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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
Experts answered your questions

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  • Click here to read the transcript


    How did September 11 change the United States and its relations with the rest of the world?

    A year on from the terrorist attacks, as the commemoration ceremonies begin, Americans are taking stock of what they have lost, what they have learnt and what they believe they still have to do.

    The most visible signs that America is still in mourning, are the hundreds of thousands of US flags that hang off construction sites, faded in windows and flapping out the windows of suburban cars.

    But has the USA really changed, forcing Americans to see themselves in a different way? Has the world become more divided between Muslims and non Muslims, and what will the lasting impact of this be?

    In London, George Alagiah put your questions to Nathan Thomas from ABC News and in New York, Kirsty Lang put your questions to Dr Faroque Khan, spokesperson of the Islamic Center of Long Island.


    Transcript


    George Alagiah:

    Hello, I'm George Alagiah with a BBC4 Interactive forum from London and New York.

    A year on from the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Americans are taking stock of what they've lost and what they've learnt. They're looking inwards and outwards as they find their way in what feels like a totally new world. How have ordinary people's lives changed and has the world become a more divided place between Muslims and non-Muslims?

    We'll be putting your questions to our studio guests. In London with me is Nathan Thomas, London correspondent for ABC America and our chief correspondent Kirsty Lang is in New York.


    Kirsty Lang:

    Hello George, I'm talking to you from Ground Zero. In fact, just behind me, is where the Twin Towers used to stand, now just a vast empty space and two very large holes.

    I'm joined now by Dr Faroque Khan of the Long Island Islamic Centre and I'm going to put the first of our viewer's questions to him. Welcome thank you for joining us today.

    My first question is from Patrick Lossiter in the USA and he says: I would like to ask Dr Khan if he feels his religion is on trial since the 9/11 attacks?


    Dr Faroque Khan:

    After 9/11 there has been a tremendous interest in learning about Islam and Muslims and we have been invited to many houses of worship and public places. The books sales have gone up and there's a better appreciation and understanding regarding Islam and Muslims. People are beginning to understand that it's really an extension of Judeo-Christian teachings and it's not too different from the other monotheistic faiths.


    Kirsty Lang:

    But I think Mr Lossiter is also asking though there has been some discrimination against Muslims and Arab Americans has there not?


    Dr Faroque Khan:

    Yes, but overall the country has come through with civility, with compassion, with tolerance, with understanding. But yes, there have been some incidents of discrimination and intimidation.


    Kirsty Lang:

    Our next question is from Kofi in Ghana: Do you find it tragic that some very intelligent people, especially those in the Muslim world, still want to rationalize the attacks on New York City in the name of fighting for Palestine?


    Dr Faroque Khan:

    In my mind there is no rationalizing in killing innocent people who had gone to work - 3,000 of them in their offices, in their public places - and attacking them. There is no rationalization. This was a terror attack and it should be condemned.


    Kirsty Lang:

    George, perhaps you'd like to pick up on that.


    George Alagiah:

    Thank you Kirsty. I am going to go on to a new e-mail we've got here from Michael Grazebrook in the UK: What is the likely effect of current policies on terrorism: a source of deadly grievance or an effective deterrent?


    Nathan Thomas:

    The hope obviously of the people putting those policies into effect is that they are going to be a deterrent and certainly not wipe out terrorism - I don't think anybody has any realistic hope that that's going to happen - but certainly a deterrent. The possibility of course is that it's going to make those who have a grievance feel even more aggrieved and just make the terrorism continue on an even larger scale. That's something that I don't anybody can tell at this point until those policies reach some kind of fruition.


    George Alagiah:

    Let's go onto Robert from the USA: Do you think US Attorney General John Ashcroft has unleashed the single biggest frontal assault on individual and civil rights since World War II?


    Nathan Thomas:

    Good question and I don't think there's going to be an answer to that until the American people feel the effects of this. In a democracy - in any democracy - they will decide whether it is an affront and whether it is more than they want to handle. If they feel that the conditions being put on by the current administration are too extreme, then the democratic situation has ways to deal with that. It is an extreme situation - the government has said that - extreme policies are needed, is what they say. Where the balance lies, how far you can go as far as curtailing civil liberties is something that the American people are going to have to decide themselves.


    George Alagiah:

    Kirsty, any more questions there in New York?


