American Muslim Voice founder Samina Sundas on her reactions to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
By **Rae Abileah**
By arrangement with AlterNet.Org.
The following is an interview with Samina Sundas, a Pakistani-American activist who founded American Muslim Voice in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. CODEPINK organizer Rae Abileah interviewed Samina on May 2, the morning after President Obama’s announcement that Osama bin Laden was assassinated by U.S. forces in Pakistan.
Rae Abileah: How did you feel when you heard that Osama had been killed?
Samina Sundas: At first I didn’t believe it—we’ve heard these rumors before that he’d been captured and killed so I was skeptical. Then I thought there would be a body shown so we could put him to rest forever, but instead reports say that Osama was “buried at sea,” which is odd. I did not resonate with people rejoicing over his death. Rejoicing does not reflect very well when we hear of the death of anyone. What does that say about us as human beings? Our focus as a country should have been an acknowledgement that now that the U.S. has captured and killed Osama, we will focus on how not to create more Osama bin Ladens.
Is the problem of terrorism going to be buried with Osama? Osama was a huge symptom of an enormous problem that we have in our country and world and by just killing him it is as if we have merely put a band-aid on cancer. We must take care of the cancer. We should be questioning ourselves: Are we creating more Osamas by continuing to invade and occupy other countries? If we have killed one Osama, how many others will emerge due to our unbalanced foreign policies?
Rae Abileah: Do you think that the news of Osama’s death should indicate a shift in U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
Samina Sundas: Yes, this news should indicate a shift in policy in every country—we should not be illegally occupying and bombing other countries if we want to be considered the champion of human rights. We must rise above our own self-interest and not pretend to protect when there is something, like oil, in it for us.
We always think we have to go across the seas to defend human rights, but there is so much to do here at home. I believe that we can get more out of our dollars if we will spend even 1/100th of the defense budget on humane efforts in rebuilding nations and tribes. We could truly start being champion of human rights, and start living our Constitution, and really become a super nation. Our focus must turn to rebuilding our nation and the countries we have destroyed through warfare and the drone attacks.
Rae Abileah: What about the role of the Pakistani government in killing Osama?
Samina Sundas: Pakistan depends so much on U.S. aid that they are in no position to refuse collaboration with U.S. on its mission.
Rae Abileah: What does Osama’s death mean for the American Muslim community?
Samina Sundas: The statements I’ve read from a few American Muslim organizations indicate that the American Muslim community is relieved, hoping they will not be as big of a target as they have been for the past nearly 10 years. It’s important to note that Osama bin Laden did not represent Muslims or the teachings of Islam. 9/11 was one of the worst tragedies we faced as a nation but the terrible backlash against American Muslims, Arabs and South Asians was uncalled for, because we did not have any part in this heinous act of violence.
He’s making decisions out of fear, and any time you make a decision out of fear, you don’t make the right decision. Obama said we shouldn’t have gone to Iraq, but we’re not out yet.
Rae Abileah: What can people do here at home?
Samina Sundas: Since 2003, when I founded American Muslim Voice, we have been totally focused on proactive peace and community building. We are committed to walk on the path that Martin Luther King, Jr. has paved for us to build an inclusive, harmonious and beloved community. We hold open houses, peace picnics, teach-ins, dinners, dialogs and peace conventions to share who we are and what Islam is all about with our fellow Americans. We are dedicated to educate our fellow Americans through social interaction to promote peace and harmony in our nation. None of us will be safe by targeting of the whole Muslim community through racial profiling, harassment, radicalization or extra security for Muslims at the airport. Our country’s safety, security and peaceful future depend on our ability to open our minds, hearts and homes to each other so we may get to know each other.
On March 28, 2011, in Washington, DC, American Muslim Voice Foundation along with its peace partners launched a campaign called “National Invite Your Neighbor to Dinner Day” to invite your neighbor to dinner on the first Sunday of October annually—this year on October 2. A toolkit will be up on the AMV website soon with info about the intention for this action and how to organize. In Islam neighbors’ rights are emphasized so much that at one point the Prophet Mohammad shared with his wife that we may have to share our property with them. In the wake of the devastating tsunami and earthquakes in Japan, some Americans are waking up to the need to know their neighbors and create a community disaster preparedness plan.
Rae Abileah: Do you think that the war on terrorism can be won?
Samina Sundas: There is no war that can be won; there are no winners in any war. In the wars on poverty, on drugs, on terrorism…we have to start changing our thinking. We have to say “Enough!” War is a manifestation of anger and fear; therefore, it does not transform into right action. We have to step back and think about our short-term goals and our long-term goals. We should focus on proactive solutions for our country and the world, as American Muslim Voice Foundation does, because we love being American citizens. As a superpower we should take care of the vulnerable citizens of the world and then we can claim to be the true champions of human rights.
It makes me feel horrible when people question my loyalty to America and my ability to defend America. I would give my life defending this country, as an American Muslim, because America is my chosen home and it is my Islamic duty to protect my home. But I will not support a preemptive war.
Rae Abileah: What would you say to people who are fearful that if the U.S. pulls out of Afghanistan, the situation will change for the worse for women there?
Samina Sundas: We are not protecting women’s rights—that’s an illusion we have. Creating a war does not protect women, period.
I wish that we would pull out from Afghanistan and Pakistan but I don’t see that happening because of U.S. special interests in those countries and the people that are profiting from those wars. Of course in my opinion the troops should come home.
There are more people killed under Obama’s administration by drone attacks and in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has stricter policies on immigration issues. He’s making decisions out of fear, and any time you make a decision out of fear, you don’t make the right decision. Obama said we shouldn’t have gone to Iraq, but we’re not out yet.
Rae Abileah: What should have happened in the wake of 9/11?
Samina Sundas: We needed to make sure our country and its citizens were safe. But targeting a whole religious group and two countries in the wake of 9/11 was not the way to go. It has gotten us into more trouble, more wars, and ruined the economy. Wherever you go—a city hall meeting, a school board session—the conversation is about the economy. People are suffering because of budget cuts. With all the high tech tools our intelligence agencies have, and the power America has in the world, we should have had special operations with the military and the CIA, but instead we invaded whole countries and murdered thousands of innocent civilians. In the end it was the special operation that killed Osama, but how many more Osamas have been created by the past nearly 10 years of war?
I have found beautiful friendships with some of the 9/11 families of Peaceful Tomorrows who have lost their loved ones but have dedicated their lives to building global peace. Some families who had lost loved ones went to Afghanistan and Iraq (CODEPINK organized such a delegation in 2005) to meet Iraqi and Afghan families who had also lost loved ones. Somehow they found it in their hearts to work for peace. Our government should have taken a clue from them and followed their lead.
Today I hope that we learn that if we want to leave anything for our next generation, it should be the ability to really focus on building and rebuilding and healing the world. There are real problems in the world that we need to focus on—poverty, hunger, global warming—and we could instead be using our military and tax money to solve these problems, instead of bombing innocent civilians. Our world is a big mess right now and we all need to walk together and work together to fix it.
Copyright 2011 Rae Abileah ________________________________________________________________________
This essay originally appeared at AlterNet.Org.
Rae Abileah is a Jewish-American of Israeli descent and is a national organizer with CODEPINK Women for Peace and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. She lives in San Francisco, California.