Je Suis MENA, Anyone?

We will not “win the war on terror.” There’s no way to reverse decades of misguided foreign policy in the Middle East. Ultimately, there are foreign interests that will not be overlooked. Winning would, then, mean understanding one another and promoting unity; an initiative that must be undertaken by communities with the genuine support of governments. If the U.S. is to hold its position as a defender of human rights and leader of the free world, then our leadership demands the flag to be at half-staff every time innocent lives are lost to terrorist bombs anywhere in the world. 

As we know, it takes at least two participants play the MENA game. No one is sanctioning or threatening Saudi Arabia, the manufacturer of terrorism. No one is preventing Qatar from investing in major U.S. and French companies or from spending $2 billion on preparations for the World Cup while funding arms to terrorist groups, fueling bias political rhetoric through global media outlets and not spending a dime on refugees. Arab leaders fan the region’s fires by ignoring the needs of their citizens and then blaming their citizens for taking ISIS and Al Qaeda up on their recruitment offers. We, in turn, attack the Middle East in the name of democracy and self-preservation while redirecting Arab refugees to our allies. Generously bestowing a sense of shared pain and a show of compassion upon victims in the West while withholding these same things from victims in the MENA region is a behavior grossly akin to the way we treat those citizens in our own country who belong to minority groups. The privilege of asylum is granted to only the world’s wanted and not to those we deem “suspect” because of their skin color, name, or religion. We cannot continue to value western lives over those in MENA, especially when doing so is tantamount to participating in their harm and even annihilation, as is the case in Yemen.

The six wealthiest countries in the world have taken in only nine percent of the world’s refugees. After invading Iraq, the U.S. welcomed 90,000 Iraqi refugees, primarily composed of only the brightest and wealthiest. The Syrians have fared far worse; the U.S. has taken in less than 4,000 Syrian refugees. Obama was criticized for visiting Cuba, but not a voice was raised when he visited the Saudi king. Americans are not protesting our involvement in MENA the way they did Vietnam. Instead, we accept fear mongering, divisive vitriol, and an inadequate presidential candidate disguising himself as our savior rather than educate ourselves on the “other.” These “other” make up less than 1% of the entire American population and come from countries from which we accept very few immigrants, let alone immigrants, to begin with, and only after they have endured an arduous 10-year screening process. 

But just because we are responsible to address these questions, does not mean others aren’t. Are France and Germany willing to confront the way in which MENA refugees assimilate into their countries? While Holland, Denmark and Sweden require enrollment in language and culture programs, the French are still referring to Arab-majority Marseilles as “Black France,” and Germany, long before this crisis, had relegated Turkish immigrants to specific southern states and low-level jobs. If we managed to turn the ignorance, fear and hate among people in the U.S. and Europe into mutual understanding, respect, and collaboration against the global terrorist agenda, we could win the “war on terror”.

If we genuinely supported an end to the occupation of Palestine, ceased fueling the Sunni-Shia divide, sided with the needs of the MENA people and not their corrupt governments, took a global stance on the behaviors of Gulf countries, helped to seal the post-conflict leadership and security vacuum in MENA countries with democratically appointed governments, then I believe we could weaken the rhetoric of terrorist groups. How the language of the Quran can or cannot be interpreted to justify violence is the business of Muslim clerics. Our business is to join together, regardless of our respective religions, to keep the people of MENA from buying into those interpretations as a voice for their disenfranchisement and a solution for their social and political problems. There would be no reason for any MENA citizens to join these groups if they felt truly supported by those countries that can protect them, help them and be their voice.

What if we worked on eradicating the very circumstances that lend to the formation and bolstering of such extremist groups? Terrorist groups will not suddenly cease to exist if Islamic scholars coded, enforced and decreed one interpretation of Islam. These groups would just change their language while still speaking to the unmet needs and suffering of the people. Pulling the plug on their Quranic verbiage and interpretations is not going to stop these groups from pursuing their agendas. Behind all of their religious jargon are the desires to dominate, financial greed and lust for power. Our unified resources and efforts are best channeled into weakening the appeal of their rhetoric and false promises. Let’s not make them the alternative or the lesser evil for people. Bear in mind that we never “defeated” but only weakened Al Qaeda. Its franchises continue to wreak havoc and violence on North Africa, Afghanistan and Yemen. Sure, terrorist groups might think the Scandinavians are infidels, but to them, this fight is just as much about visibility, a place on the world stage, and domination as it is branding their acts with “Allahu Akbar”.


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