Reflections of an American Muslim

Written by Dr. Shahid Athar   

" 0 children of Israel, remember the special favors which I bestowed upon you and that I preferred you over other nations (for My messages)" (2:122).

I thank Rabbi Sasso and my friends at Beth El-Zedeck Hebrew congregation for inviting me to express my thoughts about the Gulf war. Let me start by clarifying my position. First. I am a physician, not an American politician who remained quiet when Saddam invaded another neighbor ten years ago and used chemical weapons on its own people but race against each other to ridicule and defame him when the media tells him to do it now. I am not here to defend Saddam. As a member of Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty Intemational, I was aware of his torture of political prisoners, use of chemical weapons and the treatment of POW's between 1980-1989 and I tried to draw attention of Muslims in my writings and Friday's sermon but at that time Saddam was portrayed as a friend of the West, a great Arab leader, and a moderate (a term used by Bob Dole). In my remarks against certain U.S. policies, I am not trying to be anti-American. I am just with hundreds of thousands of Americans, one of them burnt himself to death, who are opposed to war and are for peace. I am a U.S. citizen, I donated my blood to save the life of my American non-Muslim patient. I am dedicated to the interfaith dialogue and I provide voluntary free medical care to the poor and homeless. Please do not label me an anti-American.

I am also not here to defend Islam, apologizing for Saddam. Islam as a way of life, in submission to the will of God, is above those who can defame it by their actions. Islam cannot be judged by the behavior of some terrorists and secular leaders, just as Christianity should not be judged by the behavior of crusaders, Nazis, IRA, Red Army, and individuals like Rev. Jim Jones, Charles Manson. Harvey Oswald or David Koresh.

In the last 1,400 years, Islam has survived many attempts to wipe it out, i.e., crusades, destruction of Baghdad by the Tartars, the fall of Muslim rule in Spain and in India, liquidation of Ottoman Empire, invasion of Afghanistan, Iran-Iraq war, and God willing, it will survive this war too.


Yes, I opposed the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq and support the need to liberate it. However, there is strong evidence that Iraq was lured into invading Kuwait, the green light being given two days before by our own Ambassador in Baghdad. Critics call it a joint conspiracy, in the pretext of liberation of Kuwait to destroy and occupy Muslim lands. Thus the 100,000 army sent to defend the House of Saud, swelled to a 700,000 army invasion with 3,000 war planes and more than 100 warships from Australia to Portugal and Argentina.

No such force and urgency was shown by those who pretended they opposed aggression when Soviets invaded Afghanistan and killed I million Afghans, disabled 2 million and displaced 4 million of a country of 10 million. I wished Afghanistan had oil and a corrupt Amir with savings in U.S. banks. If Iraq destroyed 10 percent of Kuwait after the invasion, the rest of the 90-percent was done by the allied bombing. If Iraq killed 10,000 Kuwaitis (a hypothetical figure), allied bombings would have killed 200,000 Iraqis by now and will kill nearly a million by the time the war ends. Remember the figures for the Vietnam War were three million and World War 11 was 20 million and those wars were not started by terrorists or fanatic Muslims.

The West feared Saddam's nuclear capabilities and has bombed them twice but the real threat to the world is from the civilized West who have used the atom bomb to destroy two cities in the past and are always willing to do again. The chemical weapons possessed by Iraq were the ones given to Iraq by West Germany and the U.S. companies In 1920, the British were the first ones to use poison gas shells in fighting Iraq's revolution. The U.S.A. opposes taking "hostages" and using them as shields but did not "intem" 100,000 American Japanese in the concentration camps during World War 11. What is the difference in the words?

The war was inevitable as everyone wanted it. The U.S. defense contractors and oil companies wanted to make more money. The Pentagon wanted to test new weapons on Muslim lands and flesh. Arab kings and shaykhs wanted someone else to defend their harems. The neo-crusaders wanted to come back to Baghdad. The Israelis wanted to get some Arabs killed, destroy Iraq's war capabilities, grab half of Jordan to settle more Soviet Jews and extract 13 billion dollars to rebuild a few houses damaged by SCUDS. Even those Muslims who opposed the war saw it as the only means to make the Allied Occupation Army leave their land.

