Since 2001 the trust deficit between segments of the Islamic world and the West has grown wider with each passing year.
September 11, 2001 was a wake-up call for the Islamic world. Until then most Muslims scoffed at the notion of an 'Islamic lunatic fringe' as represented by Sunni Wahabi ideals. There was no Al-Qaeeda and suicide bombers were an unknown commodity.
US troops in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom
The introspection and reform of the Islamic world is painful and ongoing. It becomes hard when Muslim misgivings are frequently undermined by American behaviour.
When the US declared Afghanistan's Taliban regime as the enemy in 2001, there was not much debate within the Islamic world. Most Islamic nations supported the US 'invasion' of Afghanistan, either actively or passively.
The first US misstep occurred even before the US operation began. Nine years later, a fairly regular occurrence of such blunders forms a continuous chain. The virtually systematic bungles emasculate Muslim leaders trying to chip away at increasing fundamentalism within their nations.
In mid-September 2001, President Bush stated on the lawns of the White House, "This crusade [emphasis added], this war on terrorism, is going to take a while." Shortly afterwards, the US military operation in Afghanistan was named 'Operation Infinite Justice;' a controversial name given Islamic precepts that final justice emanates only from God.
Many Muslims may give the US the benefit of the doubt on the operation's name. However, following statements about crusades by a President readying his armies to invade a Muslim nation all statements are bound to be closely scrutinized. **
To Muslims, as also to many devout Christians such as Bush himself, the Crusades are about Muslim-Christian wars for control of specific tracts of land.
The world moved on. The Taliban were routed in late 2001. The phrases 'Al-Qaeeda' and the 'War on Terror' entered our daily language.
With US troops still searching for Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, suddenly a new front opened in March 2003. After months of canvassing about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the US invaded Iraq.
Uncertain about the implications for the region, most Muslim nations stayed low-key in their views on the Iraq War. On the contrary, the 'Arab Street' saw the invasion merely as an extension of Bush senior's war against Iraq (in Kuwait). The invasion viewed as part of a personal agenda of unfinished business against Saddam by the Bush clan.
Following the Iraq war, the disillusionment with the US within the Islamic world gathered momentum. The disappointment increased as the so-called weapons of mass destruction became as elusive as peaceful Iraqi democracy.
Sideshows directly attributable to US soldiers such as Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse, hoisting a US flag after the fall of Baghdad, looting from the Baghdad National Museum, urinating on the Koran and attacks on Al-Jazeera personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan feed the mutual hostility.
Fast forward to 2010.
Afghanistan's war has spread to Pakistan. A fiercely secular Iraqi regime has been replaced by, well, constitutional democracy. Al-Qaeeda, an erstwhile enemy of Saddam, is well entrenched in Iraq. Iraq is a wonderful playground for them. Iran's influence in both Iraq and Afghanistan is greater than most periods of modern history.
The world has no idea where the next major suicide bombing may take place. No city is safe. Many Muslims have all but stopped travelling to the US following the stringent measures imposed by the US Department of Homeland Security.
If Osama and his henchmen need a public relations agency to encourage recruits the US authorities must be near the top as far as track record and credentials are concerned?
The Siege of Antioch during the First Crusade (1097-98)
Let's head back to the Crusades for a moment.
We now hear that the US has supplied rifles to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan with coded Bible passages. Not surprising as the manufacturer, Trijicon corporation, prides itself on a definition of morality which states, "We believe that America is great when its people are good. This goodness has been based on biblical standards throughout our history and we will strive to follow those morals."
It is easy to criticize. It is more difficult to address the chasm of distrust between the Islamic world and the West. Just as Osama painted Islam and Muslims for many Americans, many Muslims also selectively view US policy objectives and behaviours to stereotype their American counterparts.
There is no easy fix. Obama can say what he wants in Cairo; or Hillary Clinton in Lahore. Unfortunately, it seems that the 'lunatic fringe' is not exclusive to Muslim populations.
Islamophobia and Islamic extremism represent two sides of the same coin. Most Muslims are not hostile to the West innately. Mistrust is a learned behaviour.
Next time a gunman kills eight people in Virginia or 33 students at a Virginia university be reminded that violent crimes come in many forms. Muslims have as much a monopoly on deranged killers as Christians have on World Wars.
* Kandahar is believed to be a Pashto distortion of Alexandria or Iskandria. Kandahar, therefore, is a city named after Alexander the Great, the Macedonian conqueror whose empire stretched to the banks of the Indus River located in modern day Pakistan.
** The name of the Afghan operation was changed to Operation Enduring Freedom.