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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

9/11: Redux

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The WTC buildings planted at the base of Manhattan Island, New York and the Pentagon, a squat, concrete fort on the banks of a river in Washington DC, are the sanctuaries of America’s money and power. One collapsed like a house of cards and the other was grievously dented.

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The myth of Fortress America was shattered. On that bloodiest day on American soil since the end of their civil war, Antietam, that epic battle, was played out in real time. And it was well choreographed.

Terror, the world was shown, could work like a musical composition – so many instruments, all in tune, playing perfectly to create the desired effect. We all saw the second plane rammed into the second tower and men and women as well as chairs; desks and computers sucked out of the windows hundreds of meters up in the building and rained down on the streets below. People ran amok – with apologies to the Qur’an – “like terrified asses frightened by a lion”.

It took the Titanic two hours, forty minutes to sink. The WTC towers, which took ten years and a billion dollars (when a billion dollars meant a lot of money) to build, fell in twelve seconds from the fires and the impact. And the toll sheet read like this: About 2,819 people from about 115 countries including The Gambia killed – most of them incinerated with mangled steel; 19,858 body parts collected; 3,051 children lost a parent; New Yorkers lost 146,100 jobs and US$105 billion in the immediate aftermath and the fires kept on burning for the next ninety-nine days.

‘Who did it, who are the enemy?’ asked the American novelist, Norman Mailer soon after the planes struck. The answer was soon found. A jotting in my diary of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 stated: “By 4pm, US officials say there are ‘good indications’ that the Saudi militant, Osama bin Ladin, and his Al-Qaida Sulbah (The Strong Base) group are behind the attacks.’ 

For years, Bin Ladin and his group had been threatening to visit a holy war on ‘satanic’ America and ‘infidel’ Americans.

Days later, the US investigators said the nineteen hijackers were armed with only knives and box-cutters… and written exhortations like … ‘Be optimistic, the Prophet (Muhammad) was always optimistic.` Islam and, by extension, Muslims, became suspects. Bin Ladin and his chief ideologue, Ayman al-Zawahiri, said they struck in the name of Islam.

According to a New York Times report, in the ensuing months, 27,000 Muslims and brown-skinned people in the USA were questioned, 6,483 arrested, 3,208 deported and a further 13,435 were in the process of deportation. But US president, George Bush said his ‘War on Terror’ was not a war against Islam.

Muslims around the world reacted differently to the 9/11 attack on America. In the streets of Gaza in Palestine and Baghdad in Iraq, they celebrated. In London, extremist Muslim clerics described the attacks as “a blow for Allah”.

Generally, few Muslims felt remorse for America, which, while labeling countries as rogue states, remains itself a rogue state in their eyes for its support of the state-sponsored terrorism of succeeding hawkish Israeli governments against almost defenceless Palestinian Muslisms and Christians.

Retired lawyer, Mohammed al-Amir Atta, father of the head of the 9/11 hijackers, said in a press interview after the attacks: “If a Palestinian flies a plane and strikes the White House and kills George Bush, his wife and his daughters, he will go to heaven. So, so will any Muslim who defends his faith.”

An imam on a Kairaba Avenue mosque told me when I met him to discuss the roots of militancy in Islam: “If the US government wants to end terrorism, the first thing to do is to treat the Palestinians and the Israelis even-handedly. If that happens, then Muslims will change their view about the US. But the Bush administration refused to do that.”

He had a point. As the American writer and filmmaker, Michael Moore portrayed in Bowling for Columbine, America has killed tens of thousands of innocent people in its imperialist adventures abroad. But does that justify the attacks in New York in the name of the religion that takes its name from the word ‘peace’ and which certainly does not sanction the slaughter of even one, not to talk of three thousand innocent people, among them Muslims? Absolutely not! 

That was why the rector of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the highest institution of Islamic learning in the world, denounced the attacks as a catastrophe and demanded global action against the attackers and so did Iran’s Ayatollah Kashani.

Bin Ladin and his people (just like Saddam and George Bush and his Neo-Con ideologues – Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld and Co) belong more to the party of Satan (Hisbusatan) than to the party of Allah (Hisbullah).

Through their murderous zeal and carnage, these so-called Islamic terrorists – who have morphed into Boko Haram, ISIS, Al Shabab and so forth – help those enemies of Islam in the West and elsewhere who through their ignorance promote the idea that Islam has a dangerous proclivity to violence.

Bin Ladin and his ideologues ignore the centuries of Muslim scholarship and instead employ Qur’anic quotations referring to early Muslim wars against Arab idolaters as their ideological base to issue fatwa calling for all Americans – civilian and military – to be wiped off the face of the earth when the stated Islamic law clearly states that anyone who kills a non-combatant is guilty of baqhi and should be condemned to capital punishment.

Like Bin Ladin, after 9/11, the enemies of Islam quoted out-of-context verses in the Qur’an saying they were the prescriptions for terrorism, forgetting that both the Christian and Jewish holy books contain similar bellicose passages. Jesus is usually presented as a pacifist, but in the gospels he is written of in many places as speaking and behaving aggressively, and even on one occasion saying he came not to bring peace but the sword.

But nobody quoted this when Christian Serbs slaughtered eight thousand Muslims in Srebrenica. Nobody accuses Christianity of being an inherently dangerous religion because anyone who understands the Bible and knows the stellar life of Christ would ever make such statement. Why then do they refuse to judge Islam on an equally fair footing? The main reason is ignorance about Islam and about its prophet, Muhammad.

As America remembers its death and loss yesterday, the Muslims of the world should look at themselves. We should be pained that Bin Ladin like Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of The Islamic State say they are following in the footsteps of our honoured prophet. Their acts tantamount to heresy and an obscenity against Muhammad.

These charlattans are subscribers to the fundamentalist programme of Islamists who believe that Muhammad’s life was an epiphany, a divine programme that should be the only way to bring back the ‘Great society’. That, like in Muhammad’s time, we live in the age of jahiliya (ignorance and corrupt barbarism) and that like Muhammad did, Muslims today must form a dedicated vanguard to remove all impurities in the world.

But the fault in their actions is that Muhammad spent most of his life to prevent the same very indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people. He abjured violence and followed a darling, inspiring policy of compromise to the extent that he almost lost some of his closest friends and followers like Umar Ibn Khattab.

Instead of doggedly pursuing an intransigent war, he negotiated and made compromises with people who even killed his family members and stoned and caused him grievous bodily harm. Many then regarded his actions as humiliating capitulation but as predicted by the Qur’an, those actions became the great victory, fat’h.

The Muslim world can ill afford to lapse into heresy now when self-discovery and a meeting of minds is all important. We must remove the aberrant doctrines that underpin the rages of these people. America must drain the swamp of rage in Muslim chests by securing a fair resolution of the Palestinian matter.

And as is evident with the rise of Boko Haram and AQIM nearer home, no state is safe from these global jihadists. Commemorating the 13th anniversary of the 2001 9/11 attacks yesterday, US Charge d’Affaires Richard Yoneoka made a telling and an instructive statement: “The threat they represent is real. The Gambia is a nation where religious inclusivity is celebrated, but even here in The Smiling Coast, Gambians are not immune from the threat of radicals who seek to tear communities apart.”

As the late US civil rights leader Martin Luther King said: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it… Through violence, you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.” 

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