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Your brother is in Guantanamo Bay; your son lies in the rubble of Shaam

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Fostering each Muslim’s identity and connectedness to the war on terror depends on renewing our connection to the ummah, so we wake up to its real meaning and impact – and end it.

By Umm Zaynab 

In a period where global timekeeping is determined by the waves of the Covid -19 pandemic, we must recognise that other important histories are being placed on the backburner.

These issues do not lack in significance, urgency or relevance. Rather, they have been muted and eclipsed by other geopolitical, commercial and technological agendas.

Western history imposed upon us a watershed moment in 9/11, since it became the sine qua non for all warfare that ensued from that point onwards.

It is on the 20th anniversary of the war on terror, that supporters of the CAGE International Witness Campaign, are reinvigorating awareness and dialogue around the on-going global war.

While this article aims to present a balanced and pointed argument, it is written with an awareness of the innate and overwhelming emotional importance of this issue to Muslims and others who trust and hope for justice.

We need to stop considering our screens, and step away and consider each other

While it is accepted that there is a spectrum of awareness about the ongoing war on terror, there is also a disconnect between its effects and consequences on humankind, especially the Muslims.

It is crucial that we understand the acts of warfare and their humanitarian consequences within a proper context to properly register the gravity of the war on terror.

This demands a shift in perspective, away from the simple digestion of the misinformation, numbers,  statistics and justifications provided to us through different media channels, through the internet.

Firstly, it’s important to understand the role of the USA in a proper way. Traditionally a war is defined and analysed in relation to its opposing forces.

Semantics aside, the name of this war is both telling and elusive. On the one hand, the term “war on terror” was coined by the USA.

It was the then President George W. Bush who purported to have undertaken the label, claiming it had been endorsed by explicit global consent. He claimed, “We are supported by the collective will of the world.”

These beguiling, demagogic words birthed a paradoxical narrative. While the USA tactically positioned itself as the protagonist custodian of the safety and welfare of the world, it did so by simultaneously assigning a general victimhood to all of the Western world.

With this title, the US also claimed authority over the meaning of the word “terror”. This also meant that it was not a war on a specific country as has always been in the past, but it was a war with a concept that it gave itself the authority to define.

This meant that governments of the West had declared war not against an identifiable adversary, but against an open-ended, politicised and subjective construct of what “terror” is, was and can be.

This means it is supposed to be a perpetual war.

It is the aggressor who determines the enemy and the lens is widening

Through this narrative, a weed was planted. Perpetually extending, invasive and divisive, this war on terror defined the world by dividing it along lines determined by Western perceptions of “terror”.

Employing primarily the emotion of fear through all of its narratives, the war on terror co-opted trans-Atlantic nationalism, neoconservatism and liberal interventionism to ride upon a nation-driven often racist, and always Islamophobic blend of aggression.

A climate of amorality that persists has nourished its poisonous fruit: illegitimate acts of warfare and human rights violations around the world have become normalised.

While the spin doctors of the war on terror constantly propagate the notion that this global war is not targeted at Muslims, they have deviously created facial composites of the “enemies”: a bearded man and a veiled woman.

This sustained media campaign runs in parallel with a devastating trajectory of war on the Muslims, whether it is an actual physical war on Muslims abroad, or a sustained low-level war on Muslims at home.

This means that Muslims must push back against this narrative with a clear counter narrative and clear civil actions that demonstrate a shared awareness that we are all part of the undefined adversary, and we all must work together to challenge it.

Many people must first be woken up. Starting with the consciousness of the Muslims, people must be educated and warned not to be misled by war on terror’s semantics and propaganda.

Firstly, we must understand that the war on terror is a World War.

It is not a campaign or a policy – although these are parts of it. Rather, it is a war involving the whole world, and it is also a war on the world.

It is also important to understand that its history did not start with 9/11, as its pundits would have us believe. Propaganda has isolated what occurred post 9/11 from the documented atrocities prior to the Bush administration in countries like Bosnia and Kosovo.

In fact, Muslims and other concerned people must connect all the dots from the years post World War 2 and leading up to 9/11.

Muslims know it goes back even further, to the time even before Firawn’s (Pharoah’s) war on Moses and the people of monotheism, which provided the first documented large scale war on religion.

The threads of these wars run from that time, to every present day Islamaphobic tweet.

