They reflect a sharp fall in support for terrorism, and optimism in religion and the Arab Spring.
Syeda Anjum Afree, now 21, clearly remembers the day. Coming from school to her home in a small town in north-east India she found her family and neighbours around the television.
The region had experienced separatist violence for decades, so terrorism was not new to her. But this was different. “I was shocked. I thought immediately of the common people who are always the victim. The innocent people. That it could happen in America amazed me. It seemed so far away,” she said.
Ms Afree is the daughter of cosmopolitan Muslim bureaucrats. Her siblings have married Hindus and Christians. She had never seriously thought about her faith and identity. However, the events of September 11, 2001 had an immediate effect.
There was a new atmosphere at her convent school. “There was nothing explicit directed at me but I felt it. I heard people saying that Islam was an evil religion and full of terrorists. I was suddenly aware of being Muslim in a very different way,” Ms Afree said.
She was one of the 20 students talking with the Guardian last month at Jamia Millia university about 9/11 and its consequences. Young people among the 160 million Muslims in India are not necessarily representative of Islam worldwide. But no one person or community is, and scores of interviews conducted by the Guardian in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Palestine reveal that Ms Afee's experiences, and the views of the students, find echoes elsewhere.
They show how 9/11 forced many who had thought little about their faith and identity to do so; that anti-U.S. and anti-Western sentiment remains high; that support for the al-Qaeda has declined substantially, despite rising during the Iraq invasion; and that conspiracy theories are prevalent, with millions believing that the U.S. government, the C.I.A. or the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, were responsible. They also show that the desire for democracy, often with a deep religious identity, is widespread.
Several of the themes that emerge anecdotally from our interviews are supported by polling. In 2002, the Pew Research Centre started surveying public opinion in the Islamic world for its Global Attitudes project.
“We've seen a decline of support for terrorism, America's image in decline during the Bush years, a lot of support for democracy in general and certainly we see high levels of religiosity,” said Richard Wike, the project's associate director. But he added that the Muslim world is far from monolithic and warned against making sweeping conclusions.
Opinions have evolved over the decade and any snapshot can be misleading. So, whereas the image of the U.S. reached a low during the invasion of Iraq, it has since recovered in some areas. Pew reveals that in Indonesia in 2000, 75 per cent of people saw the U.S. positively; six years later, approval levels fell to 30 per cent. More recently, helped by President Barack Obama's own links with the country, they have climbed back to 54 per cent. Elsewhere, though many still remember their anguish over the scenes in New York City and Washington DC and prefer Mr. Obama to his predecessor, feelings towards the U.S. remain negative. In Pakistan and Turkey in 2000, favourable sentiment towards the U.S. was 23 per cent and 52 per cent; but is now 11 per cent and 10 per cent.
Before 9/11, Zia Akhtar, 43, a Pakistani mechanic, held a positive view of the U.S. “But now I'm afraid they could attack us at any time,” he said. Like many others, Mr. Akhtar makes a distinction between government and people. “I'm not against the people of the U.S., I'm against their government,” he said.
Amira Salah-Ahmed, 28, an Egyptian journalist, said the difference “between the American people and the U.S. government ... has gotten muddled. At a younger, more naive age I definitely had a more idealistic view of the U.S. and its role in promoting peace and democracy. Now I think US foreign policy is the bane of our existence,” she said.
Resa Aprienengseh, 25, a teacher from West Sumatra, Indonesia, claimed that when friends had tried to go to America they had been “turned away because their names sounded Islamic”. She added: “People in France tried to knock me down because of my headscarf.” There were some exceptions. Iyad Krunz, 38, an NGO worker in Gaza, remembers watching the attacks on TV in his office. “My colleagues started to scream [for me] to watch the TV. I had mixed feelings, shocked disbelief mainly,” he said. “I was shocked by the killing of ordinary people but I was more shocked by the U.S. reaction, the destruction in Afghanistan and Iraq.” New security arrangements meant it took three months for Mr. Krunz to get a visa to visit his brother in the U.S., instead of the usual three weeks, but his feelings about the country have not been changed. “I visited the U.S. and I loved the people and the freedom. I'd like to go back.”
One key factor in the rejection of militant extremism from Morocco to Malaysia appears to be the proximity of violence. In country after country, support for Osama bin Laden, for al-Qaeda's methods or for violence against civilians, relatively high when the attacks occurred, declined steeply when militants struck at home.
