Cathal Hannan, aged 12, and Connor Scullion, 16, two young journalists from the Children’s Express group in Belfast, write about the experiences of their Muslim friends in the city after September 11:
The ‘war on terror’ is now well under way, yet those signs that are presented to us in the West as positive, are having a very real and direct negative impact on Belfast’s young Muslims.
‘I think that after 9/11, more people have become scared of Islam and what it represents. And I think that the word terrorism has become used exclusively with Muslims,’ said Belfast Islamic teacher Wessam M.Abd Elsolam.
Mr Elsolam believes that in only targeting Muslim countries in his ‘war on terror’, George Bush has helped shape the incorrect and highly dangerous assumption that all Muslims are terrorists. The continued ‘war on terror’ has a direct negative impact on the young people in his community and the fact that only a tiny number of Muslims are actually terrorists goes unnoticed.
Young children from the Muslim community spoke to us about the behaviour of people towards them after 9/11. Primary school pupil Saif Ullah Talpur, 11, gave his insight into the life of an ordinary Muslim boy. ‘In primary school, I get called lots of names, including “paki”. All I want to do is go to school and learn. I think it has got worse after 9/11.’
But where does the incentive to racially attack Muslims come from? An ex-Liverpool resident, Bella Yaquh, highlighted how the media created the idea of Muslims as terrorists. ‘It’s the media, it’s the White House, it’s business and it’s also here in the UK. If anyone insulted my children, or me, the police will not do anything for [us], that’s the problem.’
Like other world religions, Islam is a religion of peace. Carrying out terrorist acts goes against the fundamental roots of Islam. Muslims regard others as equals but you could argue that other people see them just as terrorists and verbally abuse their religion or colour.
Jamal Iweida, President of the Belfast Islamic Centre, spoke of rights and what the Muslim community truly deserve. ‘We do have rights and we do enjoy many rights here in this country, but at the same time we have a lack of provision and respect from some people. We need more support, in terms of coping with racist attacks.’
In fact, Mr Iweida has suffered greatly, in terms of verbal and physical racism. His car and house were attacked, racist graffiti was sprayed on his property and he was forced to leave his home.
Mr. Iweida was outraged by this: ‘you don’t get called an IRA terrorist if you’re a Catholic and likewise with Protestants being associated as UVF members.’
This is just one example of the harassment that plagues the Muslim community in Belfast. Further afield, in Craigavon, the building of a new Mosque was disrupted for a week, due to racist insults and attacks.
Nobody deserves this continuing violence. Who could imagine eating dinner while racially motivated thugs spray graffiti on the garden wall?