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Drone Strikes in Yemen- On Bombing Weddings and Families

Hena Zuberi

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At least 15 people on the way to a wedding were killed by the United States Government in a horrific drone strike in Yemen, just two days after President Barack Obama spoke at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela and said Madiba “makes him want to be a better man.”

We call on the President to be the better man today. This needs to stop.

Imagine a wedding party, families dressed to the hilt; joy and festivities in the air, and then not even being able to find body parts to hold a funeral. 22 were injured in this ‘tragic mistake’. The worst in Yemen since the strikes began.

The group had been en route to the the village of Qaifa, the site of the wedding, when it was hit. The assault left charred bodies strewn in the road and vehicles on fire, officials told AP.

Where is the outrage by the international community? As Mark Prsyner, an Iraq War vet and anti-war activist tweeted: photo

This isn’t the first time the US government has done this. According to TomDispatch this may be the eighth wedding party that the U.S. has bombed.  A convoy of cars is often seen as ‘terrorist activity’. There are some reports that there may have been Al Qaeda operatives in the convoy, but Yemeni journalist Shuaib M. Almosawa recalls an Aug 8 strike that killed 3 brothers and Yemeni security officials said two were from AQAP. “Later they’re 2 kids & elder bro”. And there are other instances.

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Last month a Yemeni delegation was at the U.S. Capitol for a Congressional briefing, hosted by Representatives Barbara Lee, Alan Grayson, and Jan Schakowsky. These hearings give Congress an opportunity to listen to those people who have been directly impacted by US drone strikes in Yemen- the human cost of this ‘war on terror’.

I came here to share with you my story and what happened to my family. Who are the ones responsible for the deaths of my relatives? Will anyone be held accountable for their deaths?”-Faisal bin Ali Jaber

A day after his son’s wedding, Faisal bin Ali Jaber, a Yemeni civil engineer, mourned the death of his brother-in-law, Salem bin Ali Jaber, an outspoken anti-extremist cleric, and his nephew, Waleed, a policeman, when they were killed without warning by a US drone strike on August 29, 2012.

As he was speaking at the hearing another drone attacked his home province of Hadramawt, killing three.

According to Wired.com, the U.S. has two separate drone campaigns underway in Yemen — one run by the CIA, the other by the military’s Joint Special Operations Command. Together, they’ve conducted 43 strikes in two years, according to a Long War Journal tally, killing 274 people. 473 people since 2009.

No one knows how many of the 274 were militants; the U.S. “counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants,” the New York Times recently reported. If someone behaves like a terrorist— which is totally undefined— he could be killed extra-judicially in a “signature” strike. Amnesty International reports that a “guilty until proven innocent” approach is taken to military-age males who are killed by a strike, even if there is no specific evidence that they were directly participating in hostilities in a specific armed conflict.

[box type=”shadow” ]I will have a follow up article on what happens inside a CIA bunker and how intel is fed to drone operators shared by another anti-war veteran as well as updates from the Drone Summit 2013.[/box]

Al Qaeda of Arabian peninsula has claimed responsibility for an attack on the defense ministry in the heart of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, on Thursday, in which 52 people were killed. The increase in drone strikes is apparently a retaliation.

The drone program is ineffective according to experts and images such as the ones that will haunt Yemenis of this wedding party will overshadow the outrage of the suicide bomb and augment Yemeni anti-US sentiments. And regular Yemenis feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.

More than 50 innocent civilians in our town have been killed by drones,” said Abdullah al-Kabra, an eyewitness to the drone strike.

“All those who were killed were supportive of the governments anti-terror campaign. That will surely not be the case of their tribes and families if the government does not strongly intervene,” he added.-CNN

The Yemeni delegation had gripping stories to tell about how drones have affected their families, their communities and their efforts to bring democracy to the tough terrains of Yemen. Entesar al Qadhi is a female Yemeni politician from Mareb, a prominent location for US drone strikes. She is “a leading voice in the revolution that overthrew dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh.” Yesterday’s drone strike hit a city bordering her area.

“What can possibly justify terrorizing a community of 250,000 just for the purpose of killing one person? It might be the right of the U.S. to protect itself, but that doesn’t mean it can terrorize entire communities,” she conveyed the message of thousands of Yemenis to Americans. “Two members of Al Qaeda were in al Qadhi’s village, one of the most oil rich areas of Yemen.” As villagers were negotiating with the two men, “a drone killed the chief negotiator, scuttling [deliberating sinking] negotiations,” according to drone critic, Professor of Law Marjorie Cohn, as they did recently in Pakistan.

