No one can deny that our lives as citizens of the Western world have been affected by the tragic events of 9/11, a day when close to 3,000 innocent civilians of different backgrounds have been murdered in cold blood.
What is rarely talked about is the fact that close to a million innocent civilians, including women and children, the majority of whom are Muslims, lost their lives during the illegal wars that were immediately launched in Iraq and Afghanistan. And what's worse is that the counter is still ticking.
There seems to be no agreement on the exact number of civilian causalities in both of these countries. Some studies put the number as low as 100,000 deaths and others put it as high as 2 million. One particular poll that I found worth mentioning was conducted by the British firm Opinion Research Business. The poll, conducted in 2008, asked 1,720 Iraqi adults if they had lost family members by violence since 2003. Sixteen percent had lost one, and 5 percent has lost two. Using the 2005 census total of 4,050,597 households in Iraq, this suggests 1,220,580 deaths since the invasion. When the margin of error is taken into account, the study finds that a minimum of 733,158 to a maximum of 1,446,063 Iraqis have died as a result of the war.
As far as I know there is no study that confirms with precision the exact number of people who were kidnapped, tortured or disappeared. But judging from the public information available with respect to the people who passed through the Bagram prison in Afghanistan, the Guantanamo Detention Camp and the various worldwide secret prisons, the number can be as high as 20,000. It should be emphasized that most of these people have either been exonerated or no credible evidence has been presented against them. All this is to say that the true cost of human life and dignity is not only that of those who lost their lives on 9/11.
The important question that no one in the U.S. government is willing to answer is this: Despite all the wars and the overzealous worldwide anti-terror campaigns, did this achieve its intended objective? That is, to rid the world of terrorism. As mentioned in a recent Associated Press investigation, terrorism has instead been on the rise. That simply means the policies that were adopted by the many Western governments over the last decade have failed, and failed miserably. Worst yet, we have been conditioned to accept restrictions on our civil liberties for no apparent gain in return. Former and current Western politicians should have a moment of truth and admit that the cost of these wars, both in human and economical terms, far outweighs what they have achieved on the ground.
What's worse is that the "war on terror," a term invented by George Bush, has been progressively turning into a "war on Islam," at least that is how it is perceived by the majority of Muslims, as confirmed by various polls. Banning the minarets in Switzerland or "burning the Quran" campaign in the U.S. only reinforce this perception, not to mention that many of these anti-Muslim sentiments have turned violent as we have recently witnessed in Norway.
In the next years to come, it is crucial to take concrete actions in order to stop this rampant Islamophobia. First, Western politicians have to refrain from making anti-Muslim remarks and they should also abstain from adopting policies that can be perceived as anti-Muslim. In that respect, the statement that was uttered by Prime Minister Harper last week with respect to "Islamicism" being the greatest threat to Canadian security only puts fuel in the fire.
Second, the media should refrain from overusing sensational terms to describe terrorist attacks carried out by Muslims.Terms such as "Islamic terrorism" and "Islamic fundamentalism," where religion is emphasized, can only serve to fuel anti-Muslim sentiments.
Third, Western Muslims should become more active outside the mosque and understand that activism is part of worship that is no less important than the act of prayer, pilgrimage or fasting. Or said differently by the late NDP leader Jack Layton, "How I live my life everyday is an act of worship."
During the last decade humanity has suffered immensely from terrorism, from wars and from lawlessness. Through our collective efforts as Canadians we can change the world for the better and we can become a role model by showing other nations how communities of different backgrounds can coexist together, for decades and centuries to come.
Maher Arar is a human rights activist and publisher of Prism Magazine.