The most valuable experience I made during my studies in England, which I began in 1987 at London University, was that I got to know so many students from all over the world, from so many different cultures and religions. This was a very exciting and moving period of my life.
During my first meeting at an international students‘ meeting in London I saw a very nice looking couple smiling at me. We were all there to get to know other students and thus I asked them where they came from. They were from Israel. These students were the first Israelis and probably also the first people of the Jewish faith that I had met in my life. Their answer made me feel very helpless and I got these pinching feelings of guilt. Hence, my reply in return felt so uncomfortable, but the young couple was ever so friendly and I was relieved that they did not seem to have any problem with the fact that I came from Germany.
I met many nice people and came across so many points of views new to me which made me reflect about my own convictions. At the time of the first Palestinian ‚Intifada‘ I became a witness of a discussion between students among whom were also some Palestinians. One of them said that it was totally sick if some Arabs liked the Germans specifically for their Nazi past. This was the reason that the people whom the Germans had sinned against thought since 1948 that it was justified to sin against his own people while the world was just watching. I felt very uncomfortable and somehow responsible even though I was born only in 1965.
At my student part-time job I made friends with a Moroccan girl. I asked her why her Arabic was not easily understood by the Arabs from the Middle East and why she seemed to prefer to speak in French. She replied that the French had forbidden the Arabic language in schools during their colonization of Morocco so that the generations since then spoke better French. I was shocked. What did the French prohibit in Arabic schools, the native people’s own mother tongue? In my A-Level subjects History and French I had received very different impressions about my dear country neighbors. I neither recall having heard in any of our lessons about the „country of one million martyrs“, a name given to Algeria after their liberation from the French occupation. If one country is able to do such things to another country, does it then not also practice a form of extremism and fanaticism we often accuse Muslims of, only that time committed by European nationals? Should we accept it because of its European origin and consider it to be better or justified?
Once a big crowd drew my attention in the famous Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner that was listening to a Pakistani man, who (which I found out later) was married to a British lady and wanted to make people think about their own thinking – in a very nice manner. He picked a white blond haired man from the crowd and asked him where he came from. The man replied that he was Australian. The speaker did as if he was puzzled and commented that to his knowledge Australians had dark skin and curly brown hair. The Australian answered that those people were called ‚aborigines‘ and they had just happened to be there earlier than them (i.e. the Australians). The speaker enthusiastically agreed with the Australian because he told us that this was actually the same case in Great Britain which now belonged to the Pakistanis and the British had just happened to be there earlier than them. All people had to laugh. Did they laugh about themselves or because they suddenly realized the absurdity of their convictions?
As I studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies I also had the opportunity to meet students from South Africa, some were white, some black, who had two different national languages. I only remember that I was surprised that the language mainly spoken by the white South Africans, of all names called ‚Afrikaans‘, resembled Dutch very much. The history of Africa had never been thoroughly covered at school. I had heard of apartheid, but only after I had personally met black and white people from South Africa did I realize what terrible sufferings the colored nationals of that country had been subjected to.
Nowadays we are witnessing or some are experiencing new sufferings for which a number of circumstances are made responsible, which are mainly known to us as „Islamic or Islamist terrorism“. At this point I would like to comment on such terrorists or terrorism which I do not accept to entitle ‚Islamic‘, because this form of terrorism contradicts the principles of the name it tries to borrow and therefore does not deserve to be named after it, for the brutal murderers will receive some kind of justification through it. These people are blood thirsty fanatics that have as much in common with Islam as President Bush with the Merciful Samaritans, and who are above all interested in one thing – revenge, in a fight for power in the course of which the ordinary people pay the price far too high. We should not forget that these kind of people have existed back in time, who practice terror in the name of their religion even within their own faith, such as the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, who are not consequently called „Christian“ terrorists. Their motives are political even if they hold their speeches in the name of their religion and even if they want to persuade the rest of the world to believe them by hiding under the cover of religion.
As European Muslim I am certainly concerned about this subject and try to inform myself as thoroughly as possible. In the articles of the Western press I often read that many things are mixed up too easily, such as the integration problems of Muslim immigrants, the hate speeches of psychopathic Muslim preachers and the adherence to old discriminating traditions for Muslim women (which are misleadingly claimed to be Islamic) and the power-political interests of Islamic countries like the discussion about Iran’s atomic program. All these subjects are intermingled which only increases the fear of the people instead of encouraging a reasonable debate about the different subjects.
Living in the Middle East, I hear local people discuss these subjects from their point of view. During a talk show on an Arabic satellite channel one Arabic participant became very agitated over the fact that Muslims are considered to be the terrorists who were not responsible for the cruel crusades, neither for the atomic bomb on Hiroshima nor the napalm bombs on Vietnam and who also had not colonized countries in the Third World for their natural resources leading to an exploitation till this day. Leave alone the war with which the USA had decided to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussain that had led to more bloodshed and unspeakable sufferings. Obviously upset he asked if this was not considered terrorism.
From a Western point of view the perceived silence or non-reaction from Muslims to the present-day terrorism is interpreted as „support“ for the terrorists from Islamic countries or Muslims. One could argue that more public protest from the Muslims would help to set a clear sign and that there are also some Muslims whose lack of public reaction is a kind of accepted compensation for the violence and discrimination the people of the Third and Developing World had to suffer under their Western colonialists or protectorates. This kind of thinking is certainly wrong, but we have to understand that it mainly originates from personal emotions and instinct and is therefore not based on Islamic principles or thoughts. On the contrary, Islamic clerics and the absolute majority of Muslims condemn such terror again and again very strongly in their mosques and community centers (that is not reported about very often in the Western media), because such terror is not only strictly forbidden in Islam but it also badly damages the reputation of Muslims.
However, I think as a result of many talks I had with people living in the Middle East that they are as afraid of Western powers as the people in the West are frightened of them. Both sides sense a great threat from the other side and naturally would want to protect themselves. Both sides have their reasons and fears that have been accumulated throughout the years and which need to be understood by the other side. Besides the personal responsibilities of the people for their bad living standards in the Third World it is impossible to apologize for the injustice that was inflicted on them by colonial powers or by the political and economical interference of Western states. This injustice can neither be rectified with development aid. The wounds are too deep and the consequences too devastating. Having been exploited, living in poverty and misery compared to the wealthy and privileged West makes people feel angry and powerless resulting in a longing for justice and recovery of their dignity.
In Islam, as in all religions, doing good deeds is one of the central virtues. In the Quran there is a verse (Sura 99, Verse 7 & 8) saying: „Then shall anyone who has done an atom’s weight of good, see it! And anyone who has done an atom’s weight of evil, shall see it.“ Doing bad deeds therefore shall one day fire back on the aggressor. My sister once told me many years ago as a student that her lecturer of operational pedagogic studies (who used to be the head of several Goethe Institutes) had voiced his opinion with regard to the subject ‚justice‘ that we (in the West) would be very silly to believe that the Third World would not pay back what we had done to them once they had the means to do so. I sincerely hope that 9/11 was not the first pay day!