Tuesday, July 26, 2005

If there is a silver lining to the dark cloud of the terrorist bombings in London, it is that there seems to be a stirring realization in the Muslim community in Britain, and here in the United States as well, that they are an important front line against violent Muslim extremism. Almost four years after the September 11 bombings, this reaction is long overdue, but clearly is movement in a welcome direction.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has forcefully challenged his country’s Muslims to take on the “evil ideology” behind the London attacks that killed 56 people, the most lethal strikes on London since World War II. He called on Muslim leaders to “defeat it by reason and argument,” as he said last week, proposing an international conference on Islamic extremism and its origins, for instance, the Muslim religious schools of Pakistan where anti-Western hatred breeds.

The fact is, however, that the youngmenwhoattacked the London Underground twice this month were not foreigners, but home-grown terrorists, second-generation Pakistani immigrants, born and bred in Britain. This has been a serious shock for the Brits, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Muslim parents who came to the West to seek a better life for themselves and their children now, in some cases, find their young people under the thrall of virulent religious preachers who reject everything their adopted country and the West stand for.

American Muslims, too, are expressing increasing concerns. “We must get to our youth before someone else does,” stated Maher Hathout of the Islamic Center of Southern California in last Friday’s sermon, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. “We must respond to their needs and their questions so that we don’t leave room for individuals with false and dangerous ideologies to lead them astray.”

Now, there are significant differences between the American Muslim communities and those of Britain. American Muslims are generally much better integrated, this being after all a nation of immigrants. Further, their levels of education, employment and income are on par with or slightly above the national average. The biggest problem has been the so-called Muslim “charities” and financial networks that were discovered after September 11 which funnel money to terrorist organizations abroad. Many of these were dealt with under the new power given the U.S. government through the Patriot Act.

In Europe, and certainly in Britain, the Muslim experience has been very different. British Muslims derive mostly from poor Commonwealth countries. Workers from Pakistan, Bangla- desh and Afghanistan were brought in as low-wage labor after World War II to preserve the British textile mills in the old industrial towns of the north and the midlands.

Unemployment rates are steep among young men, leading to Britain’s worst race riots in recent history in 2001 in the northern town of Oldham, where 12 percent of the population is Muslim. Most of the bombers in the London attacks were from Leeds, another old industrial community that has fallen on hard times.

A disaffected generation has been fertile ground for imported preachers of the radical Wahhabist variety. Communities that have not been able to find “a minister of religion” have been allowed to import one from abroad. Writes Robert Leiken of the Nixon Center in his excellent study “Bearers of Global Jihad? Immigration and National Security after 9/11:” “In England, Islamist sects openly recruited for the Taliban, reportedly enjoying most success in the villages and small towns.” Rather than denounce their hateful rhetoric the British government and establishment has turned a deaf ear. Indeed, the notorious north London Finsbury Park Mosque, which helped produce a crop of terrorists including shoe-bomber Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, was founded by the inspiration of none other than Prince Charles. The heir to the British throne approached King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, who was only too happy to pay for the building. In the course of the 1990s, this mosque became a haven for foreign radicals under the leadership of firebrand preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was only this month expelled from Britain for inciting violence. Many more should follow.

If there ever was a need for peaceful Muslims to speak out, today is it. It was refreshing, for instance to read on the op-ed page of The Washington Post on Sunday that Mona Eltahawy, a columnist for the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, expressed her own outrage over the London bombings. “London might have done it for me, but I am not done with Islam. The clerics and the terrorists will not take it away from me. God belongs to me, too.” We need to hear more voices like hers.

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