We must start by acknowledging that opposition to Islam (a life lived according to the laws of monotheism) has existed for centuries. The war on terror is simply our chapter of this war, and its goal is perpetuity and limitlessness.

By nourishing love for each member of the ummah, we will wake up and act for goodness

The war on terror is a War on Islam, so we must ask the question: why is should it even be necessary to raise awareness amongst people about a war of which they themselves are a part?

The answer to this question lies in the concept of identity. The concept of the individual Islamic identity and the corresponding collective identity of the Muslim ummah is being corroded. This corrosion is very much a project of the official war on terror, however it predates 9/11.

To begin, man-made geographical borders drawn in the era of colonial conquest according to the whims and greed of Western invaders have created fictional separations between us. Nowhere is the devastating impact of this more evident than in Africa and the Middle East, where most Muslims live.

These borders then facilitated the deepening of ideological differences, which were fanned by propagandist agendas, even within the ummah.

Schisms around ideological concepts of Islamic liberalism, radicalism and fundamentalism have been deepened, carving away the ideal of a global society and the key concept of the ummah and its role.

All of these concepts are thrown into a pot by those outside and even within the ummah, and as the pot stews, real, relevant and pressing Islamic teachings about the ummah and our task in the world evaporate, until today the concepts of brotherhood and sisterhood have become symbolic.

Present-day Muslims must assess how far they themselves are removed from the concept of brotherhood continually emphasised by the Prophet Muhammed ﷺ and demonstrated initially by the muhajireen who migrated from Makkah and the ansaar who received them after their Hijrah to Madinah (may Allah be pleased with them all).

Aside from the practical dissipation of these concepts of brotherhood and sisterhood that is evident by the current state of our world, on a more abstract level, the pollution of Islamic values has also taken place, where our din has been hijacked by foreign ideas such as materialism, that have distracted us from the Prophet’s ﷺ words that each Muslim’s suffering must affect all of us.

There is an association between the devastation caused by the war on terror and a proper awareness of its meaning and implications, and the conduit linking them is our Islamic identity, which is our individual and communal identification with the ummah of Muhammad ﷺ .

The stronger the conduit, the greater the awareness of our role and what we must do to end this war, for a war is never without end. It is only Allah that is without end.

The stronger our Islamic Identity, the greater we become connected to the effects of the war on terror, and the greater our inspiration to end it in a way that is beneficial for humanity.

When families, Imams, madrassas, schools, authors, poets, journalists and communities begin strengthening the Islamic identity of their constituents in the best ways, our reaction to the war on terror will be much more appropriate than it is today.

This consciousness and desire to be positively active will not flow from a remote political standpoint, but rather from a deeply personal and intimate nexus within our hearts, who will be connected with those who have been directly harmed, as well as those who will be targeted in future.

When the barefoot, naked displaced toddler, the raped veiled woman and the broken tortured detainee are identified as the faces of our own family, then we will attain our awakening and be able to end the war on terror.

Once this link is established, the inhumane persecution, torture and systematic limitations placed on Islamic practices will activate Muslims in the West and those who are under attack in other areas.

When brotherhood is the basis, then the reaction to human rights violations and policy constraints on worship cannot be diluted, and it will not be stopped by the favour of Allah.

There is nothing that can adequately illustrate the devastation of the war on terror

Aside from the divine support this will bring, there is also practical evidence that supports global action to end the war on terror; there is a great body of research proving that this perpetual war contravenes all international laws meant to govern the world.

This even non-Muslims cannot deny. The following violations provide evidence of this, and they are by no means exhaustive.

Firstly, the violence and displacement the war on terror has caused is unfathomable at this point, but certainly devastating. With open aggressive “activity” in 85 countries, the war on terror is conservatively estimated to have killed more than 929,000 people in direct violence, although the numbers dead may be as high as four million or more.

It is estimated to have displaced an astounding 38 million people. These are in the regions of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq and Syria.

This does not include most people killed in operations in the Philippines, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Seychelles, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and other areas where the US has extended its reach out of the eyes of the mainstream media.

In each of our individual worlds of numbers, we should take pause to assess these numbers.

We should also consider the concept of proportionality. The total death due to 9/11 was 2,996. Even with the conservative numbers cited above, this means that the war on terror has claimed more than 300 times more lives than those attributed to 9/11.

These killings are the killings of cowards, largely executed by men and women who sit far from the live action of war. Strikes by aerial predator drones are the most distinguishable characteristic of this “war”.

