Islamophobia in Merton

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Report on Crime Forum, held 5th February 2002

Islamic leaders warned that American failure to understand the critical political issues fuelling terrorism in the Middle East were creating “a danger for us all” in the aftermath of the September 11th terror bombing of the New York world Trade Centre.

The criticisms emerged in a passionate debate staged by the Wimbledon Civic Forum and attended by leaders of Merton’s ethnic minorities on the impact of President Bush’s “war on terrorism” on the local community.

Mr Basher Al-Naher, a leading Muslim youth worker in South London, said that the tragedy of September 11th should have come as “a wake up call to America on what was happening in other countries."

“Poverty, deprivation and injustice produces fanaticism in its wake. But Islam should not be held responsible for producing such people”, said Mr Al-Naher. “If the U.S. and the West produced a more just and equitable foreign policy in the Middle East, such extremists would not emerge. What is needed now is a more balanced foreign policy which makes Muslims aware that they do matter, they do have rights and priorities. Our own religious leaders have tremendous responsibility. They must be sure that the message they preach is conciliatory.”
Meanwhile every Muslim in Britain “should look around him and count his blessings – freedom of speech, and democracy which so many of us were deprived of in our own countries” said Mr Al-Naher, himself an Iraqi exile.
Iqbal Sacranie, OBE, chairman of Muslim Aid, said that the events that had followed Sept. 11th were “a danger to us all.” They had led “to more injustice and more inhumanity” – and many people were not prepared to accept as a fact the U S interpretation of events.

“Yet they have a great potential to bring back faith values in our society” he said. “But do not let us listen to small minorities, to be pushed over by the voices from the religious fringes.” Justice, humanity and morality must be seen to survive the tragedies of recent months.

Dr Richard Stone, chairman of the Commission on British Muslims and islamophobia, said “As a Jew, I welcome Islam with open arms.” Islam, he said , had provided better times for Jews than the whole Diaspora of 2000 years.
“There is no reason for anti-Semitism here, or anti-Muslim prejudice” he said. “There is no reason why Muslims and Jews should not create here the wonderful partnerships they have created over the centuries until recent years”.
But he too warned against the debasing the standards of our societies by actions such as the American detention of prisoners without trial at the Guantanamo camp in Cuba. “We must treat them by the rules of our society, not debase them byemploying methods like those employed at Guantanamo” he said.

A full report on this meeting is available on request from Wimbledon Civic Forum's office: contact 020 8944 8855.

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