In the last thirty years, conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya, Somalia, and other countries have caused the death of four million Muslims. The theme of innocent Muslims dying as result of conflicts initiated by Western powers and their allies is a central motif used by Islamic militants to recruit new members. It is a theme which fuels anti-American sentiments in the Middle East and North Africa. Historians and Islamic scholars note that the notion that the West is orchestrating a “genocide” of Muslim is patently false, and that beginning with the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) and continuing to the present day, more and more casualties are inflicted by Muslims against Muslims. Still, the myth of a non-Muslim genocidal “crusade” against Muslims is powerful, and is one which is effectively used by al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups.
Conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya, Somalia, and other countries have caused the death of four million Muslims.
NBC News analysis, based on data from human rights organizations, academic studies, UN reports, and more, notes that that some of the data may be imprecise, and that some of the information may be politically motivated, but that there is no denial of one central fact: the theme of innocent Muslims dying as result of conflicts initiated by Western powers and their allies is a central motif used by Islamic militants to recruit new members. It is a theme which fuels anti-American sentiments in the Middle East and North Africa.
Ed Husain, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says that “You can’t go past a single month in the past thirty years without reports of Muslims being killed in some part of the world or another, and that sticks.”
Historians and Islamic scholars note that the notion that the West is orchestrating a “genocide” of Muslim is patently false. Beginning with the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) and continuing to the present day, “more and more casualties are inflicted by Muslims against Muslims,” says P. J.Crowley, a former State Department spokesman and now a professor at George Washington University. “The prevailing narrative in the [Middle East] remains the faithful waging war against crusaders, but that is not the reality.”
The perception of Western and non-Muslim powers waging war against Islam is widely accepted in the Arab world, to the extent that regardless of how baseless it is, and how unsupported it is by the factual record, it is now considered when setting U.S. foreign policy, according to Steve Simon, who until early in 2013 was head of the Middle East Desk at the National Security Council. “Over time, my impression was that administration became increasingly aware of the reputational costs of the drone attacks, weighing them against their considerable tactical gains,” said Simon. “There was a concern that over the course of the decade too many people were getting killed.” Increasing civilian deaths played a role when setting a pullout date from Iraq. “The sanctions [on Saddam’s Iraq], which the U.S.led, took a heavy toll, then (came) the war,” he said. “We also were aware that our involvement had unleashed internecine warfare that … killed many more.”
The ABC News analysis notes that the benefiters of this misrepresentation of facts are terror groups like al Qaeda, which spread propaganda, using videos and speeches, showing innocent Muslim women and children killed by Western drone strikes, and in U.S.-led military operations throughout the Middle East. The perpetrators of the attacks on the Boston Marathon, and the Westgate Shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya were reported to be motivated by America and its allies’ campaign against Islam. Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev, before he was captured, scrawled messages on the inside of the boat in which he was hiding that read, among other things, “The U.S. Government is killing our innocent civilians.. ‘I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished,” and “We Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all.”
Western and non-Western powers have played a role in helping create this conspiratorial mindset. The Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan killed about two million Afghans; the Soviet war in Chechnya killed 240,000 Chechen Muslims; Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina killed about 220,000 Muslim and forced about two million Muslims to become refugees through a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing; and the U.S.-led war and occupation of Iraq has resulted in about half-a-million Iraqi dead.
Experts note, however,, that loss of a large number of Muslim lives is attributable to conflicts which are exclusively between or within Muslim countries, like Egypt’s war in Yemen in the 1960s, Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), Saddam Hussein’s campaign against Kurds and Shi’as in Iraq, Sudan’s war in Darfur, Basahr al-Assad’s indiscriminate killing of Sunni Syrians, and many more.
These facts notwithstanding, many Muslims believe that Western powers are often the cause of internal conflicts among Muslim groups. “Local circumstances, local conflicts, local dynamics are ignored for a convenient explanation,” said Ed Husain of the Council of Foreign Relations. “Even if it’s Muslim on Muslim, it’s still portrayed as they’re both fighting for external players.”
Haroon Moghul, a fellow at Fordham University’s Center on National Security, believes Muslims must see through this one-sided portrayal of the West. “It produces the refusal to take ownership of anything,” he told ABCNews. “If everything is a puppet, not only don’t you take responsibility, you can’t! Therefore, there is no actual grievance. It’s a Western plot.” Moghul urges the West to respond to the reality of this perception among Muslims and become a positive force for change. “Although everyone is affected by this, the only ones who propose to do anything about it is the extremist groups … and their solution is violence,” he said. “There is a huge vacuum of leadership that is coupled with a feeling of pessimism and marginalization.”