She testified that drones seem to only attack her village after Al-Qaeda members have left. The people of the area now feel that the “drones are for Al Qaeda, not against Al Qaeda,” said Al-Qadhi at the Global Drone Summit. She had a friendly warning for Americans that Yemenis may be the lab rats, as they were a poor, voice-less nation but this technology would eventually land on American shores.

The third member of the delegations was Baraa Shiban, project co-ordinator for the legal group Reprieve. He has researched civilian victims of US air strikes and is a drone critic. He says that drone attacks have a  “destabilizing effect on the Yemen government.” He and Al Qadhi serve as youth representatives in Yemen’s National Dialogue. He was detained at London’s Gatwick Airport in September under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act.  Cory Crider, who heads Reprieve’s Abuses in Counter-Terrorism team said of the incident: “if there were any doubt the UK was abusing its counter-terrorism powers to silence critics, this ends it.”

Shiban was never a terror suspect. Glenn Greenwald, an well-known journalist writes that top secret US government documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden “characterize even the most basic political and legal opposition to drone attacks as part of “propaganda campaigns” from America’s “adversaries”.”

A reliable way for the US Government to know exactly how many civilians are killed is by hearing direct testimony from the families affected.

Only five Congressman attended the hearing (although staffers from other members of Congress did make it to the testimony.) They came seeking information as the drone program is classified. “It’s conducted by the CIA, which generally doesn’t acknowledge existence of this program,” said Rep. Grayson about the secrecy. “It’s like a strange and extreme police action. There’s a reluctance on the part of the administration to acknowledge that attacks are happening at all.”

Joined by Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, Robert Naiman, Policy Director of Just Foreign Policy, explained why making the drone strike transparency provisions of the Senate intelligence authorization into law, would be a significant step forward in Congressional oversight of the policy. Naiman suggested that the House Intelligence Committee should introduce legislation to force the Obama administration to disclose civilian casualties from drone attacks and that Congress explore establishing a compensation fund.

The executive director of Amnesty International-USA , Steven W Hawkins, urged the Obama administration to ditch its policy of not commenting on drone strikes. “US silence is unacceptable. Instead of hiding behind secrecy, the US needs to acknowledge and immediately commit to investigating all credible reports of potentially unlawful killings,” he said in a prepared statement.

Last May, Rep. Barbara Lee introduced the Drones Accountability Act (HR 2183) to place a moratorium on the use of drones “until all legal mechanism are in place” and to repeal the 2001 AUMF (Authorization of Military Force).

The briefing followed the Global Drone Summit that brought together people from around the world to discuss strategies to stop the proliferation of drones used for killing and spying. The conference was organized by the peace group CODEPINK, along with the Institute for Policy Studies, The Nation Magazine, Center for Constitutional Rights, and National Lawyers Guild (Georgetown Chapter).

Jaber had requested a meeting with President Obama. He went back to Yemen without a meeting, an apology or an explanation.

Be the better man President Obama.

We call on President Obama to apologize to the families  for the killing of 15 innocent civilians –– all part of a wedding convoy–– by a US drone in Yemen. And ask him to pledge to immediately put an end to these strikes that have led to the death of so many civilians.

 

Innalilihi wa inna ilayhi rajioon– the names of the dead as published in Al-Masdar:

Hussein Mohammed Saleh Al Ameri, 65
Mohammed Ali Massad Al Ameri, 30
Ali Abdullah Mohammed Al Tays, 35
Zeidan Mohammed Al Ameri, 40
Saif Abdullah Mabkhout Al Ameri, 20
Hussein Mohammed Al Tays, 20
Motlaq Hamoud Mohammed Al Taysi, 45
Saleh Abdullah Mabkhout, 30
Aaref Mohammed Al Taysi, 30
Saleh Massad Al Ameri, 42
Massad Dayfallah Al Ameri, 25

Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She is also a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. She serves on the board of the Aafia Foundation and Words Heal, Inc. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. A mom of four and a Green Muslim, she lives and preaches a whole food, organic life which she believes is closest to Sunnah. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Avatar

    June

    December 14, 2013 at 4:37 PM

    Assalamu alaykum,
    I understand, as president, Obama is a representative of the actions of the US its peoples but there are many guilty here. I think the apology should come not from the president (or at least, not just from the president) but come from the military or CIA personnel who authorized and conducted the strikes. If they worry about a “security risk” or being targeted by revealing themselves, too bad. Maybe it’ll get them to be more careful in the future. Besides, most of the families of the people they’ve killed probably have no means and more importantly no desire to “seek revenge.” They just want restitution from the guilty party.

