I fumble under my pillow to turn off the blaring siren noise I set as my alarm. It’s a Tuesday morning during midterms week, and I spent last night writing my 20-page engineering paper with a cup of black coffee by my side. With much difficulty, I open my heavy-lidded eyes. As I check my email, I am perplexed by the number of unread messages in my inbox. Expecting spam and Twitter updates, I’m shocked to find that the emails are not nearly as trivial.
My eyes groggily scan over phrases like “Brussels terrorist attack,” “explosions that killed at least 30,” “injured more than 100,” “ISIS claiming responsibility,” and “Would like you to write an article detailing your Muslim American perspective?”
Shit. Shit. Shit.
My heart is heavy for the innocent people killed. In those first few minutes, I think of them and their families — but undeniably, my mind is already wandering elsewhere. The upcoming weeks will be characterized by multiple calls a day from my parents, checking to make sure that I am safe and putting a hood over my Islamic headscarf to conceal my Muslim identity. There will be hateful stares, angry remarks, hate crimes directed at people that share my religion. There will likely be retaliation bombings and drone strikes by Western nations that will kill hundreds of innocent people in Muslim countries. This is almost always the aftermath for Muslims following events like September 11th, the Charlie Hebdo killings, and the recent Paris attacks. I know the drill by now — I’ve only had a lifetime of practice.
It is completely understandable that people are in pain, mourning, and anger. But the truth of the matter is, this backlash against the Muslim American community is not only immoral, it's illogical. As a Muslim American, I'm tired of giving the same speech about how we can't associate the extremist minority with the peaceful majority— I feel like a broken record, and my message doesn't appear to be getting through. Maybe if people understood why there is nothing Islamic about these attacks, they would stop responding in this discriminatory way.
The upcoming weeks will be characterized by multiple calls a day from my parents, checking to make sure that I am safe and putting a hood over my Islamic headscarf to conceal my Muslim identity. There will be hateful stares, angry remarks, hate crimes directed at people that share my religion. I know the drill by now — I've only had a lifetime of practice.
We as an American society time and time again ignore the political and historical context of terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. Ultimately, ignoring this creates a platform on which the marginalization of and discrimination against Muslims becomes justifiable. We conveniently blame Islam for terrorism (i.e. "Islamic terrorism," "Islamic jihadism,") and portray terrorism committed by Muslims as though these horrendous acts of violence are committed in accordance with the tenets of Islam. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump recently told CNN, “Islam hates us.” The hashtag #StopIslam was the number one trending hashtag on Facebook following the Brussels attacks.
What I find to be so disturbing about this is not only that it isn’t an accurate portrayal of the situation, but that this blaming of Islam ultimately hurts the vast majority of Muslims like myself. The Muslim community, myself included, is discriminated against and scapegoated because our society associates Islam with terrorism — but this simply isn’t a valid association. Terrorism is a cyclical process; terrorism is deeply embedded in history and politics. There's nothing Islamic about ISIS's behavior, and I'm tired of religion being blamed when the problem at hand is in fact deeply rooted in history and politics.
Gore Vidal famously called our country the United States of Amnesia for Americans’ tendency to "forget" the historical underpinnings of events. For example, we often times "forget" the fact that the U.S. and Western powers had significant roles in the creation of terror groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Ben Norton once remarked, "Saddam Hussein was the first Frankenstein's monster U.S. policy created in Iraq, al-Qaida was the second, and now ISIS is the third." Let's take a closer look at the emergence of ISIS.
The Middle East has suffered over a century of colonization and colonial legacy by Western powers. European nations carved up the region with only their own self-interest in mind, inciting division in the region and sowing the seeds for some Middle Eastern conflicts that continue to this day. Following World War One and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Britain and France were in command of the Middle East. The allies divided the region using mandates — Britain’s mandate was Iraq. In 1920, there was a nationwide Iraqi uprising against British occupation; the British deployed RAF bombers, killing an estimated 6,000 Iraqi people. For the next decade, British forces used aerial policing in addition to firebombs and mustard gas to establish authority and combat any and all resistance. Even after Iraq gained independence in 1932, RAF bombing persisted in the country until World War Two.
There's nothing Islamic about ISIS, and I'm tired of religion being blamed when the problem at hand is in fact deeply rooted in history and politics.
Let’s fast-forward a few decades to the 1960s. Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, was arguably the pinnacle of development in the Middle East, and home to some of the best universities, the best healthcare system, and one of the highest literacy rates in the region. This period of prosperity continued until the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, started by Iraq’s dictator at the time, Saddam Hussein. Former U.S. State Department and intelligence officials have admitted to aiding Iraq immensely during this war by providing highly classified intelligence information as well as chemical weapons. It is now known that Saddam Hussein used these U.S.-provided chemical weapons against the Iraqi people. In 1988, Hussein ordered chemical weapon attacks on Kurdish forces, resulting in the deaths of 50,000-100,000 Iraqi people, according to Human Rights Watch. In the same year, these chemical weapons were used to kill an estimated 5,000 civilians in the Iraqi town of Halabja. The United States turned a blind eye to these mass murders and did not impose any sanctions on Iraq because we were the suppliers of these weapons. By the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, an estimated 250,000-500,000 Iraqi people were dead.
In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in an attempt to use the oil-rich country to pay off debts incurred by the previous war. In response to this, the United States bombed Iraq for the first time. As a result of this bombing, civil infrastructure in the country was destroyed, and 100,000 Iraqi people were killed. The United Nation’s response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was a 13-year financial and trade embargo to Iraq. The effects of this embargo are notoriously horrific. This embargo banned the exportation of vaccines, medicines, and other health-related resources; in effect, the United Nations have estimated that 500,000 Iraqi children under age five have died as a result of the embargo. Iraq’s economy was completely destabilized. The country's unemployment rate was approximately 50 percent, inflation rates increased by 1,000 percent, and the average per capita income of an Iraqi was a mere 12 percent of what it was before the sanction was imposed.
