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Friday, 14 September, 2001, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Islam: Faith under fire
Muslim man hangs US flag from a mosque
Anger is being directed at Arab-Americans
By BBC correspondent Mike Wooldridge

Anyone who has listened in to phone-in programmes on American radio stations since Tuesday will probably not have had to wait long before hearing a caller deliver a sweeping condemnation of Islam and urge swift military retaliation somewhere in the Islamic world - perhaps even against several targets.

In a nation with its emotions understandably charged by the New York and Washington attacks, the stunned reaction of the day of the attacks often seemed to give way later to a more obvious anger.


Islam is the faith that most consistently finds itself vulnerable to being manipulated and to being demonised.

And some of that has turned towards Islam and towards people living in the United States who simply happen to be Muslim.

There have been several reports of hostile scenes outside mosques and similar incidents.

This may not be at all representative of the overall mood.

But even if the outbursts have been relatively isolated they have had the US administration sufficiently alarmed for President Bush to urge that there should be no hostility towards Arabs and towards Muslims.

Suspicion

Given the level of so-called Islamaphobia that exists in the West, perhaps none of this is too surprising when the finger of suspicion has been pointed at "Islamic extremists".

And what may have fuelled some of the anti-Muslim sentiment are the scenes of jubilation in the Middle East shown on television screens across the world after Tuesday's attacks.

Inter-faith prayers were held for the victims
There were many Muslims, themselves utterly appalled by the carnage in America, who pointed out that the celebrations were far more limited than the scale this coverage might have suggested.

And, of course, there has been widespread condemnation of the New York and Washington attacks across the Muslim world - from governments, influential leaders and ordinary individuals.

But there is little doubt that - even with the investigations incomplete and the US Government not having officially laid the blame for the attacks at anyone's door - many Muslims will be once again left feeling that they, their loyalties and their faith are somehow under suspicion.

In the wake of the attacks, Muslim leaders have been appearing on television and radio in America and elsewhere in the West to say that the killing of civilians has no place in Islam - that there could be no religious justification whatsoever for it.

Anti-Christian hate

The issue of the distorted portrayal of faith is not restricted to Islam.

Christians in India, who have been on the receiving end of a spate of attacks in recent years, have complained that they are wrongly accused by Hindu hard-liners of being part of a Western conspiracy to convert all Hindus and even to take over the country.

Some Hindus complain that their faith is denigrated by Christians.

But the political volatility of the Middle East and of a number of other parts of the world where there are significant numbers of Muslims has ensured that Islam is the faith that most consistently finds itself vulnerable to being manipulated and to being demonised.

Islam is the world's fastest growing faith, a faith that abuts a number of the world's political fault lines and a faith that does not draw a distinction between the religious life and the political life.

The combination probably guarantees its fate.

Mike Wooldridge is a former BBC religious affairs correspondent

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