Part One: Staging Post
It is one of the mysteries of contemporary British life: how did Britain become an important staging post in global Jihad. It's a mystery played out at regular intervals in the headlines.
To solve the mystery of Britain's radical Islamists you don't
have to look too hard for clues.
It is a Friday night in London's Bethnal Green, a heterogeneous
neighborhood of working class cockneys, gentrifying young media
workers and immigrants, mostly Muslim, from South Asia and Africa.
In an old Unitarian church hall an energetic group of young men
is preparing the room for a meeting. Rows of chairs are being
neatly laid out, a couple of fellows take a cloth and cover a
painting of Christ saving a nude Mary Magdalene.
This evening's gathering is sponsored by Al-Muhajiroun, one
of Britain's most prominent radical Islamist groups. Al-Muhajiroun
meaning "the emigrants," was set up 20 years ago in Saudi Arabia
by the evening's featured speaker, Sheikh Omar Bakri. It is dedicated
to re-establishing the Caliphate, a single state for all the world's
Muslims. Sheikh Omar is a little late so a young acolyte, Abu
Muwahid, begins the lecture.
The subject tonight is Tawheed, the central tenet of Wahabbi
Islamic teaching. The Wahabbi view of Tawheed demands that any
Muslim put his allegiance to Islam above any other claims society
may make on him, "Tawheed is to give up the way of life of the
disbelievers," Abu Muwahid explains. "It means that you give up
democracy and liberalism and freedom." It's not just Western ideas
that are dismissed. Abu Muwahid heaps scorn on people who are
not believers in Islam, including Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs,
homosexuals and socialists.
The evening's main guest, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, arrives
and begins his talk. One of the obligations of Tawheed is to fight
the disbelievers and the weapon of choice is suicide bombing.
The preacher begins, "People like to call it suicide bombing;
We call it self-sacrifice operation."
Bakri is a Syrian born Islamic scholar and Sharia judge. He
was educated from the age of five exclusively in madrassahs (Islamic
schools). He leads the group through a Koranic exegesis, in English
and Arabic, about death:
"The cause of Death is almighty Allah. The situation how death
occurs could be accident, could be battlefields, could be self-sacrifice
operation, could be suicide."
Bakri builds up a head of steam to lead his audience of around
100 to his conclusion that they owe no loyalty at all to any man-made
system of government and law:
"No one has the right to legislate, no one has the right to
say what's wrong or right but almighty Allah. No one has the right
to say what is crime and punishment but almighty Allah. Therefore
we say let man-made law go to hell."
To listen to Omar Bakri for an hour is to have your beliefs
in free speech challenged to the limit. Indeed, that seems to
be his intent. Bakri cheerfully admits that if he spoke this way
about the Assad government in his native Syria, or the House of
Saud in Saudi Arabia, he would be thrown into prison and tortured.
The influence of radical Islamic preachers is a relatively recent
phenomenon in the British Muslim community, a community whose
modern roots go back to the decade just after World War II. Tariq
Modood, a sociology professor at Bristol University says, "Britain
like all the other Western European economies needed cheap labor
and people came from all over the world mainly the British Commonwealth.
The Muslims were primarily from the Indian subcontinent and they
were mainly men."
According to Modood, what was unique about these immigrants
is that unlike other groups they came without their families.
They intended to make money and then return home. They made little
effort to integrate into British society. But political instability
in their homelands and the low pay they received in Britain meant
that most never made it back. In the '70s they began to bring
their families over or start families in Britain. So, integration
was a prolonged process. And people in their twenties today are
actually the first generation brought up wholly in Britain. And
this generation grew to maturity as their religion was going through
radical change. Next...