Most people are decent

Gayle Wade comments on the current atmosphere of 'Islamo-phobia' that exists in the West.

THE main effect of the so-called War on Terror seems to have been to raise the level of fear and anxiety in Britain and America, and particularly to make people afraid of their brown-skinned neighbours.

A Guardian/ICM poll a couple of weeks ago showed that only one in five people believed the Government was telling the truth about the terror threat, yet we seem quick believe the worst about anyone who looks vaguely Middle Eastern or wears a beard.

Two Asian students had to be removed from a flight from Spain back to Manchester after some passengers refused to travel with them on board after hearing them conversing in 'Arabic'.

Twelve passengers, all Indian nationals, were ejected from a US Airlines flight to Mumbai and arrested by Dutch police after using mobile phones and laptops on the plane in a way that 'average passengers wouldn't do'.

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If they had been white Europeans, none of these people would have been given a second look.

They were suspected purely because of their appearance.

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The security services say that there was a specific, well-planned plot to blow up airliners in mid Atlantic, which took nearly a year to put together.

Home Secretary John Reid claimed that all the main suspects had been arrested in the first swoop, so it is hard to see the rationale for continuing top level security measures designed to foil an imminent attack.

Air passengers face long-term restrictions on hand luggage because the security services have now been alerted to the potential of liquid explosives.

Although a professional chemist wrote to the Guardian to say that he saw no great problems in preparing TATP (Triacetone Triperoxide, the explosive which can be made from liquid ingredients, and which security forces believe might be smuggled onto an aeroplane in a drinks bottle) in an aircraft toilet - provided he was allowed to occupy the toilet continuously for two or more return flights across the Atlantic.

In this climate of heightened - not to say hysterical - suspicion, Ruth Kelly called for a debate on multiculturalism which 'must not be censored by political correctness. . . . There are white Britons who do not feel comfortable with change [and] develop a resentment, a sense of grievance.'

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the 'debate' will be focussed on reassuring white Britons that any potential threat from their black counterparts or from foreign immigrants will be neutralised by a vigilant government.

There is a danger that multiculturalism could be replaced by some kind of cultural apartheid in the name of 'security', when in fact increasing the alienation and resentment of minority groups raises the very spectre of a backlash that it is trying to suppress.

The majority of people, whatever their ethnic background, are decent and humane with an interest in living together peaceably.

If we forget that, there is very little hope of damping down the embers of violence.

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