September 11: Muslims remember a decade of prejudice

As they watched news reports of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, Aimen Haddara and Bas Ilter both had a feeling something in their lives would change.

They were right, but despite vast differences in their backgrounds and their beliefs, neither anticipated the extent of the personal effects of the most devastating terror attack the world has known.

Both men are in their 30s and were born in Australia and live in Melbourne. Mr Haddara's family is from Lebanon and Mr Ilter's is Turkish.

Mr Haddara regularly attends his mosque and lives his life according to his religion.

Mr Ilter admits he is Muslim in name only.

But in the wake of the World Trade Center (WTC) attack, the two men were confronted by aspects of being a Muslim in a western country that they had never previously experienced.

"I had no idea what had happened, or who was responsible for those planes flying into the buildings," Mr Haddara said.

"But I had this feeling, and it turned out to be right."

Mr Haddara first heard about aircraft being flown into the landmark towers in a phone call from a friend in Sydney early on the morning of September 12.

As the two men talked it dawned on them that this was no accident.

"I'm not sure who said it first, but we realised we were watching something deliberate," he said.

"Then my friend said, 'you wait and see, they will blame it on the brothers'."

Mr Haddara has a clear understanding of who is responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

He knows it should have nothing to do with him and he wishes he, his family and his religion weren't characterised as sympathisers or supporters of terrorism.

Mr Haddara's family came to Australia from Lebanon in the 1960s. He was born in Melbourne and went to school in Broadmeadows.

Along with his father, brothers and uncles, he goes to the Preston Mosque every Friday.

"We are good people and good Muslims and until 9/11 there was hardly a problem with any of that," he said.

"But straight after that day things changed. There are times when I've been frightened, I'm always worried for my wife and kids.

"We've been sworn at, my wife has been verbally abused because she dresses in the traditional way and my kids have come home crying.

"That didn't happen before."

The reaction to 9/11 has eased, but there are times when Mr Haddara knows to be careful.

Whenever there is bad news from Afghanistan he braces for a backlash and he hasn't been looking forward to this year's 10th anniversary of September 11.

"I am Australian and when an Australian soldier is killed I am sad," he said.

"But I am also sad when I hear about children and families being bombed anywhere in the world."

Mr Haddara says he isn't interested in radicalism, or anything but being an Australian Muslim.

But he is aware of others in his community who are.

He knew some of the men who were convicted two years ago over their membership of a group planning terror attacks in Melbourne.

During their trial in the Victorian Supreme Court, evidence was produced in which they hailed Osama bin Laden as a hero and claimed America deserved attacks such as those on 9/11.

"It is very easy for young guys to get carried away with this stuff," Mr Haddara said.

"I've heard of it happening and I know how it happens. It's no surprise.

"But the thing is, there hasn't been a terror attack in Australia which shows you that there are only a very few people who think that way."

Mr Ilter said a feeling of doubt and concern descended on him from the time he knew of the WTC attack and remained for weeks.

September 11 also made Australians more aware of the Muslim world and made him feel less Australian and more Islamic than he ever had.

"I'm not sure why, but I felt pretty sure things would be different after September 11," Mr Ilter said.

"It didn't take long for phrases like 'Islamic extremists' and stuff like that to come up. It was a bit of a jolt to me.

"I think a lot of Australians maybe didn't realise Turkey is a Muslim country.

"But after 9/11, they all seemed to know.

"People would say things about terrorists and look straight at me. That never happened before, I was just a Turkish guy.

"I'd say it put me in touch with my religion more than ever. It made me think more and in some ways I regret that."

In many countries the reaction to 9/11 has been severe.

The FBI reported anti-Muslim crimes in the United States, for instance, rose by 17 times during 2001 and in the nine weeks immediately after more than 700 violent incidents against Arab Americans and Muslims were reported.

Australia has experienced its share of anti-Muslim reaction, most notably the 2005 Cronulla riots in Sydney's south which began with a confrontation between some off-duty lifesavers and youths of middle-eastern appearance.

A week later, a protest rally at the beachside suburb erupted into one of the ugliest racist clashes ever seen in Australia.

According to Haddara, issues still simmer and every now and then they boil over.

"It's not only terrorism, the asylum-seeker situation also brings out the worst in some people," he said.

"But you have to believe there are more decent people out there than the other kind."

-AAP

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