Russell Razzaque: I ran from the extremists. Others didn't

The pedlar of extremist Islam pushes a version perfectly pitched to play on the cracks of a bruised ego

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He lay on the rucksack, arms outstretched in a Christ-like position, anticipating his entry into paradise, waiting and yearning for the glorious moment when he would be welcomed with open arms on "the other side" in Allah's "community of the chosen". It didn't work this time but it's only a matter of time.

How does someone get there? Freshers' week, London, 1989, I had already made a small band of friends. They were young Muslims like me and we clung together. Most of the stalls on clubs and societies recruitment day seemed to be fairly unpopulated so the one which was manned by more than a dozen people stood out. It was the Islamic Society. They were young men and women who spoke our language, were on our level and with whom we could bond. The form of Islam they preached, however, was unlike anything I had ever heard of before. A key aim for every Muslim, I was told, was the creation of an Islamic state. The era of the Caliphate was the golden era of Islam and it was our duty to bring it back. Something about the message chimed with me so I went to a meeting the following week.

This time they were more explicit. "Inshallah we will be victorious in the battle to establish the rule of Allah on this Earth. There is no price we should not be prepared to pay for this demand Allah makes of us." Amid the murmurs of support, there was one dissenting voice - a dental student from Sudan - who was immediately branded a "kaf" (kafir or infidel).

I never returned to the Islamic Society after that, but spent subsequent months avoiding calls and leaflets declaring that I could consider myself a true Muslim only if I joined their cause. I kept running. But many others didn't.

Among my original band of Muslim friends at medical school, at least half began to devote their lives to the Islamic Society and the organisation behind it - Hizb ut-Tahrir. They gradually reduced their hours of study and, later, work. They spoke and seemed to care for little else; it was as if they were entering a parallel universe. Some dropped off the radar altogether.

It's nearly 10 years since graduation and I have been making a film focusing on the lives of second-generation Muslims in east London. In Halal Harry, I created a caricature of an extremist Muslim who becomes a figure of ridicule because of the way he relates to women.

We were filming in east London on 7 July when the horrific news of the attacks came through. I instantly knew that this was the work of British Muslims like me.

Unlike any other group of immigrants in this country, second-generation Muslims are faced with an acute dilemma from the first day they set foot outside their parental homes. Local British youth culture centres on nightclubs, alcohol and other substances and pre-marital sex, all of which are strictly prohibited by their religion and ancestral culture.

But sanctuary is rarely found back at home. Lack of identification with parents is common. This is attributable not only to a generational and cultural gap but also to a formal, hierarchical, parent-child dynamic that is common in Eastern societies. This can sometimes precipitate feelings of abandonment.

With adolescence, a degree of Westernisation invariably occurs. This can ultimately result in anything from an eclectic East/West mixed identity to total Westernisation with a complete denial of the origin culture. However, for some that journey can be rudely interrupted. An incident of racism or rejection can create a perception of sudden distance from Western culture and the resurfacing of the narcissism and insecurity of childhood.

Enter the pedlar of extremist Islam. He pushes a version of Islam that is perfectly pitched to play on the cracks of a bruised ego. "Muslim humiliation will come to an end with the establishment of an Islamic state. It will restore Muslim pride." For "Muslim" read "your". The solution to all problems becomes the panacea Islamic state and the cause of all problems becomes the "evil" West.

A phenomenon I often encounter in my psychiatric practice - selective abstraction - then starts to take place in which whole sections of the Koran begin to take on new meaning: "[2.190] And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits." Although this passage refers strictly to self-defence - and even then only in a limited way - the fledgling extremist believes it gives him licence to attack non-Muslims even though he may not have been attacked by anyone himself. He has taken on the victim mentality in which he sees any injustice perpetrated against any body of Muslims as an injustice against him personally.

Muslim leaders have been quick to condemn the atrocities in London, though I note how few of them have been young Muslims. Much more is needed than condemnation. What is needed is a searching of the soul of British Islam, paying particular attention to the parent-child dynamic within the culture. Imams, community leaders and authority figures need to teach parents the importance of social bonding and emotional intimacy with their children, as a key aspect of their moral and religious duty.

A system of trainingand support for parents and community leaders is needed. A network of mentors also needs to be established in university campuses, colleges and youth clubs around the country to channel young people into groups and activities they can identify with. These mentors would also offer counselling and support at times of greatest stress and dissonance. Finally, ways in which grievance and protest can be channelled need to be established. Young people need to feel welcome to engage in the political process, particularly if their views oppose those of the government of the day rather than feeling excluded because of it.

I overcame the chasm I experienced in adolescenceby identifying with, and learning from, the few older British Muslims I could find who had successfully managed to incorporate both Eastern and Western values and traditions into their lives. In doing so, I followed their lead into political activism, writing and an eclectic social life.

Most young people find a similar path and manage to avoid or escape extremism, but some don't, and a few go all the way. They are the "community of witnesses" to the glorious deaths of their brothers whom they yearn to join in paradise. For them, it's too late - only the law can stop them now - but for others it's not. We must bring the conveyor belt to a halt. But that will take more than just condemnation.

The writer is a London-based psychiatrist and film-maker

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