Abul Taher: Why some Britons have joined the jihad against the West

'Whatever war will be unleashed in the coming days, it should be waged with caution and justice'
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I havespoken to many young British Muslims since the terrorist attacks on the United States. I am sure they were as shocked and stunned at the barbarity of those acts, carried out in the name of their religion, as anyone in Britain.

Nevertheless, it is important to understand the depth of disillusionment that sections of the Muslim community feel towards the West. The same motives that drove some young men from the Middle East to become suicide bombers have also driven young British Muslims to join the jihad. If this "war against terrorism" is mishandled, many more recuits will follow.

Of course, most young British Muslims were appalled by the murder of thousands of civilians in New York. But many are equally appalled by the sufferings of civilians in Iraq and the prospect of more of the same in Afghanistan. While they grieve for those who lie dead in the rubble of the World Trade Centre, they also genuinely grieve for starving Iraqi babies. The sanctions on Iraq have become a central burning issue for many young British followers of Islam. This strain of bitterness towards a policy maintained by the British government has pushed a few to shake off the peaceful conservatism of their parents and take up a jihad against the West overseas.

They were recruited by Islamic fundamentalist groups looking for Muslims to fight abroad. While interviewing a prominent London-based hardliner, I learned that his group was recruiting students to train abroad in secret camps alongside the "soldiers" of Osama bin Laden. British Muslims have been going to camps abroad for years, some as young as 16. These teenagers would lie to parents and tell them they were going on holiday with friends, but would secretly go and train in camp for a few weeks.

Why would these teeangers feel so disenchanted that they would risk their lives abroad? Insiders told me that such recruitment dated back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979; but on British university campuses such recruitment really started after the 1991 Gulf war. This convinced many Muslims across the world that the "infidel" West had an anti-Islamic agenda and was hell-bent on destroying the Muslim world. Many idealistic Muslim students at universities here felt the need to do something about it.

Fundamentalist groups, armed with paranoid anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, accounts of Muslim sufferings in Iraq and Bosnia (and later Chechnya), and even apocalyptic prophecies, were able to convince these impressionable men of the need to go on jihad against the West. It seems to me that this disillusionment with the West, and especially the US, is the heart of the problem. As long as this remains, there will be fodder in this country for hardline and terrorist groups.

It is crucial to remember that "belief" drove these students to go and train abroad to wage holy war, not poverty or deprivation. Unlike the British Muslim youths who have been involved in the race riots in northern England, these are from well-to-do, middle-class backgrounds, people who were studying to become engineers and accountants. Now we know that their backgrounds were uncannily similar to the backgrounds of the suicidal pilots who attacked the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

George Galloway, the Labour MP, has argued that bombing Afghanistan will only create a thousand more Osama bin Ladens. That might not be true, but it will certainly create thousands of volunteers who would be glad to train in his camps to wage war against America, by whatever means.

If the West truly wants to rid the world of Islamic terrorism, then it needs to re-examine its relationship with the Muslim world. If Britain does not want a disillusioned and bitter Muslim community in its midst then it should consider carefully what sort of military action it will take against Afghanistan and other terrorist targets.

Tony Blair has made some gestures that have been welcomed by the Muslim community. The prime Minister's plea that Islam should not be judged by the terrorists' actions and that British Muslims should not be victimised because of the attacks have done much to maintain steady race relations. And this attititude will help separate the real hardliners from the rest.

But we need more than words. The Government should categorically state that it is waging war on terrorists, and will draw the line if the US decides to bomb Kabul or Kandahar, as it did Baghdad over a decade ago.

Whatever war will be unleashed in the coming days, it should be waged with caution and justice, and with the support of the Muslim world and the community here. This must be a war against terrorism. It must not be allowed to explode into a clash of civilisations. That would push the young Muslims of this country further away.


The author is the news editor for 'Eastern Eye'