Inflict the legal punishments on the poor and forgive the rich?

By Fedwa WazwazEngage Minnesota

The camel sees all of the other camel’s humps but never his own.
–Bedouin Proverb


Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, taught Muslims that a society should not “inflict the legal punishments on the poor and forgive the rich.” This is not just an Islamic teaching–it has also been a teaching of those noble Americans who have nurtured our country to a higher understanding of human dignity and value.

Yet, with ISIS, we seem again to be forgiving the rich and focusing the brunt of our punishments on the poor.

In a newly aired PBS “Frontline” documentary, titled “The Secret History of ISIS,” produced by Michael Kirk, Mike Wiser, and Jim Gilmore examines how ISIS or Daesh came to be.  The documentary discusses how the US contributed to the rise of ISIS through many mistakes, as well as lies, told to create a link between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein so that we could make a case for Iraq.

Experts, including CIA officials, discussed how mistakes, lies and exaggerations were told along the path to a U.S. war on Iraq, which in turn gave rise to ISIS, also known as ISIL or Daesh.

One of these mistakes, outlined in the documentary, was by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who made a seven-minute speech at the UN that turned the founder of Daesh, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, from a nobody into a powerful terrorist and the founder of ISIS.  In the speech, he connected the dots between Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Zarqawi, and weapons of mass destruction.  Upon closer analysis, those dots were not connectable, and Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction.  Yet Zarqawi was turned into a powerful warrior in the eyes of the region and the world.

Powell appeared in the documentary and argued that Zarqawi did not play a major role in the presentation he gave to the UN. However, the documentary shows that, in his speech, Powell mentioned Zarqawi by name 21 times.

Reporter Eric Black writes in MinnPost, “I read the full text of Powell’s presentation to see how heavily he relied on the bin Laden-Zarqawi-Saddam nexus. The answer is that he relied on it heavily, but always by implication, still clearly intended to convince the world that Zarqawi was the middleman through whom WMD could flow from Iraq’s (non-existent) stockpiles to bin Laden.”

As Black notes, at the time, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a Jordanian-born Palestinian petty criminal. A falsified version of his story helped justify the Iraq war, which in turn helped create ISIS—turning Zarqawi into the powerful terrorist Powell said he was.

If the Secretary of State and others in the government can make major blunders that helped give rise to Daesh and Zarqawi, and they are forgiven, then we must ask why are we holding a bunch of youth suffering from social problems to a higher standard before the law?

Wanting to protect ourselves, our families, our communities, and our countries is an essential human desire. Lately, many in Minnesota have been talking about “CVE,” or Countering Violent Extremism.

This is a program that stigmatizes the local Muslim community, particularly the Somali community, as it reaches into communities and entraps young Muslim men.

Yes, those who are plotting violence must absolutely be stopped. But what if, to protect ourselves and our country, we challenge each other to think differently than Satan, who plots and plans to entrap others? Satan sees our weakness, and, in the shadows, conspires to make us slip and stumble.  As the documentary shows, working with criminals as informants eventually backfires.

How about, in this time of chaos, we are just as forgiving with the powerless as the powerful, and we take a different approach to community engagement?

What if we challenge ourselves to think like the angels and anchor each other? If we think that someone—out of weakness, ignorance, or lack of coping skills—might engage in actions that harm us, we might seek that person out, entice them with ideas of glory. Or we might instead anchor that person and nurture them, and our society, to a higher level of understanding.

Can we say no to entrapment and yes to anchoring?

Imagine that there are young men who came to this country as immigrants. They are dealing with language and adjustment issues in schools, and their parents are likely overwhelmed as they try to put down roots in a new culture. These kids are struggling, and they don’t have the necessary social and emotional support in the family.

We have used acts of violence by these young men to justify more screening and more surveillance on an entire community.

There is another model: rehab. Instead of entrapping and criminalizing, we can put these young men to work in the community, and we can find ways to fold them back into the fabric of our society.

God sent down messengers to humanity to remind us, to guide us, and to anchor us. We need to listen to them and be the angels our vulnerable youth and our communities need.

This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, currently titled Reflections of Faith: Lessons from the Prophets.

Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US.  She lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.


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