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The London Blasts


The London Blasts: Media Review

DAY NINE: 16 July 2005

Back to Part 2

Part 3 ISLAM




Another day, another madrassa. Peter Foster visits the Markaz-e-Dawa madrassa, where Shehzad Tanweer, the Aldgate bomber, is said to have stayed earlier this year, 20 miles north of Lahore:


It is run by Dawa-ul-Arshad, the political front for the banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba which was set up in 1987 to prosecute a holy war against Indian forces in Kashmir.

After prayers, over a glass of "Mecca" brand cola, Prof Zafar Iqbal, the madrassa's director of education, did not hesitate to condemn the London bombings. "This was not the work of a true mujahideen who can legitimately kill only those who are killing Muslims - as in Kashmir or Iraq.

These victims in London were innocent and pure. It was wrong. We do not teach any terrorism in this place. Only the holy Koran and other kinds of education, including English and computers. Tell the world there are no terrorists here."


It appears that Shehzad Tanweer visited for 'at least four or five days', rather than actually studying at the Islamic school.




Paul Vallely in the Independent tries to put a purely cultural and psychological interpretation on the causes of the London bombing (page 9 or paid-for access here):


"What turns lads from Leeds into suicide bombers?" The answers given have been partial and unsatisfactory, as have been the responses about what should be done now... Alienation is a cultural rather than an economic business.'


Vallely cites examples of real or perceived Islamophobia, including protests against halal slaughter, and against the proposed incitement to religious hatred law. 'Whatever the individual rights or wrongs of all that, cumulatively it constitutes what Muslims see as a culture of disdain for them and their faith.'


Four young men blew up fifty people because they felt themselves and their faith 'disdained'?


Despite this bizarre framework, there are a few glimpses at reality:


'The Koranic term the ummah refers to a community of faith, feeling, brotherhood and destiny... That is why we hear Muslims from Leeds insisting, in broad Yorkshire accents, "I'm as British as you are." And then, in the next breath, they talk about "Our brothers in Iraq," or Afghanistan, Palestine, Chechnya - and Kashmir, an issue that is generally off the Western radar but looms large among British Muslims. The ummah translates the feeling of being persecuted into a transnational phenomenon.'


The only (!) Muslim commentator quoted in the piece injects a note of reality, which is smothered in Vallely's 'cultural alienation' framework:


'Such dubious religion would not have much purchase were it not for the sense of disenfranchisement which so many young British Muslims feel. As one Islamic commentator, Salma Yacoob, put it yesterday "Shoddy theology does not exist without a shoddy foreign policy". Not to mention a culture of social alienation.'


The final glimpse at some of the realities of the situation comes in the penultimate paragraph. Vallely writes that moderate Muslims must be made to feel more confident and accepted:


'That means they must be attended to when they talk of the injustices they perceive. They must not be dismissed or shouted down. For if they are not taken seriously, a gap will open up between the leaders and those they represent. And that increases the likelihood of dangerous routes being adopted by the disillusioned.'


Muslims (the moderate ones only) must not be dismissed or shouted down. Instead they must be patronized and listened to - 'seriously' - by non-Muslims... for entirely self-interested reasons.


Muslims must not be dismissed, but articles can be written urging people to 'attend to' what they are saying - without actually quoting what Muslims are saying. With one exception, in which a Muslim woman's analysis is effectively contradicted by the framework within which it is placed.


This comes from the liberal end of the spectrum of the non-Muslim response to the London atrocities.


Elsewhere in the Independent (page 31), Rajnaara C Akhtar, acting chair of the Assembly for the Protection of Hijab, writes,


'Most Muslims are having to say, don't tell me what I think, ask me and I will tell you.'


(Emphasis in original, on paper but not online)




Despite the despicable commentary in the Telegraph (see below), it has some of the best reporting of the Muslim community today:


On the streets of Beeston In Leeds, Jamil Ali, 17, said: "If they kill one in Afghanistan you feel like you want to kill 100. You don't do it because you don't want to leave your family, but it is like your brothers and sisters dying. That is what people need to understand."

A 23-year-old man, who gave his name as Asif, said the elders in the community were happy to turn a blind eye to atrocities elsewhere in the world, while young men were not.