What have we achieved? Saddam wanted the oil to sell at $22/barrel. the war has levelled it at $20/bar-rel. He wanted Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to write off a 30-billion dollar loan they gave him to wage the war against another neighbor. By refusing, they had to hire "white slaves" as Arthur Schlessinger put it in the Wall Street Journal. So far it has cost nearly 100 billion dollars and it is growing at a rate of one-billion a day now. What will be left at the end? The blood will have dried. The corpses will be bumt, in a "parking lot" called Iraq and a war tom land called Kuwait, to reinstate the corrupt Amir and his 52 wives.


It is Saddam Hussain who in fact wanted to start a new world order. He failed. The previous established world order was that only the superpowers or their surrogate client states could do terrorism, i.e., the invasion of Granada, Panama, Afghanistan, Goa (near India), Lebanon (near Syria and Israel), attack on Iran by Iraq, etc. However, with the help of the tonic supplied by the scientist, the monster grew so powerful and said,, "I can do terrorist acts now without the help and support from my Masters." That's where he went wrong and the previous world order had to be rediscovered as "the new world order."

Who is going to suffer most by Saddam's action and the Allied response to it? The most human losses will be by Muslims, especially Arabs. Of course, the economy of many other Muslim countries who depended on such foreign workers have been destroyed. Historically, we Muslims have given our blood to change the course of history. The latest example was that of Afghanistan where one million innocent Muslims gave their lives to stop the Soviets from reaching warm waters. It was the human and financial losses suffered at the hands of Mujahideen that weakened the Soviet grip on Eastern Europe and broke the back of Communism. The domino effect from the fall of Afghanistan is seen in the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. Thus no one should rejoice at the flowing of Muslim blood. It may in turn and in due course crumble their own Berlin wall. God is Just and cannot allow injustice to prevail for long. "Wrong not and you will not be wronged," says the Quran.

Sometimes I wonder why Muslims are being persecuted now We are not the one who accused the Jews of killing Jesus, or of causing the plague in Europe. We did not kill 15,000 of them in France in 1380 nor 6 million of them in the Holocaust. In fact, we welcomed and let them flourish in Muslim Spain when they were being persecuted in all of Europe. They suffered with us with the Spanish inquisition and they were not allowed to pray in public just as Muslims were not allowed. They followed us to Morocco and to Egypt where Maimonides became the personal physician to Saladin. Saladin sent Maimonides to treat King Richard of England. King Richard wanted Maimonides to stay in England, but he returned to his Muslim boss, where a temple was erected and stands now in honor of this great physician and philosopher.

If this can happen in the past, it can happen again. We can live in peace, if we accept each other as fellow human beings and feel the pain and agony of others. For how long will Palestinians continue to live in tents and refugee camps devoid of basic necessities including clean water, sanitation, and schools which remain closed? For how long will innocent Israeli children and old men have to wear gas masks? The answer to these two questions is tied together and it is peace, not the peace which reigns in the graveyards of Normandy and Hiroshima, but the peace that we should have within, with ourselves, our family, our neighbor, our community, the nations and the world around us.

Finally, how are we American Muslims taking this war? We are told in the Quran, "Seek help with patience and prayers, for allah is with those who patiently persevere." The FBI is watching us for terrorist acts.The public and the media are suspicious of us. Our loyalty and citizenship are being questioned We are supposed to be the one doing terrorism, but we are the victims of terrorism in the U.S Our mosques have received bomb threats. Our children at school and women at the malls have been taunted upon. Employers have suspended some Arab employees. But we have faith in the U.S. democracy and the Bill of Rights. Be assured that we will neither be interned nor deported. We are here to stay.

At the end, I want to refer again to the Quran." We ordained for the children of Israel that if any one killed a human being unless it is for murder, or mischief on Earth, it shall be as if he had killed the whole mankind, and if he saved a life, it would be as if he saved the whole mankind." (5:32).

I was in Houston on an interfaith panel on Medical Ethics and I quoted the above verse of Quran about the sanctity of human life. Rabbi Segal said, "This is also mentioned in Torah." I said, because both the Torah and the Quran have the same author."