Blaming British Muslims for the recent bomb attempts

Oh British Muslims! « Umar Lee

As I’m sure everyone has noticed by now, there have been three attempts to set off car bombs in public areas in the UK, two in London and one at the airport in Glasgow. The bombs were different to anything previously seen, with smaller amounts of explosives relying on gas and petrol to cause destruction. One of the devices in London was so obvious that it was spotted by a drunk; the attempt on Glasgow was botched, with the vehicle failing to ram the doors at the terminal. This might lead some to suggest that the ideas came from the spate of fires at sites where there were oxyacetylene cylinders, resulting in considerable local disruption as roads and railways are closed (including one of two main London to Kent railways and the six-lane highway past New Malden and Kingston). However, reports today indicate that some of those arrested have been medical doctors, of all things, from Arabic and Kurdish-speaking regions. (More: Muslim Matters, Tariq Nelson, Just Another Angry Black Muslim Woman?, Warrior Princess.)

This indicates that the incident really has little or nothing to do with radicalism in the UK; one of them only qualified (in Baghdad) in 2004 and started work in the UK only last year; similarly, the Muhammad Asha who was arrested along with his wife on the M6 motorway yesterday qualified in 2004 and moved to the UK to specialise in neurology. (This sounds quite odd; I have a friend who went to medical school in the UK, and here there is no specialising until you have done several years in house officer jobs. Specialising comes later, although he may have been doing a junior job in a neurology environment.)

Even so, Umar Lee raises the question of why extremism puts down roots here when it doesn’t in the USA. I have two possible explanations. The first is that the UK, and London especially, started to play host to a number of refugees from the Muslim world in the 1990s, particularly Algeria. Some of these radicalised in the UK (Abu Hamza, for example), but others were already convinced and some may well have had blood on their hands. It’s commonly thought that the government assumed that these people would not hit the UK if it allowed them to organise and preach here unmolested - and they did, notoriously taking over Finsbury Park mosque, which they kept until 2003, by which they had become an embarrassment. They were allowed to preach, even in hired public buildings, because attitudes to free speech were vastly different before 9/11. Even so, I suspect that many of those who listened to these preachers’ tapes - particularly “Shaikh” Faisal’s - didn’t really understand how extreme he was. I suspect that they lapped up his denunciations of the Saudi government, and their clients in the western “salafi” community, thinking he was on their side - but he was not. He is on tape denouncing Breilawis, the majority of Pakistani and Indian Sunni Muslims, as mushriks (idolators).

The other explanation is that the history of British and American Muslims is very different. Most of them come from lands the UK colonised, including a large group of Mirpuris (from Kashmir) who were displaced by a dam the British built there. They often came to work in mills and in very much working-class jobs, some of them opening the famous Asian corner shops. They also faced enormous racism, although the harrassment was probably less than that suffered by Black immigrants from the Carribean, and their sons who rioted in Brixton in 1981 in response to massive police harrassment. A large proportion do live in impoverished, ghettoised Muslim areas, particularly in the north, and are often “serviced” by bad secular schools. Quite unlike the more affluent Muslim American, it is likely that they do not feel they owe the UK anything.

There has been a spate of demands that the British Muslim community somehow “face up” to the extremists within it and do something about it, although I suspect that these calls may die down if more of the suspects turn out not to be British. One of these, in the Observer on Sunday, comes from celebrity ex-jihadist Hassan Butt, formerly a leader of al-Muhajiroun who boasts that he used to raise funds for “extremists”. Of course, this pre-dates the knowledge of where the suspected terrorists came from, but he still apparently assumes that it was British Muslims who did it, and that the community’s so-called failure to tackle extremism contributed to it. (It was suggested on DeenPort - sixth post down - incidentally, that the article might not be entirely his work, given the phrases he uses. The poster there suggested that something as eloquent could not have been written by him in so short a time, but to me the phrases in question look like PR-speak.)

In particular, he brings to his predominantly non-Muslim readers’ attention the fact that terms like Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam appear in classical Islamic scholarly works and suggests that many Muslims still think that they “live in the bipolar world of the Middle Ages”, which we don’t anymore. While I don’t doubt that some Muslims consider the UK to be Dar al-Harb, and there are some with the impression that it is acceptable to rip off banks or the benefit system, if someone is saying that most, or significant numbers of, Muslims do this or think it acceptable than they need to prove it. I have heard Muslim scholars publically saying that it is not. However, Butt goes further:

However, it isn’t enough for Muslims to say that because they feel at home in Britain they can simply ignore those passages of the Koran which instruct on killing unbelievers. By refusing to challenge centuries-old theological arguments, the tensions between Islamic theology and the modern world grow larger every day. It may be difficult to swallow but the reason why Abu Qatada - the Islamic scholar whom Palestinian militants recently called to be released in exchange for the kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston - has a following is because he is extremely learned and his religious rulings are well argued. His opinions, though I now thoroughly disagree with them, have validity within the broad canon of Islam.

