- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

LONDON Stung by revelations that a British Muslim convert had tried to blow up an airliner last weekend, Britain vowed yesterday to get tough on Muslim hard-liners who so far have appeared immune from arrest because of concerns over restrictions on civil liberties.
British Home Secretary David Blunkett said anti-terrorism legislation introduced earlier this month would "make a difference" to "root out those who use Britain as a base" for terrorist activities.
He had given orders, he said, for its "rigorous" enforcement.
He also revealed changes to the country's immigration rules that would give homegrown or British-trained Islamic religious leaders advantages over the current preponderance of immigrant imams. He said it would take considerable time for these rule changes to have any perceptible effect.
These new moves come as a result of an outcry led by centrist Islamic figures over radicalization and indoctrination techniques that they say have gone on without much resistance in and around many British mosques.
Two of the most outspoken Muslim leaders on the issue are Sheik Ahmed Badawi, who heads the Muslim College, an educational institute for clerics, and Abdul Haqq Baker, an Afro-Caribbean who converted 12 years ago.
Mr. Baker runs the London mosque, an educational center that has spawned at least two men now accused of connections with attempted airplane bombings.
He fears that he could be killed for his openness.
Sheik Badawi yesterday welcomed the home secretary's announcements but said it was "better late than never."
He revealed that he had been campaigning for two decades to get the British government to close down about 300 after-hours "schools" in which radical Muslims taught children hard-line ideas, including jihad and martyrdom.
The government says it will look into these schools, but claims that its efforts are hampered by the refusal of the House of Lords to approve legislation against incitement to racial hatred.
The main problem, say both Sheik Badawi and Mr. Baker, is the quality and skill of the people who are in charge of most mosques for the large immigrant Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.
Those foreign clerics are virtually unable to speak English and are out of touch with the needs of westernized but often frustrated Muslim youths, caught between their parents' restrictive traditionalism and the more open society around them.
Many grow up in areas of high unemployment or feel alienated from local white youths; some feel discriminated against in employment opportunities.
This, Sheik Badawi said, makes them easy prey to slick, well-spoken and well-funded groups of Muslim hard-liners whose funds come from abroad, usually the Arab countries in the Gulf region.
These radicals, he said, often denigrate the local imams as inferior to them in knowledge, weaker in Arabic and corrupted by their participation in "the system."
Sheik Badawi is demanding that the British government sponsor his Muslim College and other centrist institutes of training to produce better, homegrown clerics, or to bring existing imported clerics or converts up to standard.
Mr. Blunkett announced he would be helping this process not by funding which he said would lead to demands for similar funding from other religious groups but by making it easier for people being trained in centrist Islamic centers here, to stay in Britain.
The current rules say that any imam appointed by a mosque must return first to his home country and then reapply for a visa.
That makes it easier for local mosque committees to appoint someone who is already in Pakistan or Bangladesh, and under current rules for all clerics of any faith, the British authorities give them immediate entry.
Some radical clerics openly preach jihad at mosques they control. Abu Hamza al-Masri, one such radical, says the vast majority of Muslim clerics are "like sacks of potatoes."
"These imams you hear from are just part of the corrupt pro-Western system," said Imam al-Masri, who openly follows the blind New Jersey-based Sheik Omar Rahman, jailed for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

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