The London bombs, one year on

About the author
David Hayes is deputy editor of openDemocracy, which he co-founded in 2000. He has written textbooks on human rights and terrorism, and was a contributor to Town and Country (Jonathan Cape, 1998). His work has been published in PN Review, the Irish Times, El Pais, the Iran Times International, the Canberra Times, the Scotsman, the New Statesman and The Absolute Game

He has edited five print collections of material from the openDemocracy website, including Europe and Islam; Turkey: Writers, Politics, and Free Speech; and Europe: Visions, Realities, Futures. He is the editor of Fred Halliday's Political Journeys - the openDemocracy Essays (Saqi, 2011)
A year after the suicide-attacks in which four young British Muslims killed fifty-two travellers on London's transport network, what has been learned and what has changed? openDemocracy writers look back, forward - and inside.
  • Faisal Devji
  • Sidney L Shipton
  • Yasmin Khan
  • Aftab Malik
  • Farmida Bi
  • S Sayyid
  • Stephen Howe
  • Abdul Wahid
  • Abdul-Rehman Malik
  • Huda Jawad
  • Roger Scruton

  • ***

    Faisal Devji, author of Landscapes of the Jihad

    The wrong model

    The official version of the bombings in London on 7 July 2005 proposes that the militants who carried out the attacks possessed no common profile, whether social, economic or psychological. In other words they were disparate individuals with different motivations. Some of the bombers, we are told, idolised al-Qaida, while others thought 9/11 an American conspiracy. They shared no ideology, then, but were brought together for technical reasons, rather like partners in business or crime.

    The absence of a militant ideology (as opposed to mere soundbites about the victimisation of Muslims) means that there is no indoctrination either, and certainly no al-Qaida "sleepers" who recruit in mosques and madrasas. Indeed radicalism among the 7/7 bombers was developed in secular spaces like gyms, clubs and rafting expeditions rather than in religious schools or places of worship.

    Also by Faisal Devji in openDemocracy:

    " Spectral brothers: al-Qaida's world wide web" (19 August 2005)

    "Osama bin Laden’s message to the world" (21 December 2005)

    "Back to the future: the cartoons, liberalism, and global Islam"
    (13 April 2006)

    The report of the intelligence and security committee of the British parliament notes the remarkable speed of this radicalisation of the bombers, a process which precludes indoctrination and suggests rather a kind of DIY militancy spawned by watching videos of war and martyrdom.

    We have moved here well beyond the cold-war paradigm of communist and anarchist as much as Islamic radicalism, which was about collective organisation and doctrine. The rhetoric of sharia law or an Islamic state is strikingly absent. But this is true of contemporary militancy more generally. Whether ecological, pacifist or religious, militancy has been liberated from an international order kept in place by détente, and no longer accepts models of organisation provided by the nation-state.

    How has the British government reacted to these findings? By concentrating on mosques and madrasas. To do this it has returned to cold-war notions of security, exemplified in plans to increase spending on police intelligence and counter-terrorism investigation outside London by £90 million, as well as to expand the number of police community-support officers from 6,300 to 24,000. In addition, it has introduced anti-terrorism legislation that significantly alters the constitutional balance between liberty and security.

    A government anxious to be seen to be taking action is still looking for radicalism in all the wrong places, and concentrating on groups and ideologies instead of individuals and networks; in effect, in the name of prevention, London has regressed even further than the cold war.

    Proposals put forward in response to the 7 July reports envisage the cultivation of moderate Muslim leaders, the vetting of religious education and the inculcation of liberal values through something called the "Islam roadshow". This model of prevention goes back to colonial times, when Britain had to deal with a very different form of religious activism in parts of her empire.

    Then, liberal institutions and education were promoted on the presumption that both were lacking. This presumption no longer holds because the London bombers were by no means ignorant either of the theory or practice of liberalism. It is improbable that their would-be successors will be seduced by a roadshow of Muslim scholars, which is likely too to produce even more resentment among Muslims at large.

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    Aftab Malik, author and publisher

    A bright future

    If you haven't noticed it, a debate is raging in streets, homes, mosques and universities across Britain. It's about the identity of Islam and who speaks for Islam. If you look for it, you will find young Muslims fully engaged, self-reflective and asking piercing questions. Unfortunately, it had to take 7/7 for this process to get underway.