He said: "A lot of them came over when they were young and are just happy to keep their heads down. We were born in Britain and raised in a different political climate. We know what's been going on in Bosnia, in Afghanistan and as Muslims it hurts us."


An accompanying article quotes another young Muslim:


'Myfit Lleshi, 23, who fled Albania eight years ago after losing his family, said he condemned suicide bombers but understood why they did it after watching television images of dead civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq.'

' "I think there will be 100 more suicide bombings in this country," he warned. "In Islam there is no nationality. I am first a Muslim.'

' "Muslims are one body. If one part of the body hurts the whole body suffers." '


The Telegraph also put the older generation's point of view:


'Some blame the failure of the mosques for not being more vigilant about the radical clerics preaching on the pavements or recruiting in the universities.'

'Others insist Britain's foreign entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan are to blame.'


In the Guardian, the clash of the generations was summed up in these two views from Qurban Hussain, deputy leader of the borough council in Luton, and an eighteen-year-old Muslim in Leeds.


Mr Hussain said: 'This is another tragedy: the generation gap between young and old in the ethnic minorities is much greater than in the indigenous population. Our elder generation were law-abiding and hardworking. Where they failed was they put all their God-given hours into work and didn't spend time with their children. When these people are brainwashed, they are brainwashed to an extent that they don't talk to their parents.'


In Leeds, Hashim Talbot, saw the problem in a totally different light: he 'has an acute sense of the difference between old and young Muslims: elders are theologically aware but politically passive; younger people are theologically dumb but politically active.'

"Young people like myself are more politically aware. It's not only Iraq. A lot of people have sympathy for the Palestinians, who we see as brothers.'

'But young Muslims are not as educated in their religion so they go for radical ideas because with these they can see change happen quickly. Moderate Muslims are too slow for young people. Any young person is vulnerable to any form of extremism. You have to open the doors a bit. Lack of information breeds misinformation. The less we are told, the less we feel this is our country.'


With the proposed new law on 'indirect incitement to violence', which goes some way to criminalizing the speech of radical young Muslims, will they feel more or less that this is their country?




Incidentally, the intellectual backlash against the bombings is taking various forms, including a substantial attack on what is called 'multiculturalism'. Julie Burchill contributes one attack in The Times:


'We the host community have accepted multiculturalism; the issue now is whether hardline - and I stress hardline - Muslims can do the same. To my eyes at least, "live and let live" seems to be a concept they have a problem with; until they can grasp it, as the Sikhs and Hindus have (who have at least as strong and rich a culture, but feel no need to burn books, form parliaments, set up separatist schools and kill their fellow Britons to demonstrate this), the jury is still out on whether hardline Muslims can truly live happily in non-Muslim countries.'


The jury may also be out on whether hardline (and we stress hardline) Christians can truly live happily in secular countries, given their inclination (in this country, at least) to try to ban television shows, secure seats in the upper house of Parliament exclusively for their own religion, to set up separatist schools, and to kill their fellow Britons (sometimes preceding the killing with shouts of 'Taliban') in order to demonstrate the strength and richness of their culture. This is of course to leave aside their foreign adventures.


Kenan Malik thinks that 'radical Islam' has found a hearing recently 'partly because the idea that we should aspire to a common identity and a set of values has been eroded in the name of multiculturalism... Multiculturalism as a political ideology has helped create a tribal Britain with no political or moral centre.... there no longer seems much that is compelling about being British.... Britishness has come to be defined simply as a toleration of difference. The politics of ideology has given way to the politics of identity, creating a more fragmented Britain, and one where many groups assert their identity through a sense of victimhood and grievance.'


This is quite extraordinary, just weeks after Live 8, the culmination of the Make Poverty History campaign, and the anti-G8 protests, which, for all their faults demonstrated some kind of national unity and a 'political and moral centre' to British society.


Let us turn to the Young Muslims and Extremism report drawn up by the Home Office and the Foreign Office last year, precisely to inquire into why what Malik calls "radical Islam" has found a hearing recently. We find that the primary reason is British foreign policy, particularly the invasion of Iraq and the "war on terror". The only reference to multiculturalism comes here: 'Perceived Islamophobia (particularly post-9/11) in society and the media may cause some British Muslims including young Muslims to feel isolated and alienated and in a few cases to reject democratic and multi-cultural values.'


