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A Voice in the Wilderness

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. -- William O. Douglas

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Where Terror Breeds

I rarely watch TV anymore. Personally, I am addicted to the internet; I regularly read around 40 blogs daily - some are news-related - others are relevant to me because of the bloggers themselves. In addition to the blogs, I also read from roughly fifteen different news sources from all over the world. It may seem like all I do is sit in front of my computer all day but that isn't necessarily so - I have developed a routine that allows me to review my various favorite sites in the morning before I start my day. One particularly good resource is - they send articles daily which cover various issues with a spin that some might dismiss as 'liberal.' That could not be further from the truth. The following article is an interesting perspective on the dynamics of insurgency as is taking place in London where the most recent spate of violent attacks have taken place recently. This article, written by two journalists from the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) provides insight that the general public has not been afforded exposure to. The CSM is but one of the many news organizations I subscribe to and it provides in-depth coverage of issues that probe deeper than most of the Mainstream Media is willing to do. You are free to review this article and reach your own conclusions. The AlterNet article also provides an opportunity to the general public for dialogue so I have also included the two comments attached to the article. You may notice the varieties of responses are not necessarily what one might refer to as 'liberally' biased. That is the beauty of the internet, we come from all walks of life and we all have differing opinions. This article serves to demonstrate that such opinions also require that we be informed. Thanks to the internet, we no longer have to rely on a single source for our information.

Where Terror Breeds

By John Thorne and James Brandon, Christian Science Monitor. Posted July 26, 2005.

A new breed of British radicals is inspiring impressionable urban Muslims to consider killing their fellow Britons.

Outside a small, red-brick mosque, a young Muslim in sneakers and a white robe is lecturing a cluster of young men gathered on the sidewalk.

"The London bombings ... were about striking terror into the heart of the enemy," he thunders, just one week after the 7/7 attacks that killed 56 people and wounded hundreds more.

Muslims around the world are being slaughtered, he tells them. "All we ask them is: 'Remove your troops from Muslim lands and we will stop all of this.' " The men nod in agreement. One glances into the baby stroller he's pushing. Car after car races past.

The preacher, who calls himself Abu Osama ("Father of Osama"), is one of a new breed of British radicals thriving at the margins of London's Muslim community.

Young, independent, and streetwise, they are preaching in urban slang outside the confines of Britain's mosques. They are helping teens and 20-somethings beat drugs and alcohol. And they are inspiring a new pool of impressionable young Muslims to consider killing their fellow Britons.

These radical bands constitute a small fraction of London's 1 million Muslims. But their freewheeling ideology - hardened in the jihadi echo chambers of cliques like Abu Osama's - is creating a new subculture within Britain's Islamic community. So far, the growing influence of these informal, maverick groups has gone largely undetected - and unchecked.

As older, camera-courting, foreign-born extremists like Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza al-Masri recede from relevance, their younger counterparts are striking out quietly and independently with a new brand of do-it-yourself radicalism.

"On the ground level, people like Bakri don't communicate with the youth," says Nadim Shehadi, an analyst at Chatham House, a think tank in London. The fragmentation of British radical groups and their dispersal underground, he adds, is the "worst of all possible options."

"When the Muslim Council of Britain [MCB] said 'We must be vigilant,' this pushed [radical groups] underground," says Abdul-Rehman Malik, contributing editor at the Muslim magazine Q-News, based London. As radicals fled to minor mosques and homes, Britain's security services, and even mainstream Muslims, lost track of them.

Did the 7/7 bombers come from Bakri's circle? "Probably not -- it's something far more insidious," says Mr. Malik. "It's beyond the Omar Bakris; it's a low rumble."

Yearning for jihad

Abu Osama, just 30, was born and raised here in East London, amid peeling paint and dingy kebab shops. "I know English. I know Britain. But if I live here, I must speak for Muslims elsewhere," he says, stressing that he belongs first to the ummah, or global Islamic community.

Abu Osama's faith deepened early. Watching his Pakistani immigrant father struggle to support his family of seven, he sought strength in Islam.

"I began praying and studying when I was 16, and since then I've been like this," he says, pointing to his long, curling beard.

Abu Osama first spoke publicly eight years ago; he has since won ardent followers.

Last fall, addressing a meeting of scores of British radicals, he sighed: "At the moment in Britain there is no jihad." Faces fell around the hall.

"Yet!" he exclaimed suddenly, to approving murmurs. The jihad would soon come, Abu Osama predicted, and he urged his listeners to embrace its arrival.

