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Review of Religions: September 2001 3 War of the World A Horrific Atrocity Tuesday 11 September 2001 will be a day remembered by Americans everywhere – indeed it may turn out to be a day that the whole world will remember. For it was the day that the financial and military heart of the US were devastated by terrorist attacks. The twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York were dramatically razed to the ground as two passenger planes were smashed into them, causing utter destruction and chaos in the vicinity. It was shocking to see such mighty structures reduced to rubble, with those left within them being crushed beyond recognition. Then, as if to re-enforce a sinister message, the Pentagon too was struck by another passenger plane, destroying one side of this global command centre. Over 6,000 people were killed by this despicable act of terror. The atrocity stunned the world into silence. Few in America escaped its consequences. The entire country was ground to a halt with all bridges and tunnels being closed and all flights grounded. President Bush lashed out against the unknown terrorists and news wires flooded the world with the usual suspects. However, even as the dust settled over the tombstone of the World Trade Centre, one name was being spelt out right across the globe as the chief suspect of this attack – Osama Bin Laden – and, predictably, Islam too was presented as a religion of terror and violence. Islam and Terrorism Religious terrorism is a contradiction in terms on the basis of both divine instruction and human rationale. Anyone who knows anything about religion will know that no divine religion supports violence in any form and for any reason. It is beyond belief that God would instruct His creation to act destructively, for human compassion and the love of God are but two sides of the same coin – you cannot claim to believe in one without inextricably believing in the other. Islam in particular has laid such an emphasis on peace and non-violence that even if a war were to erupt, Muslims are strictly forbidden from killing civilians, women and children, and from destroying property. In fact the teachings oblige Muslims to respect not only human life but also animal life, as Muslims are forbidden to slaughter animals during battle. The message therefore is crystal clear, that the sanctity of life is paramount to the Islamic creed. One can be sure that when the world mourned the loss of life in New York, Muslims and non- Muslims were united in grief over this act of murder. In fact, at times like these, it is futile to focus on the behaviour of just Muslims, as this was an act against humanity that cut right across spectrum of religious diversity. The perpetrators of this crime were not Muslims, Christians, Jews or followers of any other religion – they were the antithesis of all that religion stands for and they were rightly condemned by the whole world. Despite this it was unfortunate to note that media in general steamed ahead with its projection of Islam as the ideological instigator of such horror. The flood of information and opinion that made its way across the airwaves and printing presses drowned out the true Islamic (and indeed religious) perspective on such issues. Instead, the peaceful religion of Islam was replaced with a rather blunt and sinister political force that was allegedly rooted in Islamic teachings. The words ‘Islamic terrorists’and ‘Islamic fundamentalists’ were on the lips of every bystander that cared to believe the media’s every word. The media’s irresponsibility no doubt helped to stoke up racist fervour that led to sporadic attacks against Muslim and non-Muslim Asians around the world. Notes and Comments Notes and Comments Review of Religions: September 20014 Some political leaders, however, spoke out against such unjust actions. Without questioning the underlying motives, it was refreshing to see them at least speak against such actions. George Bush spoke of Islam as a peace-loving religion and British Prime Minister said that, ‘What happened in the US was not the work of Islamic t e rrorists, it was not the work of Muslim terrorists. It was the work of terrorists pure and simple. We must not honour them with any misguided religious justification.’ and added that, ‘…our fight is not with Islam.’ In other words they said what Muslims have been saying all along, that associating terrorist acts with Islam is granting terrorists a dignity that they do not deserve. The same approach that is taken with terrorists operating from Christian or Jewish countries should be taken for those that operate out of Islamic states – i.e. that they must be disassociated from religion completely as they are totally against religious principles. Respect for humanity is central to all religions and Muslims, Christians and Jews as well as others must unite to reject the labelling of any such violence with divine religions, otherwise it would be nothing short of labelling God Himself as a violent Being. It is the duty of all faiths to highlight this so that the facts about true religion are known. Political Jungles But where do things go from here? Exactly how the US will respond to the events of September 11th remain unclear but we know that this will be a long and drawn out process. To its credit it refrained from an immediate retaliatory strike but the declaration of ‘War on Terrorism’ has placed President Bush in the middle of a complex maze. The forming of the coalition supporting this noble aim is an amazing achievement and, perhaps unique, but will the US act with justice? Even if the terrorists in Afghanistan are brought to justice, will the US simply step away once the Northern Alliance has recaptured Kabul? This in itself would appear to be replete with danger, as the country would be left with a ruling alliance that had only held together to remove their common enemy – the Taleban. This would surely sow the seeds for future conflict in the country for years to come. And what will happen when the focus shifts away from Afghanistan (and the staggering problem of nearly eight million Afghan refugees at risk of imminent starvation)? Which country will be next – Iraq? Iran? The US? Israel? Palestine? How well will this coalition hold and what will be done to resolve the problems in the Middle East – identified by many as one of the causes of terrorism? This debate has already begun. In Britain Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell accused America of failing to implement UN resolutions that guarantee a homeland for the Palestinians. Clare Short, Britain’s Secretary for International Development also highlighted the terrible suffering of the Iraqi people hit by UN sanctions as well as the endless suffering of the Palestinians. Meanwhile, just two days after the New York disaster, Israel carried out its biggest attack of the year on Palestinians, and the Israeli Foreign Minister labelled Iran as ‘…a country that supports terrorism.’ The difficulties facing the coalition are evident and whilst one hopes that this noble objective of eliminating terrorism does not go the same way of earlier saintly goals such as ‘humanitarian intervention’ in that they were evidently applied in unequal measures, the signs are not encouraging. It is a time for deep analysis and reflection the world over and a time for countries to practice what they preach – that terrorism in any form has no place in our world today. Fareed Ahmad – UK