It is very tough for Americans, Muslims or Non-Muslims, to understand the situation of Muslims in Britain unless they have spent an extended amount of time in Britain. In America there are only about seven million Muslims out of a population of almost three-hundred million and outside of the Northeast corridor, Atlanta, and the great Midwestern cities Muslims are few, scattered and relatively insignificant outside of the African-American community.
The British scenario is much different; not only are Muslims everywhere, existing in large numbers in every British city of any size, but there are many very recognizable Muslim neighborhoods all over Britain that are akin to the Latino immigrant neighborhoods that one sees in the US ( and the Muslim areas of places like Brooklyn).
Since the suicide bombings on July 7th in London the British political leadership, law-enforcement, media and intellectual-class have struggled to come up for answers to what happened since it was discovered that the attacks were orchestrated by British-born and raised Muslims of Pakistani origin.
Most of the discussions thus far have been pure rubbish. Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that he wants to pass a new deportation law that will retroactively deport Muslims who have advocated terrorism in the past, ban certain organizations that the government deems as extremist, and work at certifying Imams of Masjids. Some organizations need to be scrutinized there is no doubt, and it is bizarre why organizations that openly advocated terrorism for years were allowed to operate in the first place, but going after organizations that have nothing to do with terrorism, such as the Muslim Brotherhood (which has been proposed by some but not by Blair or his government), and other loud and vocal organizations which while they may be annoyance are non-violent such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir is just bizarre. Tahriris may be an annoyance within the Muslim community but they are not a threat to anyone and they are not criminal and the only reason to ban them is because you don’t like their opinion and if the British are going to go down that road then who will be safe tomorrow? The precedent will be set that groups who operate in a completely lawful manner can be banned just because the government doesn’t like their opinion. In America, the definition of terrorism is simple; if you are a Muslim and you do not agree with George W. Bush you are a terrorist and that is how law-enforcement operates in America. As the British people on a whole are more educated, sophisticated and have a greater understanding of the world than Americans do then let’s hope they will approach this problem with a greater maturity than the cowboys in American law-enforcement.
When fears sets in though people stop thinking. That is why in Islam one of the definitions of worship lies in the question of whom one fears and for a Muslim to fear another human being is detrimental to the soul of the believer. Today the British people are living in fear because people do not know what is going to happen next and outlets like Sky News are trying to use fear as a marketing tool just as their counterpart Fox News has done in the US.
How real is the threat of terrorism from British Muslims? No one knows the answer to that question but a few things have been ignored in the discussions within the British media thus far.
Tony Blair has said that Muslims must accept British values to be in Britain and to a certain extent that is true. In following the Sunnah Muslims should follow the British law. However this does not mean that Muslims in Britain have to accept all of modern British culture as healthy or desirable. Westerners are not the least bit introspective and cannot comprehend why anyone would not think that their culture is not perfect and complete and that arrogance exists on both sides of the political divide. That people could legitimately feel that there are serious flaws in the Western mind and way of life baffles self-worshipping Westerners and they feel that if one does not recognize their supremacy than they are either insane or extreme.
The vast-majority of Muslims living in Britain love Britain, and if they didn’t they could leave, so they may say they hate Britain but they would cut off their arms before they would have to go back to Lahore or Cairo. Some don’t understand all of British culture and even if they do understand it may not like it; but they still love their little slice of Britain.
Muslims have come to Britain because of the poor-economies in their countries of origin and the opportunity to advance economically in Britain and Britain needs these Muslims as much as they need Britain. On one level these immigrants provide labor for entry-level positions that Brits don’t want or will not take, on another these Muslim immigrants are entrepreneurs investing in businesses that the British have neglected, and on another they are providing Britain with highly-educated people in the workface particularly in the information technology field. Without these immigrants the British economy would suffer and Blair knows this and that is why he is trying to find a way, along with the rest of the British elite, to on one hand deal with the terrorist threat while seeking some way to not anger the Muslim community.
I believe that there is a terrorist threat from a tiny number of Muslims in Britain. I also believe that while the actual number of terrorist is very small that amongst young Muslims in Britain that there are a lot of people that are armchair supporters of such activity and that an even larger number enthusiastically supports causes in places like Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir and Chechnya. A distinction must be made between these two areas. For those who support liberation causes in Kashmir and Chechnya more than likely do not support terrorist actions in the West and may not specifically support terrorist acts as a part of those liberation struggles in Muslim countries.
Two things exist that are problematic for Brits. First of all you have the problem of the clerics in Britain. Many of these clerics do not speak English and even if they do have an extremely limited understanding of Britain and of the problems that their young congregants are experiencing. In a non-Muslim Western society the role of the mosque is crucial and the imam of the Masjid becomes very influential and important within the community and a de-facto leader of the local Muslims. In Muslim countries the imam of a Masjid is a nominal position and the real Islamic leadership exists in the offices of the Mufti, academia, Muslim media and amongst the large Muslim organizations. In the West all of the above exist in the Masjid and are under the imam. If these Imams are in Britain and don’t know the first thing about the society then it is highly doubtful this individual can be effective in addressing the problems of the community and most especially the young. I do believe that British and American imams should speak English, but I do not believe that the government has any business in regulating this matter; it should be a matter of common sense for the Muslim community to want an imam who speaks English.