    The Radical Middle Way project is an attempt to engage with the vast majority of Muslims: allowing the Islamic tradition in all its diversity to speak for itself while asserting its ethical, moral and humanistic dimensions. It is a weapon of education that is pitted against the religious illiteracy that plagues the radicals.

    Also by Aftab Malik in openDemocracy:

    "The state Muslims are in" (15 August 2005)

    However, such an initiative perplexes those critics who argue that "tradition" is part of the problem, and needs to be thrown out. I tend to agree with Fareena Alam, editor of Q-News, that what Muslims need and want is more religion, not less.

    The imperative question that follows is: who provides it, the liberals or the reformists? The debate over this issue is engulfed in suspicion and scepticism. The liberals are seen to be calling for an Islam stripped of religious scholars and retaining only certain aspects of the sharia while dumping the rest; the reformers are seen as having capitulated to demands from the west to "reform" aspects of Islam that it finds unacceptable.

    This difference of perspective reveals that something has gone wrong with the contemporary Islam project – and the Islamic tradition itself has been the casualty of the process. In this respect, ill-equipped interpreters who cannot relate "text" to “context" have performed a disservice; too often they employ a methodology that does not take their environment into consideration, and this makes their contributions oblivious of the complexities and challenges of the modern age.

    Whatever one's orientation, this debate about Islam, identity and belonging is real and it is being led by young Muslims: those who care for their religion and are proud of it, and who want to be part of and contribute to society. Many of these participants are or will become leaders. They and their colleagues understand that it is by questioning, reflecting and searching today that they will bring about a genuine and distinct cultural hybrid tomorrow: British-Islam, in which Muslims are doubly at ease: with their own tradition and with modernity.

    The flux of events and dialogues since 7/7 has helped make these young Muslims bold, resourceful, determined, and more confident in asserting their opinions. Most important of all, they have become engaged. They no longer want to be ghettoised, living on the fringes of society, nor are they afraid to challenge the status quo. Yes, there is much to be optimistic about. The future is bright.

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    Stephen Howe, professor of history

    A panorama of lies

    Beyond the immediate pain and tragedy, I guess the most important effect of 7/7 has been the enormous, horrifying proliferation of lies which it has engendered. The bombings did not begin any of those systematic and pervasive dishonesties, but have vastly accelerated and intensified their spread. Diverse latent trends have solidified. Previously scattered things have coalesced.

    The lies have come from many places, and betray many motives. There has been, perhaps most obviously, repeated official duplicity, from ministers, police chiefs and security services. From the obvious absurdity of asserting that the bombings had nothing to do with British foreign policy, through the false justifications offered for repeated infringements on civil liberties, to the explanations offered for particular police operations, we have seen in the past year a further debasement of the standards of public discourse. The genuine achievements and real good intentions of Britain's government, or indeed of both the Blairs (Tony, the prime minister, and Ian, commissioner of London's metropolitan police) have been sullied almost beyond cleansing.

    But the dishonesty of many of the Blairs' critics has been no less evident. The contemptible opportunism of some Conservative opposition spokespeople is matched only by that of certain newly-minted "anti-Islamophobes". To hear them in the wake of the Jean-Charles de Menezes killing, for instance, you'd think what had happened was that, after a conspiracy of Brazilian electricians had started planting bombs, the police gratuitously targeted innocent Pakistanis.

    Also by Stephen Howe in openDemocracy:

    "Edward Said: the traveler and the exile"
    (October 2003)

    "The death of Arafat and the end of national liberation"
    (November 2004)

    "Boycotting Israel: the uses of history"
    (April 2005)

    There are the lies from those who claim, without any mandate from anyone, to represent Muslims in Britain – or indeed to speak for a "true" or "authentic" Islam which is in reality only their own narrow sect, political project or personal whim. There are those who pretend, while knowing better, that the bombers' ideology came out of the blue, with no serious connection at all to broader trends in Islamist thought or British–Asian subcultures. And those – sometimes the same people – who deny that either anti–semitism or a vicious hatred of gays, liberals, liberated women or artistic freedom has any place in those spheres.

    There have been the lies from journalists, media commentators and cultural critics – outmatched only by the stridency and bigotry some have displayed. Among many dishonourable examples, the prize for intolerance and for near-total eschewal of any discernible standard of evidence or accuracy must surely go to Melanie Phillips, in her recent book Londonistan, her Daily Mail columns, and her online diary.

