By Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:16, English Standard Version)
February 20, 2017 (San Diego) -- As most people are aware, President Trump issued a ban on immigration from seven Middle-Eastern nations, ostensibly to protect us against possible acts of terrorism. Yet, his ban does not include Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the two nations that the 9/11 terrorists came from. The assumption is that terrorism is mainly a Middle-Eastern, Muslim phenomenon. It isn’t!
Prior to 9/11, the worst terror attack ever in the United States occurred on April 19, 1995. The Murrah office building in Oklahoma City was destroyed by a truck bomb, killing 168 people, including 19 preschoolers, and seriously injuring more than 680 others, with many permanent disabilities. If the truck had been placed a little differently, there were possibly 2,000 people in the building at the time, so the outcome could have approached that of 9/11. Timothy McVeigh, with assistance from Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier, was responsible. None of the three were foreign born, of Middle Eastern extraction, or Muslim; they were red-blooded Christian Americans. What is often overlooked is that there were news reports of cheering by some of our right-wing militia groups.
On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Lanza was American born, not of Middle-Eastern extraction, and not a Muslim.
I was born just after World War II, the most devastating war in history. Nazi Germany not only initiated the war; but displayed an absolute contempt for human life, not just towards Jews and Gypsies; but all peoples, including Germans. Germany was a white European nation with an almost 2,000 years’ history of Christianity. On the other side of the globe, Imperial Japan initiated wars of aggression with equal ferocity and contempt for human life. The Japanese were Asian, practicing variations of Buddhism, and Shintoism. Neither Nazi Germany nor Imperial Japan were Middle-Eastern or Muslim.
On March 16, 1968 between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam were killed by an American army company, the My Lai massacre. Victims included men, women, children, and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated. If an American helicopter crew had not intervened, the toll would have been much higher. The army tried to cover the massacre up; but due to independent investigative journalist Seymour Hersh the story broke on November 12, 1969. Of the 26 men initially charged, only one man was convicted at court martial, Lt. William Calley who served three and one half-years under house arrest before being paroled. Clearly a display that Americans are capable of the same level of barbarity and contempt of human life as anyone. At the time, many Americans did not want Calley and others punished, making, in my opinion, some Americans accessories after the fact to an absolutely barbarous act.
The Birth of al-Qaeda and ISIS
In 1979, the King of Afghanistan abdicated and a short-lived military dictatorship followed. A civilian government took control and began a series of reforms to bring Afghanistan into the 20th Century. These reforms included schools for girls and rural health clinics. Reactionary fundamentalist tribes opposed these reforms. The Soviet Union saw a chance to have a friendly nation on its border and began pouring aid into Afghanistan, including sending doctors and teachers.
“Q: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [“From the Shadows”], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?
Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.”
The Soviet Union did not put the reform government into place; but certainly provided aid. The US government decided that by funding and arming the Mujahadeen, radical Islamic fundamentalist primitive tribes that brutalized women we could create a Soviet Vietnam and we did, at the cost of the Afghan people. Estimates of Afghan civilian deaths vary from 850,000 to 2,000,000. 5–10 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and Iran, 1/3 of the prewar population of the country, and another 2 million were displaced within the country. In the 1980s, half of all refugees in the world were Afghan.
Though still debated to this day, the early foundations of al-Qaeda were allegedly built in part on relationships and weaponry that came from the billions of dollars in U.S. support for the Afghan Mujahadeen during the war to expel Soviet forces from that country. However, whether al-Qaeda received support from the US or not, our instigating and supporting the Mujahadeen which led to the Soviet invasion led to al-Qaeda’s establishment and involvement. After the Soviet’s withdrawal, the US simply ignored the plight of the Afghan people, allowing the well-armed fundamentalists and al-Qaeda to flourish. In other words, we armed primitive Islamic fundamentalist tribes and created the conditions that led to al-Qaeda. Blowback is the term used to depict unintended consequences. To damage the Soviet Union, an already weakening rival, we created a monster and sacrificed the Afghan people.
Despite what our leaders wish us to believe, 9/11 was not an attack based on hatred of the West. Following the first Iraq War, American troops remained on Saudi soil, soil sacred to Islam. Imagine, if you will, 100,000 Iranian troops in bases a few miles from the Vatican or Jerusalem. The War was over and we stayed. This and American attacks against Muslims in other areas was the raison d’etre for al-Qaeda’s attack. However, understanding their reasoning does not in any way justify their actions. 9/11 was plain and simple a barbaric act of terrorism. President Bush had wanted an excuse to invade Iraq; but was forced by circumstances to go after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
In 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and expel al-Qaeda; bin Laden had already been wanted by the United Nations since 1999. The Taliban declined to extradite him unless given evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks and also declined demands to extradite others on the same grounds. The request for evidence was dismissed by the U.S. as a delaying tactic, and on 7 October 2001 it launched Operation Enduring Freedom. We will never know what would have happened if Bush had complied with international rules of law, compiled evidence against al-Qaeda and presented it to the Afghan government; but evidence exists that the Taliban were not happy with al-Qaeda’s continued presence, foreigners in their land. In any case, coalition forces trapped bin Ladin in the mountains, delayed attacking, and he escaped. One can wonder what would have happened had we killed or captured bin Ladin and his lieutenants. Would the American people have still been persuaded to go after Iraq?
