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After 9/11 in London's East End

In September we are inevitably reminded of 9/11. The frustration of the US regime at its inability to punish dead people has resulted in a desire for revenge that appears insatiable. Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo and then the “war on terror” seem to threaten everyone, anywhere in the world. We must not forget the Americans who were bereaved on 9/11 who pleaded that their grief should not be used as an excuse to cause the same to others, or the jailed military refusniks or the American anti-war campaigners who have done as much or more than any of us. The oppressors are not the American people.

The collaboration in external wars between the US and UK Governments seems matched by a deterioration in civil rights.

The “war on terror” has cast its shadow on East London. People are afraid, justifiably so. Violent police raids on family homes early in the morning, imprisonment without trial, deportations and severe forms of house arrest create a climate of fear.

One brave group of campaigners addressing this problem are Peace and Justice in East London. As legal racial and religious persecution has worsened they have become more and more involved in befriending some of the individual victims of suspicion. They have also lobbied, petitioned, observed trials and the unjust SIAC (special immigration appeals commission) non-courts.

At an earlier stage in its development Peace and Justice in East London organised, on the anniversary of 9/11, a multi-faith vigil for the victims of terror and the victims of the war on terror.

It was held in a mosque in Forest Gate. Representatives of different religions each gave a short reading or talk. We had been warned that the vigil must end before 7.30.pm as the Muslim congregation would be coming for prayers then.

One of the early speakers went on too long so everyone else was delayed. When it was 7.30.pm a Jewish woman was speaking.

A number of Muslim men came in. I wondered what would happen. This was the male area of their own mosque in their own prayer time occupied by a mixed crowd of strangers listening to a Jewish woman. I need not have worried. They just stood quietly listening to her speaking about Neve Shalom, the Oasis of Peace co-operative village where Israeli Jews and Arabs are bringing up their children together to understand each others’ language, religion and culture.

The vigil finished with a minutes silence. The Imam then said “You people are welcome to come back any time”. Only then did the Muslim men turn to the East and begin their own prayers as Christians, Baha’is, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Agnostics quietly left. This did not quite fit the image of an East London Mosque as a hate-driven bomb factory.

As a pacifist, agnostic, feminist myself, there is much in Islamic teaching that I find objectionable. However living in East London I know that many Muslim people are extremists: they are extremely tolerant, extremely kind, extremely good people.

Topics: Islamophobia