Monday, May 27, 2013

Blogging Dirty Wars, chapter two. Anwar Awlaki, 9-11, and "religious violence"

Chapter two introduces Anwar Awlaki-the first US citizen known to be targeted for assassination by the US government. Awalki was born in the US but his parents were from Yemen. His father came to the US for education and then returned to Yemen. It was his hope that Awlaki would follow in his (academic) footsteps. He did initially but became an imam, and was very popular. Taken what is publically known of his time in the US (the chapter ends with him leaving the US for Britain in 2002) there were certainly some coincidences, but nothing that definitively links him to terrorist activities.
The parts of this chapter which resonated most with me was the description of time immediately post 9-11, and how that period played out if you were Muslim. Also, what you might call the “middle class” immigrant experience. That is, people who have the means and resources to come to a more developed country for education and even to stay. For these people, who have a real choice ,there is pull between opportunities that the more developed country presents, versus the unique aspects of home. Awlaki’s father had come to the US to study, and then returned to Yemen to teach, it was his hope and expectation that his son would do the same. One the people I follow on twitter is Haykal Bafana, Yemeni national who grew up in Singapore.  It was his father’s hope that he would live in Singapore, but he ultimately (at least as of this writing) came back to Yemen. He described this in some tweets, noting that as frustrating as Yemen was, he felt called to be there. Although my own circumstances are quite different, I understand the sentiment completely. I have issues with my city and state and even country regarding any number of issues, however I’m not worried about being killed by bombs or drones. As a fortune-teller tells the character Tex (in the book and the movie) “Some will stay, some will go. You will stay.” I always thought I would go, at least out of state, but it turns out I am one who stays.
As to the time post 9-11 I remember that time personally as a time when I felt very disconnected from my culture. I felt sadness at the attacks, but not fear, I think in part because I knew quite well that they did not attack us for our “freedoms”.
I take concepts of liberty and freedom for all very seriously, so if these principles are not distributed in an equitable fashion, I do not consider that fair. I think it is this what has led me to have a somewhat adversarial relationship with my country (and my religion as well). It is also why I felt a modicum of sympathy towards people who felt they had just had enough of American foreign policy. No, of course none of the people who died in the 9-11 attacks “deserved it” but neither did the many people, in Central America among other places, that had been killed either by US forces or with full US support in the name of “freedom”. How many people have been killed by my government, in my name essentially, and if I was killed in a terrorist attack would that only be fair? No, I am not in the military but neither are the many civilians killed by drone attacks. I didn’t support these killings but since my government did am I not fair game?
The US government claimed they hated us for our “freedom”, and it was clear at least some of the country believed that, which I found so depressing. Did people really not know any history, or was it ok that the US killed people, because the US is always right, by definition. To this day, I am not sure. I recognize it is probably a little of both, although I have always clung to ignorance. However as I watch “liberals” who were so quick to criticism GWB for the same things that Obama is doing, I have to admit to myself that may not be the case.
Reading Awlaki’s and other imam’s reactions to the attacks is heart wrenching. Needless to say, none of them were prepared for such an attack and how it would impact them and their followers’ lives. As described in the book Muslim women, easily identified by their headscarfs, required escorts for safety. I have since heard of all kinds of experiences of Muslim women being harassed, attacked, in front of their children.  It makes me really sad-what kind of person harasses women and children-is that really what “America” is about? How can you claim to be about “freedom”? All major religions have had periods of time in history where they were the “other”-if it wasn’t right then why is it ok now?
I remember, locally, that immediately after the attacks that it was Japanese organization that officially came out to support Muslims. This makes perfect sense, since this was only group that could really relate to the situation. Only Japanese Americans have been accused and punished-as a group-for something they had nothing to do with, because they were easily identifiable.
I had at that point not thought very much about Muslims in this country, or Islam, and have only learned in the intervening years just how difficult that time was. My tendency is to assume that most people think like I do-most large, mainstream, organized religions are more alike then similar. They generally preach the same thing, which generally runs in line with humanist principles. Obviously, there are differences, especially in social issues and there are large cultural influences. But I could never buy the idea that Islam is a “violent religion”. Yes there are some violent Muslims, there are violent Christians too (KKK anybody?) Just as there are many Christian groups I do not want to be associated with, I can easily imagine that most Muslim are not terrorists or are supportive of them.
People who claim Islam is “violent”-particularly odd coming from the new “atheists” crowd are either ignorant of history or have some odd ideas of what constitutes “violence”.  Just to name a few, the killings inherent in the crusades, the years of religious strife in Europe in the medieval period and post-reformation, WWI and WWII by Christians. Current and recent repression by Buddhists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka of Muslims and the Tamils. Recent violence against Muslims by Hindu extremists. There is also, rarely mentioned, the broader issue of institutional violence that occurs from corporate hegemony pushed by the West (i.e. Christian majority nations) that is only resisted by relatively small groups of Christians.
By the same token, I do not think any religion makes people more violent. Whenever you get groups of people with disagreements-usually to some degree over resource allocation-you get conflict. It may manifest itself as an ethnic or religious conflict but 99% of the time the fight is really over something else quite tangible. I remember a discussion with my mother regarding the institution of the (Catholic) Church. At some point, somewhat frustrated over my frustration with the institution she said to me “God is God. But God works though people, and people are fallible”.
And that I think sums up the conflicts that we are involved with-they start and end with the inherent fallibility of humans themselves.

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