Stripped of Their Humanity

The abuses in Iraq are just the latest in a long-standing pattern of dehumanizing Muslims.

BY: Omid Safi


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In the last 20 years, we Americans have had a singular obsession with the "Hitler substitutes"-Qaddafi, Khomeini, Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and so on. It is as if there are no real people in the Middle East, no beating hearts, no mothers clutching their children, no ordinary human beings going about their everyday existence. It is as if in discussing the Middle East we can't see past the stereotypes and slogans-"the terrorists," "Islamic fundamentalists," oil, "threat to Israel," and others. Once we fail to engage any group of people as human beings, it is easy to justify bombing them, imposing sanctions on them, even raping and torturing them.

We have been sold a war that is predicated on not engaging the humanity of people, of not seeing their corpses and their suffering, and even not seeing our own dead soldiers' names and faces on the airwaves. Dehumanizing is a virus that eventually contaminates all of us.

We have to be clear about this point: It is not up to us to "humanize" Iraqis. One can only humanize something that is not already fully human. The Iraqis, exactly like us, already possess their full, God-given humanity. If we have failed to see and interact with Iraqis on a human level, if we have not listened to their cries, seen their tears, mourned their deaths, it is because they have been presented to us as inhuman, subhuman, or nonhuman.

The task for Muslims and indeed all human beings who oppose the violence of the U.S. military is to also speak up against the culture of violence that now pervades segments of Iraqi society, a violence that is unleashed against UN workers, fellow Iraqis, and yes, American soldiers. Our task is to do more than condemn, but rather work with Iraqis in finding a non-violent way of voicing their righteous rebellion against the American occupation.

In speaking against both of these forms of violence, we recall the Qur'anic injunction that notions of social justice (


) and spiritual excellence (


) are indeed connected. May we bring some healing into this much-fractured world. May that healing begin with you and me, at this very moment. Amin.

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