For Black Muslim Americans, the War on Terror began in 1492

For Black Muslim Americans, the War on Terror began in 1492
6 min read
08 Oct, 2018
Comment: The brutal treatment of Muslims in Afghanistan, the US and beyond has its roots in America's historic abuse of indigenous people, writes Mohammed Harun Arsalai.
'It's crucial we align ourselves with the indigenous sovereignty movements' writes Arsalai [AFP]
This week marks the 17th anniversary of the US-led war on Afghanistan, and the launch of the so-called "War on Terror". 

In the days following 9/11, the US government began pushing its narrative, weeks ahead of its military operation dubbed "Enduring Freedom".

US officials claimed that international laws did not apply to those (Muslims) detained on the battlefield of the War on Terror, since they were "terrorists" - not fighting under any nation-state flag. International laws regarding rights of prisoners of war were ignored, too, as the US introduced the term "enemy combatants" into modern discourse.

These battlelines ran contrary to the Geneva Convention, and the circumventing of international law as it applied to Afghans. But Muslims worldwide were also implicated in US sponsored abductions, extraordinary rendition, arbitrary and indefinite detentions and torture, in some cases leading to death. Afghan homes were raided, and civilians brutalised or taken into arbitrary custody.

This disregard for human rights was also extended to Muslims in the US. According to the ACLU, between November 2001 and March of 2002, attorney General John Ashcroft, the Department of Justice and FBI detained or questioned more than 8,000 Arab or South Asian Muslim immigrants and visiting students.

Many of those detained were deported without reason, trial or access to legal representation - a basic fundamental right, and one of the conditions for democratic practice.

It was the largest roundup since WWII, when the US placed between an estimated
110,000 to 120,000 Japanese into internment camps.

Read more: Remember 9/11, but don't forget the victims of its wars

Today, almost two decades after American troops invaded Afghanistan with the stated aim of wiping out the Taliban, violence in the country is deadlier than ever and peace talks have stalled. This weekend alone, over 50 were killed in three separate attacks.  

And domestically, in the 17 years from 9/11 to today, we have seen the US police go from using disposable cameras, to now using high tech surveillance equipment and 'fusion centres', apparently in an effort to aid domestic intelligence sharing.

Similar to the drones that were tested in Afghanistan, only to come home to surveil US cities, high tech weaponry and and anti-riot equipment have made it into the hands of nearly every police department in the country, regardless of need. It is now become unusual to not see MRAP tanks patrolling the streets during protests and riots.

The War on Terror should be understood as having a much longer history that encompasses the repression faced by Black radicals in the US, especially Black Muslims

What arguably began with the neo-con rhetoric around Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, and continued by his son George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and others, provoked outrage from the political left in the early 2000s, but disappeared almost entirely with the election of Obama in 2008.

But the rhetoric of the War on Terror and blanket use of illegal surveillance in total disregard for privacy laws continued, and expanded into full blown militarisation and creation of a hyper-security state under Obama, which is now in the hands of white supremacist Trump, and his administration.

Although the George W Bush administration's domestic War on Terror was specific with its target foreign Muslims in the US, the crackdown on Muslims had already began for Black Muslim Americans.  

War on Terrorism started in 1492

"It's especially important to this next generation of young Muslim activists to understand how the history of Islam in the United States is directly tied to racial oppression," said former political prisoner of 17 years, member of the Black Panther Party and co-founder of the Black Liberation Army, Dhoruba al-Mujahid bin Wahad.

"Black Muslims in the US were treated as anathema long before 9/11. Prior to what you're seeing today against Arab Muslims, the majority of these FBI entrapments were happening against Black Muslims" says Wahad.

Los Angeles county have voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day [Getty]

The War on Terror should be understood as having a much longer history that encompasses the repression faced by Black radicals in the US, especially Black Muslims but is essentially a war focused on the annihilation of resistance to white supremacist colonisation that started on this date back in 1492 with the conquest of Indigenous lands and the start of a "New" world.

"The United States has completely absolved itself of the narrative of being a terrorist organisation, perpetuating any acts of terrorism despite the very nature of its founding and how it operates as an oppressive colonial state," says one Sqilx'w (British Columbia) indigenous anarchist organiser, who goes by the twitter persona BadSalishGirl, and who is engaged in anti-colonial and anti-capitalist resistance on her ancestral lands.

The United States was only able to establish itself as a colonial power because of the acts of terrorist violence

"The very act of settler colonialism, in this case the acts of violence against indigenous peoples in the northern and southern hemispheres by colonial actors such as United States and other acting imperialist and colonialist entities, were acts of terrorism by definition", says BadSalishGirl.

"The United States was only able to establish itself as a colonial power because of the acts of terrorist violence. This was all done through genocide and slavery that has been perpetrated since 1492, which makes this the 526th year of an ongoing "War on Terror" and connects indigenous and Muslim struggles globally", she writes. 

War on Terror, but from the Left

The rhetoric that opened the door to the demonisation of Muslims across the globe and domestically as a "barbaric and backwards" other - irreconcilable with modernity and "western values", has now infected the political spectrum. No longer confined to nation states such as China, India and Myanmar, where abuses against Muslims are widespread and taking place with virtual impunity, it can now be found on the political left, too.

Today, it's commonplace for well-known leftists to abandon any meaningful engagement in favour of slanders and threats; "Al Qaeda", "terrorist", "jihadi" and "Islamist" are all weaponised and in an effort to silence their Muslim opponents, often journalists and activists themselves.

When it's not apologia for Russian or Chinese crimes, the left's War on Terror is being waged online, and no mind is given to the threat that comes along with being labeled an extremist for a Muslim.

Many of those detained were deported without reason, trial or access to legal representation

Afghans, immigrants and Muslims have no true ally to speak of in their struggle against Islamophobia and the War on Terror. The destruction of the US Muslim community that took place after 9/11 has left Muslims with practically no Islamic organisations involved in protests movements in any meaningful way. 

Since Muslims do not have strong ongoing movements of their own, it is crucial they align themselves with the indigenous sovereignty movements while in the Americas, and commit to the cause of Black liberation both in the masjid and on the streets.

The role of Muslims in struggle, as clearly stated in Quran and Sunnah, must be in support of all struggles against oppression and injustice wherever we see it; "first with our hands" - meaning direct intervention," and if we can not do that then with our tongues" - meaning in protest. 

And if we can not do that, then it must be in our hearts, though that is the lowest form of faith" - meaning if we have the capacity to, we must act.

Mohammed Harun Arsalai is an independent journalist and political activist from the Bay Area of California, and co-founder of the independent media project, Documenting Afghanistan. Currently based in his native Afghanistan, Mohammed's recent work focuses on refugees, the War on Terror and militant groups operating inside Afghanistan.

Follow him on Twitter: @brwnrage

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.