The War on Terror: 20 years of destruction and demonisation

War on Terror

The director of the Ayaan Institute, Jahangir Mohammed, reflects on 20 years of the War on Terror and how it has destroyed three Muslim nations and spawned an industry that demonises Islam and Muslims.

This September, it will be 20 years since the 9/11 attacks on the United States by Al Qaeda and the launch of the United States-led global “War on Terror” (WOT).

No single event has affected/defined the Muslim Ummah globally as much as the WOT possibly since the launch of the Crusades in 1095. The entire Ummah has collectively paid the price for the actions of 19 individuals and their few hundred supporters.

The direct U.S. military retaliation for 9/11 has affected three Muslim countries in particular – Afghanistan and Iraq have been sent back to the stone age but Pakistan has also suffered greatly.

The people of Afghanistan had nothing to do with the attack; not a single Afghan was involved in 9-11. It is now clear that even the then ruling Taliban were unaware of the plot and attacks. Yet the people of Afghanistan paid the price for the actions of a few people residing in their territory.

9/11. Editorial credit: Anthony Correia /

Twenty years later the Afghan people and the Taliban are back at the stage they had reached after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in February 1989. But this time it is the United States who are withdrawing. The people of Afghanistan desperately need peace and to be able to rebuild their lives and country. We pray the country does not descend into another bloody civil war.

The people of Iraq also had no links to 9/11 but revenge was also visited on them. Today, the Iraqi state has fragmented into three mini-statelets and militia-run fiefdoms, riven with sectarian hatreds.

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Iran has emerged as the dominating power in Iraq and the region. Hundreds of thousands, if not a million, have been killed across both Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. and its allies.  Some 35 million refugees, mainly Muslim, have been dispersed around the globe since 9/11.

Outside of these two countries, Pakistan has lost more lives to terrorism than any other state. Major General Babar Iftikhar, director general of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) recently said 83,000 people had been killed due to terrorism in Pakistan since then.

Pakistan claims it has killed 18,000 terrorists and killed or captured 1,100 Al Qaeda members. Pakistan’s economy has suffered a terrible loss of $126 billion because of the WOT; and along with political corruption during this period, it remains a country on the brink of economic meltdown, deeply in debt to several states and the IMF.

U.S. Army Soldiers of 1-102 Infantry, 86th Brigade Combat Team, Task Force Iron Gray provide security in Masamute Valley as they cordon and search the village of Bala in Laghman province, Afghanistan,
Author: ISAF Headquarters Public Affairs Office from Kabul, Afghanistan

What is more significant is that an ideology of the War on Terror has been created; a theory, language, methodology and technology has been applied on Muslims and their faith.

Counter terrorism and repressive measures along with “de-radicalisation” are now applied on Muslims around the globe. This ideology is called Countering Violent Extremism (CVE).  Countering Islam and Muslims in the name of preventing “terrorism” and the ideology of WOT/ CVE has become a major global export industry for the West.

“Experts” in this field are the new orientalists who claim to be authorities not only on Muslim communities, but also their politics, culture and religion. CVE is even applied on Muslim children.

The United States’ actions have also given a free hand to every state to wage their own “War on Terror.” From the UK, U.S., India, China, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Turkey, and many more, everyone has their own variant of the WOT and CVE. All claim to be fighting terrorism and justify securitisation of their societies in its name.

They differ in their strategies only in degree and scale, but all accept the basic principles underpinning the new ideology. Each country’s policies have resulted in greater criminalisation, repression, abuse of rights and deaths of countless innocent Muslims, along with dealing with the few guilty of actually planning acts of violence.

Any political opposition for change in the Muslim world, or quest for freedom/independence among Muslims, is now treated as terrorism. This demonisation of Muslims has also led to a global rise in anti-Muslim and anti-Islam propaganda and hate.

But as the 20th anniversary of the WOT approaches, we hope individual Muslim countries, organisations, media, and communities will reflect deeply on the many dimensions/impacts of the WOT, and how to move forward and away from a road which seems to be heading in the direction of a greater global demonisation and criminalisation of Islam and Muslims.

This article first appeared on the Ayaan Institute’s website.

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