“When it was a long way away it seemed somehow unreal. But when it was on the streets of my own town then that was very different,” said Mohammed al'Najdi, 31, a vegetable seller in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital. “I knew the brother of a policeman who was killed. That really shook me up.” One of the most dramatic shifts of opinion happened in Jordan: before the hotel bombings in Amman, in November 2005, support for suicide bombing (outside Israel-Palestine) stood at 57 per cent, according to Pew; that declined to 12 per cent by 2009. Support for terror attacks also fell steeply in Indonesia, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt.
Rejection of extremism has not necessarily translated into more support for Western-style secularism. Large majorities in many Muslim-majority countries — including Egypt and other nations in which regimes have been recently overthrown — still want political systems to include significant religious elements. Religion is also gaining prominence in people's lives and identities. Some observers and researchers even talk of a new wave of conservatism emerging from the polarisation of recent years.
Ali, 29, the manager of a computer shop in a high-end, multi-floor electronics bazaar in Kabul, was a refugee in Peshawar, Pakistan, in September 2001. He was too young to understand the significance of the event, he said, but he was pleased with U.S. invasion and the ousting of the Taliban. “It's been 10 years that we've lived in Afghanistan. My life is improved, I have a better job than I would have had in Pakistan, but look at the national perspective ... the future is dark,” Mr. Ali told the Guardian.
He said people still think of the Taliban with fear and hatred — “They are only supported in rural areas, and even there it is because people are ignorant” — but there are signs of a new conservatism. “In Kabul I see a lot of young men growing their beards. It is not like they are supporting the Taliban; they have become more religious just for Islam. There is no alternative for them — government is failing them, foreigners are failing them, so there is nothing left except for Islam.” Mr. Ali said that even “the cool kids in designer clothes, they use iPods, but they are still very religiously minded”.
Dr. Sajid Abbasi, 35, a nephrologist in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, told the Guardian: “Religion is more important and vital than before. There are people trying to promote the idea that Islam is a terrorist religion. We need more commitment and attachment to the religion so we can stand against those people.”
For Saadine Lamzoua, 25, a Moroccan journalist in Rabat who watched 9/11 unfold on al-Jazeera, religion has become more important. “It gives me a sense of belonging to a very large community and brotherhood with people from different countries and races with whom I share the same faith,” he said.
As ever, the situation is complex. Zia Akhtar, the Pakistani mechanic, said for him, “Islam remains the same”. He did not fast during the holy month of Ramadan and does not regularly attend a mosque: “Sometimes I go, sometimes I don't.” He shrugs.
On the perpetrators
Then there are the conspiracy theories. These are not limited to the Islamic world but, Pew's Mr. Wikes said, year by year they are becoming increasingly prevalent among Muslim communities.
Among the students gathered by the Guardian at Jamia Millia university, more than half did not accept the “official version”. And the conspiracy theories span social strata: in Saudi Arabia, a wealthy female university lecturer and a 44-year-old male labourer both said it was “too early to be sure” who was responsible for 9/11. Neither wanted to be named. “It can't have been Arabs. You need a powerful organisation to do that,” the lecturer said. A Moroccan businessman, Nourdean, 57, and Selma Batenang, 47, a drinks seller in Jakarta, described the al-Qaeda as “puppets”.
And Ms Aprienengseh, the Sumatran teacher, said the fault lay with “someone else trying to make war, create problems between Christianity and Islam”.
On the future
Some reveal a guarded optimism for the future, in part due to the Arab Spring. For the journalist Ms Salah-Ahmed, as for most Egyptians, the events of 9/11 are made more distant by this year's upheavals. “A few months ago I could have listed the major events of the past decade — but then the revolution came along and overshadowed everything that's happened since 2000.” For most, the focus is on getting through life. Maryam Zaweej, 28, a Pakistani aid worker, is worried about the economy. “We have gone down financially, and our politicians are corrupt. Hopefully in the next election better people will be elected, and foreigners will invest again.”
For Mr. Akhtar, the Pakistani mechanic, “if business is good, then everything is good”. Asked what major events she remembered from the decade, Ms Aprienengseh listed 9/11 but also the 2004 tsunami and her boyfriend's death a year later. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011
(Jason Burke in Delhi and Riyadh, Declan Walsh in Islamabad, Harriet Sherwood in Gaza, Jack Shenker in Cairo, Katia Hodal in Jakarta, Nora Fakim in Rabat and Giles Tremlett in Madrid.)