All over the Muslim world, we have regular accounts of atrocities committed against Muslims by some or other of our many enemies. MUZAFFAR IQBAL argues that these many and various crimes are in fact merely parts of a global holocaust being inflicted on Muslims.
No one is keeping a proper count, but even a cursory glance at the daily news is enough to confirm that large numbers of Muslims are being killed in various parts of the world every day. This has become such a routine matter that it does not cause any concern anymore. This callousness has emerged slowly. Israeli raids into the Palestinian territories used to be flashpoints for large public demonstrations in various parts of the world, but now even the large-scale devastation of whole villages goes largely unnoticed. Emboldened by this callousness, a number of organised armies are now busy slaughtering Muslims in places as far apart as Wana in Pakistan and Falluja in occupied Iraq.
There are two kinds of organised armies involved in this slaughter: those loyal to the ruling elites within the Muslim world, and the armies of non-Muslim countries. Both kinds of armies, however, use the same strategies, the same weapons, and the same brutal methods. The helicopter-gunships used to kill hundreds of civilians in Iraq are exactly like those used by Musharraf’s air force against Pakistani civilians in South Waziristan; the bulldozers being used to destroy houses and shops in Falluja are the same as those being used by the Israeli army in Palestine. In fact, military operations have been standardised to such an extent that it seems that the armies involved in these crimes are following the same instructions from the same manuals, written by the same hand.
For example, the procedures used recently for collective punishment of the residents of Wana by General Musharraf’s army are identical to those used by the Israeli army: a large number of troops besiege the area; they cut off essential supplies to the residents; the resultant shortages of food, water, electricity, essential medicines and other necessities choke the community’s life; often even the dead cannot be buried because the cemetery is outside the besieged territory; thus dead bodies remain with the living for many days. This further increases the residents’ sense of helplessness. Then there are the crying babies, moans of the sick, the sobs of the helpless men and the wailing of the women: all of this generates large-scale fear. Then comes the final assault by armies equipped with advanced weapons and supported by air-power. Some of the besieged fight back, yet almost always they are killed or have to flee. The finale is the entry of troops into the territory. This is followed by checkpoints being set up, and house-to-house searches being held, during which the women and children are terrorised and all the able-bodied men questioned; even a slight doubt results in murder, arrest, imprisonment or other brutal punishment.
This pattern is being used by the Russians in Chechnya, Indians in Kashmir, Israelis in Palestine, Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by several armies of unrepresentative rulers in the Muslim world. This large-scale slaughter is taking place in full view of the whole world. Many incidents are reported in the mainstream media. Often the documentation is extensive, but nothing moves the world’s conscience (if it has one): it is as if these daily tragedies are not a real human calamity involving men, women and children who were alive one dawn and who became numbers in the record (if one is kept) of the dead by evening.
This sort of routine mass-murder constitutes a holocaust of a kind unknown before in human history. It is not an isolated incident occurring at one place against a captured populace, like the slaughter of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258; rather, this genocide is taking place throughout the world, continually. These crimes are not being committed by one state or one armed group against a specific city or village; rather, they are being committed by many different armies, wearing different uniforms. They are not a hidden, undocumented phenomenon; rather, they are being documented as they take place. Yet they barely raise an eyebrow; certainly they provoke no outcry.
