9/11, War On Terror & Islamophobia

                 After the end of the Communist menace, the New World order is challenged by 21st-century new threats such as climate change, tyrannical rulers, geopolitical instability, nuclear weapons and so on so forth. Among them is Islamic Contemporary Terrorism. An on-going conflict has been engendered between terrorist organizations and some Western countries, especially since the 9/11 attacks. A conflict can be defined as a relationship between two or more independent parties, in which at least one perceives the relationship to be negative or pursues opposing interests. Another definition would be: “an incompatible interaction between at least two actors, whereby one of the actors experiences damage, and the other actor causes this damage intentionally or ignores.” Therefore, we can say that there is a conflict between terrorist organizations and the West, even though at first it only involved Al Qaeda and the United States of America. In the past years, the conflict got wider and now includes much more countries as well as more terrorist organizations.                        

               This modern type of conflict provoked a massive cultural violence against a specific group: Muslims. I have experienced it myself, in Europe mainly. Cultural violence is a deeply ingrained attitude and beliefs that justify the necessity of violence. Muslims are being the main scapegoat for what a group of extremists has been committing in the name of Islam. This has created a hate towards Muslims and a legitimization of Islamophobia and Islamophobic acts. In order to gain a deeper knowledge of this topical issue, I will appeal to conflict assessment, which is “tool to find out the root cause of a conflict”. According to International Alert, conflict assessment is the “identification and comparison of positions, values, aims, issues, interests, and needs of conflict parties”. A conflict analysis is making my subjective perceptions appear as transparent. Therefore, I will start by making an overview of the conflict: context and actors. Following this, I will analyze the current situation regarding Islamic Terrorism, the roots and effects it portrayed towards both parties. I will make links between causes, issues, and factors as following conflict tree example. The new perspective would be to see how the discourse of “War on Terror” has led to the attribution of terrorism to Islam, and then to an important rise of Islamophobia.

9/11 and The War on Terror

             In order to analyze better a conflict, we need to acknowledge the understanding underlying causes and consequences. I will, therefore, start with the key factors and actors. While the Cold War was all about game theory and strategic thinking, Contemporary Islamic Terrorism relies on a massive use of technology.  It all started with the 9/11 attacks, followed by the discourse of “War on Terror” made by President Bush at that time.                      

          On September 11, 2001, two airplanes were hijacked into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This was the deadliest terrorist attack ever. I will never forget this day. I was in Morocco and it was around 2:00 pm. My sister and I had to leave for school; our ritual was to give a good-bye kiss to our mother. On this day, she was watching the news and did not even pay attention to us. I remember what I saw on that big TV screen. Two towers completely destroyed and on fire. My mother was extremely worried because, at that time, my uncle was doing his studies in Washington D.C. This event all affected us. Indeed, this event is perceived as the turning point in contemporary Islamic terrorism and the beginning of a New World Order. This new form of terrorism was first attributed to Osama Bin Laden, leader of Al Qaeda, before the emergence of other Islamic terrorist organizations. As a matter of fact, Contemporary Islamic Terrorism is the New World threat after Communism. Indeed, the U.S. National Security Strategy defines it as the “crossroads of radicalism and technology” and as being the main threat to International Peace and Security in the post-Cold War era.

             Following the 9/11 attacks, one of the most important consequences was the immediate transformation in security policies within the Western world. The “War on Terror” discourse drastically transformed interpretations, and policies were restricted. Islam’s perception was both directly and indirectly affected by Bush’s discourse. Both U.S. foreign and domestic policies have been restructured. The discourse has shaped public opinion and debate within the U.S. but also around the world as “social actors in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere use it to explain, react to, justify or understand a broad range of political, economic and social phenomena.”

             On September 20, 2001, G.W. Bush made a historical speech in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and attempt to attack the Capitol. During the speech, the president declared that war was the answer and he had to argue it in the most persuasive way. He used pathos, logos, and ethos in order to get support for his speech and so, for war. Bush refuses to negotiate with terrorists and therefore declares war against them. President Bush refers to the terrorists as “the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century”. He compares terrorism to Fascism, Nazism, and totalitarianism but seems to forget about communism. Not to mention that Communism is “the most murderous brand of totalitarianism”. That is certainly to support the ideas he generates: the world as one against a common enemy. Bush speaks directly to the American citizens but also to the rest of the world. He states that: “we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom, justice will be done.” Moreover, he thanks American people but also the world for the support. He clearly makes a linking between the US and other countries all around the world, to show the strength they have regarding their alliances. It is also a world as one as many victims of the attacks were “citizens of 80 other nations who died”. 

