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Eight years after 9/11, the struggle continues

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Kurt Barling | 12:29 UK time, Friday, 11 September 2009

Eight years ago yesterday (September 10th 2001) I travelled back with my young family from New York on American Airlines. My three children waved out the window to the Twin Towers and the Statue of Liberty.

The next day we all sat in utter shock in front of our television screens as a global tragedy unfolded live before us in all its graphic horror. It all felt uncomfortably close.

Like many parents I had to try and explain to my children why on earth this could happen. Who would do it? What did it mean? And Dad, did it mean the end of the world was nigh?

Then as now it is imperative that the criminal intentions of the people behind the Twin Towers attack are recognised as just that. In 2001 the Muslim communities of London in particular feared a backlash as they came under intense scrutiny from seemingly every quarter.

Eight years on Londoners have come a long way. Huge strides have been taken to establish forums to challenge the dogma of Islamic extremism. Central and local government have provided resources to nurture fresh initiatives to strengthen what has been dubbed in official circles as "social cohesion".

Harrovians might be associated with some of the poshest people in the country but the London Borough of Harrow is one of the most diverse parts of Britain. It claims it has the lowest crime rate in the capital. So a relative haven of peace and enlightenment.

The Leader of the Council, David Ashton, regrets what he calls outside agitation trying to foster disharmony where none exists. He puzzles why Harrow has become over recent weeks the focus of the Stop the Islamification of Europe (SIEO) group. The planning permission of the mosque was first granted in the late 1990s. As is the way with buildings which rely on public subscription it can take an awful long time to get the development completed.

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Abdul Aziz, a trustee of Harrow Mosque, says over 95% of the £5m raised has come from residents in the borough itself. He accepts that the time it takes to build a mosque can allow the rumour mill to generate a mountain of mythology about its purpose.

The mosque committee are also savvy enough to realise that they will have to do more to make it a landmark that all Harrovians are comfortable with before it opens in 2010 or 2011.

There is probably a robust debate to be had about planning permission. One thing that strikes the eye as soon as you hit the centre of Harrow is how the Mosque development dwarfs all the other local buildings. Quite why the building is so large is surprising given the committee isn't sure how all five floors will be used.

If it were more in keeping with the proportions of the surrounding buildings it would be slightly less in your face. Local officials are in a position to have this open debate on their home turf when a building is being proposed. Although I suspect it's a debate people have found difficult to engage in the past for fear of being labelled racist.

The day before the planned "peaceful protest" some locals were irritated that any protest could take place outside a place of worship. If you add to that the importance of the current religious festival of Ramadan in the Muslim calendar, it can easily be argued this is a highly provocative protest.


In reality the Metropolitan Police say they have no powers to stop a lawful static peaceful protest against the building of a mosque. They can however arrest people if offences of, for example, incitement are committed whilst the protest is going on.

Given that Bedfordshire Police chose to ban a similar protest, with the same aims in Luton it is clear that the law is not clear enough to ordinary Londoners.

Eight years on from the terror of the Twin Towers official reports say the Al Qaeda threat is diminishing. British Muslims have been at the forefront of the efforts to limit the impact of extremist dogma on impressionable minds. And yet still others appear to be arguing that Islam is the problem.

In those intervening years it has become crystal clear for those who want to listen, that extremists intent on harming innocent civilians are as loathed by the majority of Muslims as everyone else. Those who do it in the name of Islam are now being robustly challenged from within their own communities. The end of the world is not nigh, but as the great 20th Century philosopher Karl Popper wrote there is always an ongoing struggle to protect an open society from its enemies.

It seems that some groups on the fringes of our political debate are intent on making life for some ordinary Londoners uncomfortable because they choose to worship in a different house of God on an English high street.


  • Comment number 1.

    i'd say this is a bit rich coming from the BBC who won't even report on the publication of a peer reviewed scientific paper in the Open Chemical Physics Journal. Why is this important? Because it concludes Nano-Thermite (a high tech US military explosive) was found in 4 samples taken from the rubble of ground zero. Of course the BBC can't cover this story. Too many heads would roll, they even made the critical error of reporting the collapse of WTC Building 7 23 minutes before it actually did. Now that's what I call predictive journalism.

    The Ministry of Truth indeed.

  • Comment number 2.

    To twist-beats: This blog doesn't address who was at fault for the bombings of the World Trade Centres eight years ago. It sounds as though you buy into conspiracy theories strongly. I find that most of them try to find something where there is nothing to be found. However, after watching the film 'Loose Change' I cannot help but think agree there is a lot more to the World Trade Centre bombings than we are generally led to believe. Even though this is the case, it still does not matter who carried out the attacks; it was Al-Qaeda that claimed responsibility for the attacks, born out of a despising of the West. Whether they did the attacks or not, they quickly claimed they had done so and this is the reason for which Muslims have been unjustly prosecuted or prejudiced against since then.

    Mr. Barling: I agree that London has come on a long way in these past eight years, and the abhorrence that first revealed itself following these attacks has in the majority subsided. However, still as you say some still ignorant people are seemingly citing Islam as the problem. I can understand why people would object to such an imposing sounding building is as it 'dwarfs all other local buildings.' Protesting against the aesthetic of the building would be understandable and almost forgivable - if it were done so in a more respectful manner - but i would agree that if the protest is one with an anti-Islam air, even if it is to be a peaceful protest, it should be stopped before it begins. It would be dreadful to see the distance achieved since such a widespread Islamic hate of eight years ago begin to be undone by the few still hateful, ignorant people left still fighting a ridiculous and losing battle.
    It may be a peaceful protest, but that is not to say that it wouldn't be a harmful one.

  • Comment number 3.

    Interesting. I've never read the Open Chemical Physics Journal. Conspiracies abound. Truth is often the casualty. MasterBysh hits the nail on the head with his observation that to do harm you don't necessarily have to engage in violence. Complicated old world.


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