The terrorists of 9/11 are “evil”. This was according to President George W. Bush. For Bush, they were enemies of freedom, enemies of the West, and their only options were death, or complete surrender to American sovereignty. While we criticise American national arrogance today, in the years following 9/11 such arguments, like Bush’s above, were naturalised and good.
On September 20 2011, nine days after 9/11, President Bush condemned Islamic terrorists, but placated Muslims all over the world, reiterating that theirs was a religion of peace. Sixteen years later, in 2017, right-wing violence and reports of attacks on refugees and asylum seekers in Germany has increased by 200% within the span of a year. Many of these refugees and asylum seekers, Syrians, Afghanis, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Iranians and Eritreans, are Muslim. The Muslim Problem is not going away. The terrorist problem is not going away. And, as war ravishes the Middle East, Western nations close their borders and declare their nationalistic pride, defined on the basis of the separation of the Muslim identity: us against them.
In the city where I call home, every Muslim citizen with physical manifestations of their identity is more likely to live in the destitute areas. They are, more often than not, refugees and asylum seekers. The image of the Middle East as desolate, dirt-ridden, covered in ruins and prone to sporadic, yet consistent bursts of extreme, animalistic violence is a Western creation. The negative connotations associated with the Muslim citizen are never balanced with positive, neutral and truthful denotations of the Muslim world.
In George W. Bush’s September 2001 speech on the 9/11 attacks, the president briefly mentions the Muslim citizen as a friend, eulogises the Islamic faith as that of peace, then resorts back to his venomous assassinations of the terrorists, and his commendation of the nationalistic spirit of America. In his speech, Bush unsuccessfully – whether deliberately or not – removes the Muslim identity from the identity of the Islamic terrorist. The Muslim subject has never been completely removed from a Western understanding of the Islamic terrorist, particularly because Islam has never been at home in the West.
In Nigeria, for example, where Islam has always shared the religious spotlight with Christianity and with indigenous religions, the people’s understanding of Boko Haram is not muddled with that of their Muslim neighbours, family and friends. One can say rightly argue that it is not muddled with that of their Muslim selves. Hence, every time an Islamic terrorist commits an attack in the globe, the social power of every Western Islamic citizen is disparaged. So focused are we on our ideological battle of good us against the evil terrorists that we never stop to accurately detach the terrorist from his alleged source, his religion.
9/11 was the beginning of the end of Western sovereignty in the post-war world. If America could be attacked, then, too, the entire West could be annihilated by those who hated us. The economic and political war for power between the West and the Middle East became reflected as a social war for power between people of Western backgrounds and those of Muslim backgrounds living as neighbours in the West. The offspring of Bush’ “war on terror” was fear. We transpose our fear of the terrorists “over there” and those hidden terrorists within us, to those Muslim neighbours who look like them, yet are nothing like them. Our untamed fear causes us to lash out at the terrorists who took our innocence away. Unfortunately, we cannot spot them easily, so we lash out at the Muslims we can spot instead. They look like them, after all.