by Labeeb Ahmad
As scholars, activists, and politicians, continue to investigate and expound upon reasons why they think Muslims join ISIS or other terrorist organizations, one thing is for sure: dead civilians do not help the cause in the fight against terrorrism. Instead, western intervention has caused death to hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Middle East since the beginning of the war on terror and serves as a leading talking point for those looking to breed extremism in the Muslim World.
On July 19th, as many as 160 civilians, consisting mostly of women and children, were killed in U.S.-led airstrikes in Tokhar, a Syrian village under ISIS control. Unfortunately, accidents like these have become the tragic norm, and are a powerful recruitment tool for groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Although I wholeheartedly believe that these civilian deaths were unintentional, the reality remains that since 9/11, the war on terror, which has caused more than four million civilian deaths, has done nothing but serve as a rallying call for more terrorist attacks all across the world. The statistics clearly prove this fact. From 2002 to 2014, the U.S. government estimates that death from terrorism has increased by a shocking 4,500%. Whereas there were zero suicide attacks in Iraq before the invasion of 2003, there has been 1,892 since. In the 14 years before 9/11, there was only one suicide attack on Pakistani soil, but in the fourteen following years, there has been 486 attacks that have caused over 6,000 deaths. This same trend has occurred in many more countries, such as Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria, and Syria
While some continue to blame Islam as the reason for this, a much more reasonable conclusion can be drawn. When Muslims constantly see the death of their fellow country men because of foreign powers, a strong anger develops that makes them prone to radicalisation, as their futures, loved ones, and their homes crumble under the collateral damage of constant war in their countries. For example, nearly 180,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the invasion. Not coincidentally, it has been thirteen years, and no end to this disaster seems anywhere near in sight. Furthermore, this type of constant death and destruction is only made worse when considering that these wars seem to stem from the power struggles alien to the tribal societies from which “jihadists” are mainly recruited.
While modern warfare has crossed all the lines of decency and morality, the beauty of the prophet Muhammad’s teachings on warfare spoken roughly 1,400 years ago must be appreciated. He said: O people! I charge you with ten rules; learn them well…for your guidance in the battlefield! Do not commit treachery, or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone. I truly believe if these principles were followed today, then the collateral damage which has fueled more war instead of providing peace (the ideal objective of war) would be eradicated.
There are two points that must be recognized in order for us to achieve a more peaceful world somewhere in the future. One, as I have demonstrated, more war on terrorists groups like ISIS cannot and should not be the only method of eradicating extremism, because if it is, then the objective will never be fulfilled. The extremist ideology will continue in future generations of lost youth, as they see everything crumble around them in these barbaric wars. We must realize that the damage that is being done in the Middle East is only accruing more enemies for us, and will only continue to do so if we make the same foreign policy mistakes. Secondly, in order to recognize these various causes in the first place, we must separate the religion of Islam from the violent acts done it’s name. Clearly, there is much more to be discussed than this simplistic and inaccurate confusion of combining the teachings of Islam with the actions of some Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere.