Muslims in Britain blame attacks on British government and praise Al Qaeda
July 10, 2005
Islamic radicals find British haven
By Ken Dilanian
LONDON — In Saleem Ali's world, it's all quite simple: The Jews control the global economy. The Americans are murderous thugs. And the British government was behind Thursday's attacks here.
Prime Minister Tony Blair ordered it, Ali said in an interview, for the same reason President Bush orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, carnage: "To cause panic among the public so that people will hate Muslims."
Welcome to Bethnal Green, a heavily Muslim neighborhood just a few subway stops away from the heart of tourist London. Hardly wild-eyed, Ali, 30, a shopkeeper, spoke with measured eloquence. He stood next to his younger brother and four friends, each of whom echoed his sentiments in tones so lighthearted that a reporter repeatedly asked whether they were joking. Not at all, they said as they excoriated the West and praised al-Qaida.
Although leaders in Britain's Muslim community have strongly denounced Thursday's attacks, experts say the spread of radical views among a younger generation of Muslims here has made the United Kingdom a hospitable venue for Islamic jihadists. Anti-terror analysts say it will be no surprise if those who carried out the London attacks turn out to be British subjects.
"I suspect it was homegrown individuals, with outside help," said Scottish-born Ian Cuthbertson, an anti-terrorism expert with the World Policy Forum in New York. "There is a strong jihadist Islamic fundamentalist streak running through Britain's Muslim community. There is also a very, very severe generational split.
"We have Muslims in Parliament and everything else, but that leadership just doesn't have any resonance with young Muslim men. And the fact that they are concentrated in ethnic ghettos means that it becomes a self-reinforcing cycle."
Britain's history of admitting large populations of poor, uneducated Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrants from its former empire — along with a generous asylum policy that has allowed Arab dissidents to claim political shelter — has long made it a haven for Islamic radicals. And while the vast majority of British Muslims are law-abiding, a string of incidents in recent years has put the problem of the country's radical Muslim minority in stark relief.
In 2001, Richard Reid, a British convert to Islam, tried to blow up an American Airlines flight with shoes packed with explosives. In 2003, two British Muslims blew themselves up in a Tel Aviv, Israel, bar, killing three people. British-born "mujahedeen" were found fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan, and last spring, British police foiled a massive bomb plot by Muslims inside Britain, one operation among 700 arrests of terror suspects since Sept. 11.
Then there is Abu Hamza, the cleric who was allowed to preach hatred from his North London mosque for years before he was arrested and charged with supporting terrorism. And Abu Qatada, detained by the government as a threat to national security, then ordered released on civil-liberties grounds.
At Friday prayers, Muslim leaders throughout Britain denounced Thursday's attacks, just as many had long criticized Abu Hamza and other radicals.
"We sent a very strong message in the mosque today," said Mohammed Bashir of the Luton Council of Mosques. "We were all shocked by this incident. I firmly personally believe these terrorists, they don't have any nationality, they don't have any religion."
At issue is whether younger British Muslims agree. In Bethnal Green, where the sidewalks are filled with women in veils and men in skullcaps, Saleem Ali and his friends condemned the attacks, too, but for a different reason: They see them as one more strand in the web of conspiracy against Islam.
"Obviously the media is saying that Muslims did it, but I think it was a conspiracy by Tony Blair and George Bush," said Olle Rahaman, 32, a husband and father who, like the other men, was born in London of Bangladeshi parents. "An excuse to say, 'Let's go kick some ass.' "
Dressed mostly in Western-style clothes and speaking British-accented English, Ali and his friends offered a striking insight into the alienation, disaffection and extremism that experts say is prevalent among the younger generations of the United Kingdom's 1.2 million Muslims.
"No way would I ever say I'm British," Rahaman, a bus driver, said, as Zahir Miraj, 24, nodded.
The United States, they argued, was out for world domination — and is controlled by Jews. They ticked off a list of large British companies they said were owned by Jews, arguing that such control means the deck is stacked in favor of Israel and against Muslims.
They complained that the 47 fatalities in the London attacks were receiving a disproportionate share of attention, compared to the civilians killed on a monthly basis in Iraq and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We've got a few dead people and some with scratches on their faces," Ali said. "Go to Iraq. Thousands of women and children have been killed in Iraq."
Though they said they were not particularly devout Muslims, the men expressed disgust for the drinking and casual sex that is widespread in Britain. They chortled over Blair's promise that terrorists would not disrupt Britain's way of life.
"Our way of life? Monday to Friday working, Friday night at the disco, shagging anything that moves, young women wearing miniskirts so they get raped. Is this what they mean by democracy?" Ali said. "That's got nothing to do with us."
The men said that nearly everyone they know feels the way they do. Opinion polls lend some credence to that: In a March 2004 survey of Muslims by ICM Research, two-thirds said the U.S. and British war on terror was a war on Islam. Forty-five percent said they would send their children to Muslim-only schools if they could. And 13 percent said further attacks on the United States by al-Qaida were justified.
"I think it's a good thing that there are organizations" like al-Qaida, Ali said. "It keeps them awake at night."
Some terrorism scholars argue that British society, especially on the left of the political spectrum, is in denial about its extremism problem. Politicians celebrate Britain's multicultural tableau, they say, without looking too deeply at the segregation and division below the surface.
"Assimilation was never policy, explicitly or otherwise, of the British government," said Michael Radu, who studies terrorism at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. "They accepted as natural what you may call cultural and religious tribalism, and now it's turning against them.
"They confuse tolerance with negligence."