Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Thoughts on the origins of radicalism and terrorists...

Out of New Republic comes this article titled "London Broil". The full text can be found here at the author's own site.

Without reproducing the whole piece here (for no other reason than respect for copyright) the conclusions are interesting -
How did Al Qaeda's militant worldview become so popular among a subset of British Pakistanis? For one thing, there is the generational divide in the community. Just as in Turgenev's Fathers and Sons--which depicts the rift between an older generation of nineteenth-century Russian liberals and their more militant, socialist sons--some of Great Britain's young Pakistanis are filled with contempt both for the moderation of their parents and for a British society that won't quite accept them. For many, this leaves a vacuum in their identities that radical Islamist preachers have been all too glad to fill. Now, young disciples of those preachers--Abu Muwaheed, for instance--have come into their own, and they are often even more radical than their mentors. Add to this the fact that one-quarter of young British Pakistanis are unemployed, and you have a population that is especially vulnerable to the temptations of radicalism.

But how to explain the lure of militancy for those who travel to Pakistan to become terrorists? The answer, in many cases, is Kashmir. A disproportionate number of Pakistanis living in Great Britain trace their lineage back to Kashmir. Though conventional wisdom holds that anger toward U.S. foreign policy is most responsible for creating new terrorists, among British Pakistanis,
Kashmir is probably just as important. What's more, for the small number of British Pakistanis who want terrorist training, the facilities of Kashmiri militant groups have become an obvious first choice--as well as a gateway to Al Qaeda itself.

Unfortunately, there are limits to what the British government can do alone. It will need help from moderate Muslims, some of whom are waking up to the threat posed by the radicals in their midst. "These people are ill," says Ghulam Rabbani, the imam of the mosque adjoining the Fitness Centre, where the Saviour Sect held meetings. "I say very categorically and very clearly that they are misguided and they don't know the basics of Islam."

Rabbani faces a steep challenge: According to a recent poll, a full quarter of British Muslims consider the 2005 London bombings justified. And anyone who doubts how dangerous the intersection of such sentiments, Al Qaeda, and Kashmiri militants can be should consider what became of Omar Sheikh, the former London School of Economics student who won his freedom on New Year's Eve in 1999: Two years later, he was under arrest for orchestrating the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

But before I found that (in the Herald initially) I had been reading this piece - h/t to ALD... which gives a similar but subtly different picture.
The connection between events in Bangladesh and the large Bangladeshi community in east London is intimate but not static. The influence of economic, political and generational change on the transformation of personal and public identities is profound. In particular, there has been a significant movement in recent years from alignment with secular politics as a vehicle of representation and empowerment towards Islamic-based organisation. An important element in this is that the British state has helped create and support this process through its funding policies and its application of a "multicultural" model of relating to and supporting community organisations in the area.

These issues – Islamic and Bengali identity, religion and culture, political struggle and political power – are very much alive in London's Bangladeshi diaspora, centred in the Tower Hamlets area. At their forefront are organisations such as the East London Mosque (author of conspicuous and effective Islamist initiatives) and the Shadinata Trust (a secular body that seeks to increase awareness of Bengali culture and history among British Bangladeshis).

The battle is an unequal one: the secular effort is faltering against the vibrancy and energy of the Islamists. One of the trust's primary objectives is to bring collaborators in the liberation war, some of whom live in Britain, to justice. For many young people in deprived Tower Hamlets, this is ancient history with no relevance to their lives: they regard Bangladeshi politics as distant and corrupt, and day-to-day issues of drugs, gangs and unemployment as far more relevant.

The Islamists, by contrast, are sophisticated and up-to-date in their focus and appeal. The East London Mosque (and its affiliate, the London Muslim Centre [LMC]) shares the ideology of the Jamaat-e-Islami. The mosque is no fringe organisation; it was at the centre of the campaign that helped elect the local Respect party candidate and vocal critic of Britain's New Labour government, George Galloway, in the 2005 general election.

A more persuasive argument relates to issues of discrimination and exclusion. Bengalis are among the poorest in Britain, and among those most exposed to racial discrimination. This is not new; but the response of the maturing third generation of indigenous British Bangladeshis is.

Between the 1960s and the 1980s, Bangladeshis in London used secular, socialist ideology to combat injustice – a system of thinking that could then still lay plausible claim to the future. There also remained at that time the option of return which sustains many migrants, who promise themselves they will go "home" when they have made enough money.

Today, most of those born in London still refer to Bangladesh as "home", but in practice Bengal is distant from their daily lives and probable futures. Within the community, Bengali secularists appear today as archaic as the political left. Islamic brotherhood is a more potent tool in the fight against discrimination.

The Islamists have managed both to articulate and project a persuasive political meta-narrative after 9/11, and to appeal to young people in east London by focusing on issues of drugs, crime and unemployment. Their local success is in part a consequence of the state-sanctioned ideas of multiculturalism which dominated society during their upbringing. They have been able to use, adapt and extend such ideas by taking them far from their "liberal" origin, and joining very different movements which yet proclaim the same objective of "equality".

The impulses and actions of what might in another age have been seen as working-class anger have thus acquired a more plausible emancipatory narrative in Islamic fundamentalism. Religion has been the agent of empowerment for many Muslims in the struggle against racism, imperialism and the extremes of capitalist inequality. That this has been facilitated by state funding along faith lines is a fact few are ready to confront.

The fight of secularists against racism and poverty appears bland compared to the ardent certainties of religion. In Bangladesh, secularists and the left have been marginalised and suppressed by the post-2001 ruling coalition. While the Bangladesh Nationalist Party – and George Galloway in London – seek to ride the Jamaat-e-Islami tiger for political gain, the prospects of this strategy for resolving the enduring questions of social justice, equality and diversity are dim. Jamaat and other fundamentalist groups are sowing the seeds of future conflict, as well as obscuring more hopeful and humane pathways to equity and harmony for Bengalis, in both Britain and Bangladesh.

A veritable feast for thought.

No comments: