Re-watching the recorded images and sounds of the September the 11th attack on the World Trade Centre, as a Muslim I am faced with the question as to how the perpetrators justified their mass slaughter of thousands of innocent people on the basis of Islam. In New York five years ago, people were going about their daily lives on what should have been a normal working day; they were unaware that they were combatants on a battle field or that they were engaged in a war and that the building where they worked was the main target. Most Muslims like myself can find no justification for the killing of such innocent people under Islam, irrespective of whether they believe there may or may not have been any merit to the political grievances that Al Qaeda point to for justification of such attacks. There is near unanimity amongst the scholars and intelligensia of the Muslim world that Muslims need to address the thinking, which a very small minority of Muslims carry, that the killing of innocent people can be justified such as that of September the 11th. The thinking of such “Jihadists” if left unchecked has such serious consequences that the Muslim majority cannot afford to take the position that this is just a matter of a difference of interpretation of Islam: that we can agree to differ on the killings of civilians, and leave such “Jihadists” to operate freely.
In the Muslim world, everyday brings news from Iraq and Afghanistan about car bombs, suicide attacks, kidnappings, torture and fatalities that run into the dozens or sometimes hundreds. Pictures of tortured bodies regularly appear on Arab satellite channels, and by all accounts a very high percentage if not the majority of people killed are civilians; people who were not interested in fighting anyone but happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The minimum estimates for non-Allied casualties incurred in Iraq and Afghanistan is of the order of approximately thirty to forty thousand people. Whilst many of the casualties can be attributed to collateral damage that results from military actions undertaken by the allied forces, some of them can be attributed to sectarian killings, others to criminal elements, some to cross-fire and so on. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, there seems to be no end in sight to the killings that are taking place, and Western military commentators talk about the need to keep on fighting for the next five to ten years in both countries.
Although Western military forces cannot be held accountable for all the civilian deaths that have occurred, all of these deaths can be attributed to the failure of Western allies to stabilize the societies of the countries that were invaded. And it is now widely accepted that very limited planning was done to deal with the post-conflict situation in both countries and many leading politicians were very naïve in what they thought would happen in both Iraq and Afghanistan once the old regimes were removed. It is this incompetence, naivety, mistaken thinking amongst leading Western politicians that has lead to the situation where hundreds of civilians are dying every week. The potential for fighting between Shia and Sunni was entirely predictable in Iraq, and so was the support for the Taliban in Southern Afghanistan amongst the Pushto speaking tribes.
There is an Islamic tradition that goes back to the Prophet that each generation of Muslims is taught. “If you see something wrong (munkar) don’t try to fix it if you don’t have the capability especially if what you do will cause anarchy and discord (fitnah) in the society”.
Today we see that neither the US or Britain or their remaining allies have a credible plan for stabilizing Iraq or Afghanistan. Nor are they prepared to pay the necessary price – money and people – for stopping the anarchy that has spread throughout these countries. There is no real Marshall plan for Afghanistan or Iraq and there seems to be no interest amongst Western taxpayers to make the necessary sacrifices to sort these countries out. What we are witnessing in Iraq and Afghanistan is an experiment that a small number of Western politicians have come up with; a plan to re-engineer societies whose culture and history they have very limited understanding of. These “experiments” are clearly not working and it is time to acknowledge this and look for a way out even if it means making a deal with our enemies. As we remember September the 11th we should also reflect upon all the causalities that have happened during the War on Terror. Is it not time for Western intellectuals and the public to hold their leaders to account for all the deaths that they have caused and for the anarchy they have created, and ask them for the way out?