I write to you, my Muslim community, as a Muslim, as an American, and more importantly, as a member of a collective humanity. I know that we as Muslims are frustrated at our community. I see the world and our Muslim community plagued by murder, poverty, war, and political turmoil, and we live in general fear and confusion.
In part one of this two-part series I addressed America from a Muslim perspective, drawing attention to issues and grievances many Muslims feel -- toward American foreign policies, and the growing misconception in the West that Islam poses a threat to civilization's equilibrium. Here, in part two, I take the opportunity to address, directly, my Muslim community, our Muslim community. I write on our failures -- ones for which we are alone responsible -- and the challenges we as a community face due to Islamic extremism, the failed leadership of Muslim countries, and a seeming complacency evidenced by the resounding silence of our majority. Despite these troubling times, solutions exist within us -- we everyday Muslims -- in our mosques, in our classrooms, at our dinner tables, and in the alleys of medinas across the world.
This is installment two of "Dear Muslim World," which is being published in weekly installments, one each week for the following six weeks. Last week's section was the introduction found here. This letter in its entirety will be published on my blog. Part one of this series titled "Dear America" was published in the Huffington Post here.
On October 12th, 2009 someone walked through a crowded market place in Alpuri, Shangala District. As a military convoy passed by, a bomb strapped to his body was detonated, killing himself and 41 people, mostly civilians. The attacker was not an American, but he was reported to be a 13 year-old Pakistani recruited by Taliban extremists.
I think of this 13 year-old Muslim boy. He was encouraged by extremists to kill himself and scores of innocent people. I do not see him as just another Muslim terrorist. I see this incident, and such tragic recurrences, as a symbolic indicator of the health of our community. In the alleged 13 year-old suicide bomber, I see a future unwritten and hundreds of thousands of more futures, left unwritten... potentials undiscovered. I see failure, not in Islam, but in us... in me... in our leadership... in the Muslim community.
Between the extremists who indiscriminately bomb markets and the US drones that mistakenly kill innocent civilians, the identities of friend and foe for many Muslims are blurred. The duplicitous policies of past Western regimes have played a significant role in the current molding of unstable political and economic environments found in Muslim societies today as seen within the countries of Iran and Iraq and Afghanistan. (I wrote about this issue in Part I of this series.) There are also troubling trends of 'islamophobia' in Europe which have given many Muslims a cause for fear. To take one example, a referendum recently passed in Switzerland that bans the building of minarets because according to the sponsors, "the minaret is a sign of political power and demand, comparable with whole-body covering by the burqa, tolerance of forced marriage and genital mutilation of girls." Filip Dewinter of the Belgian Vlaams Belang said, "Islam indeed doesn't belong in Europe. In contrast to the political authorities which embrace Islam and collaborate with it, a majority of Europeans wants to call a sound stop to the advancing Islam." Indeed, such developments are disheartening as well as disgusting. Thus, there is confusion in much of the Muslim world as to who the enemy is: the West or 'someone else?'
Fellow Muslims, I know I am not alone in feeling angered, helpless, and confused to the lines being drawn before us. There will be confusion within our community as we are locked between external factors of duplicitous foreign policies and internal factors marked by the growing tensions between moderate Muslims and the violent extremist minority. But, dear Muslims, for too long has the Muslim identity and our future been tied to inconsistencies in Western policies, and in the process, the true enemies within our community, the extremists, lead us down a path of further violence and uncertainty. The enemy of our faith, the greatest threat to the Muslim community today is not the 'the West'; conversely, the enemy lies within the failed leadership of Muslim countries and the extremist forces, such as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda who lead our youth, such as the 13 year-old boy in Shangala, to take his own life and the innocent women and children around him.
Indeed, no human life is worth more than the other, irrespective of race or creed. Yet, let us examine the extremist's claim to Muslims that the West are killing innocent Muslims and therefore are waging war against Islam. If one looks at the data, the terrorist attacks committed by extremists in the name of Islam, at this point in history, are actually harming more innocent Muslims than the bombs and bullets of the militaries of Western nations.
The Pakistani Institute for Peace Studies documented that in 2009, over 3,000 Pakistanis were killed in insurgent attacks and that the number of civilians killed by militants increased by a third within the last year. Additionally, the United Nations documented that 2,412 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2009; most of the deaths are attributed to militant attacks. Such data highlighting increased civilian deaths in the Muslim world due to extremist attacks is extensive and cause for worry. It must be noted that such data is not evidence to the claim that violence is inherent in the religion of Islam, as non-Muslim extremists in America or Europe unjustly suggest. The majority of Muslims are against terrorism because, as the data shows, Muslims of the developing world are themselves the prime victims of extremist's violent actions and oppressive policies.
