Of September 11, 2001

14. Reflections of An American Muslim on the Iraq War

     Despite the international and popular approval, the Iraq War is on.  The “shock and awe” mission is on and thousands of bombs are dropping on Baghdad as our soldiers are struggling to make their way through the desert knocking at the great ancient city of civilization. The extent of civilian casualty will never be told to us but what I can see from the pictures on the TV screen, the whole cities are in flames. We will never be told the total civilian casualties of the war or the sufferings of people.

     The question I ask myself is “Which side do I belong to?”  Is it a war against Islam and Muslims by the Christian invaders and their reluctant arm twisted allies, or is it a war of liberation of the oppressed Iraqi people?  Is it a war of blood for oil by the only super power, which is now seen as an imperial power?  One of my African-American Christian patients thought this was a war by Anglo-Saxon powers for the domination of the rest of the world.  One E-mail suggested that it is the Christian fundamentalists who voted for Mr. Bush and pushed him to war for Armageddon  as they think Jesus will return in Iraq only after Iraq has been Christianized.  So, there is no limit to the imagination.  One of the most thought provoking E-mails that I got was from my friend Mr.Courtnay Weldon, who wrote, “for the last 12 years or so, all of the Wars in which the USA has been involved, have been for the sake of Muslims.  He gave the example of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo by the Serbs, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Taliban’s oppression of Afghan people and now Iraq.  I told him, this is true, but also for the last 12 years, the most people who have died in such wars or were made refugees worldwide, Muslims too. I ask him now “will the self proclaimed liberators of the oppressed Muslims now go to Palestine, Kashmir or Chechnya too to liberate them from oppressors?”

    As a man of religion, I am opposed to a war unless it is in defense when attacked. All 19 of the alleged hijackers of Sept.11, were Saudis. Iraq had never attacked the USA.  Therefore, in the opinion of millions of protestors all over the world, invasion of Iraq was not justified. If the theory of presence of weapons of mass destruction is valid, then all nations have the right to attack other nations including us, on the basis of that theory, as we have more weapons of mass destruction than anyone else. 

    At the same time, I am reminded of Prophet Mohammad’s two sayings, “If you see wrong doing, stop it by hand (force), if you can not, then by tongue and if you can not do even that, then at least feel bad in your heart”.  The other saying is “Help your brother when he is right and when he is wrong”. Companions were amazed and asked “ How can we help a brother when he is wrong”?   Prophet Mohammad said “you stop him from doing wrong, that is his help”.  The crimes of Saddam Hussein are well known. American Muslims never supported him even when American government did.  The dictator who gassed and killed his own people deserves no support. Thus, applying the sayings of the Prophet together, Saddam had to be removed. Unfortunately the helpless Iraqi civilians who suffered 20 years under his brutal and imposed war on Iran and Kuwait now will pay a heavy price for his removal. The sayings of Prophet Mohammad need to be confirmed by the Quran which says about the cry of the oppressed people: “O God, bring us forth from this town of which the people are oppressors, Oh, give us from Thy presence some protecting friend! Oh, give us from Thy presence some defender” (Quran 4:75). Will President Bush and his allied forces behind him be that liberator and defender?  Only history will answer that.  For now, as a Muslim-American, I am praying for both the Iraqi people and all those innocent people who are in harm’s way. 

    There are several lessons to learn from this war.  1) The dictators, whether they are self proclaimed or installed by a superpower, should know that their days are numbered.  They should leave peacefully on their own, rather than be forced out by those who install them after their usefulness has expired at the expense of heavy casualties to their own people.  2) The third world should not accept a tyrant above them, even if they have no choice and even if they were installed by a superpower.  They must free themselves from such tyrants, one way or another. 3) The lesson for the superpower is that they must befriend the masses, not just try to change the government.  By changing the regime of Saddam Hussein while turning the masses in the Arab world our enemy is not going to help.  This is not a way to increase the love between the American government and Arab people.  We also must realize that what is good for us in America, is also good for them, like democracy.  Thus, we should allow and encourage democracy, even if they chose to have Islamists as their leaders, as it happened in Algeria or Turkey. At the same time, if we do not like terrorism inflicted on us, we should not terrorize others with our massive firepower just because we can. If we do that, it will create more terrorists. We should not complain when we reap what we sow. 

    On of the best E-mails of support that I got after September 11th 2001 was from a Chaplain in California who wrote, “We Americans should stop singing God Bless America.  This is a selfish notion to ask for God’s blessing just for our selves only.  We should sing God Bless the World”.  I say Amen to this. Thus when my friend, Dr. Gary Wright, a catholic physician stopped me in doctors parking lot and asked me “which side are you?" I replied "I am on the side of the Pope !"

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Shahid Athar, MD
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