On 7/7, the jihad came. The suicide bombers were aged 18 to 30 - the same age as Abu Osama's cohorts. By portraying militancy as the ultimate expression of piety, Abu Osama and preachers like him are leading young Muslims down the path toward violence.

"Some of the people tell you Islam is a religion of peace because they think that then you'll want to convert," says Dublin-born convert Khalid Kelly, who soaks up Abu Osama's sidewalk sermon. "But you cannot possibly say Islam is a religion of peace; jihad is not an internal struggle."

Armed struggle was the last thing on Mr. Kelly's mind until his conversion several years ago. "I was your average Irish drunkard, partying and so on," he says. Arrested in Saudi Arabia, where he worked as a nurse, for brewing his own alcohol, Kelly found Islam in prison - an increasingly common arena for Muslim conversion and radicalization.

After his return to Britain in 2002, Kelly quickly became a disciple of Bakri, a radical Syrian-born cleric based in Britain, who is most widely known for celebrating 9/11, and more recently, blaming 7/7 on British foreign policy. Through Bakri's circle, which is now largely underground, Kelly met Abu Osama. Now, they gravitate toward obscure mosques that nurture homegrown extremists.

"The imam here" - Kelly nods at the mosque - "said, 'Pray for the victory of the mujahideen in all the world.' He's talking about Osama bin Laden, but he can't say that."

Hard-line mosques are an intoxicating arena for disillusioned young Muslims, Britain's fastest-growing, poorest, and worst-educated minority.

"The pull to Islam in general is not bad," says Malik. "It gives [young people] a sense of identity and spirituality that is important to their lives."

However, the perceived persecution of Muslims worldwide can imbue their faith with a politics of resentment; they see the world divided into two opposing groups: Muslims and others. "The world begins to appear black and white," Malik says.

"When it comes to politics, sometimes I just feel angry," spits Farouq (not his real name), 21, as he scans East London shop-windows for Help Wanted signs. Women in chadors sweep past, steering their baby carriages through discarded fish'n'chips wrappers and cigarette ends.

Farouq has never heard of Abu Osama. "I don't have time to pray any more. But I'd like to get back into it," he muses. "I know definitely [Islam] will help me."

Concerned that radical groups might capitalize on this kind of discontent, mainstream Muslim leaders have deliberately shunned those who advocated violence.

Some say the effort to weed out extremists is a sign of progress. Others say it has backfired, throwing together vulnerable young Muslims and hard-liners.

This week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with Muslim leaders to discuss ways to confront this "evil ideology." As Mr. Blair pushed legislation to deport radical clerics, the group announced plans for a task force and clerics pledged greater cooperation with security officials. But analysts say mainstream clerics may struggle to reach young Muslims already committed to radical ideology.

Kelly, evidently, had little use for the summit: "You're either a servant of Tony Blair, or Islam."

Last fall, Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the MCB, told The Christian Science Monitor that the extent of radicals in Britain was being hyped up by the media. "The reality on the ground is that there is almost nothing there," he said. "Islamic terrorism: much of it is a media myth."

Then came the slaughter of 7/7. From cafe-studded central London, mainstream Muslim organizations declared that such suicide attacks were un-Islamic.

But over in East London, Abu Osama's group argues that attacks on civilians by Palestinian, Kashmiri, and Iraqi militants are seen as legitimate by the majority of the world's Muslims.

"How dare anyone come on television and say suicide bombings are not part of our belief?" scoffs Irish convert Kelly. "These [moderates] are the lunatic fringe!"

Radical Muslims like Kelly consider themselves an embattled vanguard of the "true" Islam.

"We are persecuted for telling the truth, just like Jesus," says Kelly. "They're demonizing us. There's always police. They tell us it's for our own protection, but it's obvious they're here to spy on us," he adds.

"All we want to talk about is how beautiful Islam is," says an Iraqi immigrant, who, like others standing here, mingles lyrical spirituality with a blunt advocacy of violence. "Zarqawi is showing the way," he says, referring to the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of the radical faction of foreign fighters in Iraq.

Like many, his dedication to Islam arose from a messy flirtation with a Western lifestyle, including drinking and taking drugs. "When reality hits you, you come back to Islam," he says. "If you read the Koran, you see that Allah gave us the right to terrorize the enemy."

His disillusionment with Britain became complete when he was sacked from his IT job "for telling a kafir [unbeliever, or non-Muslim] woman to cover up." Ironically, only Abu Osama dons religious garb. The others wear jeans and shirts. Kelly would look at home in an Irish pub.

