We Muslims must root out the terrorism of the mosque
The case in Yemen is the wake-up call we need to confront what has become a blight on our name
Monday 09 August 1999
Muslims in Britain will be well advised to brace themselves should the accused be found guilty. The Muslim community will once again come under attack for being aliens in this land, for fomenting revolution in their midst and for promoting the worst excesses of religious fanaticism. Troublesome enough at home, many will argue, the muslims are proving even more dangerous to British interests abroad.
However unfair, the accusation of treachery will not be easy to gainsay. Three Britons died in a bungled attempt to release 16 western tourists who, if the prosecution is right, were kidnapped by Yemeni extremists as bargaining counters for the release of five of the eight accused. To make matters worse, if the men are found guilty, it will also represent the biggest terrorist enterprise ever to have been attempted from our midst. All eyes will be on how we respond, for it will signal just how we intend to relate to British society.
There are those among us who will continue to turn a blind eye to the implications. Others like myself are praying against hope that the case in Yemen is the wake-up call we need to finally confront what has become a blight on our name.
Our spokesmen will avoid saying it publicly but they must acknowledge that one of the last decade's most disturbing developments has been the snowballing radicalisation of British Muslim youth. Numerous factors have fed the dragon of extremism. Most of them, social and economic alienation, Islamophobia, oppressive western foreign policy, can be laid at the door of the policy makers and official neglect. For others however, such as the leadership vacuum and the failure to harness the talents and passion of our young, the community must accept a proportionate share of the blame.
Of course, being young and passionate about religion has never been a crime. Neither has armed struggle in a just cause, especially in a Muslim world faced with more than its fair share of injustices. But it is a long way from there to the wanton violence allegedly condoned by the likes of Abu Hamza al-Masri, the self-styled Egyptian sheikh, whose son and godson are among the accused.
So far our response as a community to the implications of the Yemen case has fallen short of what is required both by our faith and our aspiration to be an integral part of British society. We will never be sure whether it was a mutilated conception of jihad that drove the detainees in Yemen to plan the outrages with which they are charged. Their trial has left much to be desired. There have been other allegations of sexual abuse and torture, forced confessions, falsified evidence, and the persistent claim that the eight are innocent victims of a dragnet cast over the country's political extremists.
In these circumstances, there are those who feel that a miscarriage of justice is inevitable. With the judicial process so deeply flawed, the only option is the eight's release. Certainly that is the argument of the eight's lawyers, who have urged the Foreign Office to intervene.
In the battered and bruised - and not a little paranoid - Muslim community this call has found a captive audience. But I find it a strange response, especially in view of the probability that if the suspects were white middle-class Englishmen the same people would be laying the charge of colonial arrogance at any British government which decided to intervene.
An acquittal by default is not in the interests of justice nor is it in the interests of British Muslims. As fellow Muslims and citizens it is our duty to do our best to ensure the accused get a fair hearing. But demanding anything beyond this is to ask for the right to interfere in an independent judicial process. Such a demand does violence to the moral integrity of the British Muslim community itself, especially one that is exhorted by the Koran to stand up for justice - "even if it be against yourselves."
The trial presents the Muslim community with another critical imperative. Regardless of the result, it must seize the opportunity to take the moral high ground in order to disavow the views of a growing minority who sully our good name and our peaceable faith. For too long the law-abiding majority has laid itself open to the charge that it acquiesces in terrorism by its failure to condemn the actions of a few.
A misconceived notion of unity - sprinkled with a little cowardice - is responsible for this silence. The community is riven enough, runs the logic, without allowing outsiders to widen the rift between moderates and extremists. A reappraisal of this stance is overdue. It will no longer do to ignore the menace of extremism in the fanciful hope that it will simply go away. It wounds Muslims and their faith more to be seen to harbour extremists than to leave them to face the full ire of society.
Muslims were among the innocent civilians killed in last year's US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Closer to home, they have suffered discrimination and victimisation in the work-place as employers seek to exact retribution for the crimes of their co-religionists. British Muslim holiday-makers travelling to destinations like Turkey and Tunisia, regularly complain of interrogations and harassment by customs officials who tar us all with the extremist brush. And serious opposition groups already have to bear the brunt of Draconian legislation such as the Conspiracy to Commit Terrorism Abroad Act without facing the prospect of more curbs on their freedom.
Wresting back the pulpits from the demagogues is not going to be easy. Although we would like to regard them as marginal, their magnetism for the young is stronger than most of us would like to believe. Few Muslim organisations can put 500 young bums on seats as Abu Hamza recently did in central London and as his friend, Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of Al-Muhajiroun, plans to build on soon in the Royal Albert Hall.
It will take a brave new strata of leaders, prepared to rubbish the extremists' claims to religious legitimacy, to roll back their ascendancy.
Faisal Bodi writes for the Muslim magazine, Q-News
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