September 11th : Reflections of an Arab Muslim

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Faced with tragedy our first reaction is often to look for blame outside ourselves. It is always easier and more satisfying to vent our anger at something or somebody else than to have the courage and even-headedness for introspection.

No, I am not trying to find ‘excuses’ for the perpetrators of the Sept 11th attacks nor attempting to argue even a shred of legitimacy on their behalf. Simply because two wrongs do not make a right; the murder of civilians cannot be condoned even if it was provoked. And provoked it was. This is what America has to understand and come to terms with if it is to prevent what happened from happening again. The first step to solving a problem is understanding it.

The easiest, and most ignorant, assumption is one that paints the attackers as Islamic militants driven by a combination of sheer evil and an ideology hostile to Western values. They hate America for what it is, for being the banner of freedom and democracy. Although this view is self-gratifying (we are being targeted because we are ‘good’) and has the cartoonish appeal of pure villains and heroes, its accuracy ends at the comic strip.

While there may be differences in application, there is no real conflict of ideologies between Islam and ‘the West’. The values championed as their own by the West have been promoted by Islam since the 7th Century. Islam was preaching equality, tolerance and freedom when the ‘West’ was still in deep hibernation, and was edifying its followers on animal rights when the ‘West’ still had no concept of basic human rights. Only as the West continues its ideological development does it begin to learn what Islam has been teaching for centuries (and judging by the fact that bulls are still being killed for entertainment and the bodies of women still used to sell cars, the West still has some way to come). Muslims do not see Western ideology as an adversary, but rather as a developing thought system that at its zenith (if all goes well for it) will be a mirror of Islam.

In fact, despite differences in creed (which are a minor part in what is a very complete ideological whole), North American and West European societies as they currently stand are admired by the vast majority of Muslims for being a better embodiment of Islamic values than many of today’s Muslim-majority nations headed by corrupt, oppressive regimes that relate to Islam only by name.

But surely September 11 was not a statement of admiration?!

The truth is, the terrorists hate America (and ‘the West’ in general) because of what it has done, not what it is. Six thousand people have died in New York City. The gravity of the situation is such that America must abandon the silliness of blaming unprovoked madness and the pretense that there is a form of religious extremism that hates America only because it is the Land of the Brave. America must face the disturbing possibility that what happened was a reaction to something it has done. When someone is not only willing to kill others but also to die in the process, the roots of such intense anger beg to be examined.

Listen to Mr. Bin Laden. Has he ever said he is waging war against America because of its values? Has he ever called to arms against Christendom, secularism, democracy or globalization?

Bin Laden has no ideological wars to fight: his demands are purely political. He uses Islam not in the context of Islam the Faith vs. non-Islam, but as a rallying cry to gather Muslims around common causes, ones that are negatively affecting them (or their brethren) on the practical, political level. This distinction is crucial in realizing the pragmatic nature of the conflict. He has declared war on the United States for the following clearly stated reasons:

1.    America’s role in the persecution of the Palestinian people. While the West seems to be convinced that being victims of the Holocaust and claiming to be God’s Chosen People qualifies the Jews to establish a homeland on a land of which they only owned 6.59% (percentage of what is now Israel owned by jews on the eve of the 15th of May 1948), Arabs just don’t buy that. The fact is, Israel was not established on Mars, but on the homes and lives of what are now 4.5million refugees and thousands upon thousands of fresh graves. What America has suffered on September 11th is a drop in the ocean of Palestinian suffering since 1948. Civilians, just like those in New York, continue to be terrorized and murdered not only with America’s consent, but with her active participation and support. The fact that Israel is the world’s biggest recipient of USAID and that its civilian-targeting military machine continues to be built by the US, that America insists on her unconditional patronage of Israel despite it being a rogue state in defiance of several UN resolutions, all make America a direct accomplice to Israel’s crimes. Forget trying to impose a born-dead peace deal that gives Palestinians 22% of the land in 7 isolated cantons (and then wondering why the Palestinians protest); give the Jews and Palestinians each the land they can prove to have rightfully owned before 1948 and not sold thereafter, divide the rest in proportion, and then send the Russian, European and American jews back home, or give them land in Nevada or anywhere else they won’t be pushing an original land owner into a tent in a refugee camp on the border. Two states living in peace. There you have it: the just solution to the Middle East problem, not the tomfoolery that is currently being proposed and will never be accepted by Arabs.

