We have our own heroes, we don’t need other people’s
By: Sultan Al Qassemi
Do you believe in heroes? Not the kind found in animated comics but those who really exist. Heroes who risk their lives for the betterment of man, who leave behind safe environments, their families and their homes to travel to war zones to give others – people they have never met and possibly will not meet again – a better life.
They change into special uniforms, employ valuable medical and communication skills, and protect women, children and the elderly. They forsake their own comfort in order to elevate the lives of other human beings. But do they exist? Indeed they do. They are our troops in Afghanistan.
A country that civilisation forgot, a country that begs to be remembered for something more than a three-decade war, first with the Soviets, then with the Taliban and finally with itself, Afghanistan is desperate for a little peace and tranquillity.
As an Emirati, I have never felt so much pride in my country’s flag as seeing it adorn the uniforms of our brave soldiers in Afghanistan in a recent report by the veteran BBC correspondent Frank Gardner. Recently, the National Identity Authority introduced an intriguing superhero who resembles a cross between a Bollywood actor and an international football star called Ajaaj in the hope that he would instil local values and beliefs in our youth.
What they fail to understand is that Emiratis do not need to invent local heroes because they already exist. We do not need Ajaaj when we have the likes of Major Ghanem al Mazroui and his troops serving for the past five years in Afghanistan, a most treacherous place where one cannot easily differentiate between friend and foe.
The recently held national identity conference in Abu Dhabi addressed the importance of wearing dishdashas, sporting beards, and locally producing television programmes, but did it speak of pride? It is a most powerful force that can transform the weakest will into the strongest resolve.
It is ironic how in a flourishing country of seven monarchies we honour a person such as Jamal Abdul Nasser, who effectively toppled his own prosperous nation’s king then went on to encourage and finance half a dozen other anti-monarchical coups – from the bloody murder of the 23-year-old King Faisal of Iraq to the toppling of the Yemeni royal dynasty.
The Emirates are dotted with streets and squares in which we remember and honour Abdul Nasser, but we forget to honour even one of the 4,000 troops – larger than any other GCC nation’s contribution – who defended Kuwait in 1990. Others include the 1,500 peacekeeping troops in the Balkans who built a humanitarian city and a 900-metre airstrip that cut down aid transport time by 10 hours; those in Lebanon who have just returned after a dangerous mine-clearing mandate in the south; and those in Somalia and Pakistan, where much needed aid has been distributed. There have been humanitarian efforts also in pre- and post-Saddam Iraq. Where are the streets that honour them?
The UAE goes way beyond other OECD countries by distributing aid equivalent to 0.8 per cent of the nation’s GDP versus an average of 0.25 per cent for developed countries. The aid isn’t just financial. Barely days after the fall of Saddam there were delegations, both official and civilian, travelling to Iraq to offer humanitarian assistance.
Aid didn’t stop flowing even after the kidnapping of the diplomat Naji al Nuaimi in Baghdad by terrorists for a fortnight in 2006, or when an aid convoy including ambulances was bombed as it entered Lebanon, or recently when Arif al Tunaiji, a diplomat serving in Afghanistan, was injured after terrorists attacked a Kabul hotel.
In the autumn of 2007, the Interior Minister Sheikh Saif bin Zayed honoured the families of eight Emirati men in uniform who died in the service of their country. They included Salem Suhail, who was shot on Nov 30 1971 while guarding Tunb Island, and Abdullah Kaseen, who died in 1981 attempting to stop arms smugglers entering the Emirates.
It is yet another testament to the wisdom of Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding President, that the country sent troops to assist the Afghans in rebuilding their shattered lives. The UAE forces have proven that they are capable of winning the hearts and minds of the Afghanis by talking to them, eating with them and praying with them.
Emiratis need not honour revolutionaries who have brought poverty into their countries, nor do we need to invent heroes who have imaginary powers. We are the UAE, we have real heroes with real names: they are called Salem, Abdullah and Major Ghanem.
Sultan Al Qassemi is a Sharjah-based businessman and graduate of the American University of Paris. He is also founder of Barjeel Securities in Dubai