    Kirsty Lang:

    Yes, our next question is from Dr Sanjeev in the USA. His question to Dr Khan is: Would you agree that this attack, although, has no justification at all, was a result of the US' bullying of the UN, poor foreign policies and the practise of double standards?


    Dr Faroque Khan:

    I've done a lot of thinking about this. I don't see any justification of bringing planes and knocking down two towers and killing thousands of people. Yes, there are problems with our foreign policy - it's not even-handed. But that doesn't suddenly justify what was done.

    I also wanted to comment on the previous question. We are very encouraged in the United States by some of the recent decisions by the US Court of Appeal which have clearly, unanimously, said in Cincinnati on August 26th that the current practice of detention and secret evidence, is unconstitutional. We are hoping that the judicial system will basically exert its authority and bring some sanity towards these issues of discrimination.


    Kirsty Lang:

    We've got another question from R. Steward in Great Britain: Would you please explain if Islam hates or is contemptuous of Western or Christian values?


    Dr Faroque Khan:

    On the contrary. If you read the Koran, a Muslim man is allowed and permitted to marry a Jewish or a Christian woman, so how can there be hatred?

    We have problems with the foreign policy, post World War II - division of some of the lands. But those are issues which are political, it's not religious issues.

    If you look at the civilisation of Spain for several hundred years when the Muslims ruled, Jews and Christians were thriving in that environment. So it's not a question of hatred of religions, it is the question of differences in our foreign policy.


    Kirsty Lang:

    Back to you for some more questions George.


    George Alagiah:

    Thank you Kirsty. Tony Hedley, UK asks: Do you think hostility towards the US is more widespread now than it was pre-Sept 11th?


    Nathan Thomas:

    Probably not although it is probably noticed a lot more now. I think Americans are much more aware, since September 11th , of what is going on in the rest of the world. They are paying more attention to how they are perceived by the rest of the world. I don't know that the degree or amount of hostility has changed, but I think Americans certainly are paying more attention to it because it's being focused on. It may seem like there's more simply because we notice it now more.


    George Alagiah:

    Dave Milner, England: Do you think innocent people of the Middle East have suffered as a result of the September 11th attacks?


    Nathan Thomas:

    Difficult question. Americans have suffered - people in different places have suffered in different ways because of it. All of this is tied into the Middle East, as far as the terrorists are concerned, in many ways. Whether there has been specific suffering because of September 11th - it's very hard to tell, I don't know.


    George Alagiah:

    I think what David Milner is presumably pointing up is that the war on terror, so called, its focus is on the Middle East after Afghanistan.


    Nathan Thomas:

    True it is and whether innocent people have suffered perhaps as the crackdown on those who are perceived to be militants and terrorists continues, as we've seen, innocent people are affected by this in countries all over the world.


    George Alagiah:

    Let's have some more from New York now.


    Kirsty Lang:

    Ok, I've got another one for Dr Khan it's from Amelia Kinlder, Canada: Why do Americans feel they must understand what this was all about, does anyone really understand terrorism or the rationale for terrorist actions?


    Dr Faroque Khan:

    Terrorism occurs at multiple levels. You can have individual terrorism, you can have state terrorism and unless one gets to the root of the problem, we're not going to be able to address this issue. So it's very import for all of us - Americans and others - to understand what leads to violence - why do people act out the way they do. And once we start addressing those discrepancies and put a human face to the problem, start humanising people, we will make some headway towards addressing the scourge of terrorism.


    Kirsty Lang:

    We have a question from Yogesh in India: Do you think that Americans now worry a lot more about terrorism abroad as much as they do at home?


    Dr Faroque Khan:

    The country in the last year is coming out of a very devastating state - people are numb - they are beginning to realise what happened. I think at this stage, most people are looking inwards as to what happened to their lives and they're hoping as things settle down we'll start taking a more global view of this problem.


    Kirsty Lang:

    Back to you George.


    George Alagiah:

    This is another attempt - picking up from what Dr Khan was talking about - to get inside the head of the terrorists, I think. It's from Elizabeth Lane, UK: Can anyone tell the world what it is that the terrorists wish us to address, post 9/11?


    Nathan Thomas:

    Specifically, of course, nobody knows because very few of them are talking. But the basic thing seems to be focused on the Middle East. The terrorism is focused against those, they say, who are supporting Israel against the Palestinians - that's the very basic part of it. There is talk against infidels who they perceive as being anti-Muslim. But again I think the main focus gets back to the Middle East and the terrorists are pro-Palestinian, if you will, and against those who are supporting Israel.


