Swiss Muslims deal with 9/11

by Julia Slater, swissinfo.ch

Ten years ago Islamic extremists flew three planes into three iconic US buildings and the fall-out is still being felt.
Muslims suddenly found themselves being regarded with suspicion as potential terrorists in many countries and their religion denigrated.

Like most people who saw the attacks on television, Swiss citizen Nezhda Drissi remembers the day well.

“My first reaction was that Muslims are incapable of doing something as terrible as that,” she told swissinfo.ch. Drissi, who was born in Morocco, has lived in Switzerland for 20 years.

Larbi Guesmi, a Tunisian human rights activist who leads the prayers at the mosque in Neuchâtel, said he had been shocked by the scale of the attacks – and concerned about the impact they might have.

He totally rejected the justification offered by the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation that the attacks were a response to United States behaviour.

“There have been numerous instances of aggression and humiliation by the US towards the Muslim world, but such attacks do nothing for the just causes of the Muslims,” he said.

“They were only good for dictatorships to barricade themselves behind ‘the fight against terrorism’ in order to keep their people down – and that’s still going on now.”

Suspicion and mistrust Guesmi pointed to the mistrust which he himself has experienced.

“Even now, all over the place, we keep getting black looks full of hatred and a desire to take vengeance against us.”

Drissi – who describes herself as not looking particularly foreign – says she has not experienced personal hostility, but has become used to the extra questioning she is subjected to in the US as soon as she shows her passport with her name and visas for Arab countries.

“You put up with it, while remaining dignified. Being a Muslim is not defect,” she said.

Being a Muslim Political scientist Elham Manea, who holds Yemeni and Swiss citizenship, told swissinfo.ch that 9/11 had narrowed people’s perception of her, focussing on the fact of her being Muslim and forgetting the other aspects of her complex identity.

Although she regrets this, she says it has one positive effect, in that the “serious media” started to try to discover what being a Muslim was about.

“On the other hand there was the very bad development of rightwing parties taking advantage of this situation, turning it into a political issue to expand their constituency.”

Drissi has reacted by reaching out to non-Muslims. In particular, she opens her doors on one evening in Ramadan, inviting anyone who is interested to share the evening meal that breaks the fast.

“We Muslims must be proactive,” she explained. “I’m not acting against something, but for something: for intercultural, religious dialogue, and to find what unites us and makes us all stronger.”

read more on swissinfo…

1 reply

  1. An interesting detail: A Swiss Doctor. Dr. Hussain, son of a Pakistani Immigrant, was ‘on the spot’ at the 9/11 site to treat injured persons … (as covered by Swiss TV also). (I know the family personally).

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