Yesterday fell Lailat al Qadr, the twenty-seventh night of Ramadan - The Night of Power, when it is said the Gates of Paradise are opened...along with Lailat al Qadr, fell one of my heroes - Yasser Arafat, Abu Ammar - the Muslim Che Guevera...
I joked with my father that if anyone could trip over the Gates of Paradise this night - it would be Abu Ammar...those who know me understand that I do not idolise Arafat and indeed have been highly critical of him; but like a flawed parent or errant relative, you'll find most Muslims have a grudging love for Arafat...I've found myself close to tears many times when I thought of his impending death...and I've found it difficult to understand why...
Arafat is not only the symbol of Palestinian statehood but also the lost hopes, frustrations and promise of the faded Islamic world. As Le Monde declared after 9/11 that 'We're All Americans' - since the creation of Israel, Muslims everywhere have long declared that we are all Palestinian. Muslims of all races, nations and beliefs will tell you of their deep and personal sadness, humiliation and sorrow for the Palestinian tragedy...and perhaps this is the key to understanding my sorrow for Abu Ammar.
As much as Arafat embodied noble struggle, resistance and freedom from tyranny, he equally symbolised all that is wrong and unjust in the Islamic world...from corruption and oppression, to the absence of plurality and credibility, and most tragically the use of political violence rather than non-violent protest. This is the tragedy of the contemporary Islamic world - Arafat at once represented the strengths and weaknesses of modern Islam...and this symbolism is more fitting than that of nationalist, freedom fighter or father of a nation.
For leading Palestinian statehood from obscurity to global geopolitick, Arafat must be appreciated.
For surviving expulsions from the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon, assassination attempts, plane crashes, exile in Tunisia and wearing shades whilst addressing the UN General Assembly, Arafat must be admired.
For single-handedly creating a Palestinian underground in the Territories, slipping from town to town on a motorbike - he must be celebrated.
For embracing Saddam Hussein, turning a blind eye to terrorism, cronyism and simply not preparing the Palestinians for concessions on the Right Of Return, amongst other issues, Abu Ammar disappointed and dismayed us.
Unlike most 20th century Arab leaders, Arafat didn't visit cruelty or injustice upon his people, but he did disappoint us. For a man of such courage and singular determination to be felled by arrogance and centralised power is a tragedy symbolic of the problems throughout Ummah, the Islamic Nation.
As I learned of his deterioration, I prayed through the evening of Lailat al Qadr for Abu Ammar and that the Gates Of Paradise would open for him - when I awoke this morning to begin fasting, I learned of his passing and felt an immense sadness for promises almost fulfilled.
I used to joke that if a movie of Arafat's life was ever written, Ringo Starr's uncanny Arafat resemblance would be perfect...as a admirer of Oakley, I just hope they remember to get the right shades for his speech at the UN :) in the meantime, I will continue to wear my kaffiyeh in the Winter months and through Ramadan...
He was no terrorist, nor was he a statesment, but Arafat's duality was possibly the iconic embodiment of Islamic leadership in the 20th century...God bless your soul Abu Ammar.