Tarek is a religious person and a respected member of his local Muslim community. In 2001, when he was 18 years old, he took a greater interest in his faith and history and began to seriously dedicate himself to study of religious and historical texts. As a young man who felt called to be a better Muslim in every aspect of his life, he took to reading, studying, and discussion with great interest. As the instant messages found on his computer reflect, Tarek spent countless hours reading, pondering, and discussing classical and modern religious texts. The majority of the instant messages deal with such topics.
Just as Tarek was renewing his faith, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, took place. Shortly thereafter, the United States invaded the Muslim countries of Afghanistan and Iraq. At home in the United States, many Muslims began to feel that suspicion was being cast upon their communities due to their religion and ethnic background. In this crucible of renewed faith and the United States’ response to 9/11, Tarek worked to find his way religiously, professionally and politically. As the instant messages reveal, Tarek was particularly upset at the United States’ invasion of Iraq. Like many Americans, he felt that the invasion was not justified and that innocent lives were being lost to American military operations.
At the same time, Tarek continued to explore Islamic texts, searching for a greater spiritual life. While many of these texts involved traditional and mainstream subjects in Islam, Tarek also read works by many contemporary scholars who were re-examining ancient texts in light of current events. These scholars expressed their concern that Islam as a culture and a religion was being threatened, and they argued that Muslims should respond by defending themselves.
There is a complicated modern history in the Muslim world that begins with European colonization, the carving up of the Middle East after World War II by Western powers and the creation of new countries. The occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviets in the 1980’s and the Soviet defeat by an indigenous Muslim fighting force, supplied with American arms, resulted in great pride by many Muslims. The invasion of Kuwait, which resulted in the establishment of American military bases in Saudi Arabia, offended many Muslims, including mainstream scholars. Mainstream Arab media, including Al Jazeera, emphasized the death of children and civilians form the American embargo of Iraq after Desert Storm.
In 1995, the United Nations imposed an embargo on trade with Iraq until it allowed inspection for weapons of mass destruction and accepted monitoring. A number of scientific studies were undertaken, the most reliable showed child mortality doubled during the embargo, THE NATION, “A Hard Look at Iraq Sanctions,” December 3, 2001. Several documentaries which showed widespread suffering of children were widely publicized in both Arab and American media. Andrew K. Fishman, Between Iraq and a Hard Place: The Use of Economic Sanctions and Threats to International Peace and Security, 13 EMORY INT’L L. REV. 687, 687, 691 (1999) (Two million men, women and children died form the economic sanctions “designed to destroy an entire social system.”)
Suffice to say, there are hundreds of books written on these subjects. Like many Muslims, Tarek read and studied these subjects.
See, e.g., Yasmin Husein Al-Jawaheri, Women in Iraq: The Gender Impact of International Sanctions (2008); Anthony Arnove, Iraq Under Siege, Updated Edition: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War (2003); Ramsey Clark, Impacts of Sanctions on Iraq: The Children Are Dying (2002).
As someone who took pride in his faith, culture and history, he joined online discussion forums where he could discuss these issues with others who were searching for answers as well. The poem above was written by Tarek in 2010, while in prison.