Gaza shows Humza Yousaf as far more than Scotland’s consoler-in-chief

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL October 20, 2023
There is much to say about the public metamorphosis of Scotland's First Minister – from a can-do kinda guy to a leader for our times, a man of peace, even as he worries about his in-laws trapped in Gaza

Photo by Scottish Government

When Humza Yousaf became Scotland’s First Minister in March, he offered a passable, if poor account of himself, albeit with an authentically Scottish accent. He seemed fine, just fine, but hardly someone who would set the glens and dales on fire.

But then Gaza happened. Israel, wounded and angry by the brutal Hamas attack on its people lashed out in fury at the people of Gaza, bombing and besieging them to the point hundreds of thousands were without food, water, medicine, or a safe place to lay their heads. And Mr Yousaf revealed to the world that he too, like so many people around the world, had family in dire circumstances in Gaza.

Turns out Mr Yousaf’s parents-in-law were trapped in Gaza and there was no way out, nor any certainty the British Foreign Office could work any magic. Elizabeth and Maged, parents of Mr Yousaf’s wife, Nadia El-Nakla, had got trapped in the Palestinian territory when Hamas launched its bloody cross-border attack. The couple had been visiting Maged’s 92-year-old mother, who lives in Gaza, along with several other family members, including Mr Yousaf’s brother-in-law, a doctor.

Mr Yousaf explained his family’s anguish in sober tones. He then went on to do his job as Scotland’s leader, by comforting the mother of a Scottish Jewish man killed in Hamas’ attack in Israel. Joining more than 500 members of Glasgow’s Jewish community, Mr Yousaf embraced the mother of the murdered man, Bernard Cowan, after telling the congregation “your grief is my grief.”

He added: “I stand in solidarity with Scotland’s Jewish community, who have lost members of their community in the senseless and horrific attacks we witnessed last Saturday in Southern Israel.”

And with that little – or that leap – Mr Yousaf seemed suddenly to grow in stature. Here was a man who had not allowed the grief of his personal situation to affect his dedication to duty as Scotland’s consoler-in-chief.

Just day after, Mr Yousaf made an emotional address to his Scottish National Party (SNP) at its annual conference, thanking the grassroots for their support, even as members of his family remained trapped in Gaza. Calling for a new “worldwide refugee programme” for Palestinians in Gaza, he said that, if the UK government would commit to a refugee resettlement scheme, Scotland would happily be the first country in the UK to offer asylum places.

It’s worth noting that nary a bitter word nor unseemly observation passed his lips as Mr Yousaf spoke about an issue that must be deeply felt in his household – not just his parents-in-laws’ plight in Gaza but the relative British and Western inattention to the horrific continuing situation of the innocent 2.3 million residents of Gaza.

There is much to say about Mr Yousaf’s public metamorphosis – from a can-do kinda guy to a leader for our times, a man of peace, culturally a Muslim, ideologically a universalist, someone with the right instincts and the right words to convey his ideas.

But he is not doing this alone. His wife, the gracious and poised SNP councillor for Dundee Nadia El-Nakla, must surely play a huge role in Mr Yousaf’s determination to present a calm and centred position, a pacifist view, bereft of bilious invective, untouched by the bitterness the family must surely feel at their elders’ unmourned plight in Gaza.

Consider what Ms El-Nakla told LBC, just before her husband’s speech to the SNP. She said her aunt and uncle and their three children were struck by a drone in Gaza. The drone hit a metal fire extinguisher and the family were  fine, said Ms El-Nakla, except that her two-year-old cousin was left covered in shrapnel. This, she said, was being manually removed by her mother, a former nurse. “You cannot go to hospital for that kind of treatment right now,” said Ms El-Nakla.

Calling for “an urgent ceasefire” and for “humanitarian aid going into Gaza”, Ms El-Nakla later told the SNP conference that British government policy seemed skewed with respect to the ongoing conflict: “Instead of sending spy planes, the UK should be sending supplies. No food, no water, no electricity. We are seeing an attack on humanity and my heart feels like it is starting to turn to stone. Gaza is being obliterated like never before.”

That’s a plea from the heart, a heartfelt plea, but the lack of bitterness and finger-pointing are a lesson in grace.

Martin Luther King once said that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

A man and his wife – it matters, where they stand at times of challenge.

Humza Yousaf and his wife Nadia have shown their true selves to the world at a dark moment. And it is a bright image.

Also read:

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Israel-Palestine: Tears and fears

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Britain’s cosplay with warships and suchlike in the eastern Mediterranean

Tony Blinken’s declaration of faith in Israel made me think of Canada’s Ahmed Hussen

‘Palestinian or Israeli, if you prick us, do we not bleed’

The war for and over Ukraine and the Hamas attack on Israel