Com­ment 9/11 af­ter­math left UK ob­sessed with Mus­lims

Birmingham Post - - FEATURE -

IT’S hard to be­lieve it’s been 17 years since ter­ror­ists de­stroyed the World Trade Cen­tre in New York.

I re­mem­ber watch­ing events on the tele­vi­sion as they oc­curred, along­side jour­nal­ist col­leagues.

The first plane had hit one of the sky­scraper tow­ers, and Sky News was broad­cast­ing images of smoke pour­ing from the build­ing. Then a sec­ond plane hit the neigh­bour­ing tower and the re­al­i­sa­tion hit that some­body had done this on pur­pose.

As we now know, Al-Qaeda hi­jack­ers had flown two Boe­ing 767 planes into the tow­ers. The at­tacks killed 2,606 peo­ple in and near the build­ings, as well as all 157 on board the two air­craft.

A third plane hit the Pen­tagon, the head­quar­ters of the US Depart­ment of De­fence, and a fourth was ap­par­ently en route to Wash­ing­ton when it crashed, af­ter pas­sen­gers and crew at­tempted to re­gain con­trol from the hi­jack­ers.

Why did they do it? Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (shot dead by US forces in 2011) and other se­nior fig­ures gave a num­ber of dif­fer­ent rea­sons, in videos and record­ings re­leased sub­se­quently. A par­tic­u­lar griev­ance ap­pears to have been the pres­ence of US troops in Saudi Ara­bia, at the in­vi­ta­tion of the Saudi govern­ment.

Al-Qaeda also claimed Amer­ica had sup­ported Is­rael’s ac­tions in Le­banon, at­tacks on Mus­lims in So­ma­lia, Rus­sia’s sup­pres­sion of rebels in Chech­nya and other in­jus­tices against Mus­lims world­wide.

But many politi­cians and ter­ror­ism ex­perts claimed there was another mo­tive. Al-Qaeda’s long-term goal was to ig­nite a “clash of civil­i­sa­tions”, they said. The West was to be dragged in to a war against Mus­lim coun­tries, which would then for­get their di­vi­sions and unite.

Well, that hasn’t hap­pened. But if that was the goal, it hasn’t failed com­pletely. Some­one who’s 25 years old to­day was prob­a­bly eight when the 9/11 at­tacks took place on Septem­ber 11 2001. This might be hard for younger peo­ple to be­lieve, but be­fore 9/11 we in the UK were not ob­sessed with Mus­lims.

No­body talked about Is­lamic rape gangs. Racist idiots didn’t march through the streets com­plain­ing about mosques. We didn’t worry about Mus­lim ex­trem­ists tak­ing over schools, or “preach­ers of hate” spread­ing their poi­son.

That’s not to say there wasn’t racism in this country. There was plenty of it, and that in­cludes marches by far-right racists.

Black peo­ple, Asian peo­ple and other eth­nic mi­nori­ties were on the re­ceiv­ing end, and many peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­enced racism will have been Mus­lims.

But Is­lam it­self wasn’t the tar­get. Most peo­ple in the UK’s white ma­jor­ity com­mu­ni­ties didn’t have any views on Is­lam be­cause they had no idea what it was.

They may have known in some vague way that it was a re­li­gion prac­ticed in the UK by some peo­ple from eth­nic mi­nori­ties, or as­so­ci­ated it with Asian peo­ple (I’m aware that Is­lam ac­tu­ally has ad­her­ents from pretty much ev­ery eth­nic group on the planet). But beyond that, they’d have had noth­ing to say be­cause they sim­ply didn’t know enough to have an opin­ion.

Ask­ing the av­er­age white per­son what they thought about Is­lam, or how much they liked Mus­lims com­pared to Sikhs, Hin­dus or Bud­dhists, would have been like ask­ing some­one who’s never seen Star Trek how they thought Cap­tain Kirk com­pared to Cap­tain Pi­card.

It’s safe to say that’s not true any more. In­stead, there’s a con­stant fo­cus on Mus­lims in our me­dia and pol­i­tics, and a seem­ingly end­less de­bate about their place in our so­ci­ety.

Some par­tic­i­pants in that de­bate are firmly on the side of equal­ity. Boris John­son’s com­ments about the burka, for ex­am­ple, prompted an an­gry back­lash from peo­ple who felt he was wrong to mock women who chose to wear one – even though he sup­ported their right to do so.

Many non-Mus­lims, of course, live or work along­side Mus­lims and get on with them just fine. The Mayor of Lon­don is a Mus­lim and so is the Home Sec­re­tary, sug­gest­ing Mus­lims can get to the top in Bri­tish pub­lic life. In fact, Home Sec­re­tary Sa­jid Javid, the Broms­grove MP, is con­sid­ered to be one of the favourites to

We in the UK talk about Mus­lims in a way that we don’t about mem­bers of other re­li­gions

be­come our next Prime Min­is­ter. But even if some of the talk is pos­i­tive, we in the UK still talk about Mus­lims in a way that we don’t about mem­bers of other re­li­gions.

It’s hard to imag­ine a dis­cus­sion about whether Hin­dus can suc­ceed in Bri­tish pol­i­tics. We might very well dis­cuss the ob­sta­cles fac­ing Asian peo­ple or, to put it crudely, peo­ple with brown skin. But re­li­gion would be much less of an is­sue.

The ob­ses­sion with Is­lam and Mus­lims has not been a fea­ture of Bri­tish so­ci­ety for­ever. It be­gan af­ter 9/11.

And not just in the UK. It’s hap­pened in the US too, and across Europe (where, in some coun­tries, me­mories of an­cient bat­tles be­tween the Holy Ro­man Em­pire and the Ot­tomans – two em­pires long since gone – have been bought to the sur­face).

While they failed to ig­nite a clash of civil­i­sa­tions, the sad truth is that the hi­jack­ers achieved some de­gree of suc­cess if their aim was to en­cour­age di­vi­sions be­tween Mus­lims and non-Mus­lims.

> Osama bin Laden, right, was be­hind the ‘9/11’ ter­ror­ist at­tacks

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