  2. Avatar

    Hassan

    December 15, 2013 at 12:30 AM

    If you are asking Obama for flowery speech/words, he can do that very good. Of course he himself has boasted that he is very good at killing. Stop wasting time on him, he is and was always an evil man. Whoever voted and encouraged to vote for him among muslims were extremely short sighted.

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    Jon Solis

    December 16, 2013 at 10:31 PM

    The killing of any innocent civilian is a tragedy. Whenever there is a war there are civilian casualties. So the real questions her are the following:
    1) Is the U.S. at war with al-Qaeda?
    2) If the killing of an enemy is considered an important object of a war goal, are civilian casualties an acceptable by-product. If not, what limits are there to civilian casualties that are allowed? 1, 2, 10, 100? Is the amount allowed an absolute # or is it proportionate to the goal/# of the enemy?
    3) Are innocent victims not so innocent if they are knowingly consorting with a military target (in this discussion an al-Qaeda operative)?
    4) Are civilians aiding the enemy a legitimate target? For example, if the U.S. targeted a radio station in the Iraq war, one would presume that civilians working in the station would be injured/killed.
    5) Are drone attacks, in of themselves, morally indefensible? If so, would that same argument apply to any bomb fired in a war?
    6) When one makes a decision to use a bomb/drone, how certain must one be in selecting the target – 100%, 90%, etc.?
    The article above discusses the repercussions of a drone attack gone wrong with innocent casualties and comes to the obvious conclusions that drone attacks in of themselves are immoral and should be banned. However, the implication of this argument is much more widespread. Should the US not have dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? It is easy to say they shouldn’t have been dropped, but I know my father would probably have been killed in the invasion of Japan if they hadn’t been used and then I wouldn’t have been born!
    Is every rocket thrown into Israel by Hamas equally immoral to the drone attacks? If so, why aren’t they equally condemned. I would suggest that the author of this article spend a significant amount of time analyzing the implications of his conclusions and how they would then apply in general to the conduct of war not just by the US but also by other countries and by groups that are unaffiliated with national governments. He may find that it is not so simple as he thinks.

    • Avatar

      Siraaj

      December 18, 2013 at 5:31 PM

      Unfortunately Jon, you’re missing the bigger picture. The real question is what are the objectives of these attacks and are they being achieved? I would imagine the objective is to weaken al-Qaida so that they are no longer a threat to the interests of the United States. So are they weaker?

      http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/04/this-yemeni-man-loves-america-hates-al-qaeda-and-says-drone-strikes-make-them-stronger/275248/

      On the contrary, they’ve strengthened rather than weakened due to the drone strikes.

      In reality, the US military drone strikes are a double failure – they are killing innocent civilians and strengthening rather than weakening their target.

      As to your questions, from what you yourself know, there is no number of civilian casualties that is worth anything when it stands in the way of the interests of the US government. The rules it will seek to apply on others during warfare are trampled at convenience.

      I can guarantee you that if 50 – 100 al-Qaida operatives took over a public location within the US with civilians everywhere, drones would not be sent in. A great deal more care would be taken to minimize civilians casualties – if you can do that for one group of civilians, then you should be willing to do it for others – American civilians are no more valuable than that of anyone else in the world.

      Siraaj

    • Avatar

      greentea

      December 20, 2013 at 1:54 PM

      1) Is the U.S. at war with al-Qaeda?
      Yes. The US is at war with Al-Qaeda. The US is at “War on Drugs” too. I don’t see it killing drug addicts or families of drug addicts or traffickers to achieve it’s goals.

      2) If the killing of an enemy is considered an important object of a war goal, are civilian casualties an acceptable by-product. If not, what limits are there to civilian casualties that are allowed? 1, 2, 10, 100? Is the amount allowed an absolute # or is it proportionate to the goal/# of the enemy?

      Killing the enemy is not an objective of War. Destroying enemies “ability” to fight is an objective. By-product or collateral damage is simply a euphemism used by those who want to insulate themselves from feeling otherwise morally outrage. This is why Americans are looking like a bunch of delusional war-mongering idiots. American milliatry sanitize killing innocent people by dehumanizing people or obfuscate issues with nonsense labels so they can sustain uninvited murderous colonial objectives.

      3) Are innocent victims not so innocent if they are knowingly consorting with a military target (in this discussion an al-Qaeda operative)?

      There you go again. “Consorting”. In this particular case, and many other similar festive cases, it’s amazing stretch of imagination to think of any evidence of victims consorting with assumed Qaeda operative.

      6) When one makes a decision to use a bomb/drone, how certain must one be in selecting the target – 100%, 90%, etc.?

      Decision should be based on proof beyond reasonable doubt.