    What all these have in common is a conception of pan–Islamism, or the umma, which is itself a very recent – and in its specific manifestations very local – construct. Invocations of a mythicised "origin" in terms of personal, familial or communal belongings mesh with highly formalised and aggressive articulations of religious solidarity. Here Islamophobes enter into a strange alliance with Islamists, and with an alarmingly large number of commentators who are neither.

    All espouse, in Syrian historian Aziz al-Azmeh's now prophetic–sounding words: "a savage essentialism, a changeless ahistorical irreducibility, a mythical 'real' Islam independent of time". We can't afford that myth any more. We cannot, sadly, even afford to be tolerant of its exponents, whether they claim to be friends or enemies of the fantasy "Islam". Any statement whatever beginning "Muslims believe that…", or "Islam is…" is the biggest lie of all.

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    Huda Jawad, London resident

    A question of faith

    When my sister and mother accompanied me to St Mary's Hospital in west London to hand over our bouquet of flowers and offer our sympathies to the victims of the 7 July 2005 bombings, and then moved on to light candles at Edgware Road tube station, a flurry of cameras clicked and flashed. At the time, I assumed that complete strangers armed with cameras were interested in our small acts of solidarity and defiance only because of the "unusual sight" of hijab–wearing Muslim women standing against violence. Would they be as interested, I recall thinking, if we weren't headscarfed and olive–skinned?

    In the days that followed, the routinely friendly attitudes towards me of my colleagues and fellow passengers on London transport helped my paranoia and sense of siege slowly to dissipate. This experience made me even more determined to stand up to the claims and acts of the people who perpetrated these attacks in the name of my beautiful and spiritual faith. Refusing to be a victim was an active choice that I made then and continue to make every day since.

    Now, a year on, a different predicament has emerged. For six months and more after the bombings, the sheer number of invitations to Muslims from government, NGOs and think–tanks to engage in discussion about the events and their implications created the experience of "consultation fatigue". True, many of the opinions expressed at these gatherings were refreshing and insightful as well as ridiculous, ignorant and even benignly racist (some "researchers" attributed violence by alienated British-born Muslims to sexual frustration). But the overall sense is of arguments becoming circular and remote from the grassroots. I feel pessimistic and annoyed that Britain's government, police service and civil society have wasted an opportunity to assist their fellow–citizens in Muslim communities to reflect on what happened, and to offer a counter–narrative based on the true reality of their lives as British Muslims.

    But perhaps this too is an opportunity in disguise. It might be that only Muslim communities themselves can take the initiative, to act without the accusing eye of the secularist (as opposed to the secular) mindset which relegates faith to a socio-economic opiate of the masses.

    In the course of the year I have seen more and more young people from the diversity of the Muslim communities in Britain self–organise and force their elders and the wider society to listen to their concerns; create a safe space for discussion and reflection; and fight prejudice with kindness, ignorance with detailed rebuttal, and reductive arguments with articulate insight.

    All this is done with an implicit message to their parents' generation and their non–Muslim audience alike: we are here to stay, and we want the same understanding that all young people are afforded in trying to figure out their place in the world and how to contribute to creating a better society. And, say these young Muslims, we are willing to do it while carrying even greater baggage then the generations before us.

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    Sidney L Shipton, director, Three Faiths Forum

    The road of dialogue

    It is now a year since London suffered the vicious, murderous terrorist bomb attacks on its civilian population. What has changed since then? Londoners in past years have suffered bomb attacks from various sources aimed at putting over a political message, but the 2005 bomb attacks came with an allegedly religious connection. Suicide–bombers suggesting they are acting in the name of the holy Qu'ran have opened up a new dimension in terrorism against civilians.

    However, such terrorist attacks purporting to be in the name of Islam are perverting a great religion. My mentor, the late Sheikh Zaki Badawi, told me quite categorically that Islam could never sanction suicide–bombing, and that indeed suicide itself is a mortal sin. I believe too that the vast majority of Muslims do not accept that suicide-bombers act in their name, whatever a tiny minority of misguided individuals and self–styled religious leaders might say.

    The Three Faiths Forum – a Muslim-Christian–Jewish trialogue – has found that the atmosphere is changing, and for the better. Most Muslims, Christians and Jews, at all levels of civil society, want to come together in a spirit of mutual respect and understanding. The number of interfaith meetings and conferences is increasing, with more and more people attending. We are inundated with requests for speakers and to make presentations; our initiatives in the fields of law and education are flourishing.

