Security

‘AN EVIL INFLUENCE'

Britain’s Muslims are under pressure to root out extremists and ‘Britainify/ writes ROBERT MASON LEE

July 25 2005
Security

‘AN EVIL INFLUENCE'

Britain’s Muslims are under pressure to root out extremists and ‘Britainify/ writes ROBERT MASON LEE

July 25 2005

‘AN EVIL INFLUENCE'

Security

Britain’s Muslims are under pressure to root out extremists and ‘Britainify/ writes ROBERT MASON LEE

IN THE WAKE of the July 7 London explosions, there came a secondary blast of horrifying statistics. Number of body bits recovered from the Piccadilly line wreckage near King’s Cross: 1,000. Number of closed-circuit television tapes being reviewed by police: 5,000. Most worrisome of all—number of British or British-based Muslims who have attended al-Qaeda terrorist training camps, according to recently retired Metropolitan Police Service commissioner Lord Stevens: 3,000.

It is an astonishing figure by any measure, but even more stunning when set beside the

number of Muslims in the U.K. Stevens’s numbers mean that nearly one in every 530 Muslims in Britain has had terrorist training. And other reports say five times that number again, or about one per cent of the British Muslim population of 1.6 million, might sympathize with Islamic terrorist groups. Set this beside the strained resources of the state: Sir Ian Blair, Stevens’s replacement as commissioner of the Met, says a mere 250 “active operatives” are being kept under surveillance across Britain.

Still, it is worth pointing out that even the direst of estimates leave 99 per cent of British Muslims counted as decent and law-abiding. Amid the soul-searching and finger-pointing that followed the news that Britain has gained the distinction of being the first country in the West to fall victim to homegrown suicide bombers, it soon became clear that there is no single or simple explanation as to the reason why. As the British people, and the Muslim community, grappled with how to prevent homegrown terror from spreading, proposals ranged from tougher laws against extremists to demands that Muslim leaders be more clearly outspoken in their condemnation of the attacks.

Neither these, nor any other measures, seemed likely overnight to root out the poison that sent four men—three from Leeds and of Pakistani descent, the fourth a Jamaican-born Muslim who lived in a London suburb—on their deadly mission. “Just as it has taken a generation for these problems to develop, so it would take a generation for them to be solved,” said Sadiq Khan, Labour MP for the London riding of Tooting. Writing in the conservative weekly The Spectator, where he is editor, Conservative

MP Boris Johnson reached the same conclusion: “This is a cultural calamity that will take decades to correct.”

Few were willing to wait that long, and there were anxious calls for a clear and immediate response from within the Muslim community. Prince Charles called on “every true Muslim” to root out extremists in their midst, saying an “evil influence” had been brought to bear on the bombers. “Some may think this cause is Islam,” he said. “It is anything but.” Prime Minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, convened crisis cabinet meetings to toughen antiterrorist legislation, make it easier to deport extremists, and to assist mainstream British Muslims in confronting the “perverted and poisonous” doctrines of Islamic extremism.

It was a sharp turnaround for Blair as, rightly or wrongly, Britain has long been viewed as a haven for Islamic extremists. The government has no idea how many illegal aliens are resident in the country (its own estimates reach as high as 570,000). It has also failed to respond harshly to extremist Muslim teachings, instead combining appeasement with political correctness. It took ages to silence one of London’s most radical Muslim clerics, Abu Hamza al-Masri, or “Hamza the Hook,” as he is popularly known, and then only because of an extradition warrant issued by the U.S. government. (Blinded in one eye, Hamza also lost a hand apparently fighting with the mujahedeen warriors in Afghanistan, and wields a menacing-looking metal hook in its place.)

All that may now change. Blair recently

put a Racial and Religious Hatred Bill on the legislative agenda, in a move widely regarded as an attempt to protect the Muslim community from discrimination. But Downing Street was quick to point out last week that the act would also counter Muslims who sought to incite hatred against other

Britain’s Muslims are under pressure to root out extremists and ‘Britainify/ writes ROBERT MASON LEE

faiths. And the cabinet is considering measures that could prevent Islamic extremists barred by the U.S. and other countries from entering Britain. The government was also said to be weighing whether to opt out of European human rights legislation that currently prevents it from deporting

extremists back to their own countries.