Drones cause massive and horrific casualties, including innocent elderly people, men, women, children and animals, all of whom are shelved under the despicable term “collateral damage”.

By removing engagement in face-to-face combat, drones offend the fundamental human principles of distinguishing enemy from friend, soldier from child. It has cast a veil over concepts of empathy, proportionality and humanity.

More broadly, drones have also allowed for the acceleration of violence along a trajectory that defies military necessity and creates a blanket of fear over which to rule civilian populations everywhere.

It is estimated that 28 civilians are killed for every one targeted militant. There is no statistical graph that can adequately illustrate the injustice and devastation of this.

The war on terror is a media, financial, construction and aid business

“Information” is necessary to sustain such cruelty. Our brothers and sisters are detained on little to no suspicion, in an attempt to extract false testimonies through torture to get this false information.

In Guantanamo Bay and other black sites around the world, the sheer evil fibre of this war is spun through physical and sexual torture including beatings, rape, waterboarding, solitary confinement and other beastly “enhanced interrogation” methods that abase the noble human form.

This is all taking place at the hands of so-called ‘civilized’ nations. In addition to the physical abuse, detainees are attacked on a mental, psychological and spiritual level.

Our brothers and sisters must witness and endure the desecration of the Qur’an, and they must live with the inability to maintain cleanliness and prayer. It should be a source of our hope that Allah sustains them and elevates them anyway.

The war on terror also constantly launches attacks on the sacraments of Islam, our mosques and madrassas – and it even condones attempts to smear the Prophet of humanity in the name of “free speech”.

Whole infrastructures of countries have been destroyed or hijacked including water resources,  electricity plants, sewage systems, airports, highways, hospitals and other civilian buildings.

This structural damage serves as an impetus for “investment in rehabilitation” for multinational construction, engineering companies and aid organisations, all funded by the profiteering banks.

As a result, the infrastructure needed to survive has been completely obliterated and it will keep being obliterated, and with it the human dignity of people who live there.

Counter-extremism provides the catch-all for dissent at home

The US has accompanied these hot war components of the war on terror with an array of side shows, the most sustained being the low level cold war on the broader global populace in the form of the expansion of surveillance, stop and search at airports, and counter-extremism policies and groups that target and attempt to neutralise any form of dissent.

The PREVENT programme in the UK where children can be taken away from parents based on state defined notions of “extremism” should be a wakeup call for Muslims in the West.

As a catch-all, to inhibit any kind of meaningful opposition, the war on terror is driven by the engineering of an ideological war that permeates all current social, media, education and other communication activities. The age-old goal of this programme is to divide and conquer.

Through a multi-pronged approach that infiltrates and dilutes the core values of Islam through policies that promote secularism, individual liberty and materialist humanism, which are in direct conflict with the Islamic tenet of submission to Allah and His laws alone.

The animus of the historical war on Islam has always been to attack Islam from outside and from within. It is the ideological war that is the attack from within, and it is perhaps this that has devastated and divided us the most, since it reaches into our mosques and our homes.

It aims to extinguish accurate preaching, teaching and the promotion of true Islamic values, by defining that which challenges all these aspects of the war on terror as “extremism”.

Neutrality, inaction and retreat are what is required of us, but we cannot comply

In the 20th year of the war on terror, we recognise that it is now necessary to step outside the propaganda, separate ourselves from the unending academic and political discourses, and connect with each other in meaningful ways that bring positive action to end this war.

We must also connect with the war on terror with more than just our minds. We must recognise each other in this, and foster an understanding of the true scale of global human suffering as a result of it, not just of Muslims, but of all people, everywhere.

Neutrality, retreat and inaction is precisely how the West wants the ummah to react.

But we can create the tipping point. By committing to a united global society of substance and solidarity against the war on terror, we wishe to express support to the International Witness Campaign by calling for an actively engaged ummah.

We call for an ummah that promotes accurate discourse about the war on terror in an unapologetically Islamic way.

Through proactive education and empathy, that we urge all roleplayers in the campaign to call for the closure of black sites, and we urge all those who agree with this and other statements we have made to join the International Witness Campaign, in whatever capacity they are able to.

As this ummah struggles to breathe, not because of Covid -19, but because the tendrils of oppression sprouting from the war on terror are being pulled tighter around our necks, we call for a renewed and spirited opposition, a new Muslim-led watershed against the war on the terror.