In “Focus: Undercover on planet Beeston,” the Sunday Times sends reporter Ali Hussain to Beeston, where three of the 7/7 bombers came from. There, “he found an enclosed community, rife with conspiracy theories.” Tiny Minority of Extremists Update:
Take, for example, Anhar Ghani, a community worker at the Hamara centre on Tempest Road that was frequented by Mohammad Sidique Khan, the leader of the bombers. Ghani became my first “friend” during six weeks of living in Beeston as an undercover Sunday Times reporter pretending to be a student, and at first he displayed a generosity of spirit hard to fault.
Like me, he is in his twenties and of Bangladeshi origin, and we warmed to each other immediately. We chatted in English and Bengali about his family “” he is married with one child “” and how to get a job and draw up a CV. Though Ghani normally dealt only with teenagers, he went out of his way to help. In his trendy jeans and trainers, he seemed like just another hopeful in modern multicultural Britain “” and I, a stranger in town, found him comforting.
But his kindness to me was coupled with a darker outlook on the wider world. I was shocked when one day at the Hamara centre he began explaining how the London bombers could be seen as martyrs.
“The western mind and the Muslim mind are two different psychologies,” he said. “The Muslim mind will see that this life means nothing unless I sacrifice myself for Allah.”
Inside I flinched, but outwardly I nodded with a look of sympathy. I did not want him to close up as much of the community had done after last summer’s attacks. I wanted him to speak honestly.
“My life means nothing, you know,” he continued. “I would give up this evil, two-seconds of a life.” Earthly experience, I think he meant, was but a moment compared with paradise to come.
Later he went on to eulogise Abdullah Faisal, a firebrand Islamic cleric who was imprisoned in 2003 for inciting the murder of Jews. Faisal, said to have been a strong influence on the 7/7 bombers, has advocated the spreading of Islam “by the Kalashnikov” and declared that one aim of jihad is to “lessen the population of unbelievers”.
To Ghani, the cleric was “one of the good ones” and he advised me where I might obtain recordings of his sermons.
Hussain, a non-devout Muslim, wonders how this could be:
As I looked at Ghani, a young man with much to live for, my shock turned to anger. How could he, so similar in many ways to myself, view the world through such different, bellicose eyes? How could he have become trapped in vicious dogma?
Though I would hardly be described as devout, I see myself as Muslim “” and have been increasingly mindful of it since 9/11. Yet I feel nothing like Ghani’s disillusion and anger at the West. Where had our roads parted? What makes places such as Beeston breeding grounds of hate?
My parents brought me to Britain when I was two and settled not in a city, but in an Oxfordshire village. My father opened the only Indian restaurant there and I grew up in a rather English environment, though my parents were strict Muslims….
He visits a mosque run by the Tablighi Jamaat, a group devoted to “peaceful” da’wa, or Islamic proselytization:
It was Eid ul-Adha, the festival celebrating the time God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. Muslim custom is to dress in new clothes and visit friends and family at Eid, and I had bought myself a new pair of shoes and a top.
At the Bengali mosque in Beeston that morning the congregation was overflowing.
I felt odd being away from home during Eid, but people tend to be generous at this time and one man, whom I knew as Jabbar, invited me to his house after prayers.
Jabbar, clean shaven and in his thirties, ran a DIY shop on the Dewsbury Road. On the face of it Jabbar, who lived nearby with his young family, was one of those responsible, hard-working people who weave communities together. He insisted I stay for tea, and then rice and curry.
As I brought up 9/11, I was taken aback when he began to talk about a “western conspiracy against Muslims”. I had been in London on the day of the 2001 attacks and like everyone else had watched in amazement and horror as the twin towers fell. I had never doubted that Osama Bin Laden had inspired the atrocity and that Islamic terrorists had perpetrated it.
Jabbar doubted it. He told me the 9/11 attacks were a conspiracy and that he had a DVD which proved it. So were the London bombings, he said.
I found myself in a ferment of mixed emotions. Here was a man who had shown great courtesy and kindness, yet believed the West was so corrupt it had staged terrorist attacks against itself. How could he be so deluded? Jabbar, however, was far from alone. One of the sternest advocates of conspiracy theory was Imran Bham, a shopkeeper running Idoo PC, a computer equipment shop.
“You don’t get anywhere with the dirty kuffar (infidels),” he told me, claiming there was a widespread conspiracy against Muslims and that the 7/7 bombings were part of it. “These brothers never did it,” he said. “And understand this. In order for America and Britain to go to Iraq they have to have reasons and sometimes, I”m afraid, if you haven’t got a reason, you make up that reason.”
He showed me pictures of the bomb blasts from the BBC on his computer, claiming ID documents must have been placed at the scene by officials because the blasts would have destroyed them.
He offered me Â£5 to go and buy a piece of beef, telling me to place the meat in the oven alongside my credit card, passport and other ID and then turn the temperature up. After half an hour at medium temperature, he said, the documents would melt but the beef would only be sweating. I could then draw my own conclusions.
Once again, I felt as if I had entered a strange bubble, a world where the reality I had known before had been suspended. Bham then asked me if I would ever blow myself up for Islam. I replied that the Koran says you should not harm innocent people.
“What Koran was that?” he countered. “Don’t fool yourself by saying jihad is a struggle within, to get on with life, to motivate myself to get up for prayers and that sort of thing,” he said. “That’s not jihad. Who told you that?”
AFTER six weeks I left Beeston quietly, slipping away to Leeds and back to London by train. As I travelled out of the Victorian streets towards Leeds city centre, I felt the claustrophobia lifting. It was relief to rejoin a wider, more diverse world.
I felt, too, guilt at having moved among the people of Beeston under a false guise. They had welcomed me; but they had also revealed an important facet of Muslim life in Britain today. While I was there an imam of the Bengali mosque, Hamid Ali, had praised the bombers, saying their actions would make non-Muslims “prick up their ears” and listen. I had learnt such sentiments are, one way or another, widespread in Beeston. Ghani, Bham, Jabbar and many others believe in some form of conspiracy against Muslims.