  9. Avatar

    John Smith

    December 17, 2013 at 3:41 PM

    Obama is a mass-murderer and war criminal, the most dangerous terrorist on the planet. This despicable excuse for a human being should be on trial for war crimes. He is in charge overall, because the military answer to him, and follow his orders.

  10. Avatar

    Riz Khan

    December 18, 2013 at 12:02 PM

    Where are the so called champions of human rights?

  11. Avatar

    Riz Khan

    December 19, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    Brother! why so much hate. If a dog byte you; would you byte back. Criticizing America for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki but at the same time urging Iran to make atomic bomb and drop it on America and killing millions of innocent people.The world is already burning in the fire of hatred and adding more flames would make the fire bigger and fiercer. Islam does not allow to make and use such a destructive weapon as nuclear bomb. Any further world war would wipe the earth of humanity. Why should muslims be a key player in the event of such a destruction.

    Our best way to fight is to be positive and give the dawah to non-muslims and save as many human beings as possible from the hell fire.

    • Avatar

      Sayantan Dasgupta

      March 15, 2014 at 12:48 AM

      I am not reallly a supporter of Iran’s N-bomb, but what I understand that Iran is building nuclear bomb not to drop it in USA, but to use it as a protection in case US try to invade them. Iran has nothing to carry them bomb to USA anyways.

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    Imran

    April 17, 2015 at 6:26 PM

    Wow
    This site is completely mum on the Yemen issue.
    I guess we know who’s writing the paychecks.
    Total hypocrisy.

    • Avatar

      Aly Balagamwala

      April 20, 2015 at 9:23 AM

      Dear Imran

      We do not solicit articles from our authors rather they hand in their submissions. This is an important current affairs topic and we would love for you to submit an article. If it meets our submission criteria we will publish it. Please submit at http://muslimmatters.org/submissions/. JazakAllahu Khairin.

      Aly

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The Unexpected Blessings of Being Alone

Juli Herman

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My seven-year old son sat on the ground, digging a hole. Around him, other children ran, cried, and laughed at the playground.

“He’s such a strange kid,” my oldest daughter remarked. “Who goes to the playground and digs holes in the ground?”

In an instant, scenes of my ten-year-old self flashed through my mind. In them I ducked, hiding from invisible enemies in a forest of tapioca plants. Flattening my back against the spindly trunks, I flicked my wrist, sending a paper shuriken flying towards my pursuers. I was in my own world, alone.

It feels as if I have always been alone. I was the only child from one set of parents. I was alone when they divorced. I was alone when one stepmother left and another came in. I was alone with my diary, tears, and books whenever I needed to escape from the negative realities of my childhood.

Today, I am a lone niqab-wearing Malay in the mish-mash of a predominantly Desi and Arab Muslim community. My aloneness has only been compounded by the choices I’ve made that have gone against social norms- like niqab and the decision to marry young and have two babies during my junior and senior years of undergrad.

When I decided to homeschool my children, I was no longer fazed by any naysayers. I had gotten so used to being alone that it became almost second nature to me. My cultural, religious, and parenting choices no longer hung on the approval of social norms.

Believe it Or Not, We Are All Alone

In all of this, I realize that I am not alone in being alone. We all are alone, even in an ocean of people. No matter who you are, or how many people are around you, you are alone in that you are answerable to the choices you make.

The people around you may suggest or pressure you into specific choices, but you alone make the ultimate choice and bear the ultimate consequence of what those choices are. Everything from what you wear, who you trust, and how you plan your wedding is a result of your own choice. We are alone in society, and in the sight of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) as well.

The aloneness is obvious when we do acts of worship that are individual, such as fasting, giving zakah, and praying. But we’re also alone in Hajj, even when surrounded by a million other Muslims. We are alone in that we have to consciously make the choice and intention to worship. We are alone in making sure we do Hajj in its true spirit.

We alone are accountable to Allah, and on the Day of Judgment, no one will carry the burden of sin of another.

مَّنِ اهْتَدَىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَهْتَدِي لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن ضَلَّ فَإِنَّمَا يَضِلُّ عَلَيْهَا ۚ وَلَا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ ۗ وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّىٰ نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا

“Whoever accepts guidance does so for his own good; whoever strays does so at his own peril. No soul will bear another’s burden, nor do We punish until We have sent a messenger.” Surah Al Israa 17:15

On the day you stand before Allah you won’t have anyone by your side. On that day it will be every man for himself, no matter how close you were in the previous life. It will just be you and Allah.

Even Shaytaan will leave you to the consequences of your decisions.

