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Lessons never learned from the 9/11-era wars

This piece was originally published in The Hill's Changing America section

There has been a recent uptick in nostalgia for President George W. Bush. President Obama remarked on his predecessor’s regard for the rule of law, and former Congresswoman Katie Hill expressed longing for President Bush’s leadership. In a way, it’s understandable why the public is trying to remember better days. President Trump is failing in the U.S. coronavirus response as cases are reaching a new peak at the same time rubber bullets and tear gas are being used on Black Lives Matter protesters outside the White House. But for Muslim-Americans, the Bush presidency paved the way for the covert and overt anti-Muslim policies present in our foreign policy and national security today.

Many Muslim Americans, like me, feel like these revisionist sentiments of President Bush are privileged comments that dismiss the trauma our community has been experiencing since 9/11. Iram Ali, a former Warren campaign senior content strategist, echoed what many Muslim-American millennials experienced, reflecting that her whole community was subjected to deportations and mass surveillance. Sana Saeed, a journalist with AJ+ remarked that “inherent to every praise of Bush is a racist disregard for the line of dead brown men, women and children who trail him and will trail him well after he’s dead.” 

I was only 3 years old when the tragic and devastating events took place on 9/11. Despite not being old enough to remember that day or the-soon-to follow Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I grew up very aware of their consequences and the impact on me and my community. Surveillance of Muslim mosques and organizations, the unlawful detention and detainment of Muslim Americans, and an increase in hate crimes and discrimination against my community became commonplace throughout the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations

The current amnesia to these Islamophobic policies as part of the War on Terror serves as a reminder of how destructive the othering and demonization of Muslim Americans is in America. Here, me and my community are vilified with the firmly affixed label of “bad guy” or “terrorist.”  But, more specifically, propagating these revisionist views ignores the erasure of Muslim-American trauma and Bush-era war crimes. 

U.S. support for endless wars in the Middle East instrumentalizes the demonization of Muslims, resulting in a U.S. foreign policy that indiscriminately kills innocent Black and brown people abroad. Making the suffering of Muslim communities, both in the U.S. and overseas, acceptable to the American public serves to continue the U.S.’s military campaigns abroad that are stunting countries, killing hundreds of thousands, and displacing millions. 

The global War on Terror has been normalized, entrenched in our national security, and perpetuated through both Republican and Democratic presidencies. The exorbitant death toll and devastation of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria — Muslim-majority countries — is further proof of the narrative that Muslim lives and societies are inherently nefarious and disposable. The cost of war since 9/11 includes 335,000 innocent civilians killed and 21 million people living as war refugees or displaced from their homes. The U.S.’s evasion of responsibility for the part we played in these wars is almost as tragic as the invisibility of this global trauma to the American people. 

Continuing the morally corrupt paradigm of fighting Muslim “bad guys” around the world shows that the suffering of the post-9/11 wars are palatable byproducts of U.S. militarism and that Muslim American trauma never produced any lessons learned. With enough time passed, waging endless wars, codifying torture and spying on Muslim-American citizens have somehow begun to fade from memory. As much as this country is currently reckoning with our history of racial injustice and inequality for Black Americans, Islamophobic policies perpetuated since 9/11 have informed a bigoted national security strategy that motivates the U.S. to continue fighting endless wars with little interest on the devastating impact on innocent people’s lives. 

When leaders like Ms. Hill or President Obama romanticize the leadership of President George W. Bush because he was arguably more competent than our current President, they gloss over the atrocities committed against Muslims in the U.S. and around the globe over the last two decades. Until our efforts turn towards rebuilding communities instead of bombing them, the United States will continue to perpetuate terror we claim to want to eliminate. We, as Americans, must stand together and demand an acknowledgement of our wrongdoing in the post-9/11 wars and their detrimental costs, including the Islamophobia many of us still live with today. 

Sumaya Malas is a 2019 Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), where she focuses on U.S. foreign policy, international security, and arms control. Follow her on Twitter @SumayaMalas.

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