Exploiting Grief (Newsweek)
By Carla Power
NEWSWEEK ONLINE EDITION and NEWSWEEK IN ARABIC
A Muslim editor in London argues that President Bush should not force her
community to choose sides
Oct. 2 For a decade now, reporters at Q News, a London-based Muslim
magazine aimed at British Muslims, have examined how Western Muslims cope
with their allegiances to both Western and Islamic cultures. The journal
has always been young and, by the standards of other, staider, Muslim
journals, rather edgy: it was Q News that coined the phrase Muppy, in the
late 1980s to describe young, upwardly mobile Muslims living in the West.
Fareena Alam, the publications 23-year-old news editor, met with
NEWSWEEKs Carla Power last week to discuss young British Muslims reaction
to September 11thand the global strains it has triggered.
NEWSWEEK: Walk me through your reactions to the bombing and the threats of war.
Fareena Alam: We were in the office when the news came. Our first reaction:
we were completely devastated. We couldnt believe it. Our thoughts were
with the people in the building as the plane came toward them. All of us
wept. Then the next level was: Oh my God, were at the office. We have to
get home. Usually when something like this happens, Muslim women get
attacked. So we thought before the news gets out, we should go home. So we
packed up. The third level was getting home and tuning into the news. And
we watched our leaders talk about war and revenge. The fourth level is
watching our own leaders trying to deal with non-Muslims.
NEWSWEEK: As British Muslims, do you feel caught in the middle between
national and religious allegiances?
A real Muslim wouldnt [bomb the World Trade Center]. In terms of morality
and on the human level, we, and our religion, are on the side of the
NEWSWEEK: The Muslim community in the West has long been critical of the
media for stereotyping Muslims as terrorists. How do you think the medias
handled this story?
Its been amazing. Were really impressed. In every single newspaper, every
day, there is at least one article thats positive, that tries to show the
Muslim perspective, that tries to show this is what Islam isand its what
terrorism isnt. This is very new to us, to have the media so positive.
And I honestly cant say what brought it out. Its barbaric to be the way
we were, with divisions, and classifying people according to religious
stereotypes. Thats definitely falling away.
NEWSWEEK: How would you analyze the tenor of the political rhetoric from
U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair?
When I hear our Prime Minister or President Bush tell us Islam is peace,
Im not sure whether they really believe it. Perhaps the modernized
Westernized, liberal Muslim is harmless to them. These leaders have a
problem with some things about the Taliban [rulers of Afghanistan] or the
Muslim world; they have to realize that we empathize with some of their
grievances. What is acceptable to a non-Muslim is a liberal Muslim. But
would they really accept the very conservative ways of life that we uphold?
If theyre OK with us, are they OK with our counterparts in the Muslim world?
NEWSWEEK: You caused quite a stir on BBCs Question Time after the
attack, when you asked a question that very much upset the former American
ambassador, Philip Lader. Later, Greg Dyke, chair of the BBC, apologized.
Tell us about the incident.
The show was about what America should do next. So it was quite unfair to
blame the audience for asking questions. If it was untimely, it was the
BBCs fault for running it two days after the attack. After the first few
hours of the attack, our leaders were talking about military action. Come
on, were a democracy, we have to talk about these things! Im not going to
sit there and let my prime minister make those decisions without my being
able to say something. So I asked: When Bush talks about retaliating
against terrorists and the countries that harbor terrorists, does he and
the American government realize that many people consider Israel a
terrorist [state], and that America is a government that harbors
terrorists, and that is where a lot of the anger comes from? Philip Lader
looked upset and said he couldnt believe that two days after the attack,
people are talking about this. Then I said, We have to speak, because our
leaders are talking about it. The next day, the Daily Mail had a headline:
THE DAY THE BBC SHAMED AMERICA, and it had a little picture of me. Im
quite proud of that title.
NEWSWEEK: What do you think about the pursuit of a military strategy?
I totally see this as an exploitation of American grief. The reason they
want us to keep quiet is to carry out policies like this retaliation.
Because they know people are emotional, theyre not thinking straight;
theyve lost loved ones. This is the only way that the American or British
government will get away with something like this. Waking up and
questioning them is not something thats very popular now. Pakistani
officials have told the BBC that America has been planning to attack
Afghanistan since last summer and to overthrow the Taliban government.
People are recovering slowlythere are more and more antiwar rallies around
Europe, Asia, and America. It just scares me to think what would have
happened if people hadnt started talking right after the tragedy.
NEWSWEEK: Assuming that because of political pressure and overwhelming
public outrage America feels the need to respond with force, and quickly,
what would you suggest they do?
I dont see the point of a military strike unless they know what exactly
theyre trying to do in Afghanistan. Where is Al Qaeda? Where is Osama bin
Laden? If they had some sort of target, then I would consider it. At this
point, it doesnt look as though they know where he is. I believe the
Taliban has offered to hand him over to Pakistan or to a neutral Islamic
country to put him on trial. I want to see this guy on trial. Why didnt
the U.S. agree to Osama bin Laden being handed over to a neutral third
country? If rule of law is to prevail, that is the way we should go.
NEWSWEEK: Then, you see the Sept. 11 bombing not as a war action, but a
crime against humanity that should be tried in a court?
Yes. And that is assuming Osama bin Laden did it.
NEWSWEEK: In the medium term, what do you see as the dangers of pursuing a
military response for Muslim-Western relations?
The difference this time is that the suspects came from within the West.
This will put pressure on the immigrant population, because it leads people
to think: Theyre dangerous. Theyre breeding people like this. This is
setting us way far back in terms of fighting for refugee rights. No matter
what Bush says about Islam being peace, how many people are starting to
think that the enemy is within these brown people, or these colored people?
At the end of the day, people are going to be saying we need to kick these
people out. Thats my biggest fear.
NEWSWEEK: How much do you think the Bush response will radicalize people on
Bush says: Either youre on our side, or youre on the side of the
terrorists. He has no idea what implications that has. People are being
shaken to one side. Our community is not legitimizing or defending the act,
but were asking more and more questions. Muslims are defending Osama bin
Laden, theyre questioning evidence. People who ordinarily wouldnt have
been involved are getting more and more involved. The problem is being
created for young British Muslims and American Muslims now, because youre
forcing us to choose. When you push people to make a choice, you create
really dangerous currents. Even cultural Muslims [who arent necessarily
devout] are feeling very defensive. People who are militant within British
societythat group of people are going to pushed towards terrorism. Its
unleashing this division, and its very dangerous. Anti-Americanism is
growing, because of the way America is dealing with this.
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