The term ‘9/11’ refers to the series of suicide attacks which took place in the USA on September 11, 2001. Al-Qaeda hijacked four passenger planes, crashing two of them into the World Trade Centre in New York, one into the Pentagon while the fourth crashed into a field after passengers tried to retake control. The nineteen Hijackers were killed as well as over three thousand people, mostly civilians. The hijackers were followers of Osama Bin Laden, an exponent of a particularly militant sect of Islam.
Following the 9/11 attacks, there was a knee jerk backlash against Muslims in the West. Although many Muslims had experienced suspicion, this worsened after the 9/11 outrage and ‘living together’ (Ramadan, 2004, p71) became more problematic. There became a perceived ‘Islamic threat’ (Ramadan, 2004, p84). Women were attacked for wearing the jihad, people were forbidden to board planes and all Muslims were viewed as potential terrorists. The West’s ‘war on terror’ policy has led to thousands of people being detained without charge as well as causing delays in Muslim immigration.
The civil liberties of thousands of Muslims have been compromised in the name of security. This has obviously caused fear and tension among Muslim communities in the West making them feel in ‘a state of siege’ (Ramadan, 2004, p173). Islamic law forbids its followers to declare war on countries who allow them to freely practice their religion and yet these fundamentalists had created fear in the very communities to which they professed to be allied. The Muslim communities have certainly felt ‘under pressure’ (Islam in the West, 2007, p234) since 9/11.
However, many people were also prompted to find out more about Islam so as to understand the significance of the religion in their society and this can only lead to a deeper understanding of the issues. This is certainly not the first time that religion and politics have led to blood shed. Since the sixteenth century much of Europe has seen many conflicts between differing Christian religions and is therefore accustomed to the influence that religions have had on the state and its politics.
The influx of Muslims, particularly to North West Europe and the USA, has been more noticeable since the 1950’s. Europe as a whole has become a much more secular society and religion has tended to lose its authority and its ‘hold on the central structures of power’ (Islam in the West, 2007, p50) while, within the Muslim communities, religion has maintained its influence and has been particularly helpful in aiding migrants to maintain their cultural identities giving them a ‘symbolic keystone’.
European Secularisation should ideally embrace tolerance and therefore allow people to maintain their religious identity but still to identify with the nationality so allowing a multi-religious, multi-cultural nation. 9/11 thrust Islam to the forefront and made it a topic for discussion. The adverse publicity meant that some communities withdrew into themselves so heightening the feeling of ‘otherness’. Muslim communities have been accepted and embraced to varying degrees within Western societies and have certainly been influenced by the various existing attitudes to religions within their adopted societies.
Cesari highlights the diversity among Muslim communities and how this has been influenced and affected by characteristics of the surrounding community and its historical experiences. The most obvious of the influences is the ‘status given to religion, methods of acquiring citizenship, the degree of multicultural tolerance’ (Cesari, 2004, p176). 9/11 has become one of these influences. The fact that many of the terrorists had lived in the West unsettled many, making them question to what extent ‘their states should accommodate Muslim Practices and aspirations’ (Islam in the West, 2007, p151).
However, there was a feeling of ‘invasion’ prior to 9/11 for example, ‘France is once again being invaded’ (Bridget Bardot, Agence France Presse 1996) but 9/11 added fuel to the debate. For the Muslim community, 9/11 raised the question of ‘identity and loyalty’ (Islam in the West, 2007, p230) and highlighted the difficulties involved in being a Muslim in the West. Ideally, Muslims would be able to maintain their faith whilst also benefiting from western influences. Their faith should give them the strength to cope with the western world to ‘confront the challenges of their society’.
(Ramadan, 2004, P127). Ramadan talks about how they are told not to resemble the westerner but when with the westerners they are aware of their ‘otherness’ so they perhaps feel an ‘uneasiness’ that they do not belong in either realm. This feeling was heightened following the events of 9/11. A survey conducted by the Muslim News, November 2001 produced some responses which did not wholly condemn the atrocities and laid the blame, at least partially, on the USA. ‘the USA is involved in the politics of many countries’ (Islam in the West, 2007, p231).
These views didn’t help towards co-existence and were picked up by the media as anti-western propaganda. Islamophobia, a modern, anti-Islamic feeling that has arisen as Muslim Communities have moved into the West, has certainly intensified since 9/11. The term has been used increasingly in politics and, more damagingly, in the media, It has been used to cover a wide range of actions from anti-terrorism to xenophobia. A poll of 1,000 in March 2006 by Washington Post-ABC News purported to show that more than half of Americans believe that the Islamic faith encourages Muslims to be violent towards non-Muslims.