The sidewalks where terror breeds
(Page 2 of 3)
After his return to Britain in 2002, Kelly quickly became a disciple of Bakri, a radical Syrian-born cleric based in Britain, who is most widely known for celebrating 9/11, and more recently, blaming 7/7 on British foreign policy. Through Bakri's circle, which is now largely underground, Kelly met Abu Osama. Now, they gravitate toward obscure mosques that nurture homegrown extremists.Skip to next paragraph
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"The imam here" - Kelly nods at the mosque - "said, 'Pray for the victory of the mujahideen in all the world.' He's talking about Osama bin Laden, but he can't say that."
Hard-line mosques are an intoxicating arena for disillusioned young Muslims, Britain's fastest-growing, poorest, and worst-educated minority.
"The pull to Islam in general is not bad," says Malik. "It gives [young people] a sense of identity and spirituality that is important to their lives."
However, the perceived persecution of Muslims worldwide can imbue their faith with a politics of resentment; they see the world divided into two opposing groups: Muslims and others. "The world begins to appear black and white," Malik says.
"When it comes to politics, sometimes I just feel angry," spits Farouq (not his real name), 21, as he scans East London shop-windows for Help Wanted signs. Women in chadors sweep past, steering their baby carriages through discarded fish'n'chips wrappers and cigarette ends.
Farouq has never heard of Abu Osama. "I don't have time to pray any more. But I'd like to get back into it," he muses. "I know definitely [Islam] will help me."
Concerned that radical groups might capitalize on this kind of discontent, mainstream Muslim leaders have deliberately shunned those who advocated violence.
Some say the effort to weed out extremists is a sign of progress. Others say it has backfired, throwing together vulnerable young Muslims and hard-liners.
This week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with Muslim leaders to discuss ways to confront this "evil ideology." As Mr. Blair pushed legislation to deport radical clerics, the group announced plans for a task force and clerics pledged greater cooperation with security officials. But analysts say mainstream clerics may struggle to reach young Muslims already committed to radical ideology.
Kelly, evidently, had little use for the summit: "You're either a servant of Tony Blair, or Islam."
Last fall, Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the MCB, told The Christian Science Monitor that the extent of radicals in Britain was being hyped up by the media. "The reality on the ground is that there is almost nothing there," he said. "Islamic terrorism: much of it is a media myth."
Then came the slaughter of 7/7. From café-studded central London, mainstream Muslim organizations declared that such suicide attacks were un-Islamic.
But over in East London, Abu Osama's group argues that attacks on civilians by Palestinian, Kashmiri, and Iraqi militants are seen as legitimate by the majority of the world's Muslims.
"How dare anyone come on television and say suicide bombings are not part of our belief?" scoffs Irish convert Kelly. "These [moderates] are the lunatic fringe!"
Radical Muslims like Kelly consider themselves an embattled vanguard of the "true" Islam.
"We are persecuted for telling the truth, just like Jesus," says Kelly. "They're demonizing us. There's always police. They tell us it's for our own protection, but it's obvious they're here to spy on us," he adds.
"All we want to talk about is how beautiful Islam is," says an Iraqi immigrant, who, like others standing here, mingles lyrical spirituality with a blunt advocacy of violence. "Zarqawi is showing the way," he says, referring to the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of the radical faction of foreign fighters in Iraq.
Like many, his dedication to Islam arose from a messy flirtation with a Western lifestyle, including drinking and taking drugs. "When reality hits you, you come back to Islam," he says. "If you read the Koran, you see that Allah gave us the right to terrorize the enemy."