Fear, disbelief as British Muslims reflect
LEEDS, England- Nisar Ahmed feels close to his four sons, who often travel to his native Pakistan. So close, he said, that he’s never had any reason to suspect they would secretly visit a terrorist training camp or enroll at a radical Islamic school. But that was before the London bombings. Now, Ahmed is taking no chances. The next time his sons, ages 27, 28, 30 and 31, fly there, he said, he’s going to question them: Are you really going to that wedding? Are you really planning to see the relatives? If he can, he will restrict where they go inside Pakistan–a measure other fathers are also planning to take, he said. “All parents are going to make sure their children stay in their village or in the city where they come from,” Ahmed said in a firm voice. For the first time, Muslims of this city’s Beeston neighborhood said, they are taking a hard look at their community, which police said produced three of the four men who died in the July 7 attacks. Some are struggling to understand how their young people were drawn into fanaticism, and are trying to take action to prevent a recurrence. Others are unconvinced the three men were suicide bombers, and suggest they might have been dupes who didn’t know they were carrying bombs.
Whatever their view on this question, members of the older generation in Beeston tend to share a collective fear that the attacks might have stained their community irreversibly. “They feel that 50 or 60 years of hard work is going down the drain,” said Mohammed Arshed, a social worker and community elder in Beeston. The three local men whom police have identified as July 7 bombers – Shehzad Tanweer, 22, Mohammed Sidique Khan, 30, and Hasib Hussain, 18 – came from Pakistani immigrant families. Authorities are investigating whether they received terrorism training during visits to Pakistan last year. Their families have said they believed they were visiting relatives and studying how to pronounce the Arabic in the Quran, Islam’s holy book. “It could have been any of our children,” said Ejaz Hussain, owner of a corner shop who knows the parents of two of the bombers. Community elders have come under pressure to erase their area’s sudden notoriety as a breeding ground for terrorism. They have held public meetings with police officers and pledged to cooperate fully. They have organized peace marches to show solidarity against terrorism. Parents of the bombers have expressed their condolences to victims and their families. At the white-walled Hardy Street mosque this week, Sarwar Khan, an elder, took two journalists on a tour. He opened a green door and stepped into a room filled with young girls, all wearing traditional Islamic head scarves and reciting from Arabic textbooks in Yorkshire accents.
He insisted the school isn’t a madrassa, or Islamic school. In Pakistan and other Muslim countries, extremist madrassas often teach children hatred of the West. The girls were studying Arabic and the Quran because they couldn’t study them in the British school system, he said. “This is all very basic–like learning your ABCs,” said Khan, secretary of the Kashmir Muslim Welfare Association, which runs the mosque. Then he went to a dusty basement room with treadmills, a bike machine and a ping-pong table. This was where the bombers once pumped weights together. Now, said Khan, the mosque’s members are more vigilant. “We know who is coming and what they are doing,” Khan said. “It’s like a wake-up call, not just here, but to every Muslim parent, to make sure they watch over their children, know where they are going and what they are being taught.”Arshed agreed. As he sat inside a community center, he spoke of how Pakistani parents rarely attend parents-night programs at local schools. “They are too busy making money,” he said, shaking his head. “Parents need to take more interest.”But he also argued that the government needs to integrate young Muslims disaffected by high unemployment, substandard living conditions and a deep mistrust of the system.
“If, for example, Islamic teachings were sufficient at school, not only could those teachings be monitored but kids wouldn’t feel the need to go to madrassas,” said a close relative of Tanweer, who spoke on condition her name not be used. None of this, said Arshed, could erase anger over global suffering of Muslims that many believe helped fuel the bombings. “What’s happening in Afghanistan and Iraq is making the Muslim community lose fear of death,” Arshed said. There are other questions. Why would the bombers buy round-trip tickets to London if they planned to kill themselves there? Why would one bomber buy parts to repair his Honda Civic two days before the attacks? In Beeston, this is a vital distinction. Maybe the men were carrying the bombs for someone else, perhaps without knowing it. This would mean their community is not an incubator for extremists. “Were they suicide bombers or were they set up?” Arshed asked. “There are still these questions in the mind of the community. There are so many questions that are unanswered.”Vail – Colorado