‘A man who’s love and compassion for others sent ripples of positivity in the local community, always assisting those in distress and great difficulty with an absolute commitment to values of justice, empathy, community cohesion, and the rule of law’. This is how Anis Sardar, 38, has been described by others. A British born London Cabbie, and father to his two year old daughter, Anis was convicted of murdering a US soldier in Iraq on 21st May 2015, 7 years after returning to the UK and having obeyed the law his entire life. In a gross miscarriage of justice, he was convicted of making the bomb that killed a US soldier based on inconsequential evidence. As a result, Anis has been sentenced to 38 years without parole.
So what happened, and how did Anis’s life take such a tragic turn where he came to be convicted for a crime he did not commit?
Anis Sardar was born in London and led an ordinary life to which most of us can relate. The eldest of 4 children born into a British Gujarati family, his interests included socializing with his friends and regularly playing football. He developed an interest in the Arabic language and decided that it was something he wanted to study. Syria was a peaceful country then and a popular destination for learning the language he came to love, and so in 1997 he flew to Damascus and embarked on fulfilling his dream. At first learning Arabic was a struggle, and he would regularly fly between the UK and Syria, but in time he finally began to make progress and went on to begin a degree at Fath Al Islami University. He did not realize how life was about to dramatically change in ways that he never imagined.
In 2003, the US invaded Iraq, much to the dismay of neighboring Syria. Images of destruction and carnage were constantly in the news, casting a shadow of war in the society that Anis frequented. Nevertheless, Anis pressed on with his degree, and even visited India in the hope of memorizing the Qur’an. He changed his mind as it proved too challenging and he returned to Syria to finish his studies.
Upon his return, however, the destruction across the border had accelerated. There had been a second siege of Falluja which resulted in a massive influx of Iraqi refugees into Syria. The war became more real for Anis as he saw society around him rapidly change, and he would directly overhear distressing stories from people escaping the war. In 2005, the conflict reached a particularly gruesome height when Ibrahim al Jaffari, a Shi’a propagandist, was elected as Prime Minister. He appointed Bayan Jabr, who was the Commander of the Badr Brigade Shi’a militia, Minister of Interior, and Jabr went on to run secret prisons where Sunnis would be imprisoned and horrendously tortured. Jaffar soon began to advocate the genocide and uprooting of Sunnis from their homes.
It is at this time that Anis met Abu Muhammad who had fled Iraq with his wife and children, and they soon became friends. As the months went by, and the brutal massacring of Sunnis worsened, Abu Muhammad decided to return to Iraq and help his parents to escape the country. When Anis learnt of this, he insisted on helping him. Having heard all the compelling stories of the refugees, having seen the graphic images in the media, and being a man of compassion, Anis could no longer ignore the suffering over the border. He knew he couldn’t stop this war, but at least he hadn’t been indifferent, inhuman. He and Abu Muhammad left Syria for Iraq in 2005 with medical supplies. Anis would stay in Iraq for less than 6 months, and he would serve as a night watchman, warning the locals of any approaching militia. It is during this time that he would routinely see dead bodies cast out on the streets like garbage, and see bodies floating like logs in the canal. There would be signs of torture; drilled skulls, gauged out eyes, the stuff of nightmares. Except this was no nightmare, this was reality, and not just for him but for an entire population.
One afternoon, Anis accompanied Abu Muhammad who went to visit a friend in Shula. When Anis entered the lounge, he saw villagers busy working on some objects he couldn’t recognize. He asked one of them what they were doing. The man explained that as they had no finances, manpower, or weapons to defend themselves against the militia, building bombs and placing them around their village was the only means they had to protect themselves from the constant attacks. Anis was then casually asked to help tape 2 of the devices. He did so. He couldn’t see anything wrong with helping local villagers in defending their families from militia who were constantly massacring them simply because they were Sunni. He did not do more than tape 2 bombs, and they were eventually planted in his absence by the villagers in areas that were not frequented by US soldiers. Even the US prosecutors conceded that the bomb the US soldier drove over, and that resulted in his death, was planted in a path that was never visited by US soldiers.
Nevertheless, as the weeks passed, the brutality became too much for Anis to witness, and he had to leave the war zone. He returned to Syria in an attempt to complete his studies, but as with anyone who would experience such traumatic events, he had been affected too deeply by his experiences, abandoned his studies and returned back home to the UK.
Upon his return he qualified and worked as a Black Cab Driver, married and started a family. 7 years later, he was arrested.
To this day, Anis has been open about his experiences and has hidden nothing. Why? Because he never believed that risking his life for oppressed people being subjected to genocide would actually incriminate him. He believed that anyone with a shred of humanity would have done the same in his position. He had two options in the face of such savagery; he could turn his back and think of his own safety, or he could risk his life in an effort to defend innocent men, women, and children. Is it really that hard to empathize with him? Is not risking your life to help others something to commend rather than condemn? He did it because he believed that helping vulnerable people is the right thing to do. The jury for some reason couldn’t see that. Maybe that was because the Judge opened up the case by refusing to give the jury the context of the Iraq war. Stripped of context, stripped of motives, Anis was sufficiently dehumanized. When you dehumanize someone, it doesn’t matter so much what you do to that person. Actually, Anis does matter. He matters to his family, his friends, the multitudes of people that he helped. And he also matters to all people who believe that justice and equality are paramount irrespective of who is being judged in the courtroom.
What we demand is equality and a fair trial. The case was clearly one sided, and Anis was guilty until proven innocent. From the start it was clear in what direction the case would go. The fact that Anis was being tried in the UK for ‘murdering’ a US soldier with no real basis, and the granting of anonymity to the prosecution but denied to the Iraqi witnesses speaking in support of Anis; these were early indicators that Anis had been labelled as guilty from the start. Are Americans to be treated differently to brown Muslims ‘over there’?
Anis didn’t risk his life for a flag. He didn’t do it for any personal gain. He targeted no one and was simply defending vulnerable people. If he did the same thing as a British or US soldier, do we think he would have been treated in this way? In the confusion of an illogical court case, one principle that must always remain clear is that we must stand up for justice regardless.
‘If they do something to us, the world is coming to an end. But if we do it to them, it’s so normal, why should we even talk about it?’ Noam Chomsky.