Farea al-Muslimi sees himself as a friend of the United Sates. Born and raised in Wessab, a village nine hours of Sana’a, and one of twelve living siblings, he was destined to be a farmer. When he was in 9th grade, he obtained his first State Department scholarship to study English, and soon ended up in California as part of the Youth and Exchange Study program, geared towards strengthening friendship between the US and Muslim countries.
All went according to plan, Farea soon rose to the top of his class, he visited lots of churches, attended countless barbecues and, cherry on the cake, found a second father in a US Air Force service member. Farea’s State Department-engineered American Dream could not have become more complete. He returned to the Middle East to be awarded yet another scholarship at the American University of Beirut. He was programmed to be one of those countless “local” ambassadors that roam around peace, development or human rights conferences, making excuse upon excuse for the war crimes of Western powers, the North-South divide, or the unequal power dynamics between their neo-colonial masters and the subaltern rest. Malcolm X could have seen Farea as a picture-perfect house-Muslim, catching a cold whenever his master would sneeze. Not quite…
Farea’s own village was targeted by a strike on April 17th 2013. On that day, four people were killed. The target was Al-Hadidi al-Radami, a social worker suspected of having ties with Al Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP). As the village mediator, he was actually very close to local authorities. He had returned to the village in 2011 after being imprisoned for fighting against the US in Iraq. Since his return, some political opponents of the Saleh regime both in Wessab and Sana’a to enquired to the police about him, only to be told that he was a reformed character, a pillar of the community. According to them, he had paid his debt to society and deserved to live a peaceful life. This did not prevent him from being put on a target list. According to villagers, Wessab had been observed by drones for well over a year.
Farea tried to make sense of the attack. Why wouldn’t the suspect be arrested, interrogated, and tried? Why did local people have to die with him? Why would his village be subjected to the terror of a drone attack? What would warrant such a targeted killing? According to the National Defense Authorization Act of 31 December 2011, one does not need to be part of any group to be the victim of targeted killings: guilt by association, under the clinical term ‘associated forces’ is enough.
Farea explains that there are four types of targeted killings, the first two including drones only. Under Type One, President Obama provided four clear conditions for a killing to take place: the person has to be designated as a person of interest under US law; he or she must represent a direct threat to the US; the target cannot be captured; and, finally, the operation must not target civilians. The attack on Wessab clearly does not meet any of those criteria. It was carried out nonetheless. Type Two, which could well have applied, is the “signature strike”, whereby any high ranking military officer as well as President Obama can order the death of a anyone displaying suspicious behavior. Now there is a problem right there: “what is suspicious behavior in the US is completely normal behavior here,” explains Farea, “[it] can represent every single Yemeni in Yemen: if I am with you, going to a wedding outside Sana’a, we will obviously be between the age of 15 and 65, we will be carrying guns [they are part of the Yemeni dress code], and we will be a group, [that’s] enough! It is not even intelligent criteria anymore.”
Farea calls this state terrorism, and he is afraid that it is going to get worse. He testified before the US Congress Judiciary Committee six days after the attack on Wessab, and so far, nothing has changed. He says that the logic behind the strikes is devoid of common sense, and that it actually encourages more support for AQAP on the ground. Since the US is becoming its enemy, and terrorizing the population while its puppet government does not react, it cannot end well for any party involved. At present, AQAP is actually much more politically savvy than the US, it has paid compensation to the owner of a house destroyed by a drone strike. Since the US nor the Yemeni government compensate civilians after strikes, this can win many hearts and minds.
Farea was educated in the US. He can put himself in anyone’s shoes, and right now, he is a bridge between increasingly estranged nations. He says that the strikes have changed fabric of his own society: ‘if a mother wants to scare her child into going to bed, she used to say that she would call a dad, now she says that she will call the drones.” If at all possible, it will undoubtedly take more than a couple of scholarships to reclaim the hearts and minds of those children’ generation.