Tahirah Amatullah

As the UK recovers from a Tory win at the poles in the wake of another tragic event in the run-up to the UK elections, the need for Britain to continue to call and advocate for deep, generational policy changes must be a paramount long term goal for Muslims.

With this in mind, we should turn to a report released in the background of pre-election furore, a month ago by The Costs of War Project – a US-based organisation. The report detailed how the US, supported by the UK, has spent $6.4 trillion on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, “and elsewhere” since 2001. The reported number of mostly civilian lives taken was put at 801 000.

This number did not include the number of deaths due to displacement, disease, torture and imprisonment, chemical weapons poisoning, and loss of infrastructure and necessities as a direct result of US-led and UK-backed bombing “campaigns”. It is therefore a vast underestimation.

The report follows other death counts for the ‘War on Terror’. The organisation, Iraq Body Count, for example, publishes a “running count” of deaths of civilians, and civilians and combatants in Iraq alone, since 2003. The current total is around 207 000 civilians killed by US and Iraqi troops, a number that also does not take into account deaths due to secondary causes of the war.

These numbers, even though they exclude deaths as a result of mitigating factors, are shocking – but they are not even near an accurate picture.

The numbers war

Another study, conducted by the medical journal Lancet, used a different data collection from these counts. Their counting method involved “teams of doctors moving from house to house, questioning [1,850 households and almost 13,000 participants] and examining death certificates”.

This method presented a more direct data collection method, as opposed to that used by other groups, who drew their numbers from collating press reports, military press releases and hospital morgue reports (unrealistic, since Muslims bury their dead within 24 hours, do not take bodies to morgues, and many aren’t conversant with press, let alone military).

The Lancet study put the number of civilian deaths in Iraq between 2003 and 2006 at 655 000 – just three years of the conflict, prior to ISIS, and prior to 2007, when the situation exploded. This figure included, for the first time, deaths due to secondary causes.

The study, despite being approved by four independent experts, was quickly discredited and brushed aside by UK scientists and has since copped that death knoll label, “controversial”.

But in 2015, a comprehensive report released also by doctors, from IPPNW-Germany, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and Physicians for Global Survival, presented a thorough breakdown of the number of casualties in US-led wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq since 2005, since it collated a number of different counts and weighed them in terms of method.

The report, at 101 pages, also included an acknowledgement of the politicization of other “death count” reports, and spent a good 20 pages discussing what had become “a numbers war” – where organisations presenting lower numbers are quoted by media, the UN and governments, often becoming instrumental in policy decisions, while those documenting higher numbers swept aside.

The German-based report highlighted problems with the “gross underestimation” of IBC, while it endorsed the Lancet study as “methodologically correct”, concluding that “there is a 95% likelihood that the real number of victims [in Iraq between 2003 and 2006] lies between 390,000 and 940,000.”

This figure is for a period of just three years, in Iraq alone, before the situation truly ignited into horror, and prior to the Syrian bombardment – it is also a count of deaths after the US sanctions regime, backed by the UK, which the UN estimated killed 1.7 million children.

Election time blindness

In this light, for the Costs of War Project to put the entire ‘War on Terror’ death toll in three countries “and elsewhere” (we presume this is Africa) at 801 000 people is a towering underestimation.

Over the past month in the UK, politicians used a terrible event to covet votes and sing to “security concerns”, when in fact the most dramatic and dangerous impact of these “concerns” on the ground in the Middle East resembles closer to what the UN terms genocide.

The PSR report calculated that US-led wars “directly or indirectly, killed 1 million people in Iraq (5% of the population), 220 000 in Afghanistan, and 80 000 in Pakistan”.

The report was published in 2015, with the caveat that these numbers were “conservative”: “The total number of deaths in the three countries could be in excess of 2 million, while a figure less than 1 million is extremely unlikely.” A report by Nafeez Ahmed, argued that the death toll could be as high as 4 million people.

Silencing the dead

There is a role for counts such as this, but when mass killings and abuse are academized, it creates a numbness, a terrible distance between those who fund with their taxes and votes, the policies and weapons research of governments – and the people on which these arms and policies are tested.

To induce public buy-in at election time, these dead have been hidden, acknowledged in the silence of statistics, and tucked in lengthy reports that the general public can’t be bothered to read.

The old school reporters and photographers who replicated startling scenes of war and were meticulous about research and sourcing are extinct – in their place, the slavish “embedded journalists”. The blogger and the whistle-blower that tried to replace them are imprisoned or silenced. “Aid workers” are bound by politicised codes of reporting by their monolithic organisations.

This censorship around the victims of war is worsening as social media on the ground is blocked out, the demands of other “entertainment” become more distracting, and the coffers of the large, compliant aid agencies in an economy on the brink of depression become more pliable.

Paralysing people who question this

Ordinary people in the middle of this insanity – and who are paying attention to it – are in paralysis. This state has been induced by shock, followed by a system of fear-based control. It is managed by people well-versed in behavioural psychology and the manipulation of crowds.

The media has turned these terrible death count reports into one of the most powerful tools of control. Released periodically, like the recent Costs of War report, they either ignored, or they are spun as signs of “accountability” while perpetrators’ names are blacked out, and they walk away.

In the end, these reports are treated in a manner that merely reflects governments’ murderous capabilities, with minimal amounts of outrage and shame. We are rendered shocked, and afraid.

The inevitable backlash against this mass slaughter of humans, even when it comes – as it does most times – in legal forms of dissent and outcry, is now contained by a ballooning number of saccharine-smiling “counter extremists” who repress anyone or group who even says this is a problem.

Any attempt to boycott the political and corporate entities that facilitate this slaughter has become the unfortunate patient of this highly profitable industry, whose task it is to suffocate any such resistance in the manner of a nurse with an empty grin, a metal grip and long syringe.

Thanks to a servile media, it is no surprise that many people believe this medicine is good for them.

Are politicians seeing this?

In this narcosis, we may get quite excited about elections and their outcomes, however the real work for Muslims in the UK is even more serious and pressing.

The manifestos of both Labour and Tory parties either reinforced the securitised lens through which Muslims (especially those that dare to speak out against foreign policy) are treated, or were unwilling to go far enough to effect real change.

This creates a pressure cooker situation. Instead of acknowledging this logic, the Tory government will see the result as an endorsement of their Islamophobia and will continue trying to resuscitate the toxic PREVENT program and pour money into counter-extremism.

What does this indicate about foreign policy? In the rush to pile up their numbers, their counts, politicians ignored the appalling death counts in the Middle East, and will continue to do so – even more now, when speaking about such things, in a tyranny of sterile Tory reasonableness, will be “extreme”.

The party, as they say, must go on.

In the three-years-old PSR study, the authors acknowledge the death count will also, go on. They highlight “the number of occurrences of various forms of cancer, of miscarriages and abnormal and deformed babies”, the cause of which is the toxification of water, food, soil, due to chemicals still being released from long-discarded weapons. To our utter shame as a human race, there are places in the world, our “theatres” of war, where the water is poison, and birds no longer fly.

Muslims must now up their volume and come together to raise the burning issue here: that the need to stop more terrible events happening in the UK and the Middle East can only happen with actual policy change

Muslims cannot allow their government to continue to accentuate distractions that evade this core issue, while insisting that Muslims apologise and cower before them despite witnessing the killing and imprisoning of people on a scale that is fast outpacing the world’s most terrible massacres.

This is because Muslims believe and understand that the numbers here and there being tallied by humans, for whatever reason, will always be inaccurate, a poor reflection of the truth.

But we know the count of Allah – on us, on them, and on those unjustly dead – is undeniably exact.


(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)