Saturday, August 19, 2006


Are British Muslim Terrorists their Equivalent to Football's 'Hooligans'?

This morning on the Today Programme, John Humphrys interviewed three young, very bright British Muslims about their attitudes to those within their midst who have been involved in terrorism. At one stage this highly intelligent trio described such people as 'using' the Muslim religion as a cloak for the revolutionary ideas which provided their real motivation. They also described them as their 'hooligans', comparable to the yobs who disfigured football in the eighties and nineties.

I'm not sure either claim survives close analysis. The 7-7 terrorists seemed to be devout Muslims who had made the journey, principally through their religion rather than any political ideology, to the radical point where they chose to martyr themselves in the process of taking dozens of innocent British lives. The suggestion that such people are aberrant mavericks also fails to measure up.

The Economist, this week contains a report which cites polls showing 19 per cent of British Muslims(that's a third of a million people) 'respect' Osama bin Laden while 13 per cent regard the 7-7 bombers as 'martyrs'. It really seems that this putative 'hooligan' element extends quite deeply into the 1.8 strong Muslim community. The BBC hoped their panel of young Muslims would provide some fresh new and authentic input into the debate but this first consultation merely expressed how divided and confused British Muslims are about their own attitudes on the central and crucial question: how much support the terrorists within their ranks receive from the community as a whole?

Skipper, you say that the bombers appear to have made their journey “principally through their religion rather than any political ideology”. I’m by no means an authority on this, but I think this implies too sharp a dichotomy. It seems to imply that they first became devoutly religious, and then subsequently, further along the path, drew extremist political conclusions from their religious beliefs. I suspect that the particular version of “fundamentalist” Islam to which they subscribed is thoroughly infused with politics, or to put it another way, that the religious and political motivations cannot be disentangled in this way, and arranged in chronological order with the “religious” antecedent to the “political”. Even the most purely religious observances, can be, for some, in some sense, political acts. I think your criticism of the three young Muslims is also a little harsh. I suspect we can translate what they said roughly as follows: the version of Islam to which the bombers subscribed is not “really” Islam properly understood; it is “Un-Islamic” to act as they did. As an atheist I am unable to judge which version of Islam is “authentic” (the question probably has no answer) but I know which I prefer. Incidentally, one of the young interviewees made the very good point that within three hours of consulting Muslim spokespeople Ruth Kelly was on Radio 4 misrepresenting what they had said: confirming that the Government doesn’t really listen to anyone, even when pretending to do so.
Good points but Jason Burke in he Observer today makes the point that some mosques and branches of Islam act as 'gateways' to Muslims who go on to develop more radical attitudes. And on the other pont, I still think the evidence shows so far that it's not JUST a lunatic fringe but a worryingly large slice of British Muslims who express and feel sympathy and support for those committing or planning terrorist acts. I agree with your Ruth Kelly point if indeed she did misrepresent those consulted.
The “gateway” argument is a little worrying. It’s a bit like the argument about cannabis. First, you start with mildly intoxicating but supposedly harmless Islam, but pretty soon some seedy (bearded) character is offering the hard stuff, and before long you are sleeping in the underpass and mainlining Fundamentalism. In one way this states the obvious: of course the extremists will seek recruits where they can. But what is worrying is the potential for demonising moderate forms of Islam (they may look harmless, but they are “gateways”); which is, in turn, likely to make the “gateway” theory a self-fulfilling prophecy. We can already see this demonisation at work in much of the media. For example, Muslims who point to the blindingly obvious connection between British foreign policy and the appeal of Islamic extremism (which the Government obdurately continues to deny) are routinely accused of justifying terrorism, which is a simply grotesque inference. On the appeal of fundamentalism, Garry Younge has an excellent article in today’s Guardian. He argues that fundamentalists (and Muslims are by no means the only kind) for the most part “stalk the borders of our community”, but “at moments when an identity feels besieged they will move to centre stage”. Why do Muslims feel besieged? At least partly because: “For the past five years they have been fed on a nightly diet of bombings and occupation in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon; imprisonment and torture in Guantánamo Bay, Belmarsh, Basra and Abu Ghraib; and tales of alleged wanton murder and rape in Hamdania, Haditha, Balad and Mahmudiya. This excuses nothing but explains a lot.”
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