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07 - 13 July , 2012

London Olympics: Hopes And Fears
London Olympics: Hopes And Fears
With the London Olympics due to start in the last week of July, the country is all taken up by Olympic fever. But for many, it is more a headache than a fever and many Londoners are not so much looking forward to the Games as dreading them.
The first concern that everyone has is about the weather which, unfortunately, no one can do anything about. Officially, parts of the southeastern Britain are in drought and all that one can say is that this has got to be the wettest drought in history. Towards the end of June there was just one day when the thermometer went up to a 'sizzling' 26C but for most of the time it has been pushed to hit the twenties.
The other major concern is about London's creaking transport system, made to creek even more pathetically due to a threat by bus drivers to go on strike because they have not been allowed overtime payments for the period of the Games. The mayor says he has no funds to fulfill the demands of bus drivers. The huge expected influx of people for the Games has already meant that tourist accommodation in central London is almost impossible to find for love or money and what little is available is going fast – at cutthroat prices.
The threat of congestion in central London is so great that residents in the suburbs of the city have been advised not to travel into London during the Games unless absolutely necessary and even then not to bring in their cars if they can possibly help it. Some people who work in London but commute from towns and villages outside the capital have been advised by their employers to take leave during the Games fearing that many employees will be very late for work because of the pressure on public transport and therefore it is better to let their employees take the period off.
There are also, of course, deep concerns about security and the security agencies are tightening arrangements to make sure that all goes well. That, as one anticipates, has a particularly worrying footnote for the many Muslims who live in and around London, for tighter security inevitably means a greater focus on Muslims, more Muslims being stopped and searched, houses raided, etc. Police will have emergency powers during this period and the apprehension is that it is the Muslim community that London Olympics: Hopes And Fearswill have to bear the main burden of the use and abuse of these powers. In fact, so serious is this concern that the Government's independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation is seeking to ensure that Muslims are not wrongfully arrested during this period. One of the things that have been worrying him is the deployment of anti aircraft missiles in residential areas of east London, close to where the Games are being staged, an area which has a fairly large Muslim presence. And fans coming in for the Games from south Asian, Arab or Muslim African nations should be prepared for much more searching scrutiny by immigration officials than whites, notwithstanding all the good talk about the equality of all human beings.
To an extent, it may be said that Muslims do not help their own cause. Indeed, if there was a world championship for shooting oneself in the foot, we would have won it hands down. Take the recent case of two British Muslims from a mosque near London's Heathrow airport who have been killed fighting beside militants in Yemen. This is said to be the same mosque as the one frequented by Adil Hanif, Britain's first suicide bomber, who killed himself in a 2003 Tel Aviv bar attack. The news of the two deaths came barely a day after the director general of MI5, Jonathan Evans, said that Yemen had become a training ground for British would be jihadists.
Such examples do not do the Muslim community any favours. But it does not stop here. The father of one of the boys killed, who is said to have migrated to Britain from Pakistan 40 years ago, is reported to have praised his son as a 'shaheed' and added that his son's example had inspired the entire family to take their religion more seriously. The imam of the mosque near Heathrow, which this young man went to, was reported in the press as saying that although he did not agree with terrorism, he would not disagree with any member of his congregation who wished to proceed to the Dar ul Hadith madressah in Yemen these boys had gone to.
Stories like these naturally spike up the police and other security agencies and more importantly, give their actions against Muslims a great deal of public support and backing even if these actions are excessive.
But lest all of this has sounded too pessimistic a note of the impact the London Olympics may have on Muslims, it has to be said notwithstanding everything, Muslims, like everyone else, are preparing for a festival of sport in which, hopefully, the main focus will remain where it should – on the sport. They are looking towards the very few Muslim British athletes that may take part in the Games to counter any of the negative vibes that may come up on security grounds. They have had one such positive experience in the form of Amir Khan, the boxer, whose Olympic silver medal did so much to repair the Muslim image.
An athlete from whom much is being expected in these games is Mo Farah, a long distance (5000 and 10,000 metres) runner. Born in Somalia, Mo moved to Britain at the age of eight, unable to speak a word of English. His PE teacher at school, however, noticed the young lad's very obvious athletic talents and encouraged him to train at an athletic club. He went to the Beijing Olympics but could not make it to the finals in his events. Undeterred, he carried on and in 2010 won both the 5000 and 10,000 metres events in the European Athletics Championships. In the following year, 2011, he won gold in the 5000 metres at the World Athletic Championships. Many hopes are pinned on him from all quarters, though for British Muslims his success would have a very special connotation.

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