           Following that, Bush declares the enemy’s name as Al Qaeda: “The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated to the terrorist organization known as Al Qaeda.” He even compares the organization to the Mafia: “Al Qaida is to terror what the Mafia is to crime. But its goal is not making money. Its goal is remaking the world and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere.” After this remark, he specifies that Al Qaeda’s beliefs based on Islam are a misinterpretation of the religion and isn’t supported by the majority of Muslims: “The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics, a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.” It is important to make this distinction so the President won’t have any Muslim country against his statement. The second part of the speech involves an ultimatum to the Taliban. He argues that the U.S. respects the people of Afghanistan but is against the Taliban regime. As a consequence, the head of state asks for: “Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps so we can make sure they are no longer operating. These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion. The Taliban must act and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.” 

               Once again, the president emphasizes that the enemy is “a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them. Our war on terror begins with Al Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.” In this sentence, he clearly declares War on Terror against the organization Al Qaeda but also against Radical Islamic Terrorism as a whole. Bush also calls out every nation to make a decision and he states: “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists” adding that “From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” He looks for the support of other nations and uses a clever argument, the NATO Article 5 for collective defense: “an attack on one is an attack on all.” Bush doesn’t give the choice to other nations, as it is impossible to go against the most hegemonic country in the world. He makes a distinction between the “civilized world” which is rallying to America’s side and the “uncivilized world” proper to terrorist organizations and extremism. Again, he poses how dangerous for the stability of governments this threat can be and that all nations are required to help and assist the US. Above all, according to him, this is a world’s fight, a civilization’s fight and a fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom. Finally, the last part is focused on how America’s future is endangered and some speak of an “age of terror” and that freedom depends “on us”.

        As a Muslim, I strongly believe that Islam is a religion of love and peace. Extremists shouldn’t be considered as Muslims because all their actions go against most basic and fundamentals Islamic principles. Still, their actions are based on a distorted interpretation of the Qur’an, which makes them Muslims anyways. Another important point is that the amount of Islamic extremists has been increasing significantly not only in the conflict areas (Middle-East and Africa mostly) but also in the rest of the world. The way they use terror as a communication means, terrorize billion of people all over the world. This raises another issue, that has been more common in the past years: Islamophobia. Not only terrorists are killing innocent people, but also they are doing it in the name of what should be a religion of peace. 

Post 9/11 & Rise of Islamophobia

             Few weeks after 9/11, President Bush declared war on terrorism and especially on Al Qaeda and its leader Osama Bin Laden. This had led to an undeniable war on Islam and not only radical Islam. This era could be defined as “anti-Islamic”. As a matter of fact, Muslims are perceived as the “West’s new threat”. The hatred was even more increased by the media especially in the wake of recent attacks such as Charlie Hebdo and others in European countries (Belgium, Spain) and as well as non-European countries (Tunisia). I will discuss the post 9/11 era as well as the rise of Islamophobia.

           In Morocco, we were victims of a terrorist attack as well back in 2003. At that time, I was living in Casablanca, the city where the attack occurred. I remember my father calling us in panic, late at night, after hearing bombs detonation. The terrorist act happened in a Spanish restaurant. Most of the victims were Moroccans and Muslims. What people tend to forget is that the main victims of terrorism are Muslims. Terrorists are pledging a war against their own people. With the extreme rise of terrorist attacks, Islamophobia has become the accepted form of racism in the West. Today it is getting even worse, as the most hegemonic country in the world is ruled now by an Islamophobe: Donald Trump. I have been a victim of racism myself in France, Spain, and other European countries. Because I had a different passport I have been refused visas or even access to planes. I have been asked many times why was I living in a European country, why wasn’t I wearing the veil, and some argued that the ones wearing it were all extremists. I faced extreme stupidity on a daily basis.

              The 9/11 attacks and the discourse of “War on Terror” provoked a New World Order and as a consequence, an invisible war between Islam and Western World was engendered. Adding to this, the hegemony of Western countries in the Middle East or even Africa has envenomed international relations. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the system of alliances was activated by Bush’s speech while referencing to NATO’s most inalienable Article 5.25 The “Us” vs. “Them” dichotomy was even more emphasized during Obama’s administration, which has kept on using the same foreign policies (if not worse) of his predecessor. The “War on Terror” discourse began to emerge, and various alternative understandings and policy options were closed off. Today, the future is blurry regarding Muslim communities trying to live in foreign countries. These factors all led to the rise of Islamophobia but not only. The influence of media in transforming the religious understanding of the Islamic religion or by the propagation of doctrines interpreted by radical groups has contributed to increasing fear and hatred towards Muslims.27 The discourse of “War on Terror” has produced a linking between Terrorism and Islam, as people at that time related both terms genuinely. Debates since 9/11 have manufactured the reality and built the structures through which the world now perceives war, terrorism, and Islam.