Data on the impact of terrorist attacks in 2008 released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies ,CSIS, revealed that over 50,000 people have been killed by terrorist attacks worldwide in 2008. Over 50 percent of those killed were Muslim. The Near East and South Asia accounted for 75 percent of 'high-casualty attacks'. (High-casualty attacks is defined as an attacks in which ten or more people are killed in a single attack.) Mostly Sunni Islamic extremist groups claimed responsibility for the largest attacks with the highest fatalities. A majority of the fatalities in such attacks occurred in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. 65 percent of those killed are identified as civilians, with children being the most affected by the attacks in 2008. The actions of the Taliban, coupled with the Pakistani government's corruption, and botched international military operations have attributed to not only civilian casualties but the economic and political decay of the entire country. Thus, we witness the displacement hundreds of thousands of families from their homes and jobs. For any Pakistani living with so many threats, it is indeed confusing to identify who the true enemy is. Yet, even amidst the fog of these trying times, data and current trends show that the enemy lies within our community, among our failed leadership, among our silent majority, and most of all, among extremist despots of South Asia and the Near East.
In looking at specific examples of Afghanistan and Iraq, where American foreign policies have played a negative role, recorded data within the last two years clearly shows more innocent civilians are being murdered by reckless actions of extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In 2008, the Afghanistan Rights Monitor, ARM, documented over 2,300 civilian deaths by insurgents in 2008. The ARM additionally documented over 1,620 civilian casualties resulting from U.S led military actions in 2008. More recently, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, (UNAMA) recorded 1,020 civilian deaths from insurgent activities between January 1, 2009 through August 31, 2009. In contrast, 345 Afghan civilians were killed in attacks in internally led military operations within the same period of time. Taliban and extremist forces, therefore, accounted for 68 percent of the civilian deaths in Afghanistan between January and August 2009.
In Iraq, there is an increasing trend of Iraqi civilians being killed in car bomb attacks in public markets and even places of worship. The organization Iraq Body Count, IBC, reported that "the first 8 months of 2007 saw the most massive vehicle bomb-based attacks in Iraq's history, and occurring with greater frequency than ever. There were 20 bomb attacks killing over 50 (in one case, over 500) civilians in 2007..."
While it is true that Western regimes subjugated Muslims politically and economically in the past, as seen in Iran in the 1950s and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the illusion promoted by extremists that the West is out to dominate Islam today is one that should no longer continue to fester in the Muslim psyche. Firstly, in 2009, the President of the United States, Barak Obama, delivered two key speeches in 2009 to the Muslim World extending a of hand of respect and promising his intentions for peace and understading. Secondly, millions of Muslims enjoy education in American and European universities. Hundreds of thousands of doctors and lawyers and musicians and academics call America and Europe their home. Muslims in America are able to live in America with more security and more religious freedom than they would in many of their home countries. Suppose the West was out to dominate Islam and the Muslim world: Why then would Western nations provide aid, reforms, and protection to millions of Muslims as well? Thousands of Americans currently live in South Asia an the Near East working for institutions that spend millions of dollars on educational development and humanitarian aid for disadvantaged communities in the Muslim world. For example, one need only look at the data supporting the United States Agency for International Development's, USAID, installation of small water treatment systems in rural communities in Iraq which improved the supply of clean water for 400,000 villagers. Additionally, thanks to the efforts of men and women of the USAID in Afghanistan, over 7 million Afghanis have been vaccinated against polio (over 95 percent coverage) and the country has experienced a 26 percent drop in child mortality since 2002.
Before we as a Muslim community can find solutions, we must first look in the mirror to identify what stands in our way. There must be no doubt between Islamic societies across the Muslim World that in these times, the threat to our cultural, spiritual, and economic development emanates from the extremist forces based in South Asia and the Middle East. It is incumbent upon the Muslim World to form a united stance against the minority of extremists since the security and development of our respective Islamic communities are directly tied to the security and well being of the world we share. In addition, certain non Muslim nations must better realize the role their policies have played in enabling the current unstable economic and political landscape of much of today's Muslim World. Non Muslims must also realize that the religion of Islam is not the threat and that the Muslim majority and the West share a common enemy.
*Next week I will publish the third installment called 'Space'. I will discuss how extremists and governments of Muslim countries are colonizing on the Muslim majority's space...our space for being critical and asking questions...our space for innovation and creativity, and our space for spiritual discovery and economic development.