Politics, propaganda, and persecution: how Muslims see the raids

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The Independent Online

When L/Cpl Jabron Hashmi died for his country, serving as a soldier in Afghanistan, he became a symbol of the gap that could be bridged between young Muslims and their British homeland.

But yesterday, around the streets where he grew up, many were feeling increasingly alienated from the authorities and questioning what lay behind the anti-terrorist raids in the streets of Birmingham.

On Tuesday, police raided 12 addresses in the city, arresting nine men said to be Muslims. Security sources said the alleged plot - thwarted by the new Midlands counter terrorism unit - was of a sinister nature never before seen on British soil. It was to carry out a "close quarters" abduction of a Muslim soldier. They claimed the victim would have been filmed, made to plead for his life and ultimately murdered.

Yesterday L/Cpl Hashmi's brother Zeeshan, a former soldier himself, said there could be no justification for such a barbaric act.

"What I would say to the extremists is that extremism does not help change anything," he said. "If you really want to make a change and be effective, I would say it's best to be part of the system and work peacefully within, not be outside it. One of the main reasons why my brother and I went into the military - apart from being British and feeling a sense of duty to the country - was because of the position of global politics and the clash between East and West.

"Because we are British and Muslims, we thought we could be of benefit by taking part and perhaps ensure greater understanding through our position."

Waqar Ahmedi, a local youth leader who recently took 30 Muslim teenagers and young men on a three-day Army training course, said the idea of killing a British soldier was "twisted ideology", adding: "We believe that if a Muslim soldier is kidnapped and killed, he would become a martyr and the people who did the killing are the ones who left the faith."

But in L/Cpl Hashmi's home area of Bordesley Green yesterday, others questioned whether more Machiavellian reasons lay behind the recent warnings about terrorism, and whether the authorities were making a scapegoat of the Asian community to justify their own actions.

Riemo Rehman, 36, said: "I feel Blair has a lot of problems justifying to the community the war in Iraq. If the Government keeps hyping up the fact there is still a big terrorist threat, it keeps people thinking they are justified in protecting the country. We Muslims equally want to protect the country. But I feel it is a ploy taken from the Americans. If people live in fear, they ask less questions."

On the day that the Home Secretary John Reid made a fresh attempt to extend the maximum period that terror suspects can be detained without charge beyond 28 days, Mr Rehman continued: "People are worried. Are 20 policemen going to turn up at their house and then, six weeks later, say, 'Sorry we made a mistake'? Everybody feels on edge. It is wrong. We are a community that helps and supports anti-terrorism but that is never highlighted."

Fareeza Begum, 42, added: "They are trying to justify the mistakes they have made. Even in England, such a forward thinking country, there is propaganda." Born and raised in Britain, she said she wasshocked at suggestions of a terrorist plot in her midst. She remembered only too well local pride and grief when L/Cpl Hashmi, 24, was killed. "You serve the country where you live," she said. "He was there to protect and serve to keep the peace. He joined the Army and did his duty wherever he was posted to, wherever he was sent to."

Police began distributing thousands of leaflets insisting: "We want to reassure you that the police are not targeting communities or faiths but suspected criminals. Our role is to protect, reassure and support all communities." But many local Asians appeared bewildered by the events of the past few days. While repeatedly airing their support for any anti-terrorist activity, they remained wary. One businessman, Sajid Hussain, said the community fully supported any police activity against criminals, but urged caution.

"Unless somebody is proven guilty you cannot call them a terrorist. People have been arrested before and released. We have got to wait and see what happens."