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911 and the cycle of violence

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The following is the Eid-ul-Adha sermon delivered by Imam Rashid Omar from the Claremont Main Road mosque during Eid prayers on Monday.

We express our thanks and gratitude to Allah, the Lord of Wisdom, for having guided us to celebrate `Id al-Adha today in unison and solidarity with the pilgrims (hujjaj). Yesterday, these blessed hujjaj returned from their ceremonial halting and pausing on the sacred plains of `Arafat in compliance with the most important symbolic rite pertaining to the pilgrimage (wuquf al-`Arafat). For the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) has declared in an authentic prophetic tradition (hadith):

The pilgrimage (Al-hajju) is `Arafah

We pray and make du`a that Allah, the Answerer of all Supplications (Mujib al-Da`wat), grant all those who were blessed with being present on the sacred plains of `Arafat yesterday, an accepted hajj (hajj mabrur), forgives their sins (dhanb maghfur), and allows them to return to their homelands as true ambassadors of Islam.

It is fortuitous that Yawm al-`Arafah, the most important day of the hajj and indeed the most important day of the Hijri calendar, coincided with the Gregorian calendar date of September the 11th. We recall that on this day, exactly fifteen years ago, on 11 September 2001, we witnessed the terror attacks on the United States of America – commonly referred to as 9/11. Fifteen years later the world continues to hold vigils and memorials for the nearly 3000 people who lost their lives and over 6000 that were injured in this attack. Without minimizing this catastrophe, we note the hypocrisy of the world in which we live today, that this human tragedy is constantly remembered but that terror attacks which are equally or even more brutal elsewhere in the world are seldom similarly memorialized.

This begs the question: Are American lives valued more than the lives of human beings who are citizens of other countries? The US answered this question unequivocally when, in response to the attacks of 9/11, they unleashed a revengeful ‘Global War on Terror’ that today continues to kill and maim hundreds of thousands of innocent lives in many parts of the world.

In this `Id al-Adha khutbah I would like to expose this global duplicity and injustice. I contend that since the 9/11 attacks in the US exactly fifteen years ago, many parts of the Muslim world have been suffering much less widely reported ‘9/11’s’ almost daily, without any global recognition of, or justice for, those who have been killed or maimed. In this khutbah I wish to recall the treacherous role the US has played in perpetuating a cycle of violence that has enflamed Muslim extremism around the world.

I conclude this khutbah with first, some suggestions for how we should expose the duplicitous role of the US and its machinery of state terror, second, how we should seek justice for war crimes committed by state actors, and finally, how we can show solidarity with the victims of terror perpetrated by both state and non-state actors.

Remembering 9/11 and its Consequences

It might be expedient to begin by recalling that on September 11 2001, I was living in the US with my family when the most widely recognized skyscrapers in the world – the twin towers in New York, were attacked. I remember being overcome by a deep sense of anguish. In the hours and days following the 9/11 attacks, I went to bed each night praying that the misguided individuals who were responsible for the killing and maiming of innocent men, women and children, were not Muslims.

In the mornings when I read and watched the daily news, I desperately tried to convince myself that the growing evidence against the so-called “prime suspect” Osama bin Laden and his terror group Al-Qa`ida, was being contrived with the active support of a complicit media. This is the affliction and distress that many Muslims have been suffering for the past decade and a half since that fateful September morning.

While conspiracy theories about 9/11 are prolific from different quarters, some Muslims have a propensity to grasp at conspiracy theories when acts of terror are perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam. The consequence is often that everything gets blamed on ‘Western Imperial Forces’ and leads to a denial of what are also reprehensible acts perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam. Acknowledging the latter should not preclude us from also exposing the hand of Western Imperial Forces in giving rise to the extremist violence and destruction we witness in the Muslim world today.

Moreover, the central theme of this `Id al-Adha khutbah namely, my criticism of the US response to the abominable attacks of 9/11, applies equally to Muslim extremists who justify their atrocities by contending that their terror is merely retribution for US Imperialist aggression. In fact, it is my contention that the response to violence with more violence by Muslim extremists, contradicts a clear ethical principle enunciated in the Glorious Qur’an. In surah al-Fussilat, chapter 41, verses 34-35, Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, advises us as to how we should strive to respond to malevolent provocations:

وَلَا تَسْتَوِي الْحَسَنَةُ وَلَا السَّيِّئَةُ ادْفَعْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ
فَإِذَا الَّذِي بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِيٌّ حَمِيمٌ
وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا الَّذِينَ صَبَرُوا وَمَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا ذُو حَظٍّ عَظِيمٍ

Good and Evil can never be equal to each other. Repel evil with what is better; and your enemy may become a close friend. The latter is only attainable by those who are forbearing in adversity and are blessed with God’s Grace. (Q41:34-35)

In the remainder of this `Id al-Adha khutbah I demonstrate that not heeding the Divine wisdom contained in the above verses of the Glorious Qur’an has led to a vicious cycle of violence gripping large parts of our contemporary world.

