Muslims First, Citizens Second
Did you see?
What? I asked. Really? You don't know what is going on? He could not hide his surprise mixed with glee. No, I have just returned home. Turn on BBC and watch America burn.
I was stunned. In the next few hours, what I saw on the television screen and heard on the telephone and on the streets I can never forget.
There was commentary in the BBC's live telecast. They were repeating clips of the falling twin towers. For me, it was gruesome and ghastly. I felt something dying, collapsing inside me along with the crumbling towers. I went out on the street to see how people reacted to this. All offices were closed and skyscrapers were emptied. Everyone was confused and scared.
Who could the perpetrator be? What did they want to accomplish through this act of sheer terror? What would Americas reaction be?
The BBC commentators were busy murmuring their words. Answers to these questions were not hard to find. In the coming days, Muslims in Europe became synonymous with suspicion and forced even borderline Muslims living in the West to embrace the argument of fanatics: this is the commencement of a holy war between Islam and the West.
"How do you feel now?" I asked him a year later, during a trip to London.
"Strange," he immediately replied. "A fault line is being falsely created between us [Muslims] and the rest of the world. Leaders like President Bush and Prime Miinister Blair with their aggressive policy in the Middle East and elsewhere are forcing us to believe the fundamentalists argument that the West is the enemy of Muslims."
But people like Sultan are an exception in the half-million strong Muslim community of the U.K. The majority, from South Asia, do not think that the attack on the world's sole superpower was immoral thus unjustified. In my recent trip to London, I found (shockingly) that a good number of them have sympathy with the radical world view of fanatical Muslim outfits like Al-Qaeda.
Despite the fact that many among them are permanent residents of Great Britain and hold its nationality, they nevertheless do not feel a part of its culture. Their alienation is increasing with each passing day. The imminent attack on Iraq and the continued bloodshed in Palestine at the hands of Israeli forces add to their venomous argument in favor of Jihadi world view.
Tired of endless, furious debate that lasted for many hours at a party, I asked Rafik, a British-born Muslim trader who owns a chain of food stores in the UK, "What are you: Muslim or British?" Without hesitation, he replied, I am Muslim first. For him, being a British national was not significant, though he earns a living and lives through another identity. (Though he was a hypocrite, sadly, he did not realize it.)
"God willing, Muslim power will prevail over the entire world one day, he said. Our forefathers conquered the world and, God willing, we will be witnessing it again." That moment, he was more like a megalomaniac, gun-toting terrorist than a sane, British-born trader.
I was rebuked by a Muslim professional in another chat when I tried to convince him about the wickedness of the Jihadi view of Osama Bin Laden. He demanded of me bluntly, Is Israel being fair with its brethren Palestinian people?" In his view, events like September 11 are in reply to whatever is happening with Muslims in Palestine and elsewhere.
On September 11 this year, saner people around the world were commemorating the first anniversary of September 11. In London, some radical Muslims celebrated this event under the banner of Jamiat-ul-Furqa.
On September 28, 500,000 people marched through central London protesting a proposed U.S. attack on Iraq. The Mayor of London led the march, which was dominated by Muslim participants. One banner among the array of banners read "Death to America. I could not decide if I was on the streets of Tehran, Iran or London, England.
The isolation that an average Muslim feels while living in the West is not a good omen for the West. Saner people should come forward to encourage them not to feel hunted and to be part of the mainstream.
Thousands of miles away, in Karachi, Pakistan—the day Jawed found himself crumbling inside at the site of the crumbling twin towers—there was jubilation on our streets in Pakistan as people were thrilled at the images of destruction and came out on the streets to share their excitement. It was probably not totally out of love for Al-Qaeda, but out of a hate that is endemic in this part of the world—a hate against the world's only superpower: Amerika, as it is pronounced in Pakistan.
My phone kept ringing with calls inquiring about my reaction. I was numb. I was lonely, ashamed, frightened and dying inside.
"How do you feel about September 11?" I asked one U.S. friend who had come to attend a conference in London. He had applied for asylum in the U.S. ten years ago after slipping out of Pakistan as military men came at his throat for his anti-military progressive activities.
"Not good," he replied. "We were against these Jihadis when the U.S. was supporting them. We fought with them when they were getting weapons made in the U.S. Now, whenever I travel, wherever I go, I am picked out of a row and grilled since my name and color resemble those who are waging an unholy war with their ex-patrons."
"For me," he said as he continued to vent his anger, the people sitting in the Pentagon and in the caves of Afghanistan are both monsters that want to divert our attention from the real issues. They want to fight a war in the interest of reactionary forces who are serving the interest of the rich people's Mafia. "
Copyright © 2003 The Baltimore Chronicle and The Sentinel. All rights reserved. We invite your comments, criticisms and suggestions.
Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.
This story was published on November 9, 2002.