    Dialogue may not be the answer to all our problems, either in Britain or internationally, but it is a pointer in the right direction. As the late Winston Churchill once said: "Jaw–jaw is better than war–war".

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    Farmida Bi, Progressive British Muslims

    Alienation

    The events of 7 July 2005 stunned integrated, liberal British Muslims like me and made us face questions and choices that we did not think applied to us. They included: am I a liberal or a Muslim, British or a Muslim, and even – am I a Muslim at all? It seemed that we could not hold multiple identities and that the extremists – who had always denied the possibility of engagement with the west – had won.

    The most disturbing thing about the Danish cartoons controversy that erupted across Europe in February 2006 was the way this view was echoed in an establishment press which declared the incompatibility of the values of east and west.

    7/7 made most of us embrace our Muslim identity and become determined to prove that it is possible to live happily as a Muslim in the west. We can no longer ignore widespread social alienation and we can't expect outside agencies to resolve it for us. Those of us who left our communities behind to live middle-class lives in London have accepted that we must become involved in community organisations and present an alternative to disillusioned young people.

    It has been a difficult twelve months. The sense of unity between most Muslims and the wider society forged in response to the bombs has been replaced by a feeling of increased alienation. The shooting of Jean-Charles de Menezes, the Danish cartoon row and the Forest Gate arrests have all emphasised the "otherness" of being a Muslim; the west's continuing involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine has reinforced it. It is no longer possible to be indifferent to one's identity as a Muslim – and that is definitely a victory for the extremists.

    The good news is that the extremists no longer go unchallenged in the Muslim community. They cannot find it so easy to poison the minds of the young when Muslims, from academics such as Tariq Ramadan to parents of teenagers, challenge their message of hate and move them on from mosques and youth centres. Meanwhile, parents themselves are obliged to rethink the comforting myths that have sustained them.

    The Muslim community in Britain is no longer ignoring its problems. The legacy of alienation left by 7 July is unlikely to disappear soon, but a willingness to face reality and a search for what British people have in common rather than what divides are two essential ways to overcome it.

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    Abdul Wahid, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain

    It's been no fair ride

    The last year has been a roller-coaster. In the eyes of many the London bombings placed guilt not only on four individuals, but on an entire community. The stop-and-search and shoot-to-kill policies that disproportionately targeted people who "looked Muslim" cost one life and almost a second in the farcical near-tragedy in Forest Gate.

    The British government has blamed this crisis on "extremism". Their decision to label the problem with such vague and emotive language has allowed it to prescribe vague and emotive solutions. The tabloids may have welcomed the more hardline measures but the Muslim community – like most of the judiciary – has not.

    The latest tranche of anti-terrorism laws provoked passionate debate before they were passed and the police use of the pre-existing laws triggered accusations of politicisation of the police. The legitimacy of torture in certain circumstances has entered the realm of legitimate debate, while its practice in the "war on terror" has become a reality. Society is generally more fearful because of the perceived security threat. But the lack of trust between government and the governed is so great that no one is quite certain how real that threat is.

    Also by Abdul Wahid in openDemocracy:

    "Tony Blair and Hizb-ut-Tahrir: 'Muslims under the bed'"
    (9 August 2005)

    "Hizb-ut-Tahrir's distinction"
    (15 August 2005)

    The roller-coaster's downs have been all too obvious. The ups are less so, but they do exist. Muslims have started to engage beyond the safety-zone of our own communities. It is only by direct engagement with the wider society that we have any hope of being seen as human beings and not as monsters. This is certainly welcome.

    But while politicians and pundits variously target mosques, extremism, theology, identity crisis, faith schools, education and a failure to adopt "our values" as the cause of the problem, the elephant that sits unremarked in the cabinet room in Downing Street is Iraq. If you mention it as a possible cause of anger, alienation and anti-western feeling generally, those in denial may tell you where to go but the "f" word they will never mention is "foreign policy".

    Britain's Muslim community may be able to offer welcome insight on this issue. The old "colonial" attitude that still burns strong in Downing Street has damaged the lives of so many over the past two centuries. The presence of a community that has links to the colonised world, coupled with 24/7 media coverage, has alerted many minds to the harms that are caused by these policies.

