12 Sep 2013
FEATURE – It might well be 12 years since the tragic events of September 11 2001, but for Muslims across the world things have not become better. In fact, for many it had become worse. This is the general consensus among both analysts and VOC listeners whom VOC’s Open Lines spoke to in a show aired on Wednesday. Asked if the US’ foreign policy – which many have blamed for the antipathy towards that country – had changed since 9/11, senior researcher for the Media Review Network (MRN), Ibrahim Vawda, was emphatic in stating that the US’ relationship with the Muslim world had become worse.
“Since 9/11 to this day, including what is now happening in Syria, you find that the US’ foreign policy has been targeted at Muslim countries.” He referred to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq “which had been based on a pack of lies”, followed by developments in Libya and overthrow of dictators in Tunisia, along with developments in Yemen and Egypt. “Bahrain was about to fall when it was protected by Saudi Arabia and the US,” Vawda said, adding that in that context, the US foreign policy had actually become worse since 9/11.
“That foreign policy is based purely on attacking Muslim countries, occupying them and destroying totally the Islamic heritage in those countries.” As a result, Vawda said, it would take those affected countries up to 50 years to recover. “The Arab Spring had to be stopped dead in its tracks. So what is happening? Tunisia is in turmoil. We all know what is happening in Egypt and I feel sorry for those people who are heading back to an oppressive military regime which they will not recover from for another 50 years. The same for the Yemenis,” he predicted.
This has had a detrimental impact on relations between the US and the Muslim world because of “deep rooted Islamaphobia” and a tactic to divide and conquer by amongst others, pitting Sunnis against Shia. “So you do not blame the Muslims. As a result of this deep rooted Islamaphobia, you get the worst of aggression by the West on Muslim countries – the occupation and invasion of these countries; the violation of human rights and international laws; the unconditional support for apartheid Israel… What do you expect Muslims to do? Love America and the West? I don’t think so,” Vawda said.
Disregard of international law
Chairperson of the SA Muslim Network (Samnet), Dr Faisal Suliman. concurred fully, saying the most glaring issue post 9/11 has been the “complete disregard for international law”. “Under the guise of the war on terror, we saw the phenomenon of extraordinary renditions – something that was unthinkable before that. Torture, water-boarding, illegal black op prisons set up all over the world, complicity among state security agencies that were forced under anti-terror legislation,” he related, adding that all this was made worse by silence from the United Nations and most of the world.
As for Muslims, he said it was true that 9/11 had changed the world forever for them. “The portrayal of Muslims, profiling of Muslims, the changes in international travel… All this shows that international law and human rights had just gone out the window and what is worse is that it is being duplicated over and over again; for instance in Egypt where the military has suddenly declared the Muslim Brotherhood – who has been in existence for years – as ‘terrorists’.”
As for those who were really behind the 9/11 attacks, Suliman said that was almost a separate debate. “But whoever it is, irrespective of race, religion or national affiliation, they needed to have due process, they needed to go to court to face the consequences of a horrific act. That does not mean you get to invade different countries beyond all norms and standards of law and decency, along with all the consequences of the law of terror. There is just no place for that.”
According to Suliman, there was “absolute overkilll, but then there was a greater agenda at play”, one of which was the manner in which the subsequent warfare helped the US economy out of its recession. To pave the way for such warfare, he said, a one dimensional worldview had to be constructed with an attitude of “either you are for us or against us”.
This cast Al Qaeda as the ultimate enemy and in its wake, it was easy for Muslims to be the victims of negative stereotyping. And with little real analysis and no public court cases for those regarded as guilty, the truth was hard to expose, he said. With the help of the media to perpetuate these messages, “you end up with justification for all sorts of things which comes down to the war on terror in essence being aimed at Muslims and Islam”.
Vawda agreed and said such actions have now “turned the whole world into a battle field”. “For instance, these ‘anti-terror’ laws have now given the governments of the world carte blance. They can now send their drones to do targeted assassinations. It opens the doors.” It is for this reasons that when the SA government was “coerced” into introducing the Anti Terror Law in 2003/4 that civil organisations like MRN took a very strong stance against it.
