Tuesday, October 25, 2005


There were many fascinating moments in tonight’s Channel 4 (UK) documentary, ‘Young, Muslim and Angry’. For those who missed it, or who live elsewhere in the world, there was a good article by its writer and producer, Navid Akhtar (left), in Sunday’s Observer newspaper. He cogently illustrated how the British government’s ‘community leader’ strategy, which ignores the grassroots and fails to address the advocates of Islamic radicalism, is compounding rather than reducing the drift to extremism among an alienated minority.

At the heart of Akhtar’s own story is his wrestling with Pakistani roots and British routes, one might say. He ends on a hopeful note about the possibility of genuine convergence (rather than top-down ‘integration’). But the complexities and wounds he shines the briefest camera light on are clearly not susceptible to ready solutions. This is not least because the ‘quick fixes’ that are on offer come with a high price attached. Enter stage right the telegenic communications officer of one of the groups Tony Blair wants to ban, the none-too-savoury Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Taji Mustapha speaks proudly of reforming dealers. ‘Some of our activists got about four of the top drug dealers and got them into the study circle to think about Islam ... When these guys became in tune with Islam and changed their ways, demand has fallen, supply has fallen, so there has been a drop in the problem’.

It reminds me somewhat of the hard-line evangelical Christian groups who also have the capacity to offer certainty and vision to broken lives, including those who President Bush’s ‘compassionate conservatism’ has put in charge of some US penal institutions. Mustapha even had something of the born-again gleam as he spoke. Not that the film-maker made this analogy, and not that most American religious right philanthropists are quite advocating the equivalent of a global caliphate (although the ‘reconstructionists’ at their tail may be). Anyway, back to Navid Akhtar:

The terrorists who emerged from my community followed this pattern of youthful excess to radical religion. Amar Omar Saeed Sheikh, born down the road from me, got into trouble for drinking and flings with older girls before discovering radical Islam, helping the 9/11 bombers and being sentenced to death for his part in the beheading of the American journalist, Daniel Pearl. The Derby-born Hamas suicide bomber, Omar Khan Sharif, was expelled from his school for disciplinary problems; Hasib Mir Hussein was known for drinking and shoplifting before becoming the man who blew up the bus in Tavistock Square.

As an indigenous Pakistani commentator more-or-less said, head inclined to his overseas audience, “Don’t blame us, these are British lads.” Listening, Tony?

(Addendum: fine, forthright, painful coverage of the Birmingham disturbances over on Pickled Politics. And on Ekklesia we have offered this response to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.)

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