This Muslim holocaust has been in the making for a long time. Its roots go back to the Russian occupation of Central Asian lands that were taken from the Ottomans; its more recent and better-documented chapters start with the arrival of Western armies in Muslim heartlands. Napoleon’s army was one of the first to develop the blueprint for techniques and procedures now being used to the full. Shortly after landing in Egypt in 1798, Napoleon signed a proclamation that has been preserved for us by Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti, the Egyptian historian who witnessed this occupation. Signed at Alexandria on the 13th of the month of Messidor in the 6th year of the founding of the French Republic (Muharram 1213 AH, July 2, 1798 CE), this proclamation had five articles, of which the first and the second are relevant here. The first article demanded that all villages within a three-hour journey of where the French army was to pass had to send representatives to the French army, pledging support and safe passage; the second warned that “every village that shall rise against the French army, shall be burnt down”. This threat was actually carried out: al-Jabarti recorded details of the burning of villages and the plunder and destruction of large areas by the French army. He has also left a record that helps us to trace the procedures used by the French army to lay the foundations of a Muslim holocaust that is now in full swing. Thus he records that the French recruited locals to be at the forefront of their army and kill their brethren-in-faith; this technique is now being used in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Americans have also raised local armies. Likewise, al-Jabarti reports that Napoleon first abolished Egypt’s institutions and administrative structures, then reinstated them after he had recruited enough locals to carry out his bidding. The same procedure has been used in Afghanistan and Iraq. (For more details about al-Jabarti’s work, see Crescent, June 2004.)
The patterns established by Napoleon were repeated and perfected by later French rulers and adopted by the Russians, English and Dutch in the lands they colonized. When wars of independence started, the colonial powers killed several hundred thousand Muslims in order to pacify by terror. These are all well-documented cases of slaughter. The details of atrocities during the Algerian war of independence, for instance, can still break a heart; French troops routinely burned villages and went on large-scale campaigns of rape and murder. Likewise the atrocities of the British in Bengal and other parts of India, as well as the history of imprisonment, routine torture and killings in Central Asia and China, are sufficient evidence to demonstrate the continuity of Muslim genocide throughout this period.
This holocaust has achieved truly tragic dimensions since the 1970s. This date corresponds to the rise of a new Islamic consciousness among Muslims throughout the world, as if this ruthless slaughter was instituted not only to kill Muslims in their thousands, but also the nascent Islamic consciousness. Among the worst cases of mass-killings since the so-called independence of Muslim countries are those of Palestinians: the well-documented atrocities at Sabra and Shatila camps, and the large-scale slaughter of Palestinians in Ghazzah and other parts of Palestine and in Jordan. Less-publicised but equally well-documented massacres include killings of Muslims by despotic rulers: the large-scale killings that took place in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Libya and Iraq are horrific when read in detail. State repression of Ikhwan al-Muslimeen in Egypt, imprisonments, torture and executions of Syrians by Asad’s army, the atrocities perpetrated by Saddam Hussein, and the so-called civil war in Algeria are some of the examples that spring to mind.
In the 1990s occurred another tragedy, this time in Bosnia. Among the best-reported and most-publicised cases of this tragedy were the photographs of emaciated Bosnian Muslims in concentration camps, but these pictures distracted attention from a much worse reality: more than 300,000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered, and many were buried in mass graves; at least 50,000 women were raped and 1,000 mosques destroyed. In one massacre alone, under the so-called Dutch UN protection force in Srebenica, 7,000 boys and men were shot in cold blood and buried in a field. These massacres were repeated in Kosova, where Muslims were deliberately referred to as “ethnic Albanians” in order to disguise the fact that the victims were Muslims.
Then came even bigger tragedies: Iraq’s invasion of Iran and the resultant eight-year war, during which a generation of Iranians perished; the first Gulf War, during which bloodthirsty Americans rained death from the sky upon a retreating Iraqi army, reducing one of the most prosperous and educated peoples of the Middle East to a miserable existence under economic sanctions. Within a decade of the First Gulf War, an estimated 1.2 million Iraqi civilians, 500,000 of them children, were killed by these West-imposed sanctions.