Consequently the bill was watered down considerably before being enacted, Vawda said. “But as we feared, these so-called anti terror laws are no longer directed at the war on terror. It has in fact become a war on freedom and civil liberties.” As such, not even South Africa has been unaffected, with Islamaphobia and racial profiling – albeit it to a lesser degree than abroad – making its presence felt.
“Over an above that, you get people like Hussein Solomons and De Wet Potgieter lately who demonise SA Muslims. Ours mosques and madaris have been labelled as camps where ‘terrorists’ are being trained. With the World Cup, Muslim together with alleged Al Qaeda cells in this country were accused of plotting a terror attack. We challenged Solomons at that time and to this day, he has not produced one iota of evidence, although he is still on his tirade,” he said.
“As for the racial profiling at OR Tambo, we again approached National Intelligence, wanting an undertaking from them that they will investigate what is happening, but until now we have not had any joy. However, while SA Muslims have been very vociferous, at the same time, we must give full credit to our constitution in this country. Government has been very objective and not really taken sides and we must commend them for that.”
However, both Vawda and Suliman were of the opinion that the demonisation of Muslims as a consequences of 9/11 will not go away quickly. “At a guess I would say this issue of using 9/11 as a pretext to demonise Muslims and Islam will be with us for a long time. So we have to continue being vigilant at all times. The ummah has a huge battle on its hands. We cannot afford to bicker among ourselves and talk about sectarianism. It plays into the West’s policy to divide and rule.
“My appeal to the SA Muslim community is – let us forget sectarianism. We are first and formost Muslims then everything else. With that in mind, we must also be wide awake to the various nuances and power games that are being played out across the world. Let us also not just be influenced by what we see in mainstream media. Our SA media, unfortunately, never give you an in-depth account. It is superficial, based on what they hear and see in other mainstream international media. So let us understand that as Muslims we face a huge threat and we need to be prepared for it.”
Again Suliman concurred. While South Africa was “one of the best countries” for Muslims to live given its respect for freedom of religion, a negative image of Muslims persists in the media, from social media to talk shows, television and film. “All of them reinforce one stereotype – that Muslims are violent, oppress women, are intolerant to other religions…” Therefore it was imperative that civil society holds the media accountable, he added. “So we must not be lulled into a false sense of security when things are still carrying on.”
In terms of moving forward, Suliman said Muslims would do much more good by simply being “good human beings” in their daily lives. “Let’s just be honest in our businesses, in our dealing with people and then use opportunities to talk about Islam. Not to proseletyze, but to answer the awkward questions that people are wondering about. Don’t be shy – talk about terrorism, hijab… even in our work environment, but you need to be educated about it first. Also, we need to be seen at the forefront of social justice movements like the protection of the environment. So there is a lot that can be done, but it has to be at grassroots level.”
Asked on Facebook if the situation had improved for Muslims over the last 12 years, Shamiel dramatically wrote that “9/11 was an opening to all evil.” Yazeed thought things were definitely getting worse for Muslims. “Countries are being threatened by sanctions if they don’t support homosexual marriages yet, it’s quite common for those same countries’ diplomats to publicly label all Muslims as a threat and there is not action taken against them.”
Fazeela agreed. “It just got worse. It was a good excuse to start killing Muslims – just call them terrorists and you can get away with senseless, brutal murders. Even killing innocent children and women.” Jasmina wrote: “Sadly we are still the number 1 bad guys of the world.” Hooda believed “it is because the true Muslim lifestyle is simple and uncomplicated that the world sees us as bad guys…and its not the whole world that sees us like that…only the ignorant, uneducated materialistic, power-driven homo sapiens – creatures who are foreign to the simple things in life.”
Abdul Shukoer also things things have become worse for Muslims. “But for Islam it has awakened so many people who did research and found the truth, algamdulillah. Islam is the biggest threat to capitalism as it opposes their ways.” Noorjahan agreed. “It’s worse because the so called ‘elite’ made sure of it. Although, they might think they have a plan, Allah is the Best of Planners.” VOC (Munadia Karaan)