Saturday, July 6, 2013

Blogging through Dirty Wars, Chapter 12, Anwar Awlaki update

Chapter 12 takes us back to Awlaki’s story, in 2003 beginning in the UK and ending in Yemen. Awlaki was just as successful in Great Britain as he was in the US.  He also was becoming more militant, and he had a very receptive audience.

Scahill does not get into this at all but it is my understanding that Muslims in the UK tend more toward radical ideas. Many dissidents I think (and by dissidents I mean from all ends of the spectrum) from Arab countries wind up there. A long time ago (10  years maybe?) there was an entire Frontline show on Saudi Arabia dissidents.  Personal story, a friend of mine who came from a Muslim family in India described to me how her brother became much more conservative after a stay in Britain. Like most Indian Muslims my friend and her family, while religious, were fairly mild-mannered which probably has to do with the unique history of Muslims in India. Anyway my friend’s brother, an engineer, fell in with a certain crowd, and next thing her family knew he was talking a lot about religion (and how they should change). It actually made marriage arrangements more difficult for because most female Indian Muslims were not down with the full body coverage, walking behind the husband, and no pictures.

Why is this the case? It is my understanding (translation: not claiming any expertise) that the UK society is more exclusionary; in essence there is more racism. For all the problems in the US, it is the rhetoric that everybody is an immigrant (to some extent), everybody has an equal chance, and our diversity is our strength. This is not exactly true of course but it is the mantra. Most white people completely accept it, and I really think many people of color, especially immigrants, buy in to it to some degree.  It’s a strong narrative. Honestly I think you can see evidence of this by the fact that we have not seen a real “home-grown” terror plot by US Muslims. (I’m not counting the ones that the FBI basically made up.)

While Awlaki was careful not to call for actual violence, his words and sermons came very close. The movie “Dirty Wars”, which I saw a few weeks ago focuses a lot on the Awlaki story. A lot of pictures, a local TV (!) clip of his family (the all-American Muslim family) and extensive interview with his father. And his father describes the shift, from the time when Awaki seem to have real faith that he could be a Muslim in America, and personified the American Dream, to the place where, if in his heart at least, he decided to wage jihad.  Even in his jihad calls however, from what Scahill reports, there was nuance to his criticism. He quotes Thomas Friedman:

. . . the hidden hand of the market cannot survive without the hidden fist. McDonalds’s will never flourish without McDonnell Douglas . . . ” Awlaki continues to describe a “global culture . . . that gives you no choice. Either accept McDonald’s, otherwise McDonnell Douglas will send their F-15s above your head. It is (a) very intolerant culture that cannot coexist with anything else
Awlaki defines Islam, as the only force to take on the “global culture” Awaki’s pitch was that if only Muslims could take over all would be right. While he condemned Christians and Jews even here he was particular:
The important lesson to learn here is never, ever, trust a kuffar (a non-Muslim” . . . Now you might say . . . my coworkers are fabulous people . . . but brothers . . . this person that you know is not the one calling the shots . . . when the Quran talks about the ‘nonbelievers’, it talks about their leaders . . . those who are pulling the strings.

First, that Friedman quote is the most truthful, insightful thing that man has ever said. It does not excuse the enormous amount of crap he has written, but that line is as good as any linking imperialism (i.e. US foreign policy) and capitalism. Absolutely, capitalism needs an army to back it up; there are no US foreign policy entanglements which do not have a corporate component.  As somebody who really believes in equality, in people and religions, I do not believe Christianity is to “blame” for capitalism any more than I “blame” Islam for terrorism. I think that power can corrupt Muslims as well as Christians and you don’t have to look far to see this.

But, no questions there is truth here, substitute “US corporate interests” for “global culture” and there you go. And I find it fascinating that he took the time that, even when discussing the godless heathens (non-Muslims), he took the time to note it was about the power. In spite of his success Awalki returns to Yemen to be with his family.

Reading these passages make me think, again, back to that time post 9-11 and how different things could have been. At the time, I was fairly full of myself, but have to ask what did people do to reach out to American Muslims at that time? I of course did nothing special and I remember stories here and there but was there any serious, political overtures? Maybe there were and I missed them, maybe they would not have been welcomed anyway. It is really a failure of the West, that is supposedly all-inclusive and enlightened that any major group should be so removed from society they would feel called to wage war.

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