Torn between two worlds

They aren't the only British Muslims torn between two worlds. Every year, many young British Muslims visit the Middle East to explore their roots and often to study Arabic and Islam in a traditional environment. Most return to the West, their curiosity satisfied, to continue their lives. A few, by accident or design, return deeply transformed.

Several of the 7/7 suspects, too, are believed to have traveled to Pakistan, where investigators believe they may have hardened their faith. Officials are also exploring whether the four suspects made contact with an Al Qaeda aide linked to Mr. Masri, the radical cleric.

British-born radicals "would have felt a secret excitement of having become the spearhead of a mission that would make them renowned in martyrology," says Magnus Ranstorp, director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St. Andrews University, Scotland.

But despite this bleak outlook, even such conservative Middle Eastern countries as Saudi Arabia and Yemen have successfully defused the anger of Islamic militants through an intensive program of religious dialogue and youth outreach.

At the East London mosque, Abu Osama's street preaching has evolved into a theological debate: Should one defend Islam worldwide by fighting in Britain? For these men, it's not just a philosophical exercise. Their conclusions could tip the balance of security across the country.

"Islam is not just a religion. It is a way of life," insists a young and zealous black American convert initially drawn to Islam by admiration for Malcolm X. "It's specific in the Koran that jihad is about fighting."

"If you're in Iraq," Kelly affirms, "it means physical fighting."

The Iraqi breaks in. "Every day I think of going there. But Allah has to choose me. I pray to Allah that I can go there one day and help them." The others pause, digesting his words.

"We are torn between these two worlds: a love for life, and a love for death," he continues. "I have four children. I can't leave them. My children will be led astray if I leave them."

He may not have to, Kelly suggests: "We can fight wherever, in Iraq, London, Paris, or Berlin. There is no such thing as innocents. The idea of the Islamic state is terror against anyone who doesn't support Islamic ideology."

Abu Osama nods. "If four men can take explosives and rock the whole of Britain, imagine what more could do."

Glossary of Islamic terms

Shahid: An Islamic martyr. Often used to label Muslim victims of wars, terror attacks, and assassinations.

Halal/Haram: Permitted/forbidden according to Koranic law. Observant Muslims forego cigarettes, alcohol, and nonmarital sex. Most Muslims also avoid pork.

Dar al-Islam/Dar al-Harb: "House of Islam," where Koranic law prevails; and the "House of War," meaning everywhere else.

Kafir: Unbeliever, non-Muslim, one who refuses to submit to Islam.

Jihad: The term means "struggle in the path of God." Muslims debate whether jihad means a purely personal struggle within oneself for right thoughts and deeds, violent struggle in the name of Islam, something in between, or both.

Takfir: Literally "rejection," but in radical circles refers to the branding of other Muslims as unbelievers to discredit them.

Dawah: Islamic call or propagation. Inviting another to Islam; missionary work.

Ummah: The worldwide spiritual community of all Muslims.

Jahiliyyah: Ignorance of Islam; "barbarism." Some radicals use this term to describe Western society.

Fatwa: An Islamic scholar's legal opinion about whether something is permissible. Usually on mundane topics, but radicals have issues death-sentence fatwas against opponents.


Watch what they do, not what they say.

Posted by: Sojourner on Jul 26, 2005 1:11 AM [Report this comment]
I did not realize until I read it that Eric Hoffer's characterization of the true believer, in his book by that title (The True Believer : Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements) explained why conflict becomes violent. Hoffer uses the label of 'true believer' as an ironic if not condemnatory phrase. That works because 'true belief' is used by the organizers of mass movements to defend their cause. As in the article above, the violence or threat of violence is more than a plea to rectify injuries done. It is service to a higher calling, paying a debt to a god, becoming a hero-martyr, fulfilling human destiny. In other words, it is being holier-than-thou. The damage we, humans, have done to one another in the name of righteousness is vast. All mass violence has a good excuse for itself. While individuals may act sadistically for only the enjoyment of so acting, mass movements rely on a claim to moral superiority. And that's why the terrorist can seem to look good. His act is, so he says, only 'in response' to a crime committed against him, so he has a justified grievance. Differentiating the genuine victim from the self-defined victim can be confusing. Assassins believe in what they do, and their belief can seem persuasive. It is only when we look at the consequences of their belief, the horrors they commit, that their words then can be seen to be an irrational rationalization. Except for war, the end does not ever justify the means, if the means causes the innocent to be injured or to die. That is like the golden rule in that all the major religions of the world agree that taking an innocent life is treachery. A universal human command protects the innocent. 'By their fruits will you know them,' said one great teacher. The rest is all rhetoric.
Posted by: georgesdelatour on Jul 26, 2005 3:00 AM [Report this comment]
A few rather rambling comments: 1. We need to reintroduce a rather old-fashoned sounding word into this: treason. If you're a UK citizen, and you urge people to kill other UK citizens for the sake of an external power such as al Queda, you are committing treason. You are in the same category of enemy as Lord Haw-Haw. It's that simple. 2. Some of the people quoted in the article make statements equivalent to formal renunciation of their citizenship. In every country the world over the fundamental basis of citizenship is allegiance. Renunciation of allegiance is effectively renunciation of citizenship. So many people from all over the world want to become UK citizens, and here we have men who are unwilling UK citizens. We should take these men at their word and relieve them of what they do not want. 3. I believe the US government paid a lot of money to Japanese Americans because, during World War Two, it had wrongly assumed that they might hold an allegiance to Japan overruling their allegiance to the USA; in fact they were loyal citizens of their adopted country. Even the dropping of Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - massively more violent acts than anything the US has so far done in Iraq - did not provoke them to commit revenge terrorist attacks in America.


