Ten years later, the Vancouver man is determined to share the message: terrorists do not represent the views of mainstream Muslims
BY DOUGLAS TODD, VANCOUVER SUN COLUMNIST SEPTEMBER 9, 2011
He was attending West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver on that fateful day. The private school’s principal called a special assembly and explained what happened.
“I was just a kid,” Rahman said. “I mostly remember a lot of chaos that day.”
Rahman’s parents, who brought him to Vancouver from Bangladesh when he was two, took him aside and talked about the implications of the devastating assault by 19 Arab terrorists.
In addition to Rahman’s parents explaining what they believe was the true, peaceful nature of Islam, they told him 9/11 could cause a backlash against the world’s Muslims.
The worst tension was probably in the first two years after 9/11, said Rahman, now 25, who is obtaining his master’s degree in law while serving as a youth worker at Masjid Ul-Haqq mosque near Kingsway and King Edward.
Even though Rahman never experienced indirect rebuke or ostracism for the 9/11 assaults, he knows Muslims who did. He credits the fiery horror of the decade-old event with inspiring him to study Islam more seriously. “I had been taking Islam for granted. It was more of a social thing.”
As he learned why those who took innocent lives did not represent mainstream Islam, Rahman went from being a casual Muslim to a practising one.
The terrorists who hijacked planes to smash into the World Trade Center towers and Pentagon “tarnished this beautiful religion of over one billion people,” said Rahman, who worked for three years as an assistant to Senator Mobina Jaffer, of Vancouver.
Roughly four per cent of the residents of Metro Vancouver are Muslim (50 per cent are Christian). Most, like Rahman, are Sunnis.
Similar to adherents of other religions, many are not devout. Census Canada reports only two out of five attend mosque regularly.
“Just like everybody else, I’m just trying to get a job and eventually a house,” Rahman said.
Even though polls suggest that relations are improving between Muslims and non-Muslims, much tension and suspicion remains 10 years after the first attack on U.S. soil since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
In response to the 9/11 assault, U.S. politicians, the vast majority of whom are Christian, led other countries in sending armed forces into bloody, long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
What have been the consequences of these religion-tinged conflicts? This summer, the respected Pew Forum for Religion and Public found, through surveys of major Muslim-majority and western countries, that mutual mistrust and even contempt are proving stubborn.
“Many in the West see Muslims as fanatical and violent, while few say Muslims are tolerant and respectful of women,” said Pew Forum pollsters, who discovered just 57 per cent of Americans and 45 per cent of Germans hold favourable views of Muslims.
“Meanwhile, Muslims in the Middle East and Asia see westerners as selfish, immoral and greedy, as well as violent and fanatical,” said the Pew Forum report.
The pollsters found only 48 per cent of Egyptians and 16 per cent of Pakistanis have favourable views of Christians, and even fewer feel trusting of Jews.
However, probably no other poll question more starkly reveals the political chasm between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West than the one asking people who they really think was behind the 9/11 attacks.
The Pew Forum found that a strong majority of Muslims in major countries, such as Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, do not believe the United States’ “official story,” that 19 fundamentalist Arabs carried out the strike.
In contrast, World Public Opinion polling found that only five per cent of Britons, 23 per cent of Germans and 15 per cent of Italians believe U.S. agents were somehow responsible for the attack. In the U.S., various polls have suggested about 15 to 30 per cent of Americans fear it may have been an inside job.
As an assistant to Jaffer, Rahman worked intensely on Senate committees on anti-terrorism and security issues. He’s heard Muslims’ suspicions about 9/11 being a diabolical plot by clandestine Americans.
But he doesn’t want to comment on the divisive question. Instead, he said, “My focus is on the after-effects of 9/11, and on efforts to make Canada a safer place.”
Rahman believes religious tensions are lower in Canada than in the U.S. — where there has been a showdown over building a mosque near New York’s “Ground Zero” — and high American casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
In addition, Rahman worries about the way many Republican politicians are working with the American religious right “to instil fears about Islam.”
Given such ongoing cultural and political conflicts, Rahman was only slightly surprised that a 2011 Gallup poll found four out of five American Muslims support Democrat President Barack Obama.
What’s the situation in Canada? Polling a few years ago by Angus Reid was not promising. It found only 28 per cent of Canadians hold a “generally favourable opinion” of Islam, compared with 57 per cent who look kindly upon Buddhism and 72 per cent who are fine with Christianity.
In his time as aide to Jaffer, a Liberal Senator, Rahman said he grew concerned about the Conservative government consistently favouring Israel over its Muslim-majority neighbours, at the same time he says it has been restricting immigration from Muslim countries.
It was predictable, Rahman said, that Ipsos Reid pollsters would discover after the May federal election that only 12 per cent of Canadian Muslims voted for the Conservatives, with 42 per cent choosing the Liberals and 38 per cent opting for the New Democratic Party. (In contrast, 52 per cent of Jews supported the Conservatives, as did 40 per cent of Catholics.)
Still, Rahman remains hopeful.
Given that most Canadian Muslims he knows have never personally experienced a “backlash,” he continues to find Canada to be a “great country where we have a chance to practise our religion and make a living.”
Like other well-educated Canadian Muslims of his age, he also continues to work for inter-religious understanding.
Rahman maintains North American Muslims like him — who witnessed the 9/11 attack when they were teenagers — have become leaders in showing the world that Muslims are not that different from most people; they are a diverse and generally peace-loving people.
The mosque youth worker is encouraged that some prominent thinkers join him in believing that religion is not creating an inevitable clash of civilizations, pitting Muslims against Christians, Jews and others.
His viewpoint has been mapped out in detail by Simon Fraser University adjunct professor Graham Fuller, a former high-level CIA official who wrote the recent book A World Without Islam.
A World Without Islam maintains that a terrorist attack like 9/11 would likely have occurred even if Islam had never come into existence. The current distrust between populations of the East and West, argues Fuller, is based on centuries of geo-political disputes, mainly over land, oil and power.
For his part, Rahman continues to go out of his way to put his efforts where his mouth is. He starts working this fall with The Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which is devoted to “countering extremism in all six leading religions.”
Like the former British prime minister — who in 2008 set up the well-funded, multi-faith organization — Rahman is convinced that divisiveness is a “distortion” of any true religion.
In the aftermath of 9/11, he’s determined to do his bit to share that message. THE ARTICLE SOURCE