President Obama forcefully pushed back against presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump on Tuesday, calling his incessant outcry to use the term ‘radical Islam’ a political talking point. As the President rightfully denounced Trump for his proposed Muslim ban and asked if we were going to start treating American Muslims differently because of their faith, Muslims everywhere felt comforted by the notion that the leader of the free world had their back and stood up to a bully that could so easily demonize them and their faith. While it was important and necessary for the President to condemn Trump’s comments and counter his xenophobia and fear-mongering, reducing the conversation to whether or not one should use the term ‘radical Islam’ does a disservice to both Americans and Muslims the world over. It’s time we talk about the larger elephant in the room – and I don’t mean Republicans.
Each and every time there is a tragic shooting or calamity in this country, there’s almost a formulaic response: we mourn, question, have outrage, throw blame around and sow divisions among ourselves. Who was the perpetrator(s), why did he/she/they do this? And if the suspect(s) have a Muslim name or purport to follow the religion of Islam, the entire Muslim populous of 1.6 billion people are required to denounce it, and are collectively blamed often by politicians and pundits on both the left and right (I’ll be it, more subtly on the left). The news cycle is then inundated with non-Muslims talking about Muslims and ‘analyzing’ Islam. False ideas and narratives are freely thrown about – often going unchecked by journalists moderating a discussion – and many times, openly bigoted statements are spewed on mainstream networks and on the pages of our most esteemed publications. With this backdrop, a convenient argument over whether or not to use the term ‘radical Islam’ ensues, but we are no closer towards understanding why someone may become radicalized or what we should be doing to counter it.
The callous murders and horror that occurred in Orlando this past weekend were shocking, devastating and beyond disturbing for all Americans and people around the globe. There is no justification ever for the taking of innocent lives, and all decent humans from all faiths and backgrounds wholeheartedly believe in this concept. Each and every time a tragedy like this occurs, politicians like Trump use it for their own political advantage, as do others peddling books or TV appearances, and innocent Muslims unfortunately face a backlash. I want to be perfectly clear that I in no way condone, excuse or even remotely dismiss the heinous actions of the Orlando shooter. But in order to understand how easily terrorist groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda and others can recruit, or how disturbed individuals can become self-radicalized, we must start facing reality.
It’s been nearly 15 years since the ‘war on terror’ began under then-President George W. Bush. What started in Afghanistan, expanded into Iraq circa ’03 via false pretenses and stretched even further under President Obama. While our current Commander-in-Chief was able to reduce combat troops on the ground, he increased covert actions like the drone campaign in places like Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere all throughout the Middle Eastern, African and South Asian region. The debacle that is now Libya happened under this President’s watch, while the worst decision to go to war with a sovereign nation happened under his predecessor. This isn’t simply a left or right issue – there’s enough blame to go around for everyone.
The justification for our involvement in so much of the world is debatable; some argue it’s to root out terrorism, others say it’s for our own economic interests. Regardless of what the reasoning is (or what we’re told it is), the fact of the matter is that most Americans are completely oblivious as to the detrimental results of these wars/covert actions both to our troops and to the innocents on the ground in the region. When we are primarily – if not exclusively entrenched in Muslim nations – how hard is it for a terrorist organization to make the excuse that the West is at war with Islam?
A study published in 2013 (based on research from four universities including the University of Washington) estimated that nearly half a million people have died from war-related causes in Iraq since the US-led invasion in ’03. Other independent research places the number even higher. Meanwhile, the United Nations said in its annual report that the total number of civilian casualties (dead & wounded) in Afghanistan in 2015 alone was at least 11,000, this includes from terrorism, our bombs and the effects from both. One in four of these casualties was a child. This is just a sampling of the death and destruction in two nations we were at war with - never mind the many others where we are covertly involved in.
Despite the fact that civilian deaths in Afghanistan rose to record levels for the seventh year in a row in 2015, news about the country (where the Orlando shooter’s parents immigrated from) is barely a blurb over here. Again, I point this out not to excuse his vile actions, but to provide context as to why we cannot ignore realities that we have helped to create and why we must find a different solution other than dropping bombs. For example, ISIS did not exist until Bush went into Iraq; ISIS would not have expanded into Libya if Obama (along with NATO) didn’t destabilize the nation.
Last year, the LA Times published a piece titled “U.S. Military and Civilians Are Increasingly Divided”, which contained the following sentence: “less than one-half of 1% of the U.S. population is in the armed services today — the lowest rate since World War II.” That stat should give everyone pause. When most of us are disconnected from the sacrifice and ramifications of these wars, and when news outlets don’t even show images of coffins coming home (let alone bodies of dead civilians overseas), it’s easy for Americans to forget all about the mayhem and destruction being committed in our name, often times without our consent. As so many families struggle to even put food on the table, we are literally spending trillions on war and international actions that are now having dire ramifications for innocents back home.
Just like dead civilians abroad are deemed ‘collateral damage’, are we now supposed to accept that dead citizens here are just casualties of war? Good people everywhere are simply sick and tired of the bloodshed and division. Since bombing, using predator drones and war has only exacerbated the problem of terrorism all over the globe, perhaps the true question we should be debating instead of whether or not to use the term ‘radical Islam’, is what is another alternative to solving this very real threat?
We, the vast majority of the planet, want peace – end of story.