Muslim Lord: Restrict Hatemongers

Robert Siegel talks with Lord Nazir Ahmed, the first British Muslim to be ennobled and enter the House of Lords, about the attitude of the British Muslim community in the wake of the recent terrorist bombings in London. Lord Ahmed feels most British Muslims oppose violence — and that action should be taken to restrict ministers who preach hate.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now we're going to talk with a leading member of Britain's Muslim community, Lord Ahmed. Lord Ahmed was elevated to the House of Lords in 1998 by Britain's Labor government. At the time, that made him the first British Muslim to be ennobled.

Welcome to our program, Lord Ahmed.

Lord NAZIR AHMED (British Muslim): Thank you.

SIEGEL: I'd like to ask you first of all today whether you are confident that British Muslims want to cooperate fully with the police in investigating the bombings both of last week and of two weeks before that?

Lord AHMED: Absolutely. 99.9 percent of the British Muslims have not only condemned this violent act of terrorism, but have said very openly to the government and the Metropolitan Police that wherever they can help, whatever they can assist, they are willing to do so.

I have to say that some of these people who are very sophisticated that they were not even on the radar of the intelligence services, so it is difficult for us to give any information that we don't have. However, there are many issues around the radicalization and the preachers of hate and those who have been causing problems within our communities which we need to concentrate and give every bit of information that we can to the police.

SIEGEL: But according to a poll that was published in The Saturday Daily Telegraph in Britain, 99.9 percent would be hyperbole. They did find that while the vast majority of British Muslims do not justify the bombings at all--88 percent--6 percent of British Muslims thought they were fully justified, and another 24 percent said they shared some sympathy with the feelings and motives of those people who carried out the bombings. It sounds like you have a problem.

Lord AHMED: We do have a problem, and we are appalled with these sentiments that have been expressed. But let me just tell you that Muslims like myself have been saying to the government long before 9/11 that we have problem of radicalization. We have problem of preachers of hate who have been working very openly in our universities and in our colleges and who have been recruiting young people to extremism. Unfortunately, nothing has been done; nothing was done about that.

You know, what happened was that first and second generation of the British Muslims who were here, they were very much law-abiding citizens. But second, third generation had a problem of identity crisis. And unfortunately, our imams and mosques have not been able to communicate the true message of Islam in the language that these young people can understand.

SIEGEL: Here's another troubling number from that poll that The Daily Telegraph published. When asked to whether they agree with the statement `Western society is decadent and immoral, and Muslims should seek to bring it to an end,' not a fringe, but 32 percent of the British Muslims sampled agreed with that statement.

Lord AHMED: Well, there is a lot of misunderstanding from the Muslim point of view because, as I said, had there been this kind of discussion inside mosques where they had proper information and had there been a dialogue and interaction with the mainstream society, they would not hold those type of feelings. The problem is that we have two societies living side by side in parallel and, you know, Muslims have failed to integrate. And when you fail to integrate, I'm not saying that they should have assimilated, but they should have integrated much more than currently we have.

SIEGEL: Where does the blame rest for that failure? Is it with the larger society for not welcoming Muslims, or from Muslims not trying to integrate?

Lord AHMED: Well, I--absolutely not. In fact, British society is a very compassionate society that welcomes people from all over the world. I think the blame really rests with the Muslim community. And I am a member of the Muslim community, and I think that the blame should also rest with the community leaders and religious leaders, who have kept very close contacts with South Asia and the Middle East rather than keeping a good contact with the British society where we live.

SIEGEL: Earlier this month, after the July 7th bombings, a group of imams and Muslim scholars met in London and declared that the bombers had violated the Koran by killing innocent civilians; they were not martyrs. And then in a press conference, they were pressed to say the same of suicide bombings in Iraq or Israel, and they wouldn't do so. The head of the World Islamic League described instead a special case for people trying to defend themselves from occupiers. Are you comfortable with that distinction, or does it ultimately put you on a slippery slope of justifying blowing up a bus full of people just provided they're not the people in your city?

Lord AHMED: I think blowing up of civilians anywhere is totally wrong and is unacceptable. However, I think when we are talking about situations where people are bombed with F-16s and helicopter gunships is perhaps different from where you have democracy, equality and every right as a citizen and you still go ahead and try and kill civilians. And I think this is where there needed to be a very firm fatwa to say that those who have perpetuated this heinous act of terrorism have nothing to do with our religion and have nothing to do with our community.

SIEGEL: But you're saying that leaves open room for describing somebody who blows up a bus in Jerusalem or Baghdad as a martyr. That might be a legitimate interpretation of that act as opposed to the same act in London.

Lord AHMED: Well, you know, these are political situations and we need to deal with those injustices that are going around in our world. When we have illegal war in Iraq outside the United Nations Security Council decision, when we were told that this was about weapons of mass destruction, when we were told that this was a war against terrorism, and all of that is not true and is illegal, then I think we just need to deal with those issues as well as terrorism, as well.

SIEGEL: But are you, in describing Iraq, for example, saying that somebody who might blow up a bomb in Baghdad, probably killing Muslims in the process, is doing something that is morally different from somebody blowing up a bus in London?

Lord AHMED: Absolutely not. In fact, those who are blowing up bombs in Iraq, they're killing innocent people and they're terrorist as well as those who have killed innocent people in London. What I was describing was the political situation in Iraq and the political situation in London. And I think that we need to recognize that they are different.

SIEGEL: And I understand that. But you said that the bomber in a Baghdad is a terrorist as far as you're concerned.

Lord AHMED: As far as I'm concerned, the bomber in Iraq is a terrorist and a bomber that is in London is a terrorist, too.

SIEGEL: And the bomber in a Jerusalem bus, as well, or no?

Lord AHMED: Well, it all depends on circumstances. But those who kill innocent people in buses are also terrorists, as far as I'm concerned.

SIEGEL: Lord Ahmed, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Lord AHMED: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Nazir Ahmed, Lord Ahmed, who's a member of the British House of Lords and, indeed, was the first Muslim to be elevated to that body in Britain.

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