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Experts fuel sensationalism

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By Moulana Ebrahim Bham

(source:Independent Newspapers)

The "terror plot" made front-page news. Iraqi authorities had arrested a Saudi citizen, Abdullah Azam Saleh al-Qahtani, for planned attacks against the Danish and Dutch teams at the World Cup.

Last week, when the US announced the arrest of Qahtani – who was by then wearing an orange prisoner jumpsuit – a military spokesman referred all questions to the Iraqi government. Soon, al-Qaeda and the description of a "militant" dominated the headlines. Qahtani’s issue was apparently still with the publication of controversial cartoons of Prophet Muhammad which appeared in the Dutch and Danish media in 2006.

When at least two bombs go off every day in Iraq, it seems amazing that security agencies failing to contain the insurgency in the beleaguered country were able to stump "a terror plot" targeting South Africa – thousands of kilometres away. But the reports were carried widely.

Qassim Abdul-Zahra, writing for The Scotsman last week, told of how an Iraqi official said Qahtani "had taken no steps to put the plan into motion, such as obtaining bomb-making materials… It was also still unclear how viable the plot was". And Reuters reported on it even more succinctly, quoting Baghdad security spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, who gave no details and offered no evidence for the claim. He said "it was not possible to verify it". Yet the sensational stories remained, fuelled by "experts" and "security analysts" who have developed a taste for such tales. They are to be found in "think-tanks", research centres and academia. These are the people who, from the time of the announcement of South Africa as host of the tournament, have shown an aggressive form of 42by putting across ideas about some Muslim plot or other being made against foreign interests in South Africa. Muslims have, in turn, time and again, distanced themselves from such plots. Our view is that these "experts" trade on the hope of a self-fulfilling prophecy, cynically latching onto anything that gives them an I-told-you-so bravado. We hope that they do not pray that such plots should actually unfold, just so they should be proven right. But as the World Cup has drawn closer, these "experts" have ratcheted their theories up a notch, explaining to us how the "corrupt" South African security establishment has been kept in the dark, and could remain clueless about what terrorists are hatching for the players and fans during the tournament. To us, this is nothing but racism in its true form. Yet challenging the veracity of claims and propositions is elusive, not least for these experts. In the same way that national security officials here have greeted the "news" with scepticism, we too deplore the intrigue and these scaremongering antics. We believe security matters are best left in the hands of those entrusted to deal with them, and we have the confidence that they have the capacity to handle such matters. Thus, to us it seems pointless for the press, both here and abroad, to take poisoned comments from some "professor" who has his own axe to grind against the wider Muslim community as if they have some truth or meaning to them. A poisoned barb, even if it is used in the same way again and again, does not represent the viewpoint of our community. South African Muslims will, of course, co-operate with our security officials to ensure that safety and security prevail at all times, and particularly during the tournament. We are highly uncomfortable with the suggestion that we are in any way against the World Cup or against Fifa. Although there have been controversies in our country over the tournament – often from those who hoped to be able to make a profit from it but may not be able to do so, such as the hawkers – we don't believe any true South African is anything but supportive and excited that it is happening here.We feel the reporting of the views of Islamophobic "experts", such as those quoted in the stories about Qahtani, creates unnecessary tension, especially where there has not been tension before. Religious South Africans, such as Muslims, pride ourselves on the fact that we have not had problems between us. Where the traffic may irritate us and crime affect us more deeply, we know that there is great tolerance of each other's faiths – and that is very important to us. Alongside other compatriots, Muslims fought against such injustice for over 300 years in this country. We will certainly fight it now in its pernicious form of guilt by association and prejudice. It is no different from what South Africans have fought all these years. Muslims are very much a part of the South African community, making positive contributions in all facets of life. Unlike the way it is in many other lands, we call South Africa home, so attempts to alienate and demonise people of the Muslim faith here will be futile. We see the primary groundwork of terrorism as being the control of the media and thus the moulding of public opinion to achieve just another agenda of control and exploitation. Moulana Bham is the secretary general of the Council for Muslim Theologians based in Johannesburg.