Did the events of September 11 mark a turning point in history? STEPHEN LEWIS talks to York University politics professor Haleh Afshar about the legacy of 9/11

IT WAS the day the world changed for ever, we were told. September 11, 2001 marked a turning point in history, when old certainties were forever abandoned and the world became a new, hostile, unpredictable and frightening place.

Welcome to the 21st century.

Except that, by and large, it didn't happen. Sure, the world was plunged into a short-lived yet vicious and bloody war against the Taliban. Tension in the middle east was heightened, there was a general backlash against ordinary Muslims everywhere and George W Bush has been able to use the excuse of carrying out a war on terrorism to try to justify his determination to finish his daddy's quarrel with Saddam.

But fundamentally, says Haleh Afshar, the Iranian-born professor of politics at York University, the world hasn't changed at all.

"It is getting harder to get on an aeroplane," she admits. "But I don't think really that the world is any different than it was a year ago. Terrorism did not start on September 11, and it won't stop there."

We should not take too much comfort from that. All she is saying is that while the world is probably no more dangerous a place today than it was a year ago, it is no less dangerous either.

Perhaps what September 11 really succeeded in doing was making us aware of just how dangerous a world it was that we already lived in.

There were both winners and losers from the tragedy that was 9/11, Prof Afshar says. The winner was the United States arms industry, which has grown fat on the profits of fear.

The main losers - apart, of course, from the victims who lost their lives, and the families who were left behind to grieve - have been ordinary Muslims.

In the year since the tragedy, Muslims all over the world have become the objects of distrust, fear and suspicion. One Muslim country - Afghanistan - has already endured a dreadful war. Now another, Iraq, finds itself on the brink.

As ever in such wars, it is the ordinary people who suffer most.

Yet gratifyingly, says Prof Afshar, the backlash against ordinary Muslims in this country and the United States has not been anything like as bad as it might have been.

Here, the British National Party has been trying to whip up hate and prejudice, and a small minority of people view Muslims generally with fear and distrust. But they are the kind of people who view simply living in the 21st century with fear and distrust, the professor says.

As a nation, we seem by and large to have risen above the temptation to view every Muslim as an enemy.

Surprisingly, given the aggressive stance of the US government, that also seems to have been the case as far as ordinary people in the United States are concerned.

A new report by the US Institute of Communitarian Policy Studies reveals that since September 11 last year, ordinary US citizens have become more spiritual, more committed to the family and have developed more of a sense of community responsibility.

But they have also remained tolerant of people who are different - including Muslim Americans.

That, however, is in stark contrast to the US Government.

More than anything, Prof Afshar says, the Bush policy appears at the moment to be simply confused: one moment gung-ho and on the brink of launching an all-out war against Saddam, the next pulling back.

All we can do is hope, she says, that sanity will prevail, and that world opinion - and hopefully a few wise words in Bush's ear from our own Tony Blair - will cause him to hold back from another war.

Ultimately there is only one way to bring an end to terrorism, she says, and it is not by going to war. It is by tackling the injustices that are at the root of terrorism.

As an Iranian - a country that endured its own long war against Saddam - she admits she has no love for the Iraqi dictator.

It is vital that UN weapons inspectors should be allowed in to the country, she agrees. But to expect Saddam to agree to that when the Israeli government will not allow UN inspectors into Jenin, the Palestinian camp flattened by Israeli troops, is unreasonable, she points out.

If international law is to have any force, there cannot be one law for certain privileged nations - the Israelis and Saudis - and another law for others such as Iraq.

Prof Afshar says the recent criticism levelled at developed nations such as the US and UK by Nelson Mandela and others at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg revealed just how deep the feelings of unfairness go among the poorer nations of the world.

As long as that continues, she warns, there will be no true peace in the world, just as there are no real human rights.

And terrorism will continue to flourish.