    George Alagiah:

    There a question from Shailendra Joshi, USA: Has the war on terrorism exposed the shallowness of global leadership?


    Nathan Thomas:

    I don't know if it's particular shallow. I think many leaders all over the world are trying to do the best they can in a situation that they have never really encountered before. It has changed perceptions, it has changed the world in many ways and whether it be President Bush or Prime Minister Blair, or other world leaders, they are trying to deal with it. I think deep in their hearts they admit they don't really know what to do. They're doing what they think is best and of course in any democratic society, there's a lot of argument over what is best. But I don't think it's really fair to say that it's shallow.


    George Alagiah:

    Kirsty, I think we've got time once again for you.


    Kirsty Lang:

    I've got a question from Brendan in the UK: Do you think the USA has forced everybody to takes sides since 9/11? (I think he is referring to the - you're with us or against us - remark that President Bush made soon after September 11th)


    Dr Faroque Khan:

    As an American Muslim, I understand it's not always clear cut - with us or against us - there are a lot grey areas. I certainly support my President in his war on terror, but I have major differences with him regarding some of our foreign policy issues. So it's not clear cut that you're either here or there - many times you have to kind of take the middle road.


    Kirsty Lang:

    I want to just ask you a question because we had a film on our programme on Friday which carried the views of a number of Arab Americans in Chicago. All of whom who'd suffered terrible discrimination: they'd been spat at in the street, insulted - is that unusual? Is that a common experience for Muslims in America now?


    Dr Faroque Khan:

    What's been my experience is highly variable. In the communities, which prior to 9/11 had gone out and reached out into their neighbours and shown their face and acted as a part of the society - they did not have any backlash. But communities which stayed insulated within themselves, suffered a fair amount of backlash. So it's highly variable. In Long Island, where I come from, we haven't had much of a problem.


    Kirsty Lang:

    So the advice is reach out.


    Dr Faroque Khan:

    Reach out, show your face, do some social work, do some good, act your faith and leave the rest to the creator.


    Kirsty Lang:

    Back to you George.


    George Alagiah:

    Here's a question from Amy in USA: As I have heard someone say, and think is true, "we are sadder, but not wiser." Do you agree?


    Nathan Thomas:

    With part of it, yes. I think definitely sadder - I don't think there's any question about that. But I think in many ways, people are wiser. I think to many Americans, it was a wake up call and they are much more aware of the world around them than they were before September 11th.

    America is by geography, if nothing else, an isolated place and the world sees Americans very often as isolated and acting as if they are in their little world, which in many ways they are. But that September 11th has, I think, caused many Americans to look more at the rest of the world, realise how they are perceived and so I think perhaps a little wisdom has come along with it.


    George Alagiah:

    Nathan, a lot of the e-mails have been about this past year but of course in a couple of days time, your President, George Bush, is going to be at the UN talking about Iraq. What are your views on that?


    Nathan Thomas:

    It's a difficult situation and as he goes further and further into this, it's looking more and more like there is very little support for actually going against Iraq. I think in many ways, this is something that has taken on a life of its own.

    I think first of all with the war on terrorism - which is very important in the United States and it's very important to keep that going - you need an enemy. You need a bad guy - Osama bin Laden - maybe he's dead - certainly he has disappeared. It's difficult to hold him up to the American people, to the rest of the world, and say this is the bad guy because no one knows where he is or anything else.

    Saddam is an easy mark at this point - you can say this is the face of evil. How far the intention really is or was before this, as I say, took on a life of its own, I don't know, but I think it was necessary to make him the bad guy.


    George Alagiah:

    Dr Khan, if I could ask you here from London. What do you think the reaction in the Muslim world is going to be if there were to be an attack on Iraq?


    Dr Faroque Khan:

    As long as it is done - whatever action is taken - if it's done under the umbrella of the United Nations and the Security Council with a multi-national approach, people will see the need for it perhaps. But if it's done unilaterally, it's going to create a lot of problems with long term instability in the world.


    George Alagiah:

    Dr Khan, thank you very much. Kirsty, thank you as well. Here in London, Nathan Thomas thank you for your contributions.

    Well, I afraid that's all we've got time for in this broadcast. Thank you for your e-mails and text messages. This has been a BBC4 Interactive forum. Good night.


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