A meeting in memory of Fidel Castro at the Kanoon Towhid Centre in Hammersmith, run by the Islamic Students Association (ISA), heard speakers from several countries honour the leader of the Cuban revolution’s life and ideals last week.
Opening the meeting, Dr Kamran Fathi from the ISA said that Castro’s movement “inspired millions around the world from all races and religions, and many other countries in Latin America and elsewhere, with its ideals.”
He said the meeting would also remember the life of Hashemi Rafsanjani, a lifelong supporter of the Palestinian struggle who, like Castro, had always sided with the oppressed peoples of the world.
Bernard Regan, national secretary of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, spoke of the modern history of Cuba and the Cuban revolution, pointing out that education in Cuba is free at every level and that its literacy campaign had been adopted by many countries, including Spain, New Zealand and amongst indigenous peoples in Bolivia.
He said that starting in 1959 with no health service at all, Cuba now has more doctors working abroad – 50,000 – than the World Health Organisation, the International Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières combined.
“Castro’s help to developing countries has always been with no consideration for Cuba’s own interests. Its military support for the government of Angola in 1987–88 and the crushing defeat for apartheid South Africa’s NATO-backed military machine was a turning point in the history of southern Africa.”
Ramon Grosfoguel, a Puerto Rican professor based at the University of California in Berkeley, said that it was very important that an Islamic organisation was holding a meeting to remember Fidel Castro. He said Islam and Cuba held common values such as solidarity with other peoples, in Iran’s case with Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. Puerto Rica, he added, shared a common history with Cuba, both becoming US colonies after the Spanish–American War in 1898.
Ramon said that Castro was not concerned with religious or political beliefs, but the humanitarian needs of the oppressed, and had acted with no concern for the consequences, “such as the many assassination attempts against him.” His legacy, he said, “could be summed up in one word – dignity.”
Masoud Shajareh, chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London, spoke about the importance of solidarity with the oppressed: “Everyone, even Tony Blair and Adolf Hitler, claims to be nice and to help the needy, but in reality they contributed to the downfall of morality.
“Many people talk but take no action. Oppression needs to be challenged and donating money is not enough. It is not enough to pray five times a day, to fast, to memorise the Koran, you have to be active in supporting those resisting injustice, colonialism and oppression, whether in Palestine or Kashmir.”
Shajareh recalled the sanctions against Iraq in the 2000s that resulted in half a million children dying of starvation and compared Castro’s ideals with those of Ayatollah Khomeini, Hashemi Rafsanjani, Nelson Mandela and Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah party.
In the discussion, Bernard Regan pointed out that although Cuba had made major breakthroughs in treatments for cancer, diabetes and hepatitis, “the US drug companies have blocked publicity about the new drugs and people in the US itself are suffering because they’re not allowed to import them.”