The Invasion of Afghanistan

In response to the violence of the 9/11 attacks, the United States, rather than reflect on its aggressive foreign policies that precipitated the terror attacks, instead embarked on an even more violent ‘Global War on Terror’. The ‘Global War on Terror’ was officially launched on 7 October 2001, when the United States invaded Afghanistan with the aim of toppling the Taliban regime and capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and destroying his al-Qa`ida network.

Fifteen years after destabilizing this country, and after tens of thousands of Afghans and hundreds of Americans and their allies have lost their lives, Afghanistan remains one of the most unsafe places in the world. To underscore this perilous reality, just more than one month ago on 23 July 2016, Afghanistan suffered its latest “9/11” tragedy when twin bombings on a demonstration of mostly members of a Shi`ite Hazara minority group in Kabul, killed over 80 and injured 260 people.

The US led war in Afghanistan has also destabilized and wrought terror on the neighbouring country of Pakistan. Emblematic of the violence and terror that consumes Pakistan is that on 8 August 2016, Muslim extremists attacked the Government Hospital of Quetta, Pakistan, resulting in the deaths of at least 93 innocent people and injuring more than 100 others.
The Invasion of Iraq

Less than two years after attacking Afghanistan and still seeking revenge for 9/11, the US invaded Iraq on 20 March 2003. The US supported by coalition forces from the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland, occupied Iraq and toppled the Ba`athist regime of Saddam Hussein. According to then US President George W. Bush and his chief ally, Prime Minster Tony Blair of Great Britain, the pretext for the war was “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.” The influential medical journal, The Lancet, published findings of the John Hopkins School of Public Health, which put the number of deaths resulting from the war in Iraq at well over a half a million people from 2003 till 2006.

In the aftermath of the US war in Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction were ever found and a destabilized Iraq became a fertile recruiting ground for al-Qa`ida and other extremist networks. An official British inquiry into the UK’s role in the Iraqi war (also known as the Chilcot Report) was released two months ago on 6 July 2016. The Chilcot Report found the suggestions that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that there was a connection between al-Qa`ida and the Iraqi regime, to be blatant fabrications.

More disturbingly, however, the Chilcot Report confirms a widespread view that the war in Iraq has and continues to have devastating consequences for the Middle East region as a whole. A number of scholars, including our very own, Dr. Shamil Jeppie, have argued that the emergence of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known by its Arabic acronym as Da`ish, can be directly linked to the US invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.
In a post-tarawih talk delivered at this masjid in 2015, Dr. Shamil Jeppie contended that:

Camp Bucca was a prison compound of thousands of prisoners where the Americans believed they were in control. But another story has emerged. This is where, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Amir of ISIS (Da’ish), was held for about four years. There strategies were plotted among the diverse prisoners, which included traditional Sufi and Salafi Sunnis and secular Ba`athists. This is where what we see today unfolding was conceived. The prison comrades from various backgrounds committed themselves to continuing resistance when outside.

Drone attacks in Pakistan and Elsewhere

The revengeful war on terror in response to 9/11 by the US was not limited to Afghanistan and Iraq, but was indeed a global phenomenon. One of the chief ways in which this war on terror was globally prosecuted was via drone attacks. This was in fact the key tactic adopted by the successor to George W. Bush, namely, US President Barack Obama. Under his administration the number of drone attacks increased dramatically. The hegemonic view about the use of drones in warfare is that of a surgically precise tool that makes the world a safer place by enabling targeted killings of so-called terrorists without collateral damage. This narrative has proved to be patently false by a number of credible research studies.

One of the earliest research reports to refute this claim is the Living Under Drones study produced by the law schools of Stanford and New York Universities. The research provides unequivocal evidence refuting both the US government and media claims that drones are pinpoint weapons with limited collateral impact.
The Living Under Drones research shows a higher number of civilian deaths than official statistics suggest and also exposes the narrow framing of the effectiveness of drone warfare.