                Islam became mainly identified as being the 21st century’s new threat. These past few years have demonstrated a strong increase in Islamic terrorism around the world. This has led to a significant rise of Islamophobia and Islamophobic acts. A majority of states in the world have a war on terrorism and as a consequence with the Islamic religion. This contemporary issue is hard to address and can lead to amalgams. The Muslim population is up to 1.7 billion people around the world. They are being the main scapegoat of “Radical Terrorism”, and the religion of “peace” is seen as oppressive. Following this logic, Islam is perceived as a threat to global peace and security. In reality, the bond between terrorism and the Islamic religion had never been emphasized more than after 9/11, without even proof that the incident was the result of Islam. Indeed, there is almost no scholarly work that argued the interconnection between Islam and terrorism until the late 80’s.28

               Nowadays, people are still angry about 9/11 but also many attacks that occurred in Europe: London, Madrid, Brussels, Paris. Adding to this, Islamophobia is sustained by American policies, particularly its hegemony in Arab countries, its implication in wars and occupation, but also counterterrorism efforts and actions. Bush administration has created the “War on Terror” as well as by invading Iraq. Obama administration has continued the discourse. Nowadays, the United States of America and its allies still have their dominance and authority in wars occurring in Muslim countries such as Iraq, Pakistan or Afghanistan. During the past years, U.S. operations have expanded to a broader horizon including North Africa. However, the most important change resides in the War on Terror rhetoric.29 Today, “War on Terror” goes along with the notion “clash of civilizations”.30 It has been easier to assume terrorism is a result of Islam rather than thinking about how US foreign policy. Indeed, it has created various contexts in which political violence occurs but the enemy’s name remains Islam.               

               This New World Order finds its roots in much more complex issues as well. Since the colonization era, dichotomies were already mise en place: “the North vs. the South”, “the Civilized vs. the Uncivilized”, the “Us vs. Them”, it has never stopped. All these patriarchal societies have persecuted groups and put the elite on a higher pedestal. Not only Western countries have exploited us, they have violated our sovereignty, destroyed our nations and brought chaos. Today, when we think about migrants coming from the MENA region or Sub Saharan Africa, in the hope of a better life, trying to reach Europe, this dream is quickly washed away by European policies along with the Mediterranean Sea. Besides racism, there is a huge problem of integration in these countries. Today, most terrorists in Europe are European products. They are mainly the third generation; they were born and raised in Europe. Because of persecution, poverty, lack of education and integration, they end up attacking their receiving country. In countries such as France, when you see that Marine Le Pen got to run off in the last tour, you start freaking out. Marine Le Pen’s program relies on extreme right ideologies, and all her policies emphasize on political difference and exclusion, for her, exploitation by colonization was legitimate and she has severe prejudices about the Islamic religion. Actually, I believe that she and Mr. Donald Trump would make a perfect couple.

             Today, Muslims’ future in the West remains uncertain. What terrorists are doing is perpetuating prejudices against an entire community. What we tend to forget is that terrorists are acting so because they want “revenge”. Revenge from hegemonic countries and their never lasting involvement in the MENA region especially. However, they are acting in the name of Islam, they are misinterpreting our own religion. Islam is a religion of peace, not war. We saw in class that peace could be negative or positive. Negative peace is the absence of violence while positive peace is efforts to sustain peace. Nowadays, there is clearly an absence of peace in many regions of the world. The world found itself at war against an abstract ideology always attributed to Muslims (Terrorism = Muslim). Recently, a white American man shot a crowd in Las Vegas, by killing and injuring hundreds of people. Was he called a terrorist? Certainly not. This is “white privilege” because what this man did was “white terrorism”. Nevertheless, this is a very complex issue to address because to this date, there is no commonly agreed definition of terrorism

 

Conclusion

               There are different options to counter terrorism, still, they are not always applied and in order to fight it better maybe we should go back to terrorism’s roots and understand why it is happening. Some countries have to question themselves about their position regarding conflicts in the Arab World (especially the USA). Then, maybe we can start fighting terrorism. Countries in danger should restructure their policies and security regarding terrorism as they failed to prevent terrorism and to protect their citizens in the past years (France, Mali, Turkey, Lebanon, Belgium…). The problem doesn’t rely on the religion itself, but on the way, it is represented to the public and on the hegemony of Western countries in the Middle East. By bombing countries where terrorists have their home, will not kill the ideology itself. Terrorism is an ideology and you cannot kill an ideology. In fact, education should be primordial in the next years if there is a wish to end what might be considered as the new threat. A focus should be made upon the real roots such as colonialism, and on restructuring policies in a way that they integrate all communities. A better access to education, but also peace and security policies, no such thing such as “Fichés S” which resulted in being very ineffective and discriminatory. Other solutions imply a community development project, trade relationships, community peace groups. I have the feeling that Islam is just the main scapegoat of what others’ actions created. The creation of Radical Islam remains to my eyes, one of the consequences of Western hegemony. As a matter of fact, the discourse of War on Terror has undeniably produced a linking between Islam and terrorism, which as a consequence, has contributed to a rise in Islamophobia.

 

 


 

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Shamash, Lani. The “War on Terror” Discourse and Militant Political Islam: How Did the Manifestation and Institutionalisation of a Domestic Discourse Affect American Policy and Attitudes Towards Hamas? Department of Politics and International Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, London. 2011.
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