Ten long years have passed since 19 ruthless criminals used passenger planes to attack symbols of US power. Little did those of us watching in horror as the World Trade Centre Twin-Towers dissolved into dust, realise that September 11, 2001 would forever be known as the day our world changed; sadly, not for the better.
The repercussions of that dark day in America’s history are still being felt in Afghanistan and Iraq, countries that would not have been bombed and invaded if 9-11 had never happened.
Unfortunately, in his haste for retribution, George W. Bush squandered the Muslim world’s post-9-11 goodwill, enflaming anti-American sentiment, which served to recruit new batches of Al Qaeda clones. As commander-in-chief he had to react to the attacks but his methods didn’t bring the success he craved.
Mr Bush didn’t succeed in smoking Osama out of his cave, he wasn’t able to eradicate the Taliban and his efforts to democratise Iraq resulted in an Arab country, the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’, being dished-up to the Iranian ayatollahs.
Those blunders could have been avoided if his administration had characterised 9-11 as the work of criminals, cooperated with Arab and Muslim leaders on intelligence and used Special Forces to hunt Bin Laden in the way that President Barack Obama did earlier this year.
Bush’s approach – in particular the rounding up and incarceration of 5,000 Muslims in America during the 9-11 aftermath and the closing-down of Islamic charities – led the right-wing US media to tar the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims with the same brush as the perpetrators who couldn’t have been believers when Islam teaches us that killing one person is as great a sin as killing all mankind. Muslims were suddenly being asked to distance themselves from terrorists who don’t differentiate between Muslims and people of other faiths when they strapon their bomb belts or drive vehicles, packed with explosives into buildings. Law-abiding Muslims were cast under suspicion, to the extent that many ordinary Americans were afraid to travel on the same airplane with people reading the Koran or wearing an Arabic-emblazoned T-shirt.
The Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin called for all American Muslims to be interned in camps like Japanese-Americans were during World War II. Terry Jones, a Florida preacher announced a “Burn the Koran Day” and thousands protested against a proposed Islamic Centre a few blocks away from Ground Zero in Manhattan.
There was a moment when a clash of civilisations seemed inevitable. But, thankfully, the world has dodged that bullet; our kinship as members of the human race has ultimately prevailed.
Now we must put old hurts behind us and move on. Governments and the media have been commemorating 9-11 every year for a decade but in order to heal and repair the gap between the US and the Muslim world we shouldn’t keep opening-up old wounds or dwell on sorrow which can so easily derail our coming together.
One definition of evil is ignorance. The idea that West is West and East is East and never the twain shall meet should be discarded. We must teach our children that we may hold different beliefs, follow different traditions and wear different clothes but we are all citizens of one shrinking global village. We must explain to them that the ‘Peoples of the Book’ – Muslims, Christians and Jews – are all children of Abraham and his sons Isaac and Ishmael. We share a belief in many of the same prophets such as Adam, Noah and Moses; while Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet and hold his mother Mary, whom we know as Maryam, in the highest esteem. People should understand that these three great religions all worship the same One God even if he is known by different names.
The secret to greater tolerance and understanding is education. We must remove our blinkers and open our minds. Both sides must cast aside their ingrained fear of the other for the sake of peace.
I am trying to do my bit towards interfaith understanding by opening up Jumeirah’s Al Farooq Mosque and Islamic Centre – my gift to the people of Dubai – to non-Muslims so that they can read about Islam in the Centre’s library, ask questions of the Imam and observe us at prayer.
The past cannot be changed. The victims of 9-11 should be remembered always and lessons must be learned. However, the only road open to us is forward; I pray that we’ll take that journey to a better tomorrow in unity and harmony. As a new World Trade Centre tower reaches for the sky as a symbol of a new dawn, surely now we should respectfully close the book on 9-11 and its painful aftermath once and for all.