New Islamic Directions

By Imam Zaid Shakir

Why They Want To Do Us Harm

Posted in notes by Imam Zaid Shakir on 2010-04-10

This essay is the unedited version of a response Imam Zaid wrote to a question posed by Helen Thomas to the White House press corps, “Why do they want to do us harm?” Thomas never got an answer so “In These Times” posed the question to several respondents. The edited version along with other responses can be viewed at:

To a large extent, “they” are simply a microcosmic mirror image of the extremist violence perpetrated by a hegemonic state dominated by elites that have reserved the right to use high-tech military machinery to systematically decimate countries, rip apart their social fabrics and directly or indirectly kill hundreds of thousands of people as has happened in Iraq.

In that country, “they” might be the relative of someone who died of typhoid or diarrhea from drinking sewage-contaminated water because “we” thought it a noble stratagem of war to destroy Iraq’s sanitation system during the 1991 Desert Storm operation. “they” might be someone whose home was blown away during the “Shock and Awe” campaign that inaugurated the current war in March, 2003. Maybe “they” never recovered from the shock and have been transformed by insensitive bombs into insensitive killers. Maybe “they” were brutalized and humiliated at Abu Ghraib. Maybe “they” know of Abeer Hamza al-Janabi, the 14 year-old Iraqi girl who was gang raped by a company of American soldiers, who proceeded to murder her and her entire family, including her 6-year old sister, Hadeel, and then burn their bodies to hide the evidence of their heinous crime.

Perhaps “they” are from Afghanistan, and want to do us harm for the reasons mentioned above. Maybe the callousness “they” display towards life is a reflection of the callousness we displayed when we built the “Jihad” movement to repel the Soviet invaders of that land during the 1980s, and after accomplishing that mission walked away leaving the country to endure almost a decade of murderous anarchy that culminated in the rise of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Perhaps the alienation “they” display is a pathetic parody of the Mujahideen “we” created.

Maybe “they” are not from Iraq or Afghanistan. Maybe “they” are rotting in a slum in Casablanca or Cairo, or festering in a classroom in Lagos or Lahore and have seen gruesome images generated by the wars we are prosecuting in Muslim lands. Perhaps “their” anger is combined with the angst generated by globalized economic forces “they” cannot understand. In some cases, those same forces may have rendered irrelevant their lives and their religion, the two sources of meaning in the world “they” thought “they” had inherited from “their” forefathers. Under such circumstances, “they” are easy prey to skilled recruiters who promise “them” both meaning and a free pass to Paradise by encouraging “them” to mindlessly strike out at what “they” are led to believe is the source of “their” misery.

Finally, “they” may be ignorant of both the deeper currents of world affairs and the deeper meanings of “their” religion. “they” probably have no idea of just how inconsequential spectacular violence is to the advancement of their cause. “they” probably have never stopped to reflect on how that violence is used by neo-fascist pundits and politicians to advance a climate of fear and misunderstanding that makes it more likely that even ordinarily well-meaning Americans will support policies that will lead to more bombing, maiming and murdering of Muslims –and eventually others- all around the globe. For this small minority, “their” obsession with Islam as a political ideology probably renders “them” totally oblivious to the religious message of Islam as an historical world religion that advances the sanctity of life, especially the life of innocent, noncombatant peoples, the refinement of the spirit and patient, dignified, principled resistance when confronted with the savage vagaries of “their” fellow humans.


By ahmad as soomaali on April 16, 2010 at 11:04pm

Much love to you Sheikh Zaid Shakir. I appreciate your inside and deep thoughts on the happenings of our times.

By Jason on April 21, 2010 at 9:56am

Very well written

By Lynn on April 23, 2010 at 7:23am

I saw a 2008 comment over on "nicedeb" linked to this site, and this was my response: To the "Muslim Next Door," not all Catholics are bad or evil. My Carmelite president, about a week after 9/11 tells how she was going up the driveway to a garage sale, and a Muslim-looking woman was coming down. Ordinarily she wouldn't have thought to do it, but since she figured Muslims would be experiencing bad treatment after 9/11, she decided to give the woman a smile, which she did. The woman gave her back a very big smile. That is our Carmelite, Catholic way. Just to be good in the world. To do little deeds of goodness. I know how much Muslims have suffered in this country. Even people who are not Muslim, if they look like Muslims get the bad treatment. Right after 9/11 some hot-headed Anglos got out their guns and shot and killed some Sikhs (who wear the distinctive turbins), not even realizing Sikhism is a very different religion. It's just that they looked more Muslim than the Muslims. Also an Hispanic man with a moustache was confronted by a policeman who warned him, after finding out he was only an Hispanic -- "I'd lose the moustache." We are an evil people, who nearly invented germ warfare and genocide against Native Americans. We have no right at all to consider other people bad or evil, beyond what we are. That's the pot calling the kettle black. I wish we could look at our own sins and as Muslims do, struggle inwardly against them -- the true meaning of jihad.

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