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.
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.