Page 3 of 3   <      

Young Muslim Rage Takes Root in Britain

'Democracy by Force'

"The root is foreign policy," said Bukhari, who has emerged in the past year as a leading voice of the young Muslim community. "Only a half-wit wouldn't understand that this is about" British and American policies in the Middle East.

Ahmed Versi, editor of the Muslim News, said he receives at least two e-mails a day with pictures of dead bodies: Muslims who have been killed in conflicts around the world -- most recently in Lebanon, where Israel is fighting Hezbollah -- an effort widely seen here as backed by the United States and Britain. He said the photos are part of mass mailings to e-mail lists across the Muslim world, which inflame sentiments and aid recruiting by extremist groups.

"Young children torn to pieces, killed by the Israelis," Versi said. "Iraq is also a major cause. Young people see these pictures."

Ehsan Hannan, spokesman for the London Muslim Center, said British foreign policy, which she said advocates the "spread of democracy by force," was creating enough anger to push some people from anger to violence.

On Friday, several leading Muslim politicians and 38 Muslim groups, including the moderate Muslim Council of Britain, wrote to Blair calling for "urgent" changes to British foreign policy, arguing that the "debacle" of Iraq and other policies in the Middle East had put British civilians at risk at home and abroad.

On Friday afternoon, dozens of Muslim men came to the Darul Uloom Qadria Jalani mosque near the house of another Walthamstow suspect. After prayer services, many of the men denounced the British government, the United States and Israel -- which many see as allied against Islam.

"It's George Bush's policy that got us here today," said one worshiper, a law student, who declined to give his name. "It's his wars that have breeded the mentality and hate that is here today. And what we're angry about is that our Prime Minister Tony Blair doesn't represent the beliefs of the people."

Feeling Under Siege

On Sept. 11, 2001, Hussain was managing a retail electronics shop, surrounded by television sets that replayed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon over and over. "It is still in my mind," he said.

Since that day, and especially since the bombings in London last year, many British Muslims have felt under siege, discriminated against and feared for having a beard or dressing in traditional Muslim clothing. When the news broke this week of the arrests in the alleged bomb plot, one of Hussain's two daughters, Afsheen, 15, asked him: "Why do they call them Muslim terrorists? Are we like that?"

Hussain said when he walks around the city, people look at him and draw conclusions about him because he is a Muslim. He said that angers him, but he has also felt suspicious of others. Last weekend, when his brother visited London, Hussain rode on the subway to Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square to go sightseeing. It was his first subway ride since the bombings last year. "I saw someone carrying a big bag and it did cross my mind, you know: There could be a bomb in there," he said. "If it was a bearded man, it would have been worse."

Still, many young Muslims believe they have been unfairly targeted by police. Scotland Yard released statistics on Friday showing that 1,047 people had been arrested under the Terrorism Act between September 2001 and the end of June. Of those, only 158 were eventually charged with offenses covered by the law. Officials did not say how many of those arrested were Muslims. But Muslim officials have complained that the vast majority of those arrested were Muslims, and that the low number of people charged suggests that most of the arrests were unwarranted.

Many Muslims have been especially skeptical of the police since last summer, when officers shot and killed an innocent Brazilian electrician they mistook for a terrorism suspect. Then in June, police conducted a massive raid in the Forest Gate neighborhood of East London and arrested two brothers they suspected of preparing a chemical attack on London. Police shot one of the brothers during the raid and later released the men with an apology, saying officers had acted on incorrect intelligence.

In East London on Friday, many people said that the police track record made them skeptical that the 23 suspects still in custody were guilty. "They said this was intelligence-driven and we have seen intelligence of the British," said Hamza Qureshi, 20, a student.

'Muslim First and Foremost'

"Britain became the center of gravity for militant causes in Europe in the latter half of the 1990s and this made a very solid base for radicalization," said Petter Nesser, an analyst at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment who studies radical Islamic networks in Europe.

Welcoming immigration regulations combined with strict European Union human rights standards have often made it tough for Britain to expel the most radical of the newcomers. While Britain in recent months has eased deportation laws to try to get rid of several clerics who advocated violence, human rights laws have prevented deportations to countries such as Syria and Algeria, where deportees could be subject to torture or other inhumane treatment.

Courts have repeatedly sided with nine Afghans who hijacked an Ariana Airlines plane in 2000, took its passengers and crew hostage and flew to Britain. They requested political asylum status, arguing they would be persecuted by the extremist Taliban government that was then in place. After serving relatively short jail terms, the men have won court decisions preventing their deportation to Afghanistan. Blair called such decisions an "abuse of common sense," but judges have responded that they are simply enforcing the law.

Blair and other British officials have also lamented the failure of many in the Muslim community to fully integrate into British society, preferring to live instead in neighborhoods where they rarely mix with others.

"The identity of Muslims in the U.K. is Muslim first and foremost and British second," Ranstorp said, echoing a recent Pew global survey of Muslim attitudes that found that 81 percent of British Muslims who responded agreed with that sentiment. Only Pakistan had a higher percentage of people who considered themselves Muslims first, the survey showed.

Correspondent Craig Whitlock and staff writer Anushka Asthana in Washington and special correspondent Alexandra Topping in Isle of Wight, England, contributed to this report.


<          3

© 2006 The Washington Post Company