Remembering The Forgotten Victims of the War on Terror

This September marked the sixteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US and the beginning of the “War on Terror.” Hashtags such as #NeverForget and #September11 flooded social media in commemoration of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, but there was no mention of those who died in the post-9/11 world.

Muslims, but even those racialized as Muslims, became ‘collateral damage’ in the West’s increasing military and economic efforts to stifle terrorism at home and abroad.

And in this never-ending fight against terrorism, the US has enlisted the aid of Middle Eastern countries that have themselves come to brutalize their own people in the name of counter-terrorism.

For the War on Terror is both spatially and temporally unbound – it exists everywhere, all the time, wherever the West deems there to be significant terrorist activity.

The US and the UK are currently at war with seven countries, using a complex drone program to normalize the excessive civilian toll these counter-terrorism efforts have had.

Yet, more troubling is that the memory of 9/11 is still so great that few have come to see the hegemonic posture of victimhood the US has claimed and used to legitimize the atrocities it has committed in the wake of 9/11.

President Donald Trump’s speech made this point clear when he said that “on that day, not only did the world change, but we all changed. Our eyes were opened to the depths of the evil we face.”

But he remained silent on the evil they executed in their battle against terrorism.

He remained silent on the ways Muslims were transformed into new legal, political and social subjects that were targeted, dehumanized and stigmatized both domestically and abroad.

He remained silent on how the US’ War on Terror has perpetuated neo-imperialist practices that could only occur if the world came to accept the meaninglessness of Muslim lives lost in the process.

French Marxist theorist Guy DeBord once remarked that we now live in the “society of the spectacle”, and by this he meant that certain events have become so popularized and iconized that they’ve come to define our very lives.

The West, for example, capitalized on the trauma produced by the 9/11 attacks and transformed it into an “spectacle”, against which and because of which, certain logics and codes of conduct could be rationalized, legitimized and legalized.

By overdetermining 9/11 with a particular set of meanings, the West could then deploy its military might in the Middle East.

It is important to remember that the “War on Terror” does not only signify that the correct response was military intervention in the region, but that that military intervention was limitless.

Fazed by the “terrorist threat” – as if all terrorists belonged to a unified bloc – the West devised a system in which only they could use force to dispel these terrors.

Muslim communities have suffered from a number of consequences that have reconfigured their daily lives.

The US institutionalized a comprehensive global prison industrial complex to regulate those captured in the War on Terror. But in doing so, they created a new legal subject they used to justify exceptionally cruel measures.

The US administration refused to apply traditionally recognized principles of distinction – between combatants and non-combatants – and instead created a new legal category they deemed unlawful combatants.

These unlawfuls were then spirited away to Guantanamo Bay and other “black hole sites” where inmates are confronted with horrific acts of torture, as detailed by the Senate Committee on Intelligence’s own 2014 report.

Going back further, in 2004, the infamous Torture Memos were leaked, revealing how the US employed the private sector to participate and facilitate the violent operations of the “War on Terror.”

This War, then, was just as much about creating a transnational network of capital and global hierarchies of racialized labor as they were about combatting fundamentalism.

Just as torture and imprisonment came to define the Muslim experience of the post-9/11 world, so too have the endless wars that have ravaged the Middle East.

News of “unintentional” civilian casualties, when tallied, reach the hundreds. But this number is also inaccurate when taking UN statistics and other NGO counts into consideration.

The keyword used to evade legal accountability and moral responsibility, however, is “unintentional.”

The international legal language of criminality has ensured that “unintentional” acts of violence fall outside the ambit of war crimes, and therefore outside the ambit of prosecution.

The Middle Eastern states also lack enough political clout to pursue diplomatic means of redress. The drone program has made it increasingly difficult to hold those responsible accountable.

A cornerstone in the Obama administration’s counter-terrorism campaign, it is estimated that in 2016 alone, 26,171 bombs were dropped in the Middle East.

This entire system of oppression is buttressed by an enduring Islamophobia, which positions Muslims as outside moral and legal boundaries to allow for their dehumanization.

It is maintained and perpetuated by white supremacy which upholds notions of dichotomous ideological values between the “West” and Islam.

It makes Muslim lives, in the words of American philosopher Judith Butler, “ungrievable.”

Mohamed Kouta

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