No, the mosques don’t know

A man and woman running from the scene of one of the attacks in the London Bridge area on the night of 3rd June 2017. The young white man is wearing a red T-shirt and blue jeans and holding a half-full pint glass of beer in his hand. The woman is wearing a black T-shirt and trousers and is also holding a drink.Following the van/knife attacks on and near London Bridge last night in which seven people were killed (plus the three attackers who were shot dead by the police) which have been declared a terrorist attack by the police although the origin and motives of the attackers have yet to be revealed, I’ve seen tweets proclaiming that someone at the mosque must have known the terrorists’ intentions and are hiding something. I also saw tweets calling for an end to “no go areas” which have been a favourite right-wing media trope for several years. The first of these is a misconception, perhaps appealing because of frustration but no less wrong for that, and the second is an outright lie.

The second is the easiest to knock down: no-go areas are a lie peddled by bigots and simply have no basis in reality. Perhaps they make sense in an America where different races live in different parts of town and rarely mix, or to someone familiar with Israel or the old South Africa. In the UK, although there are places where there are more Muslims, or more members of this minority or that, anyone can walk into any area they like. There are places (certain council estates, or housing projects to Americans) it’s probably best to stay away from at certain times of day or night, but that has more to do with poverty and nothing to do with religion. A street is a street; nobody has any right to keep anyone else out of a public street (there are also private streets, but these are mainly inhabited by rich people and mostly whites at that). The area immediately to the east of central London has a high Muslim population and a large density of mosques, halal food outlets, Islamic shops and the like, and there are two major commuter routes running straight through it and non-Muslims pass right through on the bus every day on the way to work (or whatever else), and they wear whatever they like.

As for “what the mosques knew”, the fact is that mosques do not keep record of everyone who comes in to worship and there are no passes, turnstiles, metal detectors or anything else controlling who comes in. There is no ‘membership’ as such; they issue certificates to converts and to people who ask them to witness that they are Muslims (for obtaining hajj visas, for example), but anyone can just walk in and sit down and read or pray, and others will sit and talk in the mosque between prayers but that does not mean the management knows everything that is said. Many people will just come in for a scheduled prayer (particularly the Friday prayer) and they might meet friends and talk afterwards, but they then have to go back to work. Rarely will Muslims stick to one mosque or even just one ‘family’ of mosques; they will pray in whichever mosque is convenient for their home or workplace, or wherever they are at the time. Mosques also have an interest in remaining independent and free of government control or surveillance, so any intending terrorist will not let their plans be known to the mosque committee or talk about it openly; they will keep it to their immediate circle. Some of the suspects did make their Muslim acquaintances sufficiently concerned that they informed the authorities and one or two had been ejected from mosques, although neither of these actually proves that somebody is planning a terrorist attack, which explains why they were still free men up until they carried out the attacks.

Finsbury Park mosque, a red-brick mosque with a grey concrete minaret. Some bags of aggregate are sitting outside and the next door house has a hoarding outside it.There was a time, until about 2003, where there were a number of extremist preachers holding Friday prayers in community halls and one or two mosques were dominated by extremists (notably Finsbury Park, which was actually built by and for the community with a contribution from Saudi Arabia until it was hijacked by Abu Hamza’s gang, which incidentally regarded the Saudi royal family as infidels). The people involved are all either no longer at liberty or no longer in the country, or both (Abu Hamza is in prison in the USA, Abdullah Faisal of “Devil’s Deception” fame was expelled to Jamaica after serving a prison sentence and Abu Qatada lives in Jordan). Most of the Muslims I know were glad to be rid of these people as they were unpleasant and soured the atmosphere at a number of London mosques, including Regent’s Park. As far back as the Madrid attacks in 2004, there has been a history of terrorists being men who didn’t frequent mosques and in fact were drinkers and womanisers, whether they had adopted this lifestyle as a disguise or were simply not religious, but were Muslim by heritage.

Muslims do not have the power to police their own community; Muslims are individual citizens like everyone else and we don’t have authorities that know what we’re doing or where we’re going (I’m guessing some of these people’s families didn’t know what they were up to). Terrorists, like all criminals, keep their plots a secret, or try to (the less smart ones download bomb-making manuals from sites on the Internet that the authorities already know about). Just because a terrorist attack seems to come out of a community which appears to stick together and where you don’t have any friends, it doesn’t mean the community was harbouring the terrorist and sitting on their secrets. The only people to blame for this are the people who did it.

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