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Guantanamo, Karbala, Ghazzah, Madrid: the ubiquity of modern political violence


Even by modern standards, the last month has been spectacularly bloody in the scale of the political violence seen. It opened with the Ashura killings in Iraq and Pakistan, in which several hundred Shi’a were slaughtered...

Even by modern standards, the last month has been spectacularly bloody in the scale of the political violence seen. It opened with the Ashura killings in Iraq and Pakistan, in which several hundred Shi’a were slaughtered. Later in the month we also had the terrorist attacks in the Spanish capital, Madrid, in which over 200 commuters were killed by bomb explosions on trains during the morning rush hour. We have also seen huge bloodletting in Palestine, where Israeli troops killed over 70 people during March, even before the assassination of Shaikh Ahmed Yassin (March 22). In Kosova, we have a re-emergence of tension and violence between the Serb and Kosovar communities, sparked by the killing of three Kosovar children by Serbian youths. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir and many other places, the day-to-day violence that is now the norm continues unabated.

Some might argue that all these are different cases; but what they have in common is that they are indiscriminate attacks on people, the like of which cannot possibly be justified. A number of these atrocities, including the highest-profile ones, have been blamed on Muslims. In the case of the Ashura and Madrid bombings, it probably is true that Muslims are responsible; unfortunately there are Muslim groups with a record of committing such atrocities, however much we might wish that these atrocities could be blamed on others. It goes without saying that all right-minded Muslims must condemn such indiscriminate and mindless slaughters, even (or perhaps especially) if other Muslims are responsible. Those who seek to make excuses for the perpetrators of atrocities are seriously misguided.

What we can say with absolute certainty is that the Muslims perpetrating these acts are marginal and almost insignificant elements within the 1.1 billion-strong Muslim Ummah. The vast majority of Muslims, even as they might share some of the world view held by these marginal groups, such as their understanding of the modern West (and the US in particular) as malign forces whose power needs to be opposed, understand that such acts are totally beyond the pale and need to be opposed with all the force at our disposal.

This is in stark contrast to the forces responsible for political violence in the modern West. The West routinely uses violence in pursuit of its interests, with absolutely no moral scruples. The examples of the US’s military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan are before us. Conservative estimates put civilian casualties in Iraq as a result of the US invasion at more than 10,000. Another example is Israel’s brutal repression of the Palestinians. One can point also to Chechnya, Kashmir, Algeria and other examples. There are many forms of the violent, ruthless exercise of power, apart from the military. Political power can also be violent; consider, for example, the US’s exploitation of its dominance over international institutions to impose and enforce economic sanctions on Iraq for over a decade. Conservative estimates suggest that several million Iraqis, many of them children, may have died from hunger, lack of clean drinking water, the of medicines, and illness and other causes. Not bombs in trains, perhaps; but the political use of power and terror, no less.

Similarly the West has never hesitated to promote and support the most repressive governments provided they are pro-Western; governments which routinely killed thousands or more of their own people to remain in power. Nor has the West ever hesitated to support violent opposition movements against popular, democratic governments that happen to be anti-American in their outlook. Again these policies have caused death and suffering beyond measure in countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Today we are seeing concentration camps established by the West in places like Guantanamo Bay, the Bagram Airbase in Kabul and several places in Iraq, where political dissidents are subjected to physical and psychological torture for daring to demand the freedoms that the West claims to champion. Terrorism? Maybe not, strictly speaking, but there is more than one way to destroy life.

Political violence is ubiquitous in the modern, west-created world. If some Muslims are guilty of adopting methods that are totally alien to Islam because they see them working for our enemies, they must be opposed. But the Ummah has at least a moral framework demanding that we do not accept or condone these atrocities. Behind the rhetoric, it is clear that the West has no such framework, indeed is happy not to have one, preferring instead the benefits a powerful hegemon can obtain from the amoral exercise of its power.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 2

Safar 11, 14252004-04-01

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