Perspective: September 11: Uphill Battle to Counter Bitter Legacies of Horror; Islam Found Itself Linked with Terrorism in the Wake of the September 11 Attacks, Prompting Reprisals against Ordinary Muslims. Chief Feature Writer Paul Groves Talks to Some of Birmingham's Leading Figures about Breaking That Perceived Connection between Religion and Terror
In the last 12 months, sales of the Koran have soared. Interest in Islam and those who follow this ancient religion has never been greater. The Queen has even visited a British mosque for the first time in her 50-year reign.
In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States, there were dark warnings of a worldwide backlash against Islam after it was confirmed that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaida network were behind the outrage of September 11.
Speculation, rumour and suspicion became the order of the day as Muslims and the symbols of their faith came under scrutiny. For some they became objects of both conjecture and anger.
Mosques, community centres or even those wearing clothing perceived to be similar to the world's new hate figure were signs to some of approval at the terrible loss of life.
Many incidents were suspected of being a thinly-veiled mask for deeper, underlying racist sentiments, and they were not ignored by Britain's 1.8 million Muslims.
Khalid Mahmood, England's first Muslim MP, likened the undercurrent of fear to that endured by the Irish community after the IRA's bombing campaign on the British mainland in the 1970s.
About 150,000 of the estimated million people in Birmingham are Muslim, with a high proportion living in Mr Mahmood's Perry Barr constituency.
'There was quite a lot of apprehension, from both younger and older people,' he said. 'One of the fears I felt from people on the streets was that they could be perceived as being responsible for the attacks.'
Twelve months on, therefore, have we seen a wholesale shift in the relationship between Islam and non-Muslims? Does the spectre of Islamophobia loom larger, post-September 11?
Recriminations did begin to materialise following September 11 and a variety of reasons have been proffered.
Some cite deep-seated racism and Islamophobia being given a convenient platform. Others blame politicians and the media.
Dr Mohammed Naseem, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, sees terminology as playing a role by specifically allying terrorism with Islam.
'No other terrorists are described by reference to their religion. That was one departure which is still being pursued,' he said.
'Naturally, the public chased it and believed that Muslims had got something to do with terrorism.'
A leading expert on the Islamic faith and its relations with the non-Muslim world believes this is half true.
'During the 1960s, 70s and early 80s, in terms of terrorism, people talked about Irish Republicanism or Palestinians because that is what the terrorists called themselves,' said Jorgen Nielsen, professor of Islamic studies in the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (CSIC), at the University of Birmingham. 'People did not talk about Catholic terrorism in Northern Ireland because they did not refer to themselves as such.
'In one sense, therefore, Dr Naseem is right. This is the only terrorist phenomenon that has been identified by a particular religion.
'But then following, September 11 and following various other incidents in recent years, terrorists have identified themselves with Islam.'
Prof Nielsen, who is also director of the theology department's Graduate Institute for Theology and Religion, acknowledged there was a tendency for the public to associate every aspect of the religion with terrorism.
He highlighted the findings of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). Across the whole of Europe, increased hostility towards Islam was recorded, with a prolonged upsurge of verbal and physical attacks on Muslims.
Common themes were also identified, such as the fact that the headscarf worn by many Muslim women became a way for culprits to choose their targets. Equally, men wearing turbans also found themselves targeted. …