At Tue Jul 26, 06:58:00 PM MDT, Blogger M said...

Everything I've read from traditional Islamic writings, and from what my parents have taught me, Jihad has always meant for me an internal struggle. It is about overcoming one's baser instincts, about choosing good over evil, about contemplation and understanding, about tolerance, kindness and goodness...all necessary so one can walk the path of "godliness" and goodness. True, Islam does not forbid fighting back (and violence when this becomes necessary in fighting back), but it puts greater value in the way of peace and forgiveness. (Note that "back" in "fighting back" is emphasized.)

What you have written about is a very controversial issue that is bound to elicit all kinds of responses from all kinds of people. All sides would have their arguments and bases, and all would be "correct" in their own way and in some measure.

It seems to me that where there is suffering and injustice, something's got to give; the status quo would be disturbed in one way or another. I do believe that the killing of innocents is never right. And this means innocents of all skin colors and creeds, everywhere in the world, not just in London or the US.

At Tue Jul 26, 08:42:00 PM MDT, Blogger The Voice said...


I agree completely with all you have said. Thank you for such a thoughtful response. Invariably we are going to get into all kinds of problems and they will soon revisit us when we think we are immune by either distance or wealth. Such gaps are very easy to move beyond for the angry ones motivated by disenfranchisement and disaffection from their respective societies.

My post a while back was on this - regarding the suicide bombers in London. To me, many of these problems could be avoided altogether in a truly egalitarian society. Unfortunately, the haves are never willing to bridge the gap with the have-nots. As long as this continues, we will continue to see atrocities committed as a reaction and as a reaction to the reaction. The cycle is vicious. It can only be overcome with mutual acceptance and that can only occur with understanding that comes from dialogue.

My fear is the haters on both sides are finding ample fuel to stoke their respective rage - the result will be more innocent lives lost and even more hatred.

What the world needs today is a hero who can bridge the gaps - I do not think it is impossible. I think it is entirely up to each of us to see that an environment of trust and understanding be established. It all starts in the home. It all starts when we realize that 30 million children will close their eyes within the next 24 hours and they will never wake up again - they will die of hunger and disease.

That is a staggering figure (UNICEF's number – not mine) and we continue to rage and hate. There is simply no room for it anymore. Any person's death diminishes me. That is why I am trying to understand. That is why I am reaching out. That is what drives me these days.

In my life, as a health care worker then as a police officer and finally, as a probation-parole officer, I have found one thing to be true; people need hope – when they lose hope they fall into despair and that is when their very existence is at risk. We need to offer hope – it really isn’t that difficult. We never rob a person of their dignity or respect because once that is lost – so is hope – and no nope means spiritual damage – quite possibly death. Sometimes all it takes is a smile or some form of acknowledgement – that is a place to start. In my book, it’s certainly better than any violent or hateful alternative. It is what I work toward every day. I am always amazed at how people respond to kindness and respect. My suspicion is these second generation suicide bombers felt alienated and unwelcome – that has proven to be a deadly combination.

Be safe,

At Thu Jul 28, 12:06:00 AM MDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out this post about misconceptions and contextual misreadings of Islamic religion at A Little Bit Left:

Right on topic.

At Sun Jul 09, 10:04:00 AM MDT, Blogger kris said...

Thanks for the post and grasping the nettle.


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