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A defiant Islam rises among young Britons

Thursday's attacks turn attention to a group alienated from British society.

By James BrandonCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 11, 2005



LONDON

Thursday's coordinated terrorist attacks that killed at least 49 people have underscored competing forces within Britain's Muslim community: a minority that advocates violence against Western targets, and those who want to coexist peacefully with Britain's multifaith, multiethnic society.

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Since the bombings, the media and Muslims have been at pains to explain that most of the country's 2 million Muslims are peaceful. "The Muslim community in Britain has a long history and is enormously diverse," says Anas al-Tikriti, a member of the Muslim Association of Britain.

But the attacks are turning attention to the increasing numbers of young British Muslims who are rejecting their parents' traditional culture in favor of a radical and expansionist Islam. This strikingly Western version of Islam combines an independence of thought with a contempt for established traditional scholarship and a theme of teenage rebellion.

"Getting involved in radical Islam is an emotional thing rather than a rational decision," says Abdul-Rahman al-Helbawi, a Muslim prayer leader. "And it's not a matter of intelligence or education - a lot of these radicals in Britain are very well-educated."

In Dalston market in north-east London on Thursday, "Abdullah," a Muslim watch-mender and evangelist, was in a pugnacious mood.

"We don't need to fight. We are taking over!" he said. "We are here to bring civilization to the West. England does not belong to the English people, it belongs to God."

Two days later in a prosperous West London cafe, Mr. Helbawi pondered the attacks. "It's not a surprise but I am still shocked," he said. "How can they do this? London is a city for all the world. This is not Islam."

Hours after the bombings, Helbawi logged onto an Internet chat room run by British Muslim extremists. "They were all congratulating each other on the attacks," he said. "It was crazy. They were talking about how they had won a great victory over the infidels, as if they had just come back from a battle."

Although so far, there is no evidence that British Muslims were involved in the bombs, there is little doubt that many British Muslims feel that Britain "deserved" the attacks for supporting the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Because Muslims explain the conflicts in Iraq, Kashmir, and Israel through Islam, every Muslim feels involved," said Helbawi. "People watch television and see Palestinian women being hit and pushed around by Israeli soldiers, and get angry and feel that they have to do something."

But beyond anger, a sense of alienation often drives radical Islam. Many second- and third-generation immigrants find themselves cut off not only from their parents' cultures but also from a British one that includes alcohol and looser sexual mores.

"If you don't drink, it really cuts you off from English society," says Ummul Choudhury, a London-based Middle East analyst for the Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies. "The view of the older generation is also that you do not integrate. If you do, you are told you are betraying your culture and religion."

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