Ebrahim Moosa - Opinion | 20 Jumad al Ukhra 1438/19 March 2017
Black and red.
It has been said that the history of Islam can be captured in two colours.
Black from the ink of scholars, and red from the blood of martyrs.
If one has to consider the Awlaki family with its roots in Yemen and the USA, the above characterisation resonates neatly, except with the black ink being substituted with the form of sound waves, emblematic of the hours of Islamic discourses connected with its most famous son, Imam Anwar.
Imam Anwar al Awlaki had lectured on everything from the Hereafter to the Sirah, the lives of the Sahabah, contemporary Muslim conditions and dreams and their interpretations, making him a readily recognisable voice amongst English-speaking Muslims globally.
In the latter years of his life, he became an outspoken critic of American foreign policy and the injustices meted out against the Muslim world.
On September 30, 2011, in northern Yemen's al-Jawf province, he met his end when two American Predator drones allegedly based at a secret CIA base in Saudi Arabia fired ‘Hellfire’ missiles at a vehicle he was travelling in.
Awlaki had, prior to his assassination, been placed by President Barack Obama on list of people whom the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were authorized to kill because of their alleged “terrorist activities”. He became the first American citizen to be hunted down and killed without trial by his own government since the Civil War.
He was called "the most dangerous man in the world,” the “West's Public Enemy No 1” and “the most dangerous ideologue in the world”. Yet, even with his vengeful killing, the assault on Awlaki did not rest.
The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) "called on YouTube and other platforms to permanently ban Mr. Awlaki’s material, including his early, mainstream lectures. The US Department of Justice justified his killing as legal, arguing "the Constitution would not require the government to provide further process".
Barely 2 weeks after his death, Obama turned his drones on Abdulrahman, al Awlaki’s 16 year old son, who was killed on October 14, 2011, also in Yemen. Nine other people were killed in the same CIA-initiated attack, including a 17-year-old cousin of Abdulrahman. According to his relatives, shortly before his father's death, Abdulrahman had left the family home in Sana'a and travelled to Shabwa in search of his father who was believed to be in hiding in that area (though he was actually hundreds of miles away at the time). Abdulrahman was sitting in an open-air cafe in Shabwa when killed. American officials described his death as a “mistake”.
If there were those who thought that Abdulrahman’s unceremonial death and the outcry that followed would end the obsession with Awlaki blood, they were clearly mistaken.
It’s January 29, 2017 and a new American administration is fresh in office. But as the hours would unfold, they would reveal the official American approach to the Awlakis to be anything but new.
In fact, the hours that are to painstakingly follow will arguably represent the most agonising chapter in the Awlaki story of struggle.
I cannot help feeling a great sense of nausea as I gaze at buoyant pictures of a dainty Nawar al Awlaki and contrast it with the bloodfest that is to follow.
Nawar al-Awlaki was the eight-year-old daughter of Imam Anwar al Awlaki, who too was residing in Yemen.
On that fateful Sunday, the last of January 2017, Donald Trump ordered a “site exploitation” attack on the village of Yakla, in Yemen's al-Bayda province that purportedly sought to gather intelligence on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Hours later, according to medical sources on the ground cited by Reuters, 30 people were dead by the actions US soldiers, including a newborn baby boy, and 10 children.
Nawar al Awlaki was one of them.
As her name suggests, and her pictures convey, Nawar was a bud, a flower, a blossom.
Her uncle and former Yemeni Deputy Minister of the Environment and Water Resources, Ammar Al-Aulaqi, chronicled her fate in a painstaking Facebook post.
“[Nawar] was shot several times, with one bullet piercing her neck. She was bleeding for two hours because it was not possible to get her medical attention.
“As Nawar was always a personality and a mind far older than her years, she was reassuring her mother even as she was bleeding out; ‘Don’t cry mama, I’m fine, I’m fine’,” Ammar’s emotional post continued.
“Then the call to the Dawn prayer came, and her soul departed from her tiny body.”
The flower had wilted, the smoke had settled and Donald Trump had fired his opening salvo in his quest to wipe “radical Islamic terrorism” off the face of the earth.
The US preoccupied itself with the death of one US serviceman who was killed during the operation, whilst a bloodied Nawar was shrouded.
“Americans are saddened this morning with news that a life of a heroic service member has been taken in our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism,” Trump said.
Returning to reality, Mohammad Alrubaa, an Arab journalist and television show host, tweeted: “This is Nawar Al-Awlaki that the American marines came to Yemen to kill…#American_terrorism” the text appended to the bubbly, now haunting picture of Nawar.
Commenting on the fact that many civilian fatalities of drone strikes are often justified as “collateral damage” by US military and political officials, Yemeni politician Ali Albukhaiti tweeted: “Nawar Al-Awlaki was not killed in an airstrike, but by a bullet fired by a marine and at close range. It is terrorism beyond terrorism, but it is defended and justified by a media that markets [such attacks].”
As the Middle East Monitor noted, with Nawar’s murder, it appears that no relative of Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki is safe, regardless of whether they are children or not, or even involved in ‘terrorism’ or not.
Despite having eliminated him with the most brutish force, the American war on Imam Anwar al Awlaki appears to be still alive and thriving.
Analysts are still asking questions such as: “Is Awlaki as dangerous – perhaps even more dangerous – dead than alive?” and “was there a way to undermine his message without giving it the gloss of martyrdom?”
Speaking at the Pentagon in 2015, President Obama acknowledged that “ideologies are not defeated with guns; they’re defeated by better ideas”.
Yet, almost 2 years later, and 5 years after the demise of Awlaki, it continues to train its guns on Awlaki and anyone related to him.
Violence has been dubbed the language of the inarticulate, and considering, at the very least, the US response to Awlaki, the American superpower stands consistent in speaking this crudest of dialects proficiently.