Radical Muslims turn to words of war




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 20 January 2005

As a ball of fire erupted from the World Trade Center, tumultuous cries of “Allah akhbar” [God is greatest] echoed around the main hall of the Quaker meeting house in London’s Euston Road.

Five hundred people sat watching an out of focus film of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks, as children played among the seats and adults cheered as the Twin Towers crumbled.

Among them was Omar Bakri Muhammad, a Syrian-born cleric, whose radical internet sermons are being investigated by the police and have done much to foment discontent among the Muslim community. The cleric and other radical Muslims, who were at the gathering this month, may not be representative of all the 1.8m British Muslims but they are a growing influence.

Organised by the British Muslim group Women’s Dawa’a UK, the meeting was treated to a film clip of President George W. Bush announcing that the “crusade” against the Muslim perpetrators of the September 11 terrorist attacks would “take some time”.

The clip, played several times, was interspersed with declarations from an array of speakers that war with the infidels had started.

“We are at war. It’s time for brothers, sisters and children to prepare,” Abu Yahya Abderahman, a fiery young speaker, told the crowd, to rapturous applause. “Prepare as much as you can. Whether they are sticks or stones or bombs. Prepare as much as you can, to defeat them. To terrorise them. That is what the message of Mohammed was,” he said.

The anger of the speakers, their denunciation of moderate Muslims and the adulation many expressed for Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, illustrated the intensity of feeling within the radical Muslim minority.

Mr Bakri said: “Many people in Britain who are silent – and the vast majority are silent – look to Osama bin Laden as somebody who has brought some salvation.”

He and others are seen by counter-terrorism officials, academics and moderate Muslims as playing an increasingly significant role in the process of radicalisation among mostly second and third generation Muslims. Alienation from the countries of origin of the first Muslim immigrants to Britain, as well as a sense of being powerless to influence government policy on issues affecting Muslims in other parts of the world, has radicalised attitudes.

In addition, a growing sense of victimisation among the radicals at the conference was caused by non-Muslims – the “kufr” or infidels – breaking a “covenant” that had guaranteed the faith’s religious freedom, several speakers said.

“The covenant of security between us and them was violated because, from their side, they rejected the offer of Sheikh Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Muslims,” said Abu Mouwad, referring to a three-month cessation of terrorist attacks Mr bin Laden had offered European countries last year if they withdrew their forces from Iraq.

But although Middle East issues angered the speakers, their main focus was the place of Muslims within Britain. An unidentified woman said they should “either migrate or prepare themselves”. “It is essential that we instil this warrior mentality into our children,” she said. “It’s important that our children have a passion for jihad.”

She told Muslim women: “Make sure that you nurture your children. A Muslim woman will say to them [the children]: we don’t have friendship with the kufr. We want to put fear into the hearts of the enemy. We want to make sure that our children carry the spirit of jihad in their hearts.”

Attempts following September 11 to dilute the radicalism that took root among established minorities in Britain and other European countries with substantial Muslim populations are now widely seen as having failed. Meanwhile, the tensions between older and younger Muslims are complicating this process.

“The older generation has emotional bonds with the countries of origin,” said Humayun Ansari, a leading writer on Islam in Britain. “Among the younger generation there is a problem. They don’t have these links, and they don’t accept what the older generation says about religion or culture. They haven’t rejected the secular way of thinking. But as a matter of identity, Islam is becoming more important.”

Although experts and officials agree that the radicalism as expressed at the conference is confined to a small minority, the growing prominence of religion as a part of the identity of young Muslims is far wider.

“Much of the radicalisation has happened since the ‘global war on terror’ started and since Britain started to take an active role in it and in the invasion of Iraq,” said Azzam Tamimi, director of the London Centre for Islamic Political Thought.

“It’s the circumstances, not the ideas, that are mobilising people. Since September 11 nothing has improved. People have started to accept the slogans of Ayman al-Zawahri and Osama bin Laden because circumstances seemed to prove them right in the minds of young people,” he said.

The arrest in Britain of more than 600 mostly Muslims under terrorism legislation since September 11 2001 – most of whom were later released – raised tensions.

Azmat Begg, whose son Moazzam is about to be released after almost three years in the US prison at Guant√°namo Bay, said: “The generations of Muslims are coming together. The older generation feels insecure. Their children don’t necessarily feel insecure but feel that a huge part of the Muslim community is being victimised and that these atrocities should be stopped.”

Mr Begg, a retired bank manager, is one of many who say that older Muslims who arrived with high expectations, have found it increasingly difficult to defend their moderation.

“There is quite a deep sense of disillusionment among the third generation,” said Anas al-Tikriti, of the moderate Muslim Association of Britain, which has tried to dilute radicalism among Muslim youths. “We were winning that challenge [against radicalism]. But September 11 compromised a lot of achievements we had made. There were a lot of people sitting on the fence, who are now stepping off the fence because they can’t take it any more.”


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.