However, it is unlikely that the terrorists’ ideology will be defeated by legislative action alone, and efforts will be needed to understand the social conditions that allow it to flourish. For one thing, despite the insistence of people like Prince Charles

and London Mayor Ken Livingstone that Britain is a multicultural society, this is only true in the large metropolitan areas—and of these, only London has escaped the creation of large-scale ethnic ghettos.

I lived part-time for five years in Richmond, a small and idyllic Yorkshire town. It was “James Herriot country”—flower boxes on stone cottages, cobblestone streets, vicars on bicycles. Charming—but in all my time there, I never once saw a member of an ethnic minority. And even I was a curiosity, the only non-British person in the town. It is the same in every village in the region, just as it is the same in so many small towns and villages from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. Yet Richmond is less than an hour’s drive from Leeds and Bradford, which house heavy concentrations of Muslims. In the vast expanses of country between the cities, known as “Middle England” or “Little Britain,” one is more likely to encounter a marmoset than a Muslim.

Within urban areas, meanwhile, it is possible for Muslims—and other members of large immigrant communities—to spend their entire lives without interacting with mainstream Britons. Large-scale immigration from Britain’s former colonies began after the Second World War, and about half of British Muslims originated from Pakistan. But multiculturalism was a word seldom heard prior to Blair’s Labour election victory in 1997. Although many Muslims today are secondor even third-generation British, and many have achieved positions of prominence in politics, business, and the media, there remains a sense among some of isolation from the mainstream, which can help explain the mentality of the suicide bombers.

“There are young people from all backgrounds and communities who are looking for reasons to do something wrong because they have nothing else to do,” says Councillor Mohammed Iqbal from Leeds, whose ward includes a house used by one of the suicide bombers. “This is one of the most deprived areas of the country—there are

Security | >

many problems with jobs, education, and so on.” One south Leeds youth worker told the BBC that the reasons for alienation were more complex still, mentioning a growing “victim culture” among some Muslim men linking them to the suffering of Palestinians, Kashmiris, Chechens and Iraqis. “These kids, whoever they are, want to create their own identities,” he said. “The majority of the lads just want to be British, but ever since 9/11 they’ve been pushed back time and again into a Muslim identity.” Some wondered how to deal with the issue of young people educated in the British school system turning to radicalism. “Why aren’t our schools giving positive role models or teaching these people about the history of Islamic mathematicians and artists?” asked Khan. “Why are their role models mujahedeen in Afghanistan? The loss of identity does not happen when you are 16, but over a period of years.” But another Muslim Labour MP, Khalid Mahmood, who has battled with extremists over the years, said much of the blame must rest with radical mosques and madrasas (Islamic schools), where teachings are “unregulated” and often inflammatory. And Spectator editor Johnson joined a chorus of calls for the “Muslim Council of Britain, and all the preachers in all the mosques, extremist or moderate, to acculturate themselves more closely to what we think of as British values. That might be a first step toward what could be called the re-Britainification of Britain.” There were few optimistic voices addressing the larger and longer-term challenge of ensuring that Britain can become truly multicultural while remaining British in its core beliefs. But one who did was Muslim Labour MP Shahid Malik, whose Dewsbury constituency contains two of the properties raided by police. “Condemning alone is probably insufficient,” he said. “We need to go beyond that. We also need to confront.” He told MPs that the present situation is “the most profound challenge yet faced by the British Muslim community. Rather than divide us, these evil voices will serve to unite the British people in our resolve to deal with them.” Calling the current situation “a defining moment for this country,” Malik asked, “do you share my confidence that the Muslim and wider community will play its role and is equal to the challenge? I can assure you that my constituency of Dewsbury will not be found to be wanting.” CT1