British Muslims Sense Post-Bombing Suspicion

The July 2005 London subway bombings, blamed on British-born Muslims, produced an outcry of dismay from the rest of the nation's Muslim community. But many British Muslims feel they are still regarded with suspicion.

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

Last summer's terror attacks in London have profoundly changed Britain. New concrete and steel barriers surround government buildings and armed police now patrol city streets. The July 7th bombing, called the 7/7 attack, was carried out by a group of young British-born Muslims. Since then, the government has struggled to craft new anti-terror measures and the country is coping with a greater measure of multi-ethnic intolerance. NPR's Deborah Amos reports from London.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAIN)

DEBORAH AMOS: On a rainy Friday afternoon, a bookshop on Brick Lane in East London plays a recording of the Koran on the Muslim day of prayer.

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Unidentified Man #1: In the name of Allah, the beneficent, merciful.

Unidentified Man #2: (Chanting in foreign language)

AMOS: Across the street, more than a thousand worshippers come to say their prayers at the mosque and make their contributions.

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF COINS DROPPED INTO A CONTAINER)

Unidentified Man #4: (Foreign language spoken)

AMOS: This building is a symbol of Britain's history of multiculturalism; once a church, then a synagogue, and for almost 30 years a mosque. Over time, this house of worship catered to waves of immigrants as they settled, prospered and eventually moved on to other neighborhoods. But the latest wave is unprecedented, the largest in Britain's history. The majority of new arrivals are Muslims.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS; PREVIOUS BROADCASTS)

P: It was almost like a bomb going off. It was just a `Boom!' People are sobbing and...

Unidentified Man #6: It's reasonably clear that there had been a series of terrorist attacks in London.

AMOS: When four homegrown militants targeted the London transport system, the country was stunned by radicals born and bred in Britain. The vast majority of British Muslims condemned the attacks, but integration and Islam has moved to the center of a national debate. For Sher Khan, it's been a flashback to earlier times. Born in Britain, his family immigrated from Bangladesh.

SHER KHAN: I remember the days when we used to get brick through our windows. We'd phone up the police and we'd complain, you know, `We need help,' and they would tell us, `Have you thought about going back to your own country?'

AMOS: Khan, who works in a high-tech company in London, is the spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain.

KHAN: After 9/11--and, of course, now 7/7--some of that fear was something that I experienced again. The flashback of emotion that I felt was something that I found very scary.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AMOS: A merry-go-round in Birmingham, an industrial city since Victorian times; a holiday festival of food and light on the city square as old Britain shares this city with one of the largest Muslim populations in the country. Birmingham has more than 200 mosques. But the city has been a radical recruiting ground among young Muslims alienated from an older generation and outraged by the policies of the British government. Some see the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a crusade against Islam.

SELMA YAKUB: I think you have to understand that the amount of anger is very deep.

AMOS: This is what Selma Yakub, a psychologist, hears in that anger.

YAKUB: That we are making a blow for those who are oppressed. We are standing for justice. We are shattering people's complacency over here. It was in the tapes of the suicide bomber himself, saying, `I'm doing this because of what's happened in Afghanistan and Iraq.'

AMOS: Even before the July bombings, some Birmingham Muslims had traveled to the Middle East and been linked to a series of attacks there. But when radicals hit at home, the reaction was different, says Selma Yakub.

YAKUB: There has been genuine shock, outrage, distress about what happened on 7/7. I think you can't be complacent and say, `It won't happen again.' I pray to God it won't happen again.

Unidentified Man #7: (Chanting in foreign language)

AMOS: In December, over 22,000 British Muslims gathered in a London convention center.

Man #7: (Chanting in foreign language)

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AMOS: Organized by the Islam Channel, Britain's leading Muslim television station, the conference brought together the diverse Muslim community for the first time. A booth featured MuslimMatch.com, an online dating service.

Unidentified Man #8: We've got over 30,000 members now. We know of quite a few marriages now taking place.

AMOS: Others represented Islamic bookstores across the country.

Unidentified Man #9: One pound for "Muhammad and the Bible," (Foreign language spoken). And if that's not good enough, we have free literature. Help yourself!

AMOS: Still others share their experiences since July. For example, businessman Sheeshon Iyub(ph) says he still travels on the London Underground, but stopped carrying a backpack when he realized commuters were suspicious of every dark-skinned man.

SHEESHON IYUB: There was prejudice there, I mean, definitely. But I think it's got better. What you need at the end of the day is tolerance, and I'm seeing a little bit more of that now.

AMOS: But like many here, Iyub worries about proposed anti-terror legislation which he believes will mostly target Muslims. British police followed him for months, he says, because of membership in a college society promoting Pakistan.

IYUB: It's victimizing people and targeting specific people who haven't done anything wrong. At the end of the day, the Muslims have got to be involved with the political process, because if they're not involved then segregation will continue.

AMOS: That was the message in speeches here urging British Muslims to speak up as citizens. There is a political path to address their concerns. Lord Nazir Ahmed is one of the first Muslim members of the House of Lords.

NAZIR AHMED: There are demands from us to be condemning terrorism, and we do and rightly we should. But the government should also be condemning those secret prisons in eastern Europe that have been used by CIA, and we should demand an inquiry into that and prosecute those governments who have allowed that to happen.

AMOS: The Muslim community, the intelligence service and the government are searching for ways to stop homegrown terrorists. So far, no clear path has emerged.

KHAN: No one can guarantee that there isn't going to be a nut case or an angry young man or woman who's going to commit these horrific acts.

AMOS: But Sher Khan of the Muslim Association of Britain says there is a first step.

KHAN: What we can do is create an atmosphere where we make it almost impossible for them to do that and not get detected. And that's only going to happen if there is a good, strong relationship between enforcement agencies and the community from amongst whom these individuals may come.

AMOS: All know the end is urgent. There are over two and a half million Muslims in Great Britain, says Tariq Ramadan, an Islamic scholar at Oxford University.

TARIQ RAMADAN: Britain has changed. It's not the white, indigenous British people that are making up this country. We have to change this perception.

AMOS: More immigrants are coming, and a growing number of Britons are converting.

HANSEN: A lady, a young lady who wishes to come to Islam. Introducing Jasmine(ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

AMOS: At the recent gathering of more than 20,000 Muslims, a young British woman makes her declaration of faith in Arabic and in English.

Unidentified Man #10: `I testify...'

JASMINE: I testify...

Man #10: `...that Mohammad...'

JASMINE: ...Mohammad...

Man #10: `...is the messenger...'

JASMINE: ...is the messenger...

Man #10: `...of Allah.' You are now a Muslim. (Foreign language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News, London.

Man #10: ...for Sister Jasmine. Pip, pip!

Group of People: (In unison) Hurrah!

Man #10: Pip, pip!

Group of People: (In unison) Hurrah!

Man #10: Pip, pip!

HANSEN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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