The next problem is the fact that these young British Muslims are growing-up in a society that their parents may live in but don’t understand. So in one home you have two totally different world views; the mind of the parents is still rooted in Asia or Africa and the kids are British. The Islam of the parent may be defensive but the Islam of the child is assertive. The parent is bashful but the child knows Britain and has grown up with its children and feels no shame of being a Muslim and is not the least bit intimidated by fellow Brits. You have Muslims who are in trendy London neighborhoods and at the elite levels of British society and they have seemed to have internally worked out the meaning of being a Muslim in modern Britain. Some have preserved most of their Islam while others have just retained a Muslim name.
Amongst the middle-class and working classes of the Muslim young you have a generation that can produce Amir Khan and Naseem Hamed and then also produce the bombers of 7-7. These young people say yes to much of Britain; Football, music (especially hip-hop), and film. However they know that amongst much of Britain there is a profound disrespect for Muslims and for non-whites. This should come as no surprise as Britain until a generation or two ago was a virtually all-white nation and previous interaction with darker-skinned people had come through war and colonialism. In modern Britain there was supposed to be equality amongst the races and religions but much of that never left the minds, pens and tongues of the British cultural elite.
In this global world, where everything and everyone is connected electronically, everything becomes local. Britain enters Iraq, and this may or may not be a contributing factor for terror, and young Muslims in London and Brighton are watching the war play by play on satellite TV and chatting with Muslims online about the problem.
The vast majority of Muslims were angry about the British involvement in the war in Iraq and few British politicians (with the exception of George Galloway, Ken Livingstone and some Lib Dems) came to the support of the Muslim community in any real way. When these Muslims went to the Masjid they heard irrelevant Khutbahs and the imams and leadership had no real answers to the frustrations of the young. The parents of these young Muslims also had no answers, as a matter of fact they didn’t even understand why their children gave a damn about Islam and were not focused on trying to get a P.H.D. and marry a Punjabi princess. These Pakistani mothers without hijab watched as their British daughters listened to Mos Def and Radiohead and put on the hijab and their British sons let their beards grow while they cheered Manchester United and Ricky Hatton.
Without having anyone responsible willing or able to give these young men answers these young men out of anger, rage and a sense of wanting to defend the ummah embraced the method of terror. We do not know if these young men were corrupted or influenced by some militant Muslim scholars, because that is often the wrongheaded assumption that people need to be incited from the outside and are not internally committed to commit acts. We do know however that whatever the method of radicalization that these young Muslims can find solace and comfort on the internet from a variety of forums and websites and the rest is history as day by day the rage grows and peers are found in neighbors and online.
The problem that exists within the Muslim community is the problem that some Muslims believe that terror will help solve the problems of Muslims (or at least make the aggressors against Islam feel the pain). Not only is this a false belief but a belief that puts the whole community in danger as we see the hysterical reactions in America and possibly Britain to acts of terror. One Muslim commits an act of terror and the next thing you know the entire community is suffering over something they had nothing to do with and the problems of the Muslims still have not been solved but have only gotten worse. Furthermore, even if these acts were successful with regards to their intentions they would still be immoral and un-Islamic.
Muslims have to be patient and not simplistically think that a couple of bombs here and there will solve the problems of the ummah. In the West Muslims must recognize that if we maintain our deen we will not be wholly accepted by the greater society and not have are feelings hurt by this. We must also recognize that our world-view is unique and that both the political left and right have major beefs with Islam. It is our job to work hard, educate ourselves, work to make the communities that we live in a better place and create a positive image for Islam and Muslims. Once we advance as a community and become successful and organized then we can be in a better position to advocate for our positions in the Muslim World and for the greater acceptance for Islam in Western societies. On an issue by issue basis coalition building is also very important and we should be working to formulate domestic and local agendas for the places in which we are living and support those who support us in the political arena.
Watering down Islam, or a Progressive Islam, is not a solution because this is no Islam at all and has no credibility so any attempt by British or American authorities to support such movements will end in disaster. The heavy-handed approach of cracking down on all Muslims with opinions also will not help because these opinions will just go underground. The answer is in cooperation with the Muslim community and refraining from the group-indictment mentality that has been so common in the history of humanity.
If the terrorist attacks in the US have shown us anything they have shown us that as a society America has advanced very little over the past fifty-years. The great stain on American history is race and as America struggled with this issue over the last fifty-years civil-rights laws were passed and the new America was supposed to be a tolerant America were different races and cultures were accepted. 9-11 brought out the bitter truth that, to a large extent, much of this tolerance was a fraud and below the surface many Americans, and most on the American Right who now control the country, never believed or accepted the fact that White Christians (and those running up behind them) should have to live as equals with others. So the response to 9-11 was a group-indictment on Islam and the entire Muslim community led by an administration that’s ideologically opposed to most of the advancements Americans have made since the 1960’s.
Let us hope that this does not happen in Britain. After all it is a country where most of its subjects can find their city on the map, can tell the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim, know that the civilized world doesn’t end at their borders and can name their local politicians unlike America.