Britain reaches out to Muslims

London — Britain began reaching out to Muslim communities Tuesday, launching what is likely to be a yearslong effort to confront the resentment and anger that helped breed suicide bombers who attacked London’s transit system.

A top law enforcement official also sought to ease fears that anti-terror police will target Muslims for searches.

Britons were stunned to learn that three of the suicide attackers suspected of killing 52 victims in the July 7 attacks were young Pakistani Britons; the fourth moved from Jamaica as a child. Most of the suspects in failed bombings on July 21 are immigrants from East Africa.

Islam / Islamism

Islamism is a totalitarian ideology adhered to by Muslim extremists (e.g. the Taliban, Wahhabis, Hamas and Osama bin Laden). It is considered to be a distortion of Islam. Many Islamists engage in terrorism in pursuit of their goals.

Adherents of Islam are called “Muslims.” The term “Arab” describes an ethnic or cultural identity. Not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs. The terms are not interchangeable.

The apparent willingness of men born and raised in Britain to turn to militancy has prompted soul-searching in a nation proud of its diversity and tolerance.

After the attacks, Prime Minister Tony Blair appealed to Muslim leaders for help in combatting the “twisted logic” of terrorism. He said later he was considering calling an international conference on rooting out Islamic extremism, particularly in the religious schools known as madrassas, many of them in Pakistan.

Hazel Blears, a minister in the Home Office, met community representatives in Oldham, a gritty former mill town in northern England that was the scene in 2001 of race riots that began when white youths attacked a South Asian family’s home. It was the first of a series of gatherings she plans around the country.

Ms. Blears said the government and Muslim communities must co-operate to fight the spread of militant ideologies.

“These people who are extremists are a tiny, tiny minority,” she said. “We have got to make sure that the mainstream feel strong enough to take them on.”

Riaz Ahmed, a former Oldham mayor whose home was fire-bombed during the riots, said moderates were eager to support such an effort. “We want to work together to get rid of this evil among us,” he said.

“We do have a responsibility to act,” agreed community activist Mohammed Miah, 30. “The right Muslims with the right thinking and the right mind need to get to the youngsters before the extremists do.”

Dominic Grieve, a spokesman on legal issues for the opposition Conservative Party, said he thought the bombings were “totally explicable” because of widespread anger among Muslims.

The state of many Muslim countries, particularly Iraq and others in the Middle East, “is not as they would like it, it is not as it should be, and some of the blame they undoubtedly attribute to Western society,” he told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

There are some 1.8 million Muslims in Britain, many with roots in South Asia, and the overwhelming majority are moderate in their views.

Muslims around the country have reported an increase in bias attacks since the bombings, a fresh attack in Edinburgh, Scotland, is likely to compound their fears.

A gang of 10 men attacked two South Asians on Friday, shouting racial taunts about the London bombings and throwing a hammer through their car window, police said. The hammer smashed the windshield and hit one of the passengers, who was bruised, but the pair, ages 18 and 20, were able to drive away without serious injury.

Many Muslims also fear increased scrutiny from the police, who shot and killed an innocent Brazilian on the London Underground July 22, believing he was a suicide bomber.

Many worry officers are using racial profiling in their search for terror suspects. The Mail on Sunday newspaper quoted Ian Johnston, chief constable of the British Transport Police, as suggesting race would be a factor in police searches. “We should not waste time searching old white ladies,” he said.

Ms. Blears said counterterrorism powers must be guided by intelligence and not used in a discriminatory way.

“Just picking people up on the basis that they are Muslim is never going to get the results that we want,” she told the BBC.

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Associated Press, via The Globe and Mail, USA
Aug. 2, 2005

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This post was last updated: Monday, November 30, -0001 at 12:00 AM, Central European Time (CET)