SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 – THE Muslim Story and A strategy for Coping – Part One

Nov 5, 2001


So far as the Muslims are concerned, September 11 is an unmitigated disaster.

For Muslims, it is not a simple or single tragedy; it is for them a double, triple, multiple tragedy. For, they are, simultaneously, the real victims of the tragedy as well as its alleged prime suspects.

Their position is not unlike that of a husband who, upon returning from a trip, discovers the body of his beloved wife and the mother of his beautiful children in his bedroom and is charged with her murder.

English language rarely could have seen more blatant examples of “adding insult to injury” and “victim blame” than the situation in which the Muslims find themselves in the aftermath of September 11.

First of all, their name is mud – no matter how you look at it. Almost overnight, Muslims went from being the nice and interesting new kids on the block in America to suspect # 1 in the worst terrorist act in the entire American history.

Not just as individuals with specific identities, but as an entire group tied together by common faith, culture – and appearance – no matter how much we may try to mitigate this.

Now, they run a serious risk – practically everyone of them, if they look and act Muslim or carry a Muslim-sounding name – of being hunted down and thrown behind bars at the flimsiest of excuses including minor traffic violations – and without the courtesy of due process.

Second, American might and armour are massing around Afghanistan. The sheer thought and talk of an all-out American onslaught has turned close to a million Muslim Afghan men, women and children into desperate refugees on the run.

Third, whatever freedoms, respect, rights and opportunities Muslims had come to enjoy in America – and the West in general – seem to have suddenly evaporated and turned into a mirage, bringing what appeared to be a religious and cultural Islamic juggernaut to a grinding halt.

Regardless of the powerful words of support coming from the president, the Attorney General and other leaders, law enforcement and airport security personnel seem to be having a field day at the expense of Muslims, ejecting some from scheduled flights and hauling some others off for targeted searches on the ground.

Anyone today can pick up the phone and call the local police or the FBI to report spotting “suspicious-looking” individuals “acting suspiciously” in any place. That will instantly uncoil the long arm of the law to grab and deal with any Muslim-looking individuals.

For, in the present environment of confusion, anger, uncertainty and fear, to look Muslim, no matter how remotely, and no matter by whose definition, is to look and act suspicious – guilty-by-Islam and guilty-by-Muslim-look.

In the minds of many people, the shock and horror of the tragedy have turned the famous bedrock of civil society “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” into a cliché sadly in search of meaning.

Despite all the protestations to the contrary, deionisation of Islam and Muslims fills the media channels and the airwaves. Strident voices over the airwaves have become judge, jury and executioner, so far as Muslims are concerned.

Among them are those who demand that Muslim cities be bombed to rubble, regardless of the loss of civilian life.

There is a certain “bloodlust,” as President Bush put it, in the air, and it is directed at one single target: Muslims. It does not matter whether these Muslims are in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or Iran or somewhere else. At least the early refrain of the battle cry seems to be, let us go get the Muslims.

But the cruel and cold reality of the present situation is that no matter how you look at it, it is the Muslims that will end up losing their life, treasure and national sovereignty. It is their governments and societies that will be destabilized.

Fourth, according to an opinion poll, one-third of the population of the state of New York thinks Muslims must be thrown in internment camps, just like the Japanese were in 1941 in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour.

Could it happen in actual practice in the America of the 21st century? Probably not, but the possibility remains a distinct one. If not for all Muslims, at least for significant numbers of them.

According to newspaper reports, five hundred Muslims are already in custody. Their cases are being processed in secret courts. Not even their attorneys are privy to their whereabouts. In many cases, attorneys are not even allowed to meet their clients.

Responsible and credible civil libertarian voices such as Alan Dershowitz are talking openly about the legitimacy of “ethnic profiling” for security searches. That means one thing: singling out Muslim-looking individuals for special searches and possible harassment.

Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, expressed the view that we may now be entering an era of truncated civil liberties, even though she did not appear to endorse ethnic profiling like Alan Dershowitz did.

Regardless of whether or not internment camps become a reality for American Muslims, the very thought of them is sobering and chilling. It negates much of what the Muslims had come to believe about American democracy, freedom and rights.

The seeming legitimacy and respectability of the thought of internment camps for Muslims in the minds of so many Americans is not something any individual or people can forget or overcome in a lifetime.

Many former World War II Japanese victims of internment camps have not gotten over their pain to this day, even though America apologized and paid compensation.

Fifth, already, there have been incidents of Muslims being shot dead – among them a Muslim look-alike Sikh and another Muslim look-alike Mexican. Others have been assaulted. Mosques have been defaced.

Muslim women, born and bred in America, some with roots going back several generations, sporting a scarf as a head cover, have been reduced to tears at the very thought of venturing out into familiar streets and malls which are no longer so familiar or safe.

Sixth, Pakistan has been reinvented and recommissioned to spearhead the destruction of the very Taliban it had fashioned earlier out of a polyglot mix of Islamic students and its own military recruits to fight America’s cold war battles against the Soviets.

This is likely to have disastrous consequences as much for Pakistan as for Afghanistan. The two Muslim societies are likely to fight themselves to a state of near-death. Much as happened with Iraq and Iran during the 1980s.

Even if they don’t, one fraternal people will be the cause of much death, destruction, suffering and ruination for another fraternal people – as has happened so often in the history of the Muslim people.

In the mid-nineties, the Taliban was a baby born out of a marriage of convenience between American intelligence, weapons and dollars on the one hand and Pakistani military and intelligence services on the other hand.

Now, it is the same parents that are looking to destroy the Frankenstein monster they created together. Millions of much-ravaged and poverty-stricken Muslim people of Afghanistan and Pakistan – men, women and children – are simply a footnote to this game of geopolitics.

No one seems particularly worried about the human toll or suffering in Muslim Pakistan, leave alone Muslim Afghanistan, as the grim tapestry of death and destruction unfolds all around Muslim central Asia.

There seems to be a general indifference about the prospects of imminent death, destruction and further destitution for humans – Muslim or not – numbering millions, that loom on the horizon.

Seventh, from Indonesia to India and from Iraq to Iran and Sudan, Muslim life and treasure seem, more than ever before, to hang precariously in the balance. Muslim societies and states have become routine airwave fodder in America as preferred targets for likely death, destruction and destabilization.

Eighth, the sheer enormity of the terror unleashed on an unsuspecting America on that dark day, has spawned a broad-based movement in America for a re-evaluation and rollback of civil liberties – something no one thought was ever likely to happen.

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