Here's a piece I forgot to post, which was printed in the Independent on Sunday on 13th August 2006 titled "Engaging the Enemy Within".
I had originally approached them proposing a piece that would deconstruct that month's "terror plot" -- after some discussion, the editors said they had that front covered, and wanted something else to deal with the question of why we get muslims who seem to want to become suicide killers? What is it about these muslims? Is there something particularly mysterious or exotic about them?
So I thought I would leave my demolition job to my blog and other online outlets (as no one in print wanted to touch it with an editorial barge pole, too controversial i presume), and tackle this particular issue of muslim extremism....
Engaging the enemy within Their legitimate concerns turn into a psychology of victimisation
Independent on Sunday 13.08.06
By Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
The Wednesday arrests of 24 terrorist suspects, mostly British Muslims, planning to launch a spectacular suicide terrorist attack more lethal than 9/11, has sent shockwaves of fear around the world. The plotters have been described as young British-born men and women, between the ages of 17 and 35. How could such seemingly normal people, many with jobs, families and an education, become radicalised to the extent that they were prepared to die, in order to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians?
An open letter to the Prime Minister from three of the four Muslim MPs, three of the four Muslim peers, and 38 Muslim organisations including the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain blames government foreign policy. Although No. 10 is dismayed by the letter, the thrust of its argument was acknowledged by a Home Office report leaked to the Sunday Times last year, several days after the 7th July atrocities, which admitted that young British Muslims were particularly disillusioned by “a perceived ‘double standard’ in the foreign policy of western governments”, especially regarding “Western bias in Israel’s favour over the Israel/Palestinian conflict.” Many British Muslims see the ‘war on terror’ in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere as “acts against Islam.” The report says that “a sense of helplessness” about this situation is exacerbated by the “lack of any tangible ‘pressure valves’, in order to vent frustrations, anger or dissent.”
British intelligence agencies are acutely aware of this connection. In February 2003, the Joint Intelligence Committee warned the Prime Minister that the al-Qaeda threat would be “heightened by military action against Iraq”. Just over two weeks before the 7/7 attacks, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre noted that the Iraq issue provided a “motivation and a focus” for UK-based terrorist activity.
Yet is this explanation sufficient? After all while many British Muslims oppose the occupation of Iraq they are hardly unusual in this regard. Millions in Britain oppose our government’s foreign policy. There is therefore something deeply unsatisfactory about this explanation -- clearly, grievances over the war must be accounted for, but what remains mysterious is how such grievances are converted into the planning of suicide atrocities.
Nothing obviously distinguishes British Muslim terror suspects. They don’t appear to suffer from any obvious forms of social exclusion. However, many of them seem to have been looking for something more in life. Neighbours and friends described them as non-descript, well-behaved practising Muslims. Several were recent converts to Islam, such as the son of a Conservative Party staffer, and another described as a former alcohol and drug user. How did they become radicalized?
There are perhaps 3,000 Muslims in this country who are, or have been involved in al-Qaeda related terrorist activity. The vast bulk of these people were recruited after 9/11 during the war in Afghanistan, by a small group of foreign Islamist preachers and activists revolving around the Finsbury Park mosque. They include Omar Bakri Mohammed, Abu Hamza, Abu Qatada, Abu Izzadeen, Mohammed al-Masari, Saad al-Fagih, among others. Out of these, only Hamza and Qatada are in custody, and Bakri is in exile.
The brand of “Islam” promoted by Bakri, Izzadeen, and others is a highly charged political ideology that feeds in part on Muslim grievances about western foreign policy. Normal and legitimate concerns are turned into a paranoid psychology of victimization that views a monolithic “west” as hell-bent on the destruction of Islam and Muslims worldwide.
What western military jargon calls ‘collateral damage’, wrought by western interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and elsewhere, becomes ample fodder to propagate a dualistic worldview in which the west is at perpetual war with Islam. But this marginal interpretation of Islam pre-dates the recent round of Western intervention in the Middle East. Extremist preachers depict the killing of western civilians as retaliatory attacks justified by Muslim deaths due to American, British and Israeli military operations. Hypnotic audiovisual techniques splice images of gruesome atrocities against Muslim civilians with those of al-Qaeda leaders preaching justice. The resulting sense of victimization is used to show that a return to a global Islamist theocracy established through “jihad” is necessary to protect Muslims from oppression. Thus, the sense of helplessness, frustration and anger is consciously filtered into a dangerous and cult-like ideology of death, as a path to hope.
In methods and end-goals, this extremist vision of Islam is not significantly different to other dangerous cults that prey on impressionable minds, except in terms of the massive scale of its material support-network. The letter from Muslim leaders in Britain ignores the fact that this network is actively promoted and exported by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States, as well as groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. They pour millions of pounds of funds into mosques, organizations and charities not only in the UK, but in the US, western Europe, and beyond. The aim is to identify Islam with their specific political program. In this they resemble those in the West who claim that the world can be understood in terms of ‘evil-doers’ and ‘arcs of extremism’.
The process of radicalization is an expensive one. Saudi financing of al-Qaeda through charities and foundations is well-known to the international intelligence community. Operatives like Bakri and Hamza received lavish funding from this network and used it to bring extremism into British Muslim communities. Sophisticated indoctrination techniques have allowed an extremist governing ideology sponsored by Gulf States, with little support amongst most Muslims around the world, to successfully create a minority of dangerous fanatics who are willing to indulge in atrocities, believed to be justified by the west’s perceived atrocities against Muslims.
The British government’s response to the networks spearheading this radicalization process has been ambivalent. Over the last decade, our close economic ties to repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia have led western leaders to turn a blind eye not only to domestic human rights abuses there, but also to the sponsorship of terrorist networks and a corresponding extremist ideology of Islam. Simultaneously, the government has failed to arrest, charge or prosecute some of the most senior Islamist operatives linked to terrorist activity, including for instance Omar Bakri, who while languishing in Lebanon outside British jurisdiction, continues to oversee the radicalization of hundreds of British Muslims via internet, encouraging them to engage in terrorism.
The authorities must take legal action against Islamist preachers who lead these networks. Both the government and media should stop treating extremist organisations as fit representatives of mainstream muslim opinion. And all of us must be clear that extremist Islam is a well-funded and sophisticated lie, much like the western imperialism it purports to resist.
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