وَقَالَ الشَّيْطَانُ لَمَّا قُضِيَ الْأَمْرُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَعَدَكُمْ وَعْدَ الْحَقِّ وَوَعَدتُّكُمْ فَأَخْلَفْتُكُمْ ۖ وَمَا كَانَ لِيَ عَلَيْكُم مِّن سُلْطَانٍ إِلَّا أَن دَعَوْتُكُمْ فَاسْتَجَبْتُمْ لِي ۖ فَلَا تَلُومُونِي وَلُومُوا أَنفُسَكُم ۖ مَّا أَنَا بِمُصْرِخِكُمْ وَمَا أَنتُم بِمُصْرِخِيَّ ۖ إِنِّي كَفَرْتُ بِمَا أَشْرَكْتُمُونِ مِن قَبْلُ ۗ إِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

“When everything has been decided, Satan will say, ‘God gave you a true promise. I too made promises but they were false ones: I had no power over you except to call you, and you responded to my call, so do not blame me; blame yourselves. I cannot help you, nor can you help me. I reject the way you associated me with God before.’ A bitter torment awaits such wrongdoers” Surah Ibrahim 14:22

But, Isn’t Being Alone Bad?

The connotation that comes with the word ‘alone’ relegates it to something negative. You’re a loser if you sit in the cafeteria alone. Parents worry when they have a shy and reserved child. Teachers tend to overlook the quiet ones, and some even complain that they can’t assess the students if they don’t speak up.

It is little wonder that the concept of being alone has a negative connotation. Being alone is not the human default, for Adam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was alone, yet Allah created Hawwa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) as a companion for him. According to some scholars, the word Insaan which is translated as human or mankind or man comes from the root letters that means ‘to want company’. We’re naturally inclined to want company.

You might think, “What about the social aspects of Islam? Being alone is like being a hermit!” That’s true, but in Islam, there is a balance between solitary and communal acts of worship. For example, some prayers are done communally like Friday, Eid, and funeral prayers. However, extra prayers like tahajjud, istikharah, and nawaafil are best done individually.

There is a place and time for being alone, and a time for being with others. Islam teaches us this balance, and with that, it teaches us that being alone is also praiseworthy, and shouldn’t be viewed as something negative. There is virtue in alone-ness just as there is virtue in being with others.

Being Alone Has Its Own Perks

It is through being alone that we can be astute observers and connect the outside world to our inner selves. It is also through allowing aloneness to be part of our daily regimen that we can step back, introspect and develop a strong sense of self-based on a direct relationship with Allah.

Taking the time to reflect on worship and the words of Allah gives us the opportunity to meaningfully think about it. It is essential that a person gets used to being alone with their thoughts in order to experience this enriching intellectual, emotional and spiritual experience. The goal is to use our thoughts as the fuel to gain closeness to Allah through reflection and self-introspection.

Training ourselves to embrace being alone can also train us to be honest with ourselves, discover who we truly are, and work towards improving ourselves for Allah’s sake. Sitting with ourselves and honestly scrutinizing the self in order to see strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement is essential for character development. And character development is essential to reach the level of Ihsaan.

When we look into who we want to be, we are bound to make some decisions that might raise eyebrows and wag tongues. Being okay with being alone makes this somewhat easier. We should not be afraid to stand out and be the only one wearing praying or wearing hijab, knowing that it is something Allah will be pleased with. We should not be afraid to stand up for what we believe in even if it makes us unpopular. Getting used to being alone can give us the confidence to make these decisions.

Being alone can strengthen us internally, but not without pain. Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns found that people who dissent from group wisdom show heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with the sting of social rejection. Berns calls this the “pain of independence.”

All our prophets experienced this ‘pain of independence’ in their mission. Instances of different prophets being rejected by their own people are generously scattered in the Quran for us to read and reflect upon. One lesson we can extract from these is that being alone takes courage, faith, conviction, and confidence.

 

We Come Alone, Leave Alone, Meet Allah Alone

The circumstances that left me alone in the different stages of my life were not random. I always wanted an older brother or someone else to be there to rescue me from the solitude. But the solitude came with a blessing. Being alone gave me the time and space in which to wonder, think, and eventually understand myself and the people around me. I learned reflection as a skill and independent decision-making as s strength. I don’t mind being alone in my niqab, my Islam, or my choices. I’ve had plenty of practice after all.

Open grave

You are born alone and you took your first breath alone. You will die alone, even if you are surrounded by your loved ones. When you are lowered into the grave, you will be alone. Accepting this can help you make use of your moments of solitude rather than fear them. Having the courage to be alone builds confidence, strengthens conviction, and propels us to do what is right and pleasing to Allah regardless of human approval.

