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September 11th 2011: what effect(s) have changes in policy had on everyday people?

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“It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same–everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another’s existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same.”

George Orwell, 1984

 

Less than a month after the attacks on September 11th 2001, British and American forces invaded Afghanistan with the stated goal of dismantling the Al Qaeda terrorist organisation and ending its use of Afghanistan as a base. The United States also said that it would remove the Taliban regime from power and create a viable democratic state. These people, we were told, were against our way of life and would stop at nothing to kill us all.

The majority of the American people were in favour of this war – revenge was necessary. The ones that paid the price were the innocent Afghan civilians who probably did not even know what happened on September 11th, never mind know who the perpetrators were. And then there were the attacks in London on July 7th 2005, which convinced even the British people that they were no safer than the Americans.

In an address to the Society of Editors in 2007, the Director General of the Security Service, Jonathan Evans, insisted that the root of the problem was ‘ideological’. “It does not accept the legitimacy of other viewpoints,” he said of Al Qaeda. “It is intolerant, and it believes in a form of government which is explicitly anti-democratic.”

This type of fear mongering, ‘us’ vs. ‘them’, has been prevalent and consistent since 2001. Our governments re iterate this message that there are terrorists out there who want to kill us (and to be fair some do), hence all these wars we are fighting, and it does nothing to allay peoples fears when even the media jumps on the bandwagon, running headlines of radicals demanding Sharia in Britain.

 

 

It is the same in America: remember the ‘Ground-Zero Mosque’ debacle? Never mind that the proposed building was neither a mosque nor was it near ‘Ground Zero’, it sparked outrage because it was the architectural equivalent of sticking two fingers up to the families whose loved-ones died on September 11th.  Never mind also that at least 300 Muslims died that day.

The more worrying aspect of the rising Islamophobia is that it does not just exist amongst the Far-Right, but even within the mainstream politics and commentaries. Journalist Peter Oborne concluded that in today’s climate the media say things about Islam and Muslims they would never say about other groups. When he replaced the word’ ‘Muslim’ in some recent headlines with ‘Jews’, ‘Blacks’ and ‘Gays’ and showed them to members of the public, they found those headlines deeply offensive. When the killer behind the Norway atrocities, Anders Behring Breivik, claimed Europe was becoming ‘Islamised’, though many condemned his actions they believe he had a point. Imagine if someone was to say the same about the September 11th hijackers?

Even President Obama himself was not exempt from heightened suspicions. In 2008, he was directly confronted on prime time television over ‘allegations’ swirling around the internet that he is a secret Muslim who worships the Qur’an. Perhaps this is because his middle name is Hussein, which automatically makes him Muslim. By that logic I must be Belgian, since I ate a waffle once upon a time.

It is both sad and slightly bemusing that being a Muslim is an accusation, a crime even. Anyone who even ‘looks Muslim’ is now targeted. Since 2001, the Sikh community in Britain have been victims of racial and religious-motivated attacks, with people shouting “Bin Laden” at Sikh men because of their turbans and beards.

While many (reluctantly) admit not all Muslims are terrorists, ‘all terrorists are Muslims’, apparently, despite the fact that only 6% of terrorist attacks in the US were committed by Islamic extremists. As John Gray rightly points out, far more people in Britain have been killed and injured by offshoots of the IRA than by Islamist groups.

What is quite disturbing is how some people are willing to relinquish some of their civil liberties, e.g. the US Patriot Act and airport scanners, for the ‘greater good’. One woman in New York told Al Jazeera: “I do [feel safer]. I travel a lot, so … people have a problem with the airport body scans and everything, but I embrace it. Anything that makes our country safer, I’m all for it.” But as Benjamin Franklin once said, those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Ten years later, people on the whole are still worried. The reasons for this are the media and our governments alike. How can we forget about those atrocities when our governments remind us everyday to be constantly vigilant, and every year the media is in frenzy in the run-up to the anniversary of September 11th? This year alone, the articles and specialist programmes started in late July at least two months before the actual anniversary. This week’s Question Time on the BBC was dedicated to analysing and remembering what happened ten years ago.

But for all these discussions, for all these programmes and articles, there remains the usual narrative: ‘us’ vs. ‘them’. Sill, ten years down the line, Muslims in the West have to convince everyone that they can be loyal citizens. There is fear directed at both sides, at Muslims and Non-Muslims. Though it is important to remember those that died on September 11th and July 7th, many more have died in the ‘War on Terror’ since, and commemorating these anniversaries every year with the usual analyses is not going to help anyone. To quote Mona Eltahawy: “Let’s draw the curtain on 9/11 anniversaries after this 10th one.”

Written by Iram Ramzan

September 9, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Posted in Europe, islam, middle east, UK, USA

Tagged with , , ,

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