The study shows the negative impact that drones have on civilians that live with the daily threat of strikes in their communities. Drones that hover in the sky twenty-four hours a day terrorize people and provoke high levels of psychological trauma and anxiety especially among young children. This terrorizing reality is integral to the ‘collateral damage’ that has resulted from this morally corrupt U.S. foreign policy.

Furthermore, according to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, which tracks US drone warfare, between 2004 and 2016 the US launched 424 drone strikes on suspected terrorists in Pakistan. More than 4 000 people were killed, a quarter of whom were civilians. Over the past year the US has launched more than 400 drone strikes in Afghanistan, resulting in more than 2 500 deaths.

Moreover, a growing number of credible research studies are confirming that the negative effects of drone strikes are fueling public resentment against U.S. foreign policy and that of its Western allies. Thus, an aggressive foreign policy ostensibly intended to counter global terrorism has instead had the effect of providing fodder for the recruitment and growth of Muslim extremist groups.

State Violence Must Be Exposed and Condemned

Thus far I have only provided a broad overview and mere glimpse of the extremism, violence and terror spawned by the US led ‘War on Terror’ during the past fifteen years since the attacks of 9/11. While I fully acknowledge that there are multiple factors that have contributed in varying degrees to the current crisis of violence and Muslim extremism, it is palpable that the revengeful US response to the tragic events of 9/11 is deeply implicated.

Sadly, the mainstream media and many academic analyses of the crisis in the Middle East seldom highlight this important part of the root causes of Muslim extremism today.  To be clear, the killing of innocent civilians is a war crime no matter who perpetrates it, and the guilty must be brought to justice in the international courts of law. More critically, however, is that the indiscriminate killing of civilians by state actors have in no way ameliorated the root causes of terror across the world and is part and parcel of the cycle of violence gripping large parts of the Middle East and the Northern Hemisphere. Indeed, what we are witnessing is a deadly and self-perpetuating cycle between the terror directed at civilians by Muslim extremist groups and the terror by powerful States on civilian populations.

While atrocities committed by Muslim extremist groups dominate media headlines, reports on the brutality of state military machinery are muted. Yet, civilian deaths by state forces as this khutbah has illustrated are not isolated or unusual incidents, but a reality in the Middle East and North Africa since 9/11. Bombing and drone attacks by US armed forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen have claimed thousands of civilian lives over the years. They have at times been assisted by British, French and German forces.

A key ally of the US, Saudi Arabia’s vicious bombing of Yemen, which continues to this day, has indiscriminately killed thousands of women and children. Israel’s bombing of Palestinian enclaves has claimed thousands of civilian lives and destroyed civilian infrastructure. Then there are the bombings by the Assad military regime, assisted by Russia, against armed rebels in Syria, which has also claimed large numbers of civilian lives.

The intention with this `Id al-Adha khutbah is not to compare tragic body counts resulting from violence perpetrated by Muslim extremists versus the US. Rather, it is to expose the duplicity of the US and its allies, as well as the global media, in their response to and coverage of violent atrocities perpetrated by state versus non-state actors.

This duplicity ensures that we are never allowed to forget the tragedy of 9/11 (or London or Orlando or Paris or Nice for that matter), but are seldom reminded of the many “9/11” tragedies that have occurred far more frequently in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and elsewhere where state actors are implicated.

In the final part of this `Id al-Adha khutbah I would like to make some suggestions for first, how we should expose the duplicitous role of the US in fomenting extremism, second, how we can seek justice for war crimes committed by state actors, and finally, how we can show solidarity with the victims of terror perpetrated by both state and non-state actors.

Exposing the Treacherous Role of the US

First and foremost, we need to be vigilant and critically monitor media reports of terror and violence. Often the killing of innocent people by state actors, for example by US drones, go unreported or are callously referred to as collateral damage. Such reports seldom make it to the front page of the mainstream media and do not enjoy the same kind of sensationalized and sustained media coverage as the atrocities committed by non-state actors do.

For example, five days after the horrific attack on civilians in Nice on 14 July 2016, which was of course widely reported, 73 civilians, including several children, were killed in a US Coalition led airstrike in Northern Syria. This violent attack by the US received scant global media coverage. It is instructive too, that in June and July, media statements released by CMRM condemning terrorist attacks in Orlando, Normandy and Nice were all published in our local newspapers, but our statement condemning this US attack in Syria was apparently received too late for publication and there was no available space.

We should make it a habit to regularly consult alternative media outlets and sources such as Al-Jazeera and media group called Democracy Now. In this way we must strive to keep ourselves informed about all forms of terror and violence, whether perpetrated by non-state or state actors.