    However, change will only occur when denial ends, and there is little sign that any serious politician is willing to confront these most fundamental of attitudes – and that means this ride has some way yet to go.

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    Roger Scruton, philosopher

    Uncomfortable truths

    The bombings of 7 July 2005 did not mark a new departure in Islamist tactics. Students of Indian history are well aware of the impact of Wahhabism on the Indian sub-continent in the 19th century, and of the nihilistic rage that seems so often to accompany Islamic revivals in places where Islam is a minority faith.

    The London bombings – in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the Madrid attacks and the murder of Theo Van Gogh – have also brought home to people in Britain the danger of the "multicultural" approach to immigration. It is no longer tenable to suppose that immigrant communities can live in cultural ghettoes, insulated from the norms whereby the rest of us order our lives.

    The political elites in Europe are still reluctant to say this. In Holland it took Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an immigrant from Somalia who became a member of parliament, to speak up for what the majority of ordinary Dutch people think – namely that, if your culture endorses forced marriage and female circumcision, polygamy, and habits of dress that advertise contempt for western openness, then you don't belong in Holland. Hirsi Ali has been threatened with death for her words, and needs armed police protection – clear proof that what she says is true.

    Roger Scruton's articles for openDemocracy include:

    "Terror and globalisation: Islam outside the state"
    (15 August 2001)

    "Immanual Kant and the Iraq war"
    (19 February 2004)

    "The trouble with Islam, the European Union – and Francis Fukuyama" (1 June 2006)

    When large-scale immigration to Europe began in the 1960s, a concerted effort was made to impress on its citizens that it was for them to adapt to the newcomers. The injustice of this is now apparent. In fact, immigrants are under an obligation to obey the norms of their host communities, and to accept the surrounding culture as laying down the ground-rules of social conduct. Successful integration of the newcomers will change those ground-rules; but they must for the time being take precedence over all rival norms, since they establish the only path to integration.

    Immigrants to America have always understood this; so have nomadic people like the Jews, who learned from their earliest diasporas to privatise their faith and customs, and live in outward conformity to the surrounding moral order. It seems that a significant number of Muslims are not prepared to accept this obligation, and this raises the question as to whether they really belong in western societies. Most people (myself included) would say that they do not.

    Many such Muslims would themselves agree – but instead of leaving, they conceive the desire to wage war on the surrounding society, to turn their rejection into a fierce negation, and to live in denial of the world where they are. There are two reasons for this: either they are second- or third-generation immigrants, who no longer have a place to return to; or if they do have such a place, it tends to be ruled by people like themselves – the last people under whose government they would choose to live.

    We in the west are in the process of learning a hard lesson: namely, that the Islamist rejection of our secular culture is not a matter of rejecting customs and beliefs only – it is a matter of an existential apartness, which presents death as a constant temptation. Islamist apartness has much in common with the posture of the 19th-century terrorists described by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Joseph Conrad – a posture that is simultaneously puritanical and lawless, born of contempt for others and for the laws of this world. And we should listen carefully to Dostoevsky and Conrad, since it is time to face up to the uncomfortable truths that troubled them.

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    Yasmin Khan, project manager, 1001 inventions

    Bogeymen and a lost Muslim heritage

    Last week my 6-year-old daughter asked me, out of the blue: "why do Muslims always seem to be in trouble in the news?" A couple of days later, overhearing my husband and I discussing holiday destinations, she responded to a suggestion with: "Will there be any bombs there?"

    When adults still struggle to make sense of the 7 July 2005 bombings, how can we begin to explain them to a young child, whose inner world is especially vulnerable to incessant depictions of the "bogeymen" that haunt the earth? To an innocent British Muslim child who has never encountered violence, the fact that some of these menacing bogeymen could be British Muslims is even more perplexing.

    In 2006, however, I learned that although the term "Muslim terrorist" is an unresolved paradox, it is not an oxymoron to identify myself as a "British Muslim". That is partly because I have had the good fortune to uncover through my research work that a previously unacknowledged Muslim heritage has enriched the west – including Britain – in ways most people are not yet aware of.

