By Arab News
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
Samir Khan was the age of my young brother. Born to reasonably well-to-do parents, he grew up in the United States and went to the best of schools in a privileged neighborhood. How did he then end up in distant Yemen, offering lessons in bomb making to aspiring terrorists? Samir was killed in a US strike last week along with Anwar Al-Awlaki, a US-born cleric, and two others. He was 25 and editor of Al-Qaeda’s English online magazine Inspire. He had come a long way from Charlotte in the American South to the tribal melting pot of Yemen.
In a piece last year, he wrote: “’I laugh at the intelligence agencies that were watching me all those years. Back in North Carolina, the FBI dispatched a (guy to) spy on me who pretended to convert to Islam. I am a traitor to America because my religion requires me to be one. We pledge to wage jihad for the rest of our lives until either we implant Islam all over the world or meet our Lord as bearers of Islam.” He argued he could “’no longer reside in America as a compliant citizen” while it waged wars on Muslim lands and “killed millions of Muslims around the world.”
Yet Samir had had a rather protected childhood and was known as a regular guy growing up with neighborhood boys and often playing basketball with them. It was a typical American dream for the immigrant family. Samir’s parents were widely respected in the neighborhood and the community.
What then went wrong? Something snapped in Samir after 9/11. The witch-hunt and overwhelming suspicion that many Muslims faced in the wake of attacks hadn’t been easy for the best of integrated communities. It was clearly a life-changing experience for an impressionable teenager. The US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and all that went on out there in the name of promoting democracy and fighting terror proved too much for the young man who moved to America when he was 7.
Samir spent most of his time on the Net, frequenting extremist websites and growing increasingly radical and vocal in his views. His parents were so alarmed by his anger against the country they had chosen that they took him to meet numerous community leaders and scholars in desperate attempts to reform him. But it was not to be. Samir soon “blogged his way into the highest circles of Al- Qaeda,” as the New York Times puts it. Writing in a language and idiom that appealed to young people growing up in Western societies, he soon earned himself a name.
In 2009, he left the comfortable family home in Charlotte to travel to Yemen and launch Al-Qaeda’s mouthpiece Inspire. He believed his “media jihad” was as crucial as the battles his armed fellow travelers fought. In his last piece in Inspire, he talks about the role men like him played in this war: “While America was focused on battling mujahedeen in the mountains of Afghanistan and the streets of Iraq, the jihadi media and its supporters were in fifth gear.”
Samir’s short, eventful journey abruptly ended last week. Clearly, he was as dangerous for America as Anwar Al-Awlaki although he never fired a shot nor killed anyone. Along with Awlaki, he’s one of the first US citizens to be killed by their own government. A promising life cut short. An appalling tragedy. But Samir’s sudden death isn’t just the tragedy of a peace-loving immigrant family. This is an American tragedy and a failure of all those fine ideals and principles that America once stood for. This is the end of American dream.
And perhaps nothing illustrates the growing Muslim angst against America as this tragedy does. Like Awlaki and Maj. Nidal Hassan, who went on a killing spree at Fort Hood in 2009, Samir boasted a perfect, all-American childhood. Yet he went off the bend embracing a path that not just ended in tragedy and infamy, it went against the spirit and basic teachings of the faith he loved. He wasn’t the first to traverse that path though.
From young men who bombed the London Underground in 2005 to various other such plots since, it’s homebred Muslims who have taken to extremism, appalled by Western wars and America’s slavish loyalty to Israel perpetually ignoring its crimes against Palestinians. The anger of these Western Muslims is nothing compared to the cold fury and helpless rage that ordinary Arabs and Muslims around the world have struggled with over the years.
Although ordinary Americans and Europeans have been increasingly asking themselves and their leaders “why do they hate us,” there has been little change in policies and actions of their governments. Indeed, things have only progressed from bad to worse. President Barack Obama’s sellout over a token UN recognition of a moth-eaten Palestinian state has convinced Arabs and Muslims once again that no matter who is in White House, it’s the Zionists with their media, moneybags and lobbies who run the show.
This week, the coalition of the willing completes 10 years in Afghanistan. Predictably, there hasn’t been a fraction of the hype that preceded the recent 9/11 anniversary. But then who gives a damn what happens in Afghanistan and how many thousands of innocent lives are wasted in this endless war; or in Pakistan, in Iraq, Yemen and Somalia.
US drones are now killing men, women and children like flies all across the Middle East and beyond. The drone that killed Awlaki, Samir and two others was launched from a new site on Arabian Peninsula. Due process, rule of law? Are you kidding me? Who can dare to confront Uncle Sam, the judge, jury and executioner? Except for some stray voices in blogosphere, few in the land of the free have bothered to debate the legality of this White House-authorized killing of US citizens, let alone the daily slaughter of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Ten years of wars and there’s no end in sight. America must continue fighting on behalf of you know who even if it’s totally broke and everything is falling apart. A new Pew Research survey suggests that one third of US soldiers feel the war hasn’t been “worth the cost.” As many as 51 percent feel the “over-reliance on military force creates hatred that breeds terrorism.”
Are America’s leaders paying attention to these home truths? As Einstein would put it, they make the same mistakes over and over again yet expect different results every time. Defying the Middle East’s history and the mess they have created over the years, they persist with the same disastrous, duplicitous policies yet hope for miraculous outcomes. Obama has the “audacity” to cheer for a free South Sudan at the UN and lashes out at Palestinians in the same breath for craving the same freedom. It’s this hypocrisy that created men like Awlaki and Samir. As we mark a decade of war, there are no signs this reality has dawned on America. This is the American tragedy.
— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a commentator on the Middle East and South Asian affairs. Write him at [email protected]