| Part Three: The Simple Message of a Demagogue
Like Muslim communities throughout the world, Britain's Muslim community is young, more than half of those who follow Islam are under 25. And inside this group there is constant debate about fitting Islamic practice into the modern world
Fareena Alam, managing editor of Q News, a Muslim magazine, is one
young Muslim who finds Britain's radical Muslims offensive. "They're
sort of armchair jihadists," she says.
She adds that for many young British Muslims, dreaming of an Islamic state is a way of avoiding having to do hard work at home. "People use it as a crutch. In the sense that there are so many problems that we face as a British Muslim community locally and domestically." If you spend all your time talking about Iraq or Israel/Palestine then you don't have to deal with close to home problems like unemployment and the shocking rate of teen-age pregnancies in the Muslim community."
Aki Nawaz sees things differently. As leader of musical group Fun Da Mental he is an entrepreneur of cultural synthesis, making dance music out of live rapping and samples of Sufi chanting and Koranic singing. Aki is troubled by what he sees as the mainstream (meaning white) press's obsession with people like Omar Bakri. "Their preaching to be honest is actually less dangerous than you think," he says. He gives good sound bites but really how many people attend his lectures. How many Muslims are there here? How many are causing trouble?"
Aki Nawaz says if you want to understand young British Muslims and global jihad look at an old enemy: racism. "I hate to use this word but I really think we're just all niggers."
But there's more to the mystery of jihad in Britain than simple racism. Not all British Muslims, particularly those attracted to international jihad, are the unemployed living in socially deprived areas. In 2003, two middle class Muslim college students made a suicide attack on a Tel Aviv night club. One of the bombers was Omar Sharif, who attended Omar Bakri's lectures. Asif Hanif was the other bomber. He was a friend of magazine editor Fareena Alam. She is still puzzling through the mystery of why her friend changed his path. "I was shocked," she says. "As a community we need to engage in a lot of introspection."
And the Muslim community is involved in introspection. At organized meetings and in one to one conversations with each other and people who are not Muslim. After the Omar Bakri meeting at Woolwich Mosque a young man approached me. He was clean-shaven, dressed in business clothes, clearly not part of the regular circle. He wanted to know what I thought about the sheikh.
We made an arrangement to meet in the more secular setting of a Starbucks near St. Paul's Cathedral. This man, in his late 20's, works as an executive with a computer company and tried to explain the appeal of the radical preacher. Much of that appeal comes simply from his ability to rail entertainingly against their perceived enemies: the U.S., Israel, a world in which they can't seem to achieve first class economic status.
According to this young man, the sheikh continues to find new adherents because of the actions of Western leaders. "These groups they're helped by people like George Bush with his your for us or against us rhetoric. Which is of course what Bakri says: either you're with the Christians or the non-believers or against them."
We spoke until closing time, and just before the harried Starbuck's staff threw us out the young man said something that gave a real glimpse into the mystery of "Why?" Why the appeal of Jihad for young Muslims in Britain? Osama bin Laden has clearly shaken the U.S. to the core -- and he is just one man. What would happen if all Muslims joined together? That is what young Muslims are thinking, this fellow told me.
There is no single way to describe the Muslim community in Britain. It is as diverse in its' opinions as any other segment of the British population. There are generational differences, gender differences, doctrinal differences and plain old liberal vs. conservative differences of opinion. One solution to the mystery of why global jihad has found a narrow but secure perch in Britain may be this: for people who feel lost in a complex world the simple message of a demagogue like Omar Bakri will always have an appeal.