Multiple members of the United Nations resigned in protest, claiming that the embargo was equal to war crimes against Iraqi civilians. David Halliday, the former United Nations Assistant Security-General, resigned his 34-year career with the United Nations after characterizing the embargo as being “genocidal.” Halliday remarked, "We are now in there responsible for killing people, destroying their families, their children, allowing their older parents to die for lack of basic medicines…We’re in there allowing children to die who were not born yet when Saddam Hussein made the mistake of invading Kuwait… For me what is tragic, in addition to the tragedy of Iraq itself, is the fact that the United Nations Security Council member states ... are maintaining a program of economic sanctions deliberately, knowingly killing thousands of Iraqis each month. And that definition fits genocide."
"We are now in there responsible for killing people, destroying their families, their children, allowing their older parents to die for lack of basic medicines ... That definition fits genocide."
On September 11th, 2001, Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden orchestrated the worst terrorist attack in United States history. In a single day, 2,977 Americans were killed. In 2003, President Bush wrote a letter to Congress that justified the use of force against Iraq by linking Iraq to September 11th. The link between Iraq and September 11th was shown to not only be false and nonexistent, but this linkage is indisputably one of the greatest mistakes made in United States history.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell presented information to the public that appeared to link Iraq with September 11th. It was later revealed that this information was false, and Powell remarked that intelligence officials knew the information to be false but failed to speak out about it. Powell admitted to Barbara Walters that creating the false link between Iraq and September 11th will forever be a “blot” on his record. It is widely believed that this link was intentionally forged because the U.S. went to war in Iraq after the commission investigating September 11th reported that there was “no credible evidence” of any link between Iraq and the Al Qaeda attacks. As a result of this illegal U.S. war in Iraq, over 1.5 million Iraqis have been displaced from their homes. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War has worked with other groups to examine the death toll that the illegal United States war in Iraq caused. It was found that approximately one million Iraqi people were killed as a result of the Iraq War, "and this is only a conservative estimate,” they wrote.
As Muslim American scholar Yasir Qadhi states, “The fact of the matter is, we need to ask ourselves: Would we have had an ISIS if Iraq hadn’t been systematically tampered with for 35 years? Would we have had this type of reaction if the people of Iraq had even a portion of the freedoms, even a portion of the securities that any other civilization has had?” When a nation is structurally destabilized like that for decades — when people no longer have economic power, when they no longer have social power — a minority group finds other means of attaining a form of power. And through this destabilization caused by Western colonization and constant wars, terror groups such as ISIS emerge. When people have been oppressed and have been the forgotten victims for so long, they eventually become the victimizers. Members of ISIS don’t kill in attempts at being "good Muslims," and this becomes strikingly clear when learned Islamic scholars and Islamic theologians openly addressed this terror group and made it clear that the killing of innocent people is completely forbidden in Islam. Rather, ISIS fighters use religion as a guise to conceal their personal agendas for revenge.
“The fact of the matter is, we need to ask ourselves: Would we have had an ISIS if Iraq hadn’t been systematically tampered with for 35 years?"
Look, it's very easy to disregard the complexity of any given problem, choose to forget the role that we as a nation have historically played in a situation, and scapegoat Muslims and Islam for all that goes wrong in the world. Unless we acknowledge ISIS as a problem that is clearly rooted in history and politics, society will continue to perceive it as a problem that’s rooted in Islam, which it is not. Again, this is not a religious problem. As a human, an American, and a Muslim, I will always, always condemn the killings of innocent people regardless of the political and historical context of the situation, and my heart breaks and will continue to break each and every time innocent human beings are ruthlessly murdered. I believe that every human life lost, regardless of religion or nationality, is a loss to the whole of humanity — and someday, I wish this will be an ideal embodied by our global society.
It disturbs me on such a profound level that innocent Muslim blood has become dishearteningly cheap. Iraqis, Afghans, Syrians, Palestinians, Pakistanis — I could go on — these people have been victimized by the United States, Western powers, and terror groups, yet there is no outcry from the international community. Their murders don’t warrant Facebook filters or trendy hashtags. It has become increasingly clear to me that our American society creates this narrative that works to criminalize/other "them" (Muslims) while victimizing/idolizing "us" (Westerners). Anything that doesn’t fit this narrative, such as the victimization and destabilization of innocent Muslims by Western powers, is disregarded. Someday, maybe not in my lifetime, I wish that Muslim lives, non-Western lives, black lives, non-white lives — will matter too.
It is critical that we as a global society recognize the political and historical context of the situation in order to understand the problem holistically — and in my humble opinion, until we do so, we will never be able to eradicate the problem at hand, which is the terror group known as ISIS. I am discriminated against for being a Muslim because Muslims are associated with ISIS — would it be fair to discriminate against Americans because the U.S. played a significant role in the creation of ISIS? I'm tired of politicians and society at large blaming us Muslims for something that is so entrenched in politics. I'm tired of being apologetic. I’m tired of my entire identity being problematized. And when people ignore the historical and political context of the situation and instead pretend that my religion is the root cause of terrorism, it takes away from my struggle as a Muslim American. Failing to recognize the historical and political context of ISIS when its entire existence is inherently rooted in history and politics, angers me as a Muslim, it angers me as an American, and it angers me as a human being.
Amara can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/amara.maj. (This is her main social media platform.) She can also be found on Instagram as amara.majeed, and on Twitter as @amaramaj.