The Empire Strikes Muslims

If there is one master narrative that has animated the 21st century, then the “war on terror” has to be it. The fear it has created in reaction to the tragic events of 9/11 has given birth to almost every other narrative that has underpinned this generation: economic uncertainty, geopolitical turmoil, electronic surveillance, and more.

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The global, U.S.-led “campaign” against “terrorism” has rolled over countless people in several regions of the world, becoming the modern face of the empire along the way. The “Muslim World” has been the central focus of 21st century imperialism when it comes to conducting invasions, and, like the empires of old, the tyranny America imposes on others it seems to be imposing on itself.

The CIA torture report partially released by the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this week is just the latest sign of this multifaceted tyranny. Relying on a spider-web of “black sites” (now defunct) around the world, the CIA renditioned, detained, and tortured hundreds of people suspected of having anything to do with anti-American terrorism. As a part of this extensive network and campaign, the CIA also dragged in American citizens to be tortured on American soil (eg. Jose Padilla).

This is in addition to a vast network of spying and surveillance that has the potential to eliminate large portions of human privacy as we know it. The Muslims are also at the centre of this reality. The NYPD spent years spying on several mosques in the city before being exposed by the media and having to disband that particular spy unit. But what the NSA and its international “5-Eyes” allies are capable of today makes the NYPD look like a bunch of amateurs. One has only to read some of the reporting done on former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks to see that the 21st century security state makes George Orwell’s 1984 appear mild in comparison.

Add on to all this the militarization of the police, which has an increasing habit of “justifiably” killing unarmed people (and, in many cases, not even reporting it), and it becomes quite clear that the “war on terror” has become a hydra-like phenomenon with multiple faces. Taken alone, by themselves, militarized policing, electronic surveillance, and foreign occupation may seem like overtly niche, dry, political subjects best left to analysts and reporters to decipher. Taken singly, each aspect seems like a distant reality that has, at best, tenuous connection or impact with Western Muslims. (So let’s leave it up to the experts and “professional activists” to speak out against these realities, right?)

Nothing could be further from the truth. Given the middle-class privilege enjoyed by a large portion of Muslims living in North America, wars, surveillance, and police brutality often makes its way into their lives only through the nightly news. But we shouldn’t make the mistake of overlooking the fact that these pillars of the “war on terror” are done with the fear of Muslim terrorism (or just Muslims, really) in mind. The aftermath of 9/11 and its subsequent narrative are based on the supposedly ideological mutation of “Islamic terrorism.” In other words, Muslims are central characters in post-9/11 politics—inescapably so.

Mass policing and surveillance haven’t developed outside of this historical process. They were not developed in a sterilized lab somewhere, or inside an ahistorical and apolitical vacuum. The same thing goes for occupation and torture. A large portion of individuals hauled into those black sites were Muslims, and the majority of those still locked up in Guantanamo Bay are also Muslims. Most who have died and have been displaced by both Western crimes as well as by Muslim terrorism are also, sadly, Muslims. The “war on terror” is a Muslim-centric reality and narrative. We’d be fools to let the apparent distance trick us into thinking otherwise.

With the progress made by the “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq, the limited threat of Muslim political violence is again receiving a disproportionate amount of attention. Two separate cases of domestic terrorism in Canada have also recently triggered a renewed fear in domestic radicalization and homegrown terrorism. These incidents and developments have given both the U.S. and Canadian governments (not to mention European as well) the political ammunition to, yet again, use fear as a tool for political exploitation. They will use it to galvanize their base while pushing for pro-security measures that aim to expand an already-bloated security state.

In this context, surveillance, war, police brutality, torture, etc. are all “Muslim issues” in the most practical sense and should be central in our discussions of how the Muslim communities in the West relate to the wider society. Failure to do so will result in less safety, and less resistance to invasive, unlawful, state policies that antagonize minority communities for political reasons.

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    Steven Zhou

    Steven Zhou is a writer and journalist based in Toronto, Canada. Read his work at and follow him on Twitter at @stevenzzhou

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    • Martin

      Nazi Germany did the same thing to the Jews before coming up with the final solution. History always repeats itself. Except this time it is the American Muslim and Muslims worldwide who will be at the end of the solution that they will come up with. The evidence in this article proves this along with what Europe has been doing to our Islamic brothers. China along with Russia, Germany, France and England have placed sanctions on our faith. It is only a matter of time before my country America does what it did to the natives before. If anything this article points out that it is a time for all Muslims of all sects to mobilize and come together and prepare for what is no longer rumors, but truth.

      • steven zhou

        Can’t say I’m alarmist enough to see a Nazi-esque “final solution” for Muslims, but I fully agree that the challenges should prompt a collective response in all possible ways. That it’s not happening is a reflection of our need for more community building–which is developing in pockets of the world. But not enough.

      • Jim Prindle

        A word of advice….come together and stand really close….that way when we bomb you we can do it economically with fewer cluster bombs…..or just one great big NUKE !!!!
        If muslims refuse to follow local laws and constantly want special favors…. well, that ain’t gonna happen….. we may not round you all up at once…but we already watch all of you and listen to your threats of violence and revolt.

    • Jim Prindle

      Muslims have brought this CRUSADE AGAINST ISLAM on themselves by supporting global terrorism, by demanding special status and accommodations, insisting on their own religious laws over the established laws of the US. The recent cowardly and barbaric attack in Paris killing artist over a simple magazine that had cartoons of the fake, child molesting prophet Muhammad, piss be on him, shows that islam is NOT SAFE and needs to be kept in check inside a few countries so the stupid, illiterate terrorist followers do not harm civilized people.
      A great number of terrorist attacks were stopped thanks directly to the CIA,NSA programs in place and the WHITE WASHED REPORT that was fabricated did not contain any real facts….it was simply a political move of desperation prior to national elections designed to rig the election. But don’t worry, we still have a HUGE LIST of names and addresses of terrorist and their supporters, so we could be breaking down your door real soon!! Not a terrorist ?? Don’t care…this WAR, this CRUSADE is against ISLAM AND ALL MUSLIMS….so don’t worry, everyone will be included. You can rest assured that the freedom to draw cartoons of Mohammed, to burn Korans, and to torture and bomb overseas people we just don’t like will be defended at all cost!!! Muslim’s…not so much…probably not at all !! TOO BAD……..

    • garrish27