A surprisingly informative piece in the Christian Science Monitor (thanks to Skeetstreet) updates this March 2004 BBC article and explores how preachers of Islamic jihad use Islamic religious language to recruit people like the recent London bombers. Still no explanation from Iqbal Sacranie or anyone else about how to combat this sort of thing.
GREENWICH, ENGLAND – Outside a small, red-brick mosque, a young Muslim in sneakers and a white robe is lecturing a cluster of young men gathered on the sidewalk.
“The London bombings … were about striking terror into the heart of the enemy,” he thunders, just one week after the 7/7 attacks that killed 56 people and wounded hundreds more.
The Monitor doesn’t mention, and probably doesn’t know, that this is a reference to the Qur’an: “Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies…” (8:60).
Muslims around the world are being slaughtered, he tells them. “All we ask them is: ‘Remove your troops from Muslim lands and we will stop all of this.’ ” The men nod in agreement. One glances into the baby stroller he’s pushing. Car after car races past.
And yet troops were not in Muslim lands when this round of the conflict started, on 9/11. This is yet another example of how the pretexts for the conflict always change, while the jihad remains constant.
The preacher, who calls himself Abu Osama (“Father of Osama”), is one of a new breed of British radicals thriving at the margins of London’s Muslim community.
Young, independent, and streetwise, they are preaching in urban slang outside the confines of Britain’s mosques. They are helping teens and 20-somethings beat drugs and alcohol. And they are inspiring a new pool of impressionable young Muslims to consider killing their fellow Britons.
These radical bands constitute a small fraction of London’s 1 million Muslims. But their freewheeling ideology – hardened in the jihadi echo chambers of cliques like Abu Osama’s – is creating a new subculture within Britain’s Islamic community. So far, the growing influence of these informal, maverick groups has gone largely undetected – and unchecked.
As older, camera-courting, foreign-born extremists like Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza al-Masri recede from relevance, their younger counterparts are striking out quietly and independently with a new brand of do-it-yourself radicalism.
“On the ground level, people like Bakri don’t communicate with the youth,” says Nadim Shehadi, an analyst at Chatham House, a think tank in London. The fragmentation of British radical groups and their dispersal underground, he adds, is the “worst of all possible options.”
“When the Muslim Council of Britain [MCB] said ‘We must be vigilant,’ this pushed [radical groups] underground,” says Abdul-Rehman Malik, contributing editor at the Muslim magazine Q-News, based London. As radicals fled to minor mosques and homes, Britain’s security services, and even mainstream Muslims, lost track of them.
Did the 7/7 bombers come from Bakri’s circle? “Probably not – it’s something far more insidious,” says Mr. Malik. “It’s beyond the Omar Bakris; it’s a low rumble.”
Yearning for jihad
Abu Osama, just 30, was born and raised here in East London, amid peeling paint and dingy kebab shops. “I know English. I know Britain. But if I live here, I must speak for Muslims elsewhere,” he says, stressing that he belongs first to the ummah, or global Islamic community.
Note that he doesn’t say “But if I live here, I must abide by the laws of Britain and accept the parameters of British society.” Instead, his primary allegiance is to the umma.
Abu Osama’s faith deepened early. Watching his Pakistani immigrant father struggle to support his family of seven, he sought strength in Islam.
“I began praying and studying when I was 16, and since then I’ve been like this,” he says, pointing to his long, curling beard.
Abu Osama first spoke publicly eight years ago; he has since won ardent followers.
Last fall, addressing a meeting of scores of British radicals, he sighed: “At the moment in Britain there is no jihad.” Faces fell around the hall.
“Yet!” he exclaimed suddenly, to approving murmurs. The jihad would soon come, Abu Osama predicted, and he urged his listeners to embrace its arrival.
On 7/7, the jihad came. The suicide bombers were aged 18 to 30 – the same age as Abu Osama’s cohorts. By portraying militancy as the ultimate expression of piety, Abu Osama and preachers like him are leading young Muslims down the path toward violence.
“Some of the people tell you Islam is a religion of peace because they think that then you’ll want to convert,” says Dublin-born convert Khalid Kelly, who soaks up Abu Osama’s sidewalk sermon. “But you cannot possibly say Islam is a religion of peace; jihad is not an internal struggle.”
Thank you for speaking the truth, Mr. Kelly. When non-Muslims say that they are tarred and vilified by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. But no one can possibly call you an “Islamophobe.” What, I wonder, would Iqbal Sacranie say to convince you that you are wrong — if anything?
Armed struggle was the last thing on Mr. Kelly’s mind until his conversion several years ago. “I was your average Irish drunkard, partying and so on,” he says. Arrested in Saudi Arabia, where he worked as a nurse, for brewing his own alcohol, Kelly found Islam in prison – an increasingly common arena for Muslim conversion and radicalization.
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.
“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.”
Read it all.