    This hidden heritage has been a central part of British society for centuries. It is manifest, for example, in quintessentially English national architectural icons (the domes of St Paul's Cathedral and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton); in language (English words such as Blighty, candy, magazine, tabby, Trafalgar, summit and zero all have their roots in Arabic); from the discovery of coffee, carpets and soap, to the development of sophisticated mechanical devices and rockets. These are only the outward forms of a vast cultural interconnectivity that has bonded with and enriched western civilisation over many centuries.

    Some of the major Muslim contributions to world civilisation and discoveries are on display in a groundbreaking exhibition entitled 1001 inventions, launched at the science and industry museum in Manchester, northern England. My own favourite feature is a stunningly picturesque manuscript illustration of Muslim astronomers, clad in traditional robes, turbans and beards, working in a 16th-century Turkish observatory. These men are not plotting the next terrorist attack or conspiracy against the west, but recording observations, taking measurements and practising science as a sincere expression of faith.

    This search for useful knowledge that could be used for mankind's benefit underpinned the golden age of Islamic science that lasted for more than a millennium. There is no consensus about what led to its end; but there is also no doubt that in the current global political climate, Muslims are awakening to their rich civilisation and heritage as a route to its revival.

    In an apprehensive world, it will be vital to my daughter's development that she has access to Muslim role-models who reflect a true representation of the Islamic faith. They include scientists and scholars such as the 10th-century physician Al-Zahrawi (known in the west as Abulcasis) whose many indispensable innovations – including the catgut used for internal surgery, and high-precision surgical instruments such as the forceps – still benefit humanity today.

    The evidence of the many visitors to 1001 inventions suggests that such initiatives can help young British Muslims acquire a clearer sense of pride, self-worth and confidence in their identity, and become better able to understand the genuine Islamic ethos of mercy, justice, pursuit of knowledge and harmonious coexistence. The chance is there for all British students too to encounter a more accurate and inclusive account of history, one that includes appreciation of the contributions of pioneering civilisations which influenced later ones for the better. This rich heritage is our common resource, there to be rediscovered by all those with an interest in human civilisation and progress.

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    S Sayyid, University of Leeds

    Year four of the global "dirty war"

    In many ways one could be forgiven for thinking that nothing much seems to have changed since the events of 7 July 2005 in London. It seems public debate in Britain has consolidated along the usual lines: xenophobes see the attacks as evidence of "multicultural" chickens coming home to roost; critics of Tony Blair see "Iraq war" chickens coming home to roost; policywallahs and self–styled "progressives" wish "moderate Muslim" chickens would come home to roost.

    The phenomenon of instant punditry on Islam seems to show little signs of abating; everybody - from journalists to philosophers, from MPs to spooks - seems to be writing or have written a book about Islam. Islam and Muslims continue to be the canvas upon which many western fantasies are played out.

    S Sayyid is the author of A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and the Emergence of Islamism (Zed Press, 2002)

    Among S Sayyid"s articles in openDemocracy:

    "In search of British Muslim identity…"
    (28 October 2005)

    "Old Europe, New World"
    (15 February 2006)

    The quest for those damned elusive "moderate" Muslims – sought everywhere, from reality–TV shows to mosques, from Whitehall to Brick Lane, from the ranks of disenfranchised young people to circling City professionals – is on the verge of becoming an obsession among many of the chattering classes. Muslims themselves are not immune to this heroic quest. Some look in the mirror and comfortingly find themselves to be the most moderate of them all; others despair of ever finding moderates unless Islam itself is moderated. Some Muslims are prompted to declare themselves moderates; others feel compelled to vouchsafe their moderation to the world by demanding that "immoderate" Muslims be severely disciplined.

    Meanwhile, the conceits which allowed western plutocracies to enjoy democracy at home and support tyranny abroad have continued to unravel. The American gulag, the complicity of European governments, the haste by which "anti-terrorist" measures are being used to undermine the human-rights discourse – all seem to confirm the widespread belief among Muslims that there are fewer than six degrees of separation between major western governments and the brutal kleptocracies of the Islamicate world.

    As the vocabulary of "terrorism" continues to be used to distinguish between the violence inflicted by the United States, its allies and clients, and the violence of those who oppose them, it is increasingly clear that definitions of legitimacy are not determined by the degree or content of the violence, but rather by its target. The language of "terrorism" is now beginning to contribute to the further undermining of the universal claims of western powers.

