Rajnaara C Akhtar: The backlash has begun, and I fear for the innocent

This catastrophe is dividing Britain into three: Muslims, the rest of the community, and the terrorists
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The Independent Online

When the reports of the bombings initially emerged on 7/7, sadness was followed by anger, a sinking heart and a silent prayer: "Please don't let it be Muslims who are responsible." The tragic events were an attack on more than the citizens of London; they were an attack on Britain's cohesive community, unparalleled in Europe and most of the wider Western world.

It has emerged since then that perhaps the trust and respect between Britain's diverse communities are likely to break down. As the rest of the country attempts to come to terms with the catastrophic events, how does the Muslim community, with a triple burden, begin to recover, with the trauma of terrorist attacks, the task of addressing the reality that terrorism was perpetrated by British Muslims, and the spiralling reprisal attacks?

Since 10am on 7/7, the Muslim community has been on high alert. Parents in London rushed to take children out of schools and to safety. The Islamic Human Rights Commission issued a warning and advice to Muslim women to ensure their security. Many Muslim women took the advice not to travel alone, with even the known independent and tenacious women becoming alive to the seriousness of the situation.

Are we overreacting? 9/11 taught us that on the streets, there is often no differentiation between a terrorist and a Muslim in the minds of some people, as has been evidenced by the brutal murder of Kamal Raza Butt in Nottingham on Tuesday. The backlash has begun and I fear the sorrow and tragedy of another attack against innocent civilians and further reprisals against the Muslim community. Even Leicester, one of the most diverse and integrated cities in England, has witnessed an undercurrent of tension.

It is becoming apparent that the attacks were perpetrated by terrorists in our midst, by those who were never suspected. Are we to blame? Should the whole Muslim community be targeted because we didn't spot them? But neither did the security services with all their technology, although we all knew it would happen and questioned "when" rather than "if".

One of the reasons the police failed is because, like the rest of the Muslim community, they did not expect a home-grown cell. There is an argument which claims that Tony Blair's disregard of the unified dissent by a million people, who marched in solidarity on the streets of London, has culminated in an attack against us all from the very extreme elements of our society who saw no benefit from our peaceful protests against an unjust war. This needs to be seriously assessed.

The immediate media response on numerous fronts has been to demonise Islam and bring out of the closet so-called experts and those on the fringes of Islam's middle path, with their extreme views.

Opinions from some media commentators are being conceded as legitimate interpretations of Islam, although many of them have no scholarly background on Islam and unanimously offend almost the entire Muslim world.

Ironically, the universally respected scholars such as Tariq Ramadan are being targeted as extremists although merely scratching the surface of the accusations against him reveal their acute flaws. By creating a villain out of the voices of reason and reconciliation, Muslims are being deprived of their most eloquent spokespeople and subsequently the ability to adequately defend against false accusations.

The mainstream media needs to take responsibility for its actions and seriously consider the incitement that misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims in Britain can set in motion. By sensationalising this tragedy, our communities are being torn apart.

Most Muslims are having to say, don't tell me what I think, ask me and I will tell you.

All sensible people feel dumbfounded that we had terrorists in our midst, who attacked so much more than the passengers on the Tubes and bus. They could never convince us that in some twisted way it was acceptable, even as revenge. Islam deplores such senseless violence. Those terrorists attacked us and our fellow Brits attacked the British community and our mutual trust in each other, and they attacked our peaceful coexistence and dialogue.

For the Muslim community, they have left behind twice as much fear as for the wider community - the fear of terrorists in our midst within our own community and secondly from those seeking revenge against us for an act we deplored and were associated with unjustly and irrationally.

This catastrophe is dividing Britain into three; the Muslim community, the rest of the British community, and the terrorists. It is imperative that this trend be reversed, and the battle lines be drawn between a united British community and the terrorists in our midst.

The author is a human rights activist and acting chair of the Assembly for the Protection of Hijab

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