So, Bush now had his chance to invade Iraq; but the evidence he needed to tie Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda was flimsy to absurd. Saddam Hussein was a secular leader who had a Christian as his vice president, women studying in universities and med schools, unveiled and driving cars. He was ruthless; but only when challenged. Iraq had safe water, decent health care, and a reasonable standard of living. Jews, Christians, Shia, Sunni, Kurds, and Yazidis lived in relative safety. al-Qaeda and Saddam were mortal enemies. In addition, Iraq had destroyed its arsenal of chemical and biological weapons at the end of the first Iraq War. The UN weapons inspectors attested to this. Bush kept rejecting any reports that didn’t give him what he wanted, a war.
During the 2nd Iraq War, US forces destroyed Baghdad’s electrical power stations and sewage treatment plants, both clear war crimes, the destruction of civilian infrastructure. The result was the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis from water-born infections, mainly children and a severely damaged standard of living due to the lack of power. When US troops entered Baghdad, they immediately surrounded the Ministry of Oil; but ignored protecting other important government buildings, e.g. Ministry of Justice, Museums, etc. Paul Bremer was placed in charge of the occupation. Prior to the war, some Iraqi generals had met secretly with Americans and promised to keep their troops out of the war. They kept their word. Of course, we would have won in either case; but this shortened the war and reduced casualties on both sides. Bremer ignored this and on May 23, 2003, Bremer issued Order Number 2, in effect dissolving the entire former Iraqi army and putting 400,000 former Iraqi soldiers out of work. The move was widely criticized for creating a large pool of armed and disgruntled youths for the insurgency. Up to 50,000 teachers and civil servants were also fired, adding to the ranks of those mad at Americans. Shia hit squads went into Sunni areas killing men, women, and children. And we held in camps thousands of prisoners, torturing many, crimes under international law, only to finally release the vast majority, held under abominable conditions, who were found innocent.
So, the blowback from our instigating and arming right-wing primitive tribal fundamentalist Muslims in Afghanistan, our unjustified invasion of Iraq, destruction of much of it civilian infrastructure, firing of Sunni soldiers and civilians, the Shia hit squads, and the brutal treatment of prisoners, certainly can be seen as the major cause leading to the creation of ISIS.
ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other fundamentalist groups represent but a small percentage of Muslims and their victims are overwhelmingly Muslims. Just as we have fanatical groups like the Westboro Baptist Church screaming at military funerals, and right-wing militias preaching violence and race hate, groups that represent a small minority of Christians, such is also the case in the Islamic world.
Historically, Islam sees Christians and Jews as part of the Dhimmi. Dhimmi is an historical term referring to non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state. The word literally means "protected person.” According to scholars, dhimmis had their rights fully protected in their communities, but as citizens in the Islamic state, had certain restrictions, and it was obligatory for them to pay the jizya tax, which complemented the zakat, or alms, paid by the Muslim subjects. Dhimmis were exempt from certain duties assigned specifically to Muslims, and did not enjoy certain political rights reserved for Muslims, but were otherwise equal under the laws of property, contract, and obligation. Of course, there have been periods and areas where this part of Islamic law and custom wasn’t followed; but historically Jews and Christians were better treated in the Islamic world than Jews and Muslims were treated in the Christian West.
It would take a book to cover everything. The preceding should be enough to give a broad picture. Acts of terrorism and pure barbarism, unfortunately, belong to every ethnic group and religion, including white American Christians, though, let me emphasize, a small minority of the latter as Muslim terrorists also represent but a small minority. Singling out those from the Middle East and/or of the Islamic faith is simply WRONG. In addition, ignoring the role that the US played in the rise of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS is just plain dishonest. These refugees are the result of our actions. Since 9/11, the screening/vetting of refugees is excellent. Can one with 100% certainty ensure that not a single terrorist gets through? Of course not; but should we turn our backs on the tens of thousands of innocent victims, especially the children? And what hypocrisy to exempt the nations Saudi Arabia and Egypt, from which the 9/11 terrorists came.
I am as frightened as the next at the possibility of a terrorist act on American soil, but I fight back tears every time I see films or read about the suffering of the victims, especially the children, suffering that cries out for the American compassion that we brag about, but that clearly our President and many Americans lack.
Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH, a native San Diegan, is a retired epidemiologist. Dr. Harrison has lived and studied in both Canada and Sweden. Dr. Harrison, a strong supporter of vaccinations, has, as a volunteer, been writing articles for Every Child by Two, a non-profit founded in 1991 to promote vaccinations in children. You can find his articles at: http://www.ecbt.org/index.php/facts_and_issues/article/expert_commentary
The opinions in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact email@example.com.