    Since 7/7, contrary to what many Muslim and non–Muslims seem to think, there seems to be no pause in the slow politicisation of Muslim communities in Britain. More and more Muslims are telling the story about themselves as individuals, as citizens and as actors within a narrative that begins with the revelations received by the Prophet Mohammed. If the commonsense in the umma continues along the path of imagining a future in which the west is one civilisation among others, the capacity of the global "dirty war" to reassert the moral centrality of the American imperium is likely to diminish further, and with it the legitimacy that underpins the current iniquitous world order.

    One year on from 7/7 there are many signs of recognition that the emergence of Muslim political identity is not a passing fad but an event - different from, but equally as important as the rise of China as a geopolitical and economic force. The vocabulary of "terrorism" and "fundamentalism" is simply inadequate to describe and deal with the implications of this phenomenon. Maybe by next year we will have the courage to try and change the script and ditch the language of the last 500 years ... perhaps not.

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    Abdul-Rehman Malik, Q-News

    The radical, difficult, middle way

    On 7 July 2005, terrorists struck my neighbourhood. The ruins of the number 30 bus lay on Upper Woburn Place for weeks, surrounded by police officers and forensic investigators. It was a stark reminder of the terrible human consequences of the pursuit of confused and twisted political ends. My home lies within a hundred metres of Tavistock Square. Stop-and-search, police questioning and requests for ID became part of the normal routine of coming and going.

    7/7 – like the bombings in Madrid and the attacks in New York before it – shattered any illusion that we live in a secular age. Perpetrated by a handful of militants in the name of religion, the attacks were motivated as much by a profound opposition to an existing global political and economic order, as by a militant theology that seeks to redraw global power and socio-economic divisions along the frontier between faithfulness and faithlessness, the sacred and the secular. Religion provided a divine justification for the nature and spectacular scope of this new "resistance".

    There is now no doubt that we live in a post-secular Britain. Faith can no longer be privatised or institutionalised, or removed from the mainstream of public life. Religion matters, now more than ever, in the lives of an increasing number of people (not just the murderous fringe). People are choosing to live their lives – public and private – informed and guided by their faith. The presence and emergence of robust, vocal, self-identifying Muslim communities is changing the public sphere.

    We need to embrace this new reality and harness the capacity of religion to be a force for encouraging civic engagement, participatory democracy and social cohesion. Projects like the Radical Middle Way – supported by government, but initiated and entirely directed by community-based organisations that have a long history of engaging with young Muslims – are challenging the kind of religion-inspired ideology which seeks to drive a wedge between people.

    Also by Abdul-Rehman Malik in openDemocracy:

    "In search of British Muslim identity…" (28 October 2005)

    The message is simple: the radical way, the difficult path, is the path of rejecting the extremes of assimilation on one hand and terrorism on the other. The struggle for social justice is at the heart of Islam, but not at the expense of innocent lives. The rules of engagement of this struggle must be emblematic of classical Islam's high moral standards. Suicide-violence is rejected, because there are other ways – legitimate within the Islamic tradition – of resisting oppression.

    Some think that the initiative is promoting a kind of benign, neutered Islam. That's nonsense. Speakers and participants at Radical Middle Way events have viciously criticised government policies – domestic and foreign, from the heavy-handed anti-terror laws to the sham that is the Iraq war.

    When the muftis of Bosnia and Rwanda told a crowd of young people earlier in 2006 about how Islam gave them the capacity to build a new society in the wake of ethnic cleansing and systematic genocide – young people listened. They don't just want spaces to ventilate their feelings, they are coming in search of vision and some solutions to the problems they see in their communities and in the world.

    In fact, Q-News has been hosting and organising these kinds of heated and honest public discussions for over a decade. This is just an extension and consolidation of what we already do. Some modest funding allows us to take the discussion to more communities and more people.

    Finally, the politics of representation – the "take me to your leader" approach to Muslim communities – collapsed after 7/7. No one organisation or group or magazine can represent a people as diverse as British Muslims. The "preventing extremism together" working groups – however flawed – represented a new openness to Muslim voices thus far not heard by government.

    The Muslim voluntary and community sector is the civic engine and the most creative asset of this new direction. Massive investment in this sector is badly needed. As clichéd as it may sound, "capacity-building" is now more essential than ever, to allow local organisations, groups and individuals to assume their rightful role in shaping the future of British life.

    Leadership will come from good ideas, moral consistency and relevance. Let the debate that has raged since the tragic, poignant events of last July continue unabated.

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