Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fear of Islam 9 years after 9/11

Nine years after terrorists flew hijacked aircraft into the iconic World Trade Center buildings in New York, the repercussions and psychological scars still remain. In the United States the terror threat level is currently Elevated [Dept of Homeland Security], indicating a significant risk of attack, while British security services retain a threat level of Severe, meaning that a terrorist attack is highly likely [Home Office].

Such concern goes beyond labels however. In Afghanistan a coalition of various countries continue to fight the War on Terror, though the phrase has dropped from favour. Despite stated aims of ending American combat operations in Iraq, the US military will still maintain a presence for some time. Names have changed but troops on the ground may still be employed in hostile action against insurgents. Of the 50,000 American military personnel who remain in Iraq, the majority are still combat troops. The major units still in Iraq will no longer be called "brigade combat teams" and instead will be called "advisory and assistance brigades." But for all intents and purposes their role will change little [Washington Post].

The violence has decreased in the last year in Iraq, but bombings still occur and the country is far from stable. In Yemen, the Sudan and other parts of the so-called Islamic world terrorist cells are springing up. Attacks are often localised, but there are fears these groups may set their sights beyond their borders.

Because so many terror cells emanate from self styled Islamic groups, there is a growing fear and suspicion of Islam. In New York, a proposal to build a mosque close to ground zero has met stiff opposition from victims and relatives of those who died on 9/11. In Florida a preacher Terry Jones announced he was to burn copies of the Qur'an in an attempt, he said, "to expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical." Pastor Jones abruptly cancelled his 9/11 Qur'an burning. But the story had already received huge media coverage. A "Burn a Koran Day" banner has been taken down outside his church, but the Pastor says he has achieved his mission to raise awareness about the threat from radical Islam.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the intended Qur'an burning and similar voices came from other prominent individuals. Former British Prime Minister added his voice to those of the White House, the Vatican, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan General David Petraeus and film star Angelina Jolie. Perhaps Tony Blair, who has recently published his memoirs was concerned the practice of burning books would spread to his own book.

''I deplore the act of burning the Qur'an," Blair said in a statement, ''It is disrespectful, wrong and will be widely condemned by people of all faiths and none. In no way does this represent the view of any sensible person in the West or any other part of the world.'' [Telegraph]

President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates also urged the Reverend Terry Jones to call off the event. Jones was unrepentant and insisted he would go ahead with his action. "Jesus would not run around burning books, but I think he would burn this one," he said told broadcaster ABC. But almost at the eleventh hour he called off his plan. He said the book burning was off while he held talks over a Muslim cleric's plans to build a mosque near the site of the World Trade Centre that was destroyed in the September 11 terror attacks [Telegraph].

However, there was already rage around the Islamic world with protests and American flags being burned. At least 16 people were killed in Indian-controlled Kashmir and Afghanistan [Guardian / CNN]. Iranian students also planned to protest against the cancelled Qur'an burning on Monday, according to Iran's semi-official Fars news agency [Newsweek].

Meanwhile in France, lawmakers passed legislation banning Islamic veils including the controversial burka [BBC]. Within hours there were telephone threats resulting in the evacuation of the Eiffel Tower and the surrounding area [BBC]. Police later said it was a false alarm.

"Nothing was found," a French police officer told the AFP news agency. Within hours, the Saint-Michel train station, which was the target of a deadly attack in 1995, was also briefly evacuated following a similar threat. While the media did not associate the bomb threats to the burka ban, it is hard to dismiss it as mere coincidence.

Memorials surrounding 9/11 were low key this year, and there was not the saturation coverage seen in the few years following the 2001 terrorist attacks. But there was still some programming devoted to those terrible events. Press TV in Iran broadcast a documentary called "Zero - An Investigation into 9-11" which debated several conspiracy theories connected to the attacks. One particular episode poured scepticism on the official story behind flight 77 which crashed into the Pentagon [Video]. Such theories are not new and were discussed in L'Effroyable Imposture and Le Pentagate by French writer Thierry Meyssan.

In Britain channel FIVE, recently acquired by Express Newspapers, aired 9/11 Crime Scene Investigators, a documentary following officers from the NYPD's elite Crime Scene Unit in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. On the morning of September 11th, 2001, New York's CSU officers arrived at the twin towers just as the north tower began to collapse. Had they not been delayed en route by a flat tyre, they would most likely have been killed by the falling debris. Despite these dangers, Det Sgt Joe Blozis, who led the team, made an executive decision to suspend any crime scene investigation, and instead ordered his team to focus solely on the hunt for survivors. "My first command was to search and rescue, just help get the people out," he remembers. They also faced the biggest crime scene in history and that of the largest mass homicide in modern times.

The fact that self-styled Muslims claimed responsibility for this and other such attacks has made it all the more difficult for moderate and peace-loving Muslims. Tony Blair in his condemnation of the proposed burning of the Qur'an insisted that the violent extremists were a minority. "Those who wish to cause religious conflict are small in number but often manage to dominate the headlines. You do not have to be a Muslim to share a sense of deep concern at such a disrespectful way to treat the Holy Book of Islam," he said. The former Prime Minister, who was yesterday awarded the Liberty Medal by former US president Bill Clinton's National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for his commitment to conflict resolution, added that people should try to understand Islam rather that condemn it. "Rather than burn the Koran, I would encourage people to read it," he said.

Whether the Qur'an incites hatred or promotes peace is has been fiercely debated. One blog points to several passages which could certainly be used by extremists as justification for their violent acts. But the Bible and other religious texts often contain contradictions. Stipulations are not so strictly adhered to by most Christians or rules that sometimes ignored altogether. There have always been religious extremists and there have been those that have demonised certain faiths. Islam has, by the actions of a relative minority since 9/11, earned itself a bad reputation. As such Islamophobia has now become common diction.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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