability and doing whatever his superiors wanted when he received the phone call that would change his life.

Mubarak didn’t expect or seek the sudden elevation that was thrust upon him in l975, by Anwar Sadat, the then President. And when Sadat was assassinated in 1981, Mubarak was catapulted into the hottest seat in the land of the Pharoahs.

“He became,” said the documentary narrator, “Vice-President and President by coincidence in a regime that cherished loyalty.”

We were then told that Mubarak was utterly bewildered and couldn’t quite believe what had happened to him. And that his compatriots immediately felt very close to him because of his loveable simplicity and ordinariness.

When a newspaper wrote a sychopantic article that glamorised the new First Lady, Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, her husband contacted the Editor to complain.

“I am,” Egypt’s new Head of State declared, “from the countryside; and I don’t want my wife or family to be in the limelight or to be the talk of the people.”

Does this fascinating tale not remind you of someone on our doorsteps?

Sure, President Goodluck Jonathan’s biography is different from Mubarak’s in various ways. But the basic script and dramatic essentials are the same.

A regular, decent, noise-avoiding kinda guy who was doing well careerwise – but didn’t attract much attention and wasn’t an ambitious, power-hungry schemer – wakes up one morning and finds that Circumstances and God have placed him at the pinnacle of a complex society he never imagined he could lead.

Mubarak, sadly, changed pretty drastically. He succumbed to greed and corruption. He became increasingly isolated from reality. He started to listen to fawning praise-singers who offered him lousy advice about governance and encouraged him to regard himself as a demi-deity. He allowed the wife he had once gently controlled to carry on like an arrogant Queen.

Let’s pray that President Jonathan does not fall into the same terrible trap!

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