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Do not blame the faith for terror

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By Aijaz Zaka Syed

The truth that makes men free is often the truth that men prefer not to hear, said a sage. The initial shock over the two Chechen brothers’ apparent involvement in the Boston bombings has been followed by an endless hysteria in the United States with politicians and all sorts of terrorism experts and media wonks, rushing to blame the usual suspects and the ‘ideology’ that inspired the attack.

Neocon pundit Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, who has made a career out of Muslim bashing, has triumphantly declared Islam as the “real problem.” In a piece titled “Excusing Jihad in Boston,” he blasts the US media for “underplaying the religious angle” in the attack, claiming Qur’an exhorts Muslims to use the “steeds of war to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies.”

Bruce Bawer of FrontPage has declared an open war on Islam and its followers saying, “All we need to know is that the attackers were jihadists, and therefore our enemy.” Think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute are pitching the same line to claim the land of the free is under attack from “Islamic terrorists” because of its glorious democracy and freedom.

And it’s not just a right-wing fringe that seems to think so. Liberal, the world-is-flat pundit like Tom Friedman of the New York Times slams “radical Muslim groups and their apologists” for daring to suggest that Boston may have been a response to the continuing US wars.

Indeed, Friedman goes a step further: “We surely mustn’t tar all of Islam in this. But we must ask a question only Muslims can answer: What’s going on in your community that a critical number of your youth believes every American military action in the Middle East is intolerable and justifies a violent response, and everything Muslim extremists do to other Muslims is ignorable and calls for mostly silence?”

In other words, the ‘problem’ lies with Islam and its followers. Another liberal Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast had this to say: “All religions contain elements of this kind of fanaticism. But Islam’s fanatical side from the Taliban to the Tsarnaevs is more murderous than most.”

Can there be a bigger lie than this? Of course, there is no excuse or justification by any long stretch for murder and mayhem targeting innocent people. This is something on which Islamic scholars, intellectuals and even ordinary people are totally united and have repeatedly stressed it. Despicable actions like the one that targeted the Boston Marathon go against the fundamental teachings and spirit of the faith that strictly forbids strife and killing innocent civilians even during wars. But then these actions had nothing to do with Islam.

The issue is not with Islam or the bloodlust of its followers. The problem is with the reigning superpower and its unquenchable thirst for global power and total supremacy. The motives of the brothers Tsarnaev were not religious but political, as has been the case with numerous other such attacks in the past.

Check out this report in the Washington Post, the voice of US establishment: “The 19-year-old suspect in the Boston bombings has told interrogators that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated him and his brother to carry out the attack. The officials said, “Dzhokhar and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev do not appear to have been directed by a foreign terrorist organization. Rather, the officials said, the evidence so far suggests they were “self-radicalized” through Internet sites and US actions in the Muslim world. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has specifically cited the US war in Iraq and in Afghanistan.”

In a courageous piece in the Guardian, American journalist and author Glenn Greenwald argues that his country is living in denial about the roots of terror by portraying Islam as a militant religion while ignoring the horrific violence and destruction it has unleashed on the Muslim world. Greenwald cites the last four attempted or successful attacks on the US soil to support his argument:

Attempted “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab said upon pleading guilty that he wanted to “attack the US in retaliation for US support of Israel and for the killing of innocent Muslims in Palestine, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and beyond.”

Attempted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, a middle-class naturalized American, said he was motivated by “US policies in the Muslim world.” When the presiding judge quizzed him how he could have killed innocent children, he replied: “Well, the drone hits in Afghanistan and Iraq, they don’t see children, they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody. It’s a war, and in war, they kill people. They’re killing all Muslims. I am part of the answer to the US terrorizing the Muslim nations and people. Americans only care about their own people; they don’t care about the people elsewhere in the world when they die.”
Attempted New York subway bomber Najibullah Zazi, first Afghan American involved in such a plot, told the judge that he did so “because of what the US was doing in Afghanistan.”

Major Nidal Hasan, the military instructor who went on the rampage at Fort Hood killing several of his comrades in arms, said he did it because of his “deep anguish” over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even the American Yemeni preacher, Anwar Al-Awalaki, who apparently inspired both Abdulmutallab and Hasan, was once considered a “moderate imam.” The Pentagon included him in post-9/11 community events and Washington Post invited him to write a column. Al-Awalakai flipped after the attack on Iraq. He was killed in a drone strike in Yemen, the first American to be killed by his own government. His 16-year old, all-American son met the same fate two weeks later when he went to visit his father’s family in Yemen.

If these instances, indefensible as they are, do not amply prove that it’s not Islamic beliefs or teachings but unjust US-Western policies and wars that are at the heart of terror and this explosive conflict, what will?

Yet the empire, as all empires do, continues to live in denial blaming everyone and everything else but its own hubris. Indeed, the more anger and frustration the US policies and actions provoke around the world the deeper America seems to stick its head in the sand. It not only refuses to confront the roots of this corrosive rage, it’s actually adding fuel to the fire.

Many of us hoped things would change under President Barack Hussein Obama because of his background and lofty promises. How wrong we all were! Look at the endless genuflection fest that was Obama’s recent visit to Israel. Someone who passionately talked of the Palestinians’ right to their homeland in Cairo in 2009 now lectures the occupied to be more “realistic” and continue talking peace with Israel even as the last remaining piece of their land is gobbled up by Israeli settlements. It’s this hypocrisy and abject American surrender to Israel that feeds Muslim angst.

This president is bending over backward to prove he’s not a closet Muslim or “socialist Muslim,’ as he joked this week. Jeremy Scahill’s book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, released last week just before the movie by the same name, paints a frightening picture of the US militarism under Obama that kills at will and makes no distinction between terrorists and innocent bystanders.

Yet the Americans are outraged when faced with a backlash. In Greenwald’s words, they seem to think “we can invade, bomb, drone, kill, occupy, and tyrannize whomever we want, and that they will never respond. If you believe militarism and aggression are justified, then fine. But don’t walk around acting surprised when violence is brought to US soil. It’s the inevitable outcome of these choices, and that’s not because Islam is some sort of bizarre or intrinsically violent religion.”

Will this cycle of violence and cause-and-effect ever end? The answer lies in the question in itself. Blaming Boston on Islam will not help America tackle the spectre of terror; confronting the truth and roots of this conflict will.

(Courtesy: Arab News)
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