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Why Israel Should Be ‘Singled Out’ For Its Human Rights Record

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians.

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israel, occupied Palestine

Why is everyone so obsessed with Israel’s human rights abuses? From Saudi Arabia, to Syria, to North Korea to Iran. All these nations are involved in flagrant violations of human right, so why all the focus on Israel – ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’? Clearly, if you ignore these other violations and only focus on Israel, you must be anti-Semitic. What else could be your motivations for this double standard?

This is one of the most common contentions raised when Israel is criticized for its human rights record. I personally don’t believe in entertaining this question – it shouldn’t matter why an activist is choosing to focus on one conflict and not others. What matters are the facts being raised; putting into question the motives behind criticizing Israel is a common tactic to detract from the topic at hand. The conversation soon turns into some circular argument about anti-Semitism and the plight of the Palestinian people is lost. More importantly, this charge of having double standards is often disingenuous. For example, Representative Ihan Omar has been repeatedly accused of this recently and her motives have been called ‘suspicious’ – despite her vocal criticism of other countries, especially Saudi Arabia.

However, this point is so frequently brought up, I think that perhaps its time activists and critics simply own up to it. Yes – Israel should be singled out, for some very good reasons. These reasons relate to there being a number of unique privileges that the country enjoys; these allow it to get away with much of the abuses it commits. Human right activists thus must be extra vocal when comes to Israel as they have to overcome the unparalleled level of support for the country, particularly in the US and Canada. The following points summarize why Israel should in fact be singled out:

1) Ideological support from ordinary citizens

When Iran and North Korea commit human right abuses, we don’t have to worry about everyone from journalists to clerics to average students on campuses coming out and defending those countries. When most nations commit atrocities, our journalists and politicians call them out, sanctions are imposed, they are taking them to the International Court of Justice, etc. There are instruments in place to take care of other ‘rogue’ nations – without the need for intervention from the common man.

Israel, however, is unique in that it has traditionally enjoyed widespread ideological support, primarily from the Jewish community and Evangelical Christians, in the West. This support is a result of the historical circumstances and pseudo-religious ideology that drove the creation of the state in 1948. The successful spread of this nationalistic dogma for the last century means Israel can count on ordinary citizens from Western countries to comes to its defense. This support can come in the form of foreign enlistment to its military, students conducting campus activism, politicians shielding it from criticisms and journalists voluntarily writing in its support and spreading state propaganda.

This ideological and nationalistic attachment to the country is the prime reason why it is so incredibly difficult to have any kind of sane conversation about Israel in the public sphere – criticism is quickly seen as an attack on Jewish identity and interpreted as an ‘existential threat’ to the nation by its supporters. Any attempts to take Israel to account through standard means are thwarted because of the political backlash feared from the country’s supporters in the West.

2) Unconditional political support of a world superpower

The US is Israel’s most important and closest ally in the Middle-East. No matter what war crimes Israel commits, it can count on America to have its back. This support means the US will use its veto power to support Israel against actions of the UN Security Council, it will use its diplomatic influence to shield any punitive actions from other nations and it will use its military might to intervene if need be. The backing of the US is one of the main reasons why the Israeli occupation and expansion of the colonial settlement enterprise continues to this day without any repercussions.

While US support might be especially staunch for Israel, this factor is certainly not unique to the country. Any country which has this privilege, e.g. Saudi Arabia, should be under far great scrutiny for its human rights violations than others.

3)  Military aid and complicity of tax-payers

US tax-payers are directly paying for Israel to carry out its occupation of the Palestinian people.

Israel is the largest recipient of US-military aid – it receives an astonishing $3 billion dollars every year. This aid, according to a US congressional report, “has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.”

Unlike other countries, ordinary citizens are complicit in the perpetual crimes committed against defenseless Palestinians. Activists and citizens thus have a greater responsibility to speak out against Israel as their government is paying the country to carry out its atrocities. Not only is this aid morally reprehensible, but it is also illegal under United States Leahy Laws.

4) The Israeli lobby

The Israeli lobby is one of the most powerful groups in Washington and is the primary force for ensuring continued US political support for the nation. It consists of an assortment of formal lobby groups (AIPAC, Christians United for Israel), think-thanks (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), political action committee or PACs, not-for-profit organizations (B’nai B’irth, American Jewish Congress, Stand for Israel) and media watchdogs (CAMERA, Honest Reporting). These organizations together exercise an incredible amount of political influence. They ensure that any criticism of Israel is either stifled or there are serious consequences for those who speak up. In 2018 alone, pro-Israel donors spent $22 million on lobbying for the country – far greater than any other nation. Pro-Israel lobbies similarly influence politics in other places such as the UK, Canada, and Europe.

