In Luton, summit is treated with contempt

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The Independent Online

He may have looked like a well-integrated second-generation Asian, but Ali, a Luton-born Muslim of Pakistani parents, is an angry young man.

"We are all drawn to Islam down here. We are all Muslims. I'm angry at the West. They're grieving 52 people who died in London, but I've been grieving the death of thousands of children in Palestine, in Chechnya, in Kashmir, in Iraq, since I was 15.

"When Fallujah happened and so many innocents died, no one asked the Muslim youths what they felt. But now that London's happened, you are asking us why," he said.

Ali said he believed it was not just Luton's youth that had become politicised over the past decade, but young men across the country, through a growing Muslim consciousness.

"Our parents came here as servants with a Raj mentality. We're not like them. It's not just the BBC and ITV any more. We have al-Jazeera, we have the internet. We live in a globalised society. The world has become a smaller village. If something happens to innocent people in Iraq, the Muslims of Luton will know about it and feel that grief."

Ali dismissed Tony Blair's meeting at Downing Street with the country's 20 most prominent members of the Muslim community as a "PR exercise", and said he believed these "elders" were out of touch with disenchanted Muslim youth.

About 15 per cent of the town's 185,000 citizens are Muslim and it has acquired a tag as a hotbed of radicalism, not least because of its links with the hardline Islamic group, al-Muhajiroun. For a while it carved out a heartland in the town before it was banned by Luton's mosques six months ago, although a handful of former members still distribute radical literature at a roadside stall on Fridays.

The leader of Luton group of al-Muhajiroun is believed to be Sayful Islam, a 24-year-old accountant formerly known as Ishtiaq Alamgir, who has been disowned by mainstream Muslims. He has claimed to be the "mouth, eyes and ears of [Osama] bin Laden", has called the UK a "legitimate target'' for terror attacks, and has called for a Muslim caliphate including Britain.

Many others acknowledged anger at not being heard or represented and admitted to feeling less pride in being British than Muslim, with a strong emotional bond to the concept of Ummah, or the Muslim community, that extends across geographic and nationalistic boundaries.

A shop assistant at a Muslim bookshop said: "The injustices that Britain is inflicting through their foreign policy is unacceptable. There are angry men who sympathise with the people who are oppressed."

Abu Zulfiqer, 24, a Bangladeshi-British Muslim, said while he disagreed with killing innocent people, some felt it was legitimate to defend the "brotherhood".

The older generation of the town's Pakistani and Bangladeshi community felt appalled by the radicalism of the youth.

Hafi Jameel, 50, a shop owner in Bury Park, said: "Blowing up a bomb in London is not jihad. If Germany or Holland or France were to attack us, we should defend our country and die for it. This is jihad. We are British Muslims. We left our homes, our parents, everything, for the future of our children. Why don't these boys go to Karachi where there are bodies lying in the gutter and people are dying of poverty. Why don't they save those people?"

Muslim voices

SAQIB CHAUDRY, 17, A-LEVEL STUDENT

"This meeting is not us. These Muslim leaders are just going to agree with what Blair says. I'm not saying the bombings were a good thing but the American and British should not have been messing around in Iraq. Tony Blair should stop holding hands with George Bush. The bombings were tragic but there were reasons why those four people did it."

NAZRA NABI, 20, UNIVERSITY STUDENT

"I heard about this meeting and I think it is a very good thing. Muslims are going to have a difficult time because of the men who planted the bombs. The meeting will show the world we want peace and that Islam is a non-violent religion. Islam is meant to be a peaceful religion. A lot of boys think they did the right thing but most of us know it was wrong."

MOHAMMED ARIF, 40, BUSINESSMAN

"If the bombs were the work of Muslims, then they were not good men. I am glad Tony Blair has decided to meet Muslim leaders. It is a step that should have been taken before now. It is also the responsibility of parents to teach their children what Islam is really about. This is our country. Why would we want to harm anyone in it?"

SAQIB ISHAQ, 17, UNEMPLOYED

"What will a meeting do? Who are these Muslim leaders who are talking to Tony Blair? They aren't people I've heard of and they haven't got a young person there to talk about stuff we want to talk about, so what are they going to say? Are they just going to apologise for what happened? We walk around now with people giving us suspicious looks."

RUMEL ALI, 21, RETAIL SUPERVISOR

"This meeting between Muslims and Tony Blair is just politics. Blair will just listen and not do anything. I think we can relate the London bombers to the Iraq war. There were 52 people killed in London but where was the two minutes' silence for the 120,000 people killed in Iraq? There is no political party or Muslim leader out there for us."