We are in class and the teacher tells us he heard a story about his landlord's sister. Apparently, she works for the DSS (Department for Social Security) in Stratford, east London, and each DSS office has been issued with a list of suspicious persons and their photographs. She could readily identify 8 of the 32 (or whatever figure) suspected terrorists on the list and has passed the information onto the police. When I challenged this story as an urban myth, F. said that he lives in east London and works with the communities and he knows the people. He said it is very likely that they would harbour terrorists. Afterall, he said, "you should see how many mosques there are on the way home". Again, yet another person in a position of authority seems to be saying that all Muslims are terrorists.

During the break one of the students, a Muslim Indonesian guy tells me that actually what happened on September 11th is that 4000 Israelis (I think he meant Jews) did not go to work in the World Trade Centre buildings because it was really an Israeli attack. He said it was true and if I think about it, it is logical. It was on Jordanian tv news, according to him. For me, this story had all those old overtones of Holocaust denial and I was shocked. I asked him if this was what he truly believed. He said, of course. There is no proof against Osama bin Laden. I argued with him that we are unlikely to know what the proof is but that I agreed it is wrong to bomb and murder innocent Afganis. I said I believed that Osama bin Laden should be brought to trial, the same as any suspected criminal.
P. just smiled at this. He said it all just an excuse by America to kill Muslims. "They are killing poor Muslims in Palestine - and now they are killing more poor Muslims in Afganistan." He then talked about how America just wants to control the whole world and use everybody else's natural resources and gave some examples of this. Though it was painful to listen to, I understood that P. is not likely to be the only one thinking this. Though he is not the smartest person I have ever met, he may be echoing the views of some everyday Muslims across the world. He sees world politics as - what I understand as - American conspiracy theories. But it depends on your point of view. There are plenty of people in the USA and elsewhere, people who are allies, who believe US foreign policy is problematic... but we're not usually the victims of the un'level playing field'.

After class, I tell K. about all the rumours and urban myths flying about on both sides. She says that it is surprising I haven't heard some of them before. The second one was even printed in a newspaper shortly after September 11th, stating that it was one belief regarding the attack. She then told me that P., a friend who is a Bengali Muslim man - a writer and a mild-mannered man, had received that day a letter from the Royal Bank of Scotland addressed to O bin Laden. We all knew what it meant. Some hate-filled person had changed all or some of the Muslim-sounding names on the database to O. bin Laden.
I feel so depressed. What can you do when everyday people are trading in rumours and urban myths, paranoia and hate. Only the more extreme people will change a database, burn down a place of worship, shoot at a person on the street assuming they know their heart, whatever - but it seems that the majority of people, 'normal' people are peddling in myths that create and maintain a climate of fear and hate, without even considering the consequences of their stories.

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