5) One of the longest-running occupation in human history

This point really should be the first one on this list – and it is the only one that should matter. However, because of the unique privileges that Israel enjoys, it is hard to get to the crux of what it is actually doing. Israel, with U.S. support, has militarily occupied the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since 1967. The belligerent occupation, over 50 years old, is one of the longest, bloodiest and brutal in human history.

Israel continues to steal land and build settler colonies the West Bank – in flagrant violation of international law. It has implemented a system of apartheid in these territories which is reminiscent of the racist regime of South Africa. The Gaza strip has been under an insufferable siege which has made the living conditions deplorable; it has been referred to the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’. In addition to this institutional oppression, crimes committed against Palestinians include: routinely killing civilian protesters, including teenagers and medics, torture of Palestinians and severe restrictions on the everyday movement of Palestinians.

The brutality, consistency and the duration for which Israel has oppressed Palestinians is alone enough reason for it being ‘singled out’. No other nation comes close to its record. However, for the reasons mentioned above, Israel’s propaganda machine has effectively painted itself as just another ‘liberal democracy’ in the eyes of the general public. Any attempt to bring to light these atrocities are met with ‘suspicion’ about the ‘real’ motives of the critics. Given the points mentioned here, it should be evident that the level of support for Israeli aggression is uniquely disproportionate – it is thus fitting that criticism of the country is equally vocal and unparalleled as well.

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This Article Could be Zakat-Eligible

Who Accounts For This Pillar of Islam

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Co-written by Shaykh Osman Umarji

As writers on MuslimMatters, it came as a surprise when the website we write on marked itself zakat-eligible on its fundraiser for operations in Ramadan. This website has previously highlighted the misuse and abuse of zakat for vague and dodgy reasons, including instances of outright fraud by nonprofit corporations.  We have lamented the seemingly inexorable march from zakat being for living human beings in need to financial play-doh for nonprofit corporate boards.

Estimated global zakat is somewhere between $200 billion to $1 trillion.  Eliminating global poverty is estimated at $187 billion– not just for Muslims, but everyone.  There continue to be strong interests in favor of more putty-like zakat to benefit the interests of the organizations that are not focused on reducing poverty. Thus, in many ways, a sizeable chunk of zakat benefits the affluent rather than the needy. Zakat, rather than being a credit to the Muslim community, starts to look more like an indictment of it.

No, it’s not ikhtilaf

The recent article on this website, Dr. Usama Al-Azmi seemed somewhat oblivious to the cavalier way the nonprofit corporate sector in the United States treats Zakat.  The article did not do justice to legitimate concerns about zakat distribution by dismissing the issue as one of “ikhtilaf,” or a reasonable difference of opinion, as it ignored the broader concern about forces working hard to make zakat a “wild west” act of worship where just about anything goes.  

It’s essential to identify the crux of the problem. Zakat has eight categories of permissible beneficiaries in the Quran. 1 Two are various levels of poor, distribution overhead; then there are those whose hearts are to be inclined,  free captives, relieve indebtedness, the wayfarer, and the cause of Allah (fisabilillah). The category of fisabilillah, historically,  the majority of scholars have interpreted as the cost of jihad (like actual fighting). However, in recent times, Muslim nonprofit corporations, with support of learned Muslim leaders, have adopted an increasingly aggressive and vague posture that allows nearly any beneficial cause to get zakat.   

The concerns about the abuse of zakat, and the self-serving desire by corporations to turn fisabilillah into a wastebasket Zakat category that could be “incredibly broad” has to do with far more than a difference of opinion (ikhtilaf ) about the eligibility of Dawah organizations. Let’s assume dawah and educational organizations are eligible to administer Zakat funds.  We need to know what that means in practice. What we have is a fundamental question the fisabilillah-can-mean-virtually-anything faction never manages to answer: are there any limits to zakat usage at all?

Show Your Work

We fully understand that in our religious practice, there is a set of rules.  In Islamic Inheritance for example, for example, we cannot cavalierly change the definition of what a “daughter” is to mean any girl you want to treat like a daughter. There is an established set of rules relating to acts of worship. For the third pillar of Islam, zakat, there seem to be no limits to the absurd-sounding questions we can ask that now seem plausible.  

Unfortunately, we have too many folks who invoke “ikhtilaf” to justify adopting almost any opinion and not enough people who are willing to explain their positions. We need a better understanding of zakat and draw the lines on when nonprofit corporations are going too far.

