When asked in 2010 by a New York psychologist what he missed most about his life before captivity, Omar Khadr, the youngest prisoner in Guantánamo (he was sent there at 15 years old) replied: “Being loved.”
What a tragic juxtaposition to the men we think these terrorists to be.
In media depictions, Muslim men often aren’t seen as humans beings—especially not ones that deserve love or acceptance. When images surfaced in 2004 of the naked, brutalized “detainee” on a leash, a prisoner held captive at Abu Ghraib, it raised uncomfortable questions about the social positions of Muslim men in our society. Those men, who had often been signifiers of fear and hatred, suddenly became symbolic of a neutered sexuality; of abuse and of grave, emotional injustice. Through acts of ignominy, we’ve created a culture where hyper-masculinity needs to be postured by “silenced” Muslim men.
In Regarding The Pain of Others, Susan Sontag writes: “The problem is not that people remember through photographs, but that they remember only the photographs.” With The War on Terror, each year that goes by we forget of the war’s devastating realities, but we also forget about the humanity—the people—that exist on the other side. “It is passivity that dulls feelings,” says Sontag. “After repeated exposure it becomes less real.” The photo of the detainee has lost its first horrifying distinction. The abuse of Muslim men seems to be categorized as a necessary evil in order to sustain U.S. hegemony.
They fight back to regain control. They fight against every air strike, every drone that kills their own. On a superficial level they’ve become machines, but the West has allowed that transformation.
What if militant and extremist Muslims are only fighting back for a validation of their pain, and of the reality of their terror? We’ve created a culture of extremism, hijacking men for the purpose of war and violence. But what if that attitude shifted? What if the way we engaged with Muslim men, publicly and culturally, came from a place of sincerity, or of care?
Love is a powerful omen. Perhaps the most powerful anecdote to fear, the most radical form of subversion, is to love in spite of it all. Muslim men need to feel loved, to feel less demonized by a society that’s polarized them, in order for change to shift and transform society in a real way. We need to grasp their humanity and understand why hurt people hurt people.
Featured photo: Eight-year-old Muhammet Hammusi, who fled the Syrian civil war with his family three years ego, learns to read the Quran in Turkey.
Fariha Róisín is a writer living on Earth.