In other words, it is the prejudice and disrespect that young Muslims encounter that makes them feel isolated and alienated. Multiculturalism (in the sense Malik is using the term) means mutual respect between cultural and religious traditions. The Government's own analysis is that it is because we have too little 'multiculturalism' that we are getting more 'extremism', not because we have too much.


Of course, this mutual respect must be within the framework of universal human rights and agreed laws. But sometimes this framework is interpreted in order to attack 'Islam' (as though the many streams of Islam were one monolithic entity).


Krishna Guha writes in the FT, 'Most liberal values are process values: people of faith can look to change society through politics. Yet some things are sacrosanct, including equal rights for women. Those who cannot accept this should exercise their right to exit western society.'


This is, in the context, a dig at Muslims, and a call for them to exile themselves (with a scarcely veiled threat behind it).


If implemented, this authoritarian expulsion policy is going to have unfortunate consequences for Catholics and Anglicans who refuse to accept that women have equal rights to serve at all levels of their churches; for those women and men who refuse to accept that women who are mothers have equal rights to engage in life-threatening occupations or leisure pursuits as men who are fathers; and many others.


Western society is going to be pretty small.


But that could help with greenhouse gas emissions.




In a new twist, Kenan Malik in The Times blames Muslim leaders for creating the conditions in which the bombers developed their thinking:


'many Muslim leaders have nurtured an exaggerated sense of victimhood for their own political purposes. The result has been to stoke up anger and resentment, creating a siege mentality that makes Muslim communities more inward looking and more open to religious extremism - and that has helped to transform a small number of young men into savage terrorists.' (page 25)


In this train, the Telegraph's former editor Charles Moore has followed his first scandalous attack on Islam with a new calumny. He focuses on the Leeds Grand Mosque, which translates its sermons into English. Moore complains that while the leaders of the Mosque have readily joined in the condemnation of the London attacks, their Friday sermons are filled with 'a constant streak of paranoia', of 'threats and conspiracies which are devised against Islam'.


His only evidence is a sermon on 'youth'. Moore writes: that the sermon, addressed to 'young men like the three down the road who planted the bombs, tells the teenagers at which it aims how marvellous were the military conquests carried out by the young followers of the Prophet and how today "Your Islam, your religion, is being targeted".'


Moore thunders: 'No, sermons like this do not say that the hearers should go out and kill people, and no doubt the preachers do not believe that they should, but they do not say that they should not kill, and they stoke up anger. How much can you incite anger, and then throw up your hands in horror when young men take their rage to a bloody conclusion?'


When we turn to the sermon itself, we find that, there is indeed a reference to the military success of the young followers of the Prophet. It is used to exhort young Muslims to follow their example in these respects:


1st: They adhered to the religion, in belief and thought, saying and action, implementing and applying.

2nd: They carried the message of Islam to the world with great effort and sacrifice, and the strength of their patience, such that Allah says: “Among the believers are men who have been true to their covenant with Allah. Some of them have died, and some still wait, but their determination never changed in the least.” (33:23)


The central message of the sermon follows:


Oh youth, know that if you are not preoccupied with Truth then you are preoccupied with falsehood. This is a maxim in the science of education. If you do not fill your time with seeking knowledge or effort or work, for the sake of a livelihood, then you allow your time to be filled with that which has no benefit, and you will pull yourself and lead yourself with passions and whims, following Shaitan in disobedience to Allah.


Study and work hard. That's Moore's 'incitement to anger'.


In fact, education is the main theme of the whole sermon. In an earlier section, the sermon addresses parents:


'everything that our youth face, our sons and daughters, everything that they see and witness, everything that they hear each day, contradicts and opposes their belief, their religion, and the manners and morals of Islam... How do we confront all of this? How do we protect our youth?'

'... The secret is found in one word: education.'


Moore's libel on the Mosque deserves scathing correction. The Telegraph letters page awaits.



JNV welcomes feedback.

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This page last updated 17 July 2005






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