You can be conservative and stand for zakat as an act of worship that contributes to social justice. You can have a more expansive interpretation friendly to the nonprofit corporate sector’s needs to include the revenue source. Wherever you stand, if you don’t provide evidence and develop detailed uniform and accepted principles and rules that protect those people zakat was meant to help, you are inviting abuse and at the very least, opening the door towards inequitable results. 2

Can you feed the needy lentils and rice for $100 a meal, with margins of $99 a meal going to pay salaries to provide these meals and fundraise for them?  Why or why not?

Can a Dawah organization purchase an $80 million jet for its CEO, who can use it to travel the world to do “dawah,” including places like Davos or various ski resorts?  What rules exist that would prevent something like this? As far as we know, nothing at all.

Bubble Charity

In the United States, demographic sorting is a common issue that affects all charitable giving, not just giving by Muslims. The most affluent live in neighborhoods with other people who are generally as prosperous as they are. Certain places seem almost perversely designed to allow wealthy residents to be oblivious to the challenges of the poor.  There are undeniable reasons why what counts as “charity” for the wealthy means giving money to the Opera, the Met Gala, and Stanford University.

The only real way affluent Muslims know they supposed to care about poor people is that maybe they have a Shaikh giving khutbas talking about the need to do so and their obligation of zakat once a year or so. That is now becoming a thing of the past. Now it is just care about fisabilillah- it means whatever your tender heart wants it to mean.   

As zakat becomes less about the poor, appeals will be for other projects with a higher amount of visibility to the affluent.  Nonprofits now collect Zakat for galas with celebrities. Not fundraising at the gala dinner mind you, but merely serving dinner and entertaining rich people. Educational institutions and Masajid that have dawah activities (besides, everything a Masjid does is fisabilillah) can be quite expensive. Getting talent to run and teach in these institutions is also costly. Since many of the people running these institutions are public figures and charismatic speakers with easy access and credibility with the affluent. It is far easier for them to get Zakat funds for their projects.

People who benefit from these projects because they send their children to these institutions or attend lectures themselves will naturally feel an affinity for these institutions that they won’t have with the poor. Zakat will stay in their bubble.  Fisabilillah.

Dawa is the new Jihad

Jihad, as in war carried out by a Khalifah and paid for with zakat funds, is an expensive enterprise. But no society is in a permanent state of warfare, so they can work towards eliminating poverty during peacetime. Muslim communities have done this in the past.  Dawah is qualitatively different from jihad as it is permanent. There was never a period in Islamic history when there was no need to do dawah. Many times in history, nobody was fighting jihad. There was no period of Islamic history when there were there was never a need for money to educate people. Of course, earlier Muslims used zakat in education in limited, defined circumstances. It is not clear why limitations no longer apply.  

Indeed dawah is a broad category.  For example, many people regard the Turkish costume drama “Diriliş: Ertuğrul” as dawah.  Fans of the show can’t stop talking about the positive effects it has had on their lives and their iman. What prevents zakat from funding future expensive television costume dramas? Nothing, as far as we can see.   

No Standards or Accountability

Unfortunately, in the United States, there are no uniform, specific standards governing zakat. Anything goes now when previously in Islamic history, there were appropriate standards. Nonprofit corporations themselves decide if they are zakat-eligible or not. In some instances, they provide objectively comical explanations, which supporters within the corporation’s bubble pretty much always swallow whole. Corporations don’t have to segregate Zakat-eligible funds from general funds. When they do, they can make up their own rules for how and when they spend zakat. No rules make zakat indistinguishable from any other funding source since they can change their standards year after year depending on their funding needs (if they have rules at all) and nobody would be the wiser. It is exceedingly rare for these corporations to issue detailed reports on how they use zakat.  

The Shift to Meaninglessness

Organizations with platforms (like the one that runs this website) are going to be eager to get on the zakat gravy train. There is no cost to slapping a “zakat-eligible” label on yourself, either financial or social. It seems like everyone does it now. Some Zakat collectors are conscientious and care about helping the poor, though they are starting to look a little old-fashioned. For them, it may make sense to certify Zakat administrators like halal butchers.

Zakat used to be about helping discrete categories of human beings that can benefit from it.  It can now mean anything you want it to mean. In the end, though, without real standards, it may mean nothing at all.

Footnotes:

  1. The sunnah also highlights the essence of zakah as tending to the needs of the poor. For example, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded Muadh bin Jabal, when sending him to Yemen, to teach the people that Allah has obligated charity upon them to be taken from their rich and given to their poor (Sahih Muslim).
  2. In Islamic legal theory (usool al-fiqh), sadd al-dhariya is a principle that refers to blocking the means to evil before it can materialize. It is invoked when a seemingly permissible action may lead to unethical behavior. This principle is often employed in financial matters.

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