Just what proof does he have that Abu Qatada is an Islamic scholar and that his opinions have validity? He is not that well-known in the UK (except in the context of his imprisonment), his following seems to be limited to his circle of Arabs in London, and I’ve never heard of any book he has written (if he has written any) being translated into English. In any case, any knowledgeable Muslim knows about concepts like consensus - that once established, any deviance from it is rejected - and that the opinions of tiny minorities are also rejected, so even if Abu Qatada is an Islamic scholar, it does not mean that the general body of Muslims should follow his opinions if they differ wildly from those of the majority of scholars, which in this case forbids the deliberate massacre of innocent people. Muslims in the UK, as in most of the world, have somehow lived with the verses in the Qur’an that Butt seems to be mentioning (and the hadeeths he doesn’t for some reason) without frequently doing this. The “tensions between Islamic theology and the modern world” are exaggerated and the supposed “handful of scholars from the Middle East [which] has tried to put radicalism back in the box” are simply re-stating the classical mainstream position.

However, Butt’s assertions, repeated in this morning’s Daily Mail, were repeated on this morning’s Vanessa Feltz show, so they are clearly gaining currency among less well-informed non-Muslims. There were the same old calls for Muslims to stand up and condemn it all, which various Muslims have been doing for years; Martin Sullivan has a few links to such articles in the media on Islamophobia Watch, including this from Leo McKinstry in the Daily Spew (not online):

Alex Salmond claimed that ‘individuals, not communities’ were responsible for terrorism, a piece of nonsense given that it is the Muslim community that has bred these terrorists. In London, Mayor Ken Livingstone was even more reprehensible. He dismissed the idea of any connection between Islam and terrorism, claiming that: ‘Muslims are less likely to support the use of violence for political ends than non-Muslims’. Yeah, right, tell that to the relatives of those killed in the July bombings, or the Twin Towers, or the Bali attacks or the Madrid massacre.

Again, the assumption is there that it was British Muslims who did it and he blames the community for breeding them. I wonder who blames Ma and Pa McKinstry for breeding such a rotten excuse for a journalist?

Finally, a common suggestion, which appears in Umar’s article, is that Muslims should just accept that there will be more “security” and that Muslims will be singled out:

There should be a degree of maturity here from British Muslims and a recognition that the police may have to step on a few toes in their investigations in order to prevent massive deaths and we should pray that they succeed in their efforts insha’Allah. This does not mean you should forget about your rights and let yourselves be trampled and act like second-class citizens, it simply means you should live in the real world. After all, does anyone seriously think that the Saudi police would exercise much restraint of a Filipino movement using terror emerged in the kingdom or a Chinese one emerged in Indonesia?

I’m not sure if Umar has ever been on the receiving end of what he calls “stepping on a few toes”, since his pictures mostly do not show him wearing Islamic dress - even a topi or kufi, much less a turban, except at Islamic functions. I haven’t, although I’ve been inconvenienced a couple of times by police searches, on both of which occasions the police were courteous. I’m not sure if the police are like that when dealing with ethnic minorities they “profile” as terrorists, and I’m sure people’s patience dies down if they are stopped and searched several times in a short period because of their colour or perceived ethnicity or religion. As we saw with the Stockwell shooting in 2005, the police can’t even be relied on to know the situation they are dealing with; surely if those police had been anything like local, they would have known a Somali from a Brazilian, of which there are many (along with other Portuguese-speakers) in that area. As Max Hastings pointed out in today’s Guardian, displays of “security” which always follow terrorist attacks or scares is often for show, and often of no real benefit. We have had much rhetoric about not letting go of our way of life, but part of that has always been going about our business without undue state harrassment. That’s what living in a civilised, free country means. While I as a white person am unlikely to lose that in this climate, I fail to see why our Asian and Black brothers and sisters should accept it just so that others - principally white middle-class people - can derive a false sense of security.

However, It is becoming increasingly clear, with an eighth arrest, this time outside the UK, that the British Muslim community is innocent of this latter-day “doctors’ plot”, so if anyone’s culture should be under question, it should be that of the region they came from - although even there, they seem to be a small minority of extremists. This should be a source of embarrassment for the media’s bigots and for the likes of Ed Husain (who has been on the BBC News this evening, denouncing “Islamists”, again presumably with the assumption that some of our popular Islamist figures had any influence) and Hassan Butt. I wonder when these two men will look in the mirror and “face up” to their own egg-covered visages.

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