The genocide of Muslims has taken on new proportions since September 2001. During the last three years, this holocaust has not only spread wider but also been given a general acceptability, to such an extent that now it seems to be a matter of routine even when several hundred Muslims are slaughtered in a single day. During the American invasion of Afghanistan, the world was given a vivid picture of one of numerous episodes. This was the case of the metal containers kept at the US-occupied Bagram air base (Afghanistan), where prisoners are routinely tortured and killed. We also have a letter from one Moazzam Beg, a 35-year-old British prisoner of war, who wrote to his wife in Birmingham from inside this cluster of metal shipping containers. Then there is the documentary Massacre in Mazar by Jamie Doran, an Irish director, which was shown in June 2002 to a select audience in Europe. It documents events after the fall of Kunduz on November 21, 2001, and presents irrefutable evidence that US troops were collaborating in the torture and killing of thousands of Taliban prisoners near Mazaar-e Sharif. At the time, the film prompted demands for an international commission of inquiry on war crimes in Afghanistan; it was also widely covered in the European press, with prominent stories in the Guardian, Le Monde, Suddeutsche Zeitung, Die Welt and other papers. But the commission was dropped because of pressure exerted by the US.
Unlike the Jewish holocaust, the Muslim holocaust consists of many scattered incidents. This clever break-up of torture-cells into smaller units has so far obscured the real extent of this holocaust, but the cumulative picture that emerges by putting all these tragedies together is simply beyond words. Within each documented tragedy there are chilling details that are enough to break any human heart that still has an iota of humanity. For instance, when the Taliban forces in Kunduz surrendered on November 23-24, 2001, the Afghan Taliban were allowed to return to their villages but foreign-born soldiers (mainly Pakistanis, but also Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs) were taken prisoner. This was in line with public declarations by US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld and other American officials, who had vetoed reported negotiations between Northern Alliance generals and Taliban officers to provide safe passage for non-Afghan Taliban in exchange for the surrender of Kunduz. Between 400 and 800 of these prisoners were moved by truck from Kunduz to the outskirts of Mazaar-e Sharif and eventually herded into Qala-e Janghi fortress, which was being used as General Dostum’s military headquarters. During the night of November 24 a Taliban prisoner, who was about to be taken away, detonated a hidden hand-grenade, killing himself and two aides of Dostum’s. A number of other PoWs followed suit, blowing themselves up with hand grenades. The next day, Sunday, November 25, Northern Alliance forces began to tie prisoners’ hands behind their backs. Some 250 PoWs had been tied up when two American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents inside the fortress began to interrogate them. The Americans’ intervention was apparently the spark that set off the ensuing events. A fight broke out between CIA agent Johnny Spann and one of the prisoners, leading to gunfire that resulted in Spann’s death. The Times of London reported on November 28 that Spann shot and killed four prisoners before he was wrestled to the ground and killed by other PoWs. The prisoners then charged the Northern Alliance guards and seized their weapons. A second CIA agent fled the scene and contacted American officials by satellite-phone, urging them to send reinforcements. US and British special forces soon arrived outside the fort and began an all-out assault on the PoWs inside. In the days that followed, US special forces oversaw the extermination of almost all the PoWs. They reportedly instructed Northern Alliance troops to pour diesel fuel into a basement where prisoners were hiding and set it on fire, for instance. After the heaviest fighting was over, an Associated Press photographer said he saw the bodies of up to 50 Taliban, whose hands had been bound, laid out in a field inside the fortress. Other British press reports said that Northern Alliance forces executed all the Taliban prisoners who managed to escape from the fort.
In a report on November 29, the BBC documented the direct role of American forces, noting that half a dozen US special forces soldiers were seen firing down on prisoners from outside the compound. The Times of London on November 28 confirmed this report: “witnesses said it was quickly apparent that trained soldiers were taking part in the assault, as the ragged bursts of Alliance machine-gun fire were replaced by the steady single-shooting of marksmen. The US government and media then advanced a series of claims to justify the massacre of Taliban PoWs but their claims did not deny the fact that a massacre took place, nor did they deny the involvement of the American forces; they merely tried to justify the bloodbath by blaming the prisoners.” The Qala-e Janghi slaughter was one of hundreds that have taken place during recent years.
