No 'us' and 'them' in the war on terror: Azeezah Kanji
On both sides of the war on terror’s pretend line between “they” who are barbaric and “we” who are civilized, it is innocents suffering the most.
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The images of the aftermath of the Manchester attack have been devastating: families stricken with grief for children lost, a country’s sense of safety and security shattered.
As Canadians, we are able to mourn the lives lost in Manchester last Monday because our media shows us their faces and tells us their stories — an attention hardly ever accorded to those living under the daily terror of the war on terror initiated by the United States.
We see the girls killed while attending an Ariana Grande concert in the U.K., but not the wedding parties pulverized by missiles in Yemen, or the mourners targeted by strikes on funerals in Pakistan, or the patients obliterated by bombs hitting hospitals in Afghanistan.
Our hearts break for the families bereaved in terror attacks in Western countries, but generally do not register the pain of Iraqi mothers whose babies have life-threatening birth defects caused by toxic American weaponry, or of children whose close relatives have been incinerated by drones. (As many as 1,407 civilians, including 307 children, have been killed by U.S. drones alone in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, as documented by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.)
The same week as the atrocity in Manchester, airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition killed more than 100 civilians, including 42 children, in Syria; and a U.S. navy SEAL raid in Yemen killed five civilians, including a 70-year-old partially blind man, according to London-based human rights organization Reprieve. How many in Canada were even aware of these other atrocities, let alone familiar with the names and faces and stories of the victims?
We profile the casualties of Muslim terror in Europe and North America in heart-rending, humanizing detail — their ages, their ambitions, their loved ones — but do not even bother to keep track of the total number of Muslim civilians dead in the name of fighting terror.
The best estimate, from the U.S. group Physicians for Social Responsibility, is that between 1.3 million and 2 million people were killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in the first 10 years of the war on terror alone (this figure excludes the toll in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria). Perhaps more than 4 million Muslims have died because of Western interventions in the Middle East and South Asia since 1990, but it is impossible to know for sure.
Western victims of terror are grieved as individual, irreplaceable fatalities; Muslim victims of the war on terror aren’t even recorded as an accurate statistic.
“We all know the ‘war on terrorism’ kills more civilians than terrorism does; but we tolerate this because it is ‘their’ civilians being killed in places we imagine to be far away,” writes NYU professor Arun Kundnani.
These are the privileges of belonging in the West: of feeling normally invulnerable to the types of destruction our militaries rain down on others, of not needing to know or care about the consequences of the violence our countries derive profit from. (The U.S., Canada, France, and the U.K. are the biggest exporters of arms to the Middle East.)
We are left perpetually asking why “they” hate us — is it because of our freedom? Our pop music? — while being kept systematically ignorant about the grievances produced by the militarism of our government and its allies.
But as the U.S. Defense Science Board concluded in a report for the Department of Defense in 2004: “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies.” Before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, British intelligence services warned that the “threat [of terrorism] will be heightened by military action against Iraq ... reflecting intensified anti-U.S./anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world.”
Non-state terrorism has increased almost fivefold since the war on terror began in 2001, causing 29,376 deaths globally in 2015 (90 per cent in countries destabilized by conflict) — while the war on terror itself has expanded to engulf more and more of the world as its battlefield.
Mainstream Canadian media coverage and commentaries artificially disconnect acts of non-state terrorism from this broader context of the brutalities of state counterterrorism.
This sustains the myth that “their” violence is exceptionally aggressive, senseless, fanatic, and indiscriminate, while “ours” is all defensive, rational, liberatory, and precise.
But on both sides of the war on terror’s pretend line between “they” who are barbaric and “we” who are civilized, it is innocents who bear the heaviest burden of suffering.
Azeezah Kanji is a legal analyst based in Toronto. She writes in the Toronto Star every other Thursday.