2.    America’s military presence in the Arabian Gulf. Bin Laden wants Uncle Sam to go home. It is not a question of faith, but one of political control. (If it were an issue of faith, Bin Laden would have directed his wrath at the hundreds of thousands of Sikhs, Hindus or atheists peacefully living in the Holy Lands, not at the American Christians that are closer to the Muslim faith than any others). From the American viewpoint, they are there at the invitation of the Saudi [Royals] and for their protection against the evil Saddam. (It is worth mentioning that Saddam is the same man the US ensured stayed in power by allowing him to use his combat aircraft in the no-fly zone to crush the post-Gulf War popular uprising against his rule). The more popular and less flattering view is that the Saudi Royals are American stooges that have given America illegitimate de facto control of Arabia’s resources. Saddam Hussein is viewed to be deliberately kept in power by the US as a convenient pressure card on the rest of the Gulf States; a guarantee that they will renew their billion-dollar defense pacts with the US year after year, money Bin Laden thinks the poor of the Middle East are more worthy of keeping than MacDonnel Douglas.

3.    America’s oppression of the Iraqi people. Under the alleged reason that it is trying to topple Saddam Hussein, America (sometimes covered by the thin cloak of the UN) has enforced sanctions against Iraq that have been the direct cause of the death of at least 500,000 Iraqi children (UN number, Iraq claims the figure exceeds 2 million). While Arabs loathe Saddam, they see the sanctions as targeted solely towards crippling Iraq as a nation, not at Saddam. Whatever the target, the inexcusable cost has been the death of at least one out of every 15 Iraqi children.

4.    America’s support of corrupt dictatorships in the Middle East. For all their talk about spreading democracy and human rights around the world, Americans sure do support a funny bunch of misfits in the Middle East! And it’s not that they just deal with them; the West actively aids corrupt regimes stay in power through intelligence sharing and political support. Of course the West does not do so out of love for dictatorship, rather because it best serves its interests to have these ‘cooperative’ dictators in power. But where along the way did it become acceptable practice for people to suffer humiliation and abject poverty at the hands of tyrants just so others can maintain their ‘interests’ of a higher standard of living?

If you do not see the above as fair motive to be outraged at the US and its whole body of free-voting, policy-making citizens, then you are either still not aware of the extent of harm America is doing or you believe Arab and American civilians have a different blood color. If the latter is your belief, Osama Bin Laden is hell-bent on changing it.

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Does the fact that they are answers to US atrocities make the attacks on civilians in the US any less atrocious? Of course not. But it definitely makes them more sellable to the millions bristling with anger at the US’s crimes and who in their impotence and inability to do otherwise may follow the Bin Laden model at striking back.

America is pursuing a mirage by pretending that Al Qaeda and Bin Laden are ‘the enemy’. They are but a meaningless foot soldier; kill Bin Laden today and a hundred others will appear, bomb Al Qaeda’s ‘training camps’ (probably nothing more sophisticated than the cub-scout counterpart) and they will find other places to conspire. The real enemy is the hate and anger at the US whose logical offspring is extremism.

It’s high time Americans took a good look at themselves and asked what went wrong. What happened to this beautiful vision of an equitable nation of real morals and values? America was built on a dream of liberty and justice, not tyranny and self-interest. As Americans feel the rush of newfound patriotism in their hearts, they should think about what it all means. For the sake of all that is beautiful in the American dream, please think about what you did wrong and what you can do to make amends. It’s not submitting to the will of the terrorists, it’s just the right thing to do. In doing so, America will have done more than save itself. It will have redeemed its soul.

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