When we do have concrete and reliable information about the state killing of innocent people that has not been covered widely in the media, it is important that we launch a robust media campaign to highlight such atrocities. We should expose state atrocities by issuing press releases to condemn these killings in the same way that we have consistently and unequivocally condemned acts of terror committed by Muslim extremists. We should issue these statements because our faith commitment compels us to consistently defend and uphold the sanctity of human life.

The safeguarding of human life is one of the supreme objectives of Islam (maqasid al-shari`ah). The Glorious Qur’an is replete with references concerning the sacredness of human life (Q6:151; Q17:33; Q25:68). The most striking of these Qur’anic proclamations that underscores the supreme sacredness of human life is verse 32 of surah al-Ma’idah, chapter 5, in which Allah, the Giver and Taker of Life (al-Muhyi al-Mumit), equates the unjust and wanton killing of one human being to that of the killing of all humankind:
مَنْ قَتَلَ نَفْسًا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ
فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا
وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَا أَحْيَا النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا

If anyone kills a single human being without just cause it shall be as though s/he had killed all of humankind; Whereas if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though s/he had saved the lives of all humankind. (Q5:32)
Therefore, as conscientious Muslims and responsible citizens we cannot remain silent in the face of wanton loss of human life whether at the hands of Muslim extremists or state terror.

We should never become desensitized to the devastating loss of human life and should all take collective and individual responsibility to raise our voices in condemnation of the killing of human beings. One such way in which we can do so is to write letters to the media exposing the under-reporting of terror committed by state actors. This strategy should form an integral part of a robust and comprehensive response to setting the record straight about the role of US foreign policy in fomenting extremism and terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

Seeking Justice for War Crimes

With respect to how we can seek justice for war crimes we can draw inspiration from Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Archbishop Tutu has been vocal in his call for Bush and Blair to be tried for war crimes. In August 2012, to show his disdain for Tony Blair’s involvement in instigating the illegitimate and immoral Iraq war, he snubbed Blair by pulling out of a leadership summit in Johannesburg where both of them were scheduled to speak. I recommend that we should actively support the persistent calls from Tutu and other civil society organizations for George W. Bush, Tony Blair and other Western leaders to be tried at the International Criminal Court for war crimes committed in Iraq. This call has been re-energized since July 2016 with the release of the Chilcot Report. We can support this campaign for justice by signing petitions calling for Blair and Bush to be tried as war criminals.

Solidarity with the Victims of State Terror

Last but not least, we should actively support relief efforts for the many victims caught in the cycle of violence perpetrated both by non-state and state actors. In this regard we are inspired by the sterling relief efforts of groups such as Islamic Relief, Doctors Without Borders and Gift of the Givers. By providing regular support to such groups we remind ourselves about the plight of the victims and our moral responsibility to end all forms of terror.

On this great day of ‘Id al-Adha, while we are celebrating the conclusion of the hajj, a symbol of global Muslim unity and amity, we also lament the many “9/11’s” the world has suffered over the past fifteen years since 2001. At this sacred time I call on you to join me in earnest prayer for an end to the cycle of violence that currently engulfs our world.

(Ya Rabb al-Quwwa) O Allah, the All-Powerful
and Irresistible in Might,

To You do we lament the tumultuous state of violence
and injustice in the world.

Help us to raise our consciousness and not become desensitized to the violence and destruction that flows throughout the world.

(Ya Rabb al-Nas) O Allah, Protector of all people and nations,

We pray for all whose lives have been touched by war and tragedy.

We pray for the lives lost, for families torn apart, for shattered livelihoods, and for those who are homeless, hungry and live in fear.

We ask You to relieve their suffering, grant them peace of mind,
and renewed faith in Your protection and care.

(Ya Rabb al-Rahma) O Allah, Lord of Compassion,
We pray for the courageous peacemakers and rescuers
who work in conditions that are often hazardous.

Heal their sorrowful memories
and strengthen them as they reach out to comfort those who suffer.

(Ya Rabb al-Qist) O Allah, the Generous and the Utterly Just,

We pray for leaders with courageous faith, wise minds and discerning hearts.

Give them purity in their intentions and virtue in their convictions.

Guide all of us to fashion a more just and caring world.

Allahumma Amin



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1 comment

  1. Re: ‘on 11 September 2001, we witnessed the terror attacks on the United States of America – commonly referred to as 9/11’:
    Equally interesting reading will be the results of an investigation by a team of international experts as to the cause of the third World Trade Center tower, the 47-storied building number 7, collapsing in a heap!

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