Ziauddin Sardar: From 9/11 to 7/7, we have come a long way

The Muslim Reaction: Instead of worrying about a backlash, Muslims need to move on to a much more important agenda: what are they going to do to fight terrorism?
Click to follow

Muslims are awaiting a backlash. Our leaders are predicting increases in racial attacks, incidents of abuse of Muslim women and general harassment of bearded men everywhere. Our experience of earlier atrocities, they say, leads us to this inevitable conclusion. Already there are reports from some that the hate emails have begun to arrive.

As a recent report, "Intolerance and discrimination against Muslims in the EU" by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, points out, earlier atrocities - from 9/11 to Bali and Madrid - have produced a direct backlash against Muslim communities in Europe. Every incident led to increases in negative sentiments against Islam, desecration of mosques and attacks on Muslims.

Dr Abdul Bari, chairman of the East London Mosque, spoke of seeing fear on the faces of 800 worshippers at his mosque. The Muslim community has lived in heightened fear since 9/11, says the Muslim Council of Britain. We now wait to find out what kind of shrapnel the bombs in London will produce. But British Muslims have come a long way since 9/11. Community relations are not what they used to be. Muslims are now much more proactive. They have established mutually respectful relationships not just with other faith communities but with civic institutions, political parties, NGO's and, not least, the police and government. The backlash will occur in a different landscape, which should temper our fears.

After the tragedy of 9/11, Muslims found themselves alone. Apart from loudly denouncing terrorism, they had to distance themselves from extremists while simultaneously apologising constantly for their existence. Now, they stand shoulder to shoulder with leaders of other communities. The Bishop of Stepney, the Rev Stephen Oliver, faced the press with Dr Bari; both prayed for and spoke of the need for peace and harmony at the epicentre of the attacks.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, attending an interfaith meeting, broke off to respond by asserting faith communities have to "continue to stand and work together" for "our shared understanding of the life that God calls us to". Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, issued his condemnation of the attacks while attending a meeting with Muslims in the North of England. And the Prime Minister himself was the first to declare that while the terrorists speak in the name of Islam they have nothing to do with the overwhelming majority of Muslims who abhor such acts.

So this time round Muslims are not isolated. The peaceful nature of Islam at large is being upheld from all sides. Racists may use the excuse of London bombings to further their plans, but most people in Britain have learned the distinction between what Islam teaches and what the terrorists practice.

The rhetoric of Britain has also changed dramatically. "It is not police but communities that defeat terrorism," said Sir Ian Blair, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, at Friday's press conference. Previously, his assistant, Commander Brian Paddick, dismissively swept aside a question about "Islamic terrorism", pointing out in assertive tones that it was a contradiction in terms.

Last weekend, Sir Ian was attending a Muslim conference and emphasising the need to recruit Muslim officers to create a police force representative of the people of London. He needed 2,000 Muslim police personnel, he told the gathering. His recruiting drive was not about tokenism but the need for sensitivity and increased understanding by drawing from the community to police the community.

These are good examples of how far Britain and British Muslims has come since 9/11. It is testimony not just to nice interfaith cups of tea but the beginnings of a real agenda. The Muslim community has changed: it has been energised and alerted by events. It has not completed a generational or intellectual refashioning. There is still much to do. But the sense of victimhood is evaporating.

So instead of worrying about a backlash, Muslims need to move on to a much more important issue: what are the Muslims going to do to fight terrorism?

After the atrocity in London, Muslims have to try even harder to change how the "war on terror" has been defined and conceived. What Britain has to learn at home will be the best yardstick to how its policy needs to change abroad. Can you on the one hand talk community engagement and inclusion while promoting draconian legislative measures that have caused a 300 per cent increase in stop and search of Muslims in London and while the fear of Belmarsh lurks? Can you on the one hand talk peace negotiations in Palestine (which have not occurred) while on the other participating in a real war in the name of defeating terror that is creating new terrorists? Can Britain be all things to all people or must it decide which route it will follow consistently and purposefully for the future?

These are the questions Muslim must raise and get the rest of Britain to engage with.

The work of inclusion, consultation and community building has become part of the British landscape. We have a foundation to build upon. Let us use that to develop genuine and viable strategies for fighting terrorism.

Ziauddin Sardar's 'Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim' is out in Granta paperback, £8.99