There are other aspects of this Muslim holocaust. For instance, the world was shocked to see the pictures of Afghan PoWs being taken to the US military confinement facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Those horrific pictures were soon replaced by stories of these PoWs living in cages under the open sky. The Red Cross made mild protests, the world community expressed shock and demanded observance of the Geneva Conventions, but the United States declared its prisoners to be beyond the limits of any international law; since then the world has simply forgotten about these men, who are still in the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay.
Like the reported arbitrary arrests and subsequent dispatch of Jews to concentration camps set up by the Nazis, American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are picking up Muslims from the streets and from their homes and sending them to prisons such as Abu Ghraib, where atrocious crimes are being committed. There is not just one Abu Ghraib; Abu Ghraibs are functioning all over the world, many in Muslim countries where American client regimes are involved in a slow, usually hidden, genocide of Muslims. This is yet another characteristic of the Muslim holocaust: the silent extermination of Muslims in prisons in places like Riyadh, Dammam, Rawalpindi and Amman, away from the public eye and hence largely without public awareness.
The second invasion of Iraq by the US has dramatically changed the nature of the Muslim holocaust. Since this invasion, there has hardly been a day when mass killings have not been reported. But in spite of this continuous stream of reports, there is no organ of the UN, the Red Cross, the OIC or any other international body that is keeping a record of the deaths in this new mass-extermination that American and British troops are leading.
But, despite the official callousness, there are a few individuals trying to keep a record of these terrible crimes. A team of researchers has recently published the results of a survey of Iraqi deaths in the Lancet, the respected medical journal. The survey, carried out by Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi and Gilbert Burnham, is the first of its kind. “Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: Cluster Sample Survey”, published in the Lancet of October 29, uses advanced statistical methods to estimate the number of Iraqi deaths. The researchers who carried out this survey are all trained scientists. They took a cluster sample survey throughout Iraq during September. They gathered data from 33 clusters of 30 households each, by interviewing the residents about household composition and births and deaths since January 2002. In those households reporting deaths, the date, cause and circumstances of violent deaths were recorded. The surveyors assessed the relative risk of death associated with the invasion and occupation in 2003 by comparing mortality in the 17·8 months after the invasion with the 14·6-month period preceding it.
Their findings not only lend credibility to the claims of war crimes being committed in occupied Iraq; they are also simply shocking. They estimate the risk of death to be 2·5-fold higher after the invasion than it was in the pre-invasion period. Two-thirds of all violent deaths were reported in one cluster in the city of Falluja; excluding Falluja data, the risk of death is still 1·5-fold higher after the invasion. “We estimate,” they write, “98,000 more deaths than expected (8,000–194,000) happened after the invasion outside of Falluja and far more if the Falluja cluster is included. The major causes of death before the invasion were myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular accidents, and other chronic disorders whereas after the invasion violence was the primary cause of death. Violent deaths were widespread, reported in 15 of 33 clusters, and were mainly attributed to coalition forces.”
The survey is the first detailed scientific study of the holocaust in occupied Iraq. It reports that “most individuals killed by coalition forces were women and children… Making conservative assumptions, we conclude that about 100,000 excess deaths or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Violence accounted for most of the excess deaths and air strikes from coalition forces accounted for most violent deaths. We have shown that collection of public-health information is possible even during periods of extreme violence.”
In plain words, American and British soldiers have killed at least one hundred thousand civilians in just one year just in Iraq. That is an enormous number of violent deaths of men, women and children in one country for such a short period of time; and the slaughter continues. One must wonder whether the human race has lost all sense of its shared humanity. The dead cannot simply be ignored, however, and despite the deadening of our consciences, the dead themselves cry out from their graves that those who are involved in this large-scale, premeditated, cold-blooded genocide must be made to pay for their deeds, if not in this world then in the hereafter. The reckoning in the latter is the promise of the One Who never makes false promises, but what about us now, in the world? Shall we keep ourselves busy with and distracted by trivia while this genocide is taking place before our eyes? And if we continue to do so, how do we think we will answer for this callousness or indifference when our turn comes to account for ourselves and our attitudes?