The Muslim Community Reacts to London Bombings As Britain searches for those responsible for last week's bombings in London, authorities are focusing attention on the Muslim community. How do the London explosions change relations between Muslims and non-Muslims? And is it the responsibility of the mainstream Muslim community to uproot extremists?
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The Muslim Community Reacts to London Bombings

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The Muslim Community Reacts to London Bombings

The Muslim Community Reacts to London Bombings

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Four days after bomb attacks in London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a statement to the House of Commons. We'll hear a substantial excerpt of his remarks in a moment. The prime minister said the bombs were probably the work of Islamic extremists, but thus far no individuals or groups have been identified. He did not say whether police suspect foreign terrorists or a homegrown cell and, as you'll hear, there is still no final count of the number of people killed last Thursday; the official toll is up to 52.

As Britain searches for those responsible, attention is being focused on the Muslim community, both overseas and here at home in the US. But is it the responsibility of the mainstream Muslim community to uproot extremists? We'll talk with Muslim leaders and thinkers here--in Britain and here as well. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is

Later in the program, Hollywood producer Richard Zanuck joins us. The new "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is his latest. First, though, Prime Minister Blair's statement earlier today to Britain's House of Commons.

Prime Minister TONY BLAIR (Great Britain): Mr. Speaker, I will now try to give the House as much information as I can. Some of it, obviously, is already well-known. There were four explosions. Three took place on Underground trains: one between Aldgate East and Liverpool Street; one between Russell Square and King's Cross; one in a train at Edgware Road station. All of these took place within 50 seconds of each other at 8:50 AM. The other explosion was on the number 30 bus at Upper Woburn Place at 9:47 AM.

The timing of the Tube explosions was designed to be at the peak of the rush hour and, thus, caused maximum death and injury. It seems probable that the attack was carried out by Islamist extremist terrorists of the kind who have, over recent years, been responsible for so many innocent deaths in Madrid, Bali, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, Yemen, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, of course, in New York on September the 11th, but in many other countries, too.

I cannot give details for obvious reasons of the police investigation now under way. I can say it is among the most vigorous and intense that this country has ever seen. We will pursue those responsible, not just the perpetrators but the planners of this outrage, wherever they are, and we will not rest until they are identified and, as far as is humanly possible, brought to justice.

I would also like to say this about our police and intelligence services. I know of no intelligence specific enough to have allowed them to prevent last Thursday's attacks. By their very nature, people callous enough to kill completely innocent civilians in this way are hard to stop, but our services and police do a heroic job for this country, day in, day out. And I can say that over the past years, as this particular type of new and awful terrorist threat has grown, they have done their utmost to keep this country and its people safe. As I saw again from the meeting of Cobra this morning, their determination to get those responsible is total.

Besides the obvious imperative of tracking down those who carried out these acts of terrorism, our principal concern is the bereaved, the families of the victims. It is the most extraordinarily distressing time for them, and all of us feel profoundly for them. Let me explain what we are trying to do. The majority--though I stress not all--of the victims' families now have a very clear idea that they have lost their loved ones. For many, patterns of life and behavior are well enough established that the numbers of potential victims can now be brought within reasonable range of the actual victims. Some 74 families now have police family liaison officers with them.

CONAN: British Prime Minister Tony Blair, speaking earlier today to the House of Commons.

What's the Muslim response to London? Has this attack changed community relations and how? If you're Muslim, do you think your community can do more to find and stop extremists, or is this a problem for law enforcement? Our number: (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. E-mail us:

Joining us now from London is Azzam Tamimi. He is the director of the Institute for Islamic Political Thought in London, and he joins us from the studios of the BBC at Broadcasting House.

Good to have you on TALK OF THE NATION. Good evening.

Mr. AZZAM TAMIMI (Director, Institute for Islamic Political Thought): Good evening. Thank you.

CONAN: First of all, can you give us some sense of how Muslims are responding to these bombings in London? What have you been hearing over the weekend?

Mr. TAMIMI: Well, when the attacks took place, everybody was shocked because it could have been me, my wife, my children on that train or on that bus. Everybody was thinking like this. And although because we went to war in Iraq--we thought something was going to happen--it's been more than two years, and we started thinking that, `Oh, probably because the majority of the British people opposed the war, it was not going to happen to us.' Regrettably, it has happened.

CONAN: Do Muslims in London accept that these were, in all probability, Muslim terrorists?

Mr. TAMIMI: There is this assumption, of course. We cannot say with certainty because there are no leads at all yet. Probably the police know something we don't know. But it is likely that they are Muslims.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Is there fear that--obviously, September the 11th in this country, people came from overseas and carried out the attacks here. Is there fear in Britain that if this was a homegrown cell response, there could be a backlash?

Mr. TAMIMI: I am more inclined toward the theory that they came from outside, because if you live in London, if you are part of the community, you don't do this to your community. No Muslim-American did it to America; they came from outside. However, if they happen to be local, they happen to be from among our community, I don't think there will be a backlash. The average British person here is intelligent, quite educated about world affairs and almost everybody knows that this has happened within a political context. It has nothing to do with religion. It has nothing to do with fighting the values of the West or its democracy. It's simply to do with the heightened tension in the world that is created by so many crises, including the war in Iraq.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. What do you think--who do you think must be held responsible for those who use Islam as an excuse for these kinds of attacks?

Mr. TAMIMI: Well, those who use Islam as an excuse must be confronted. Islam has nothing to do with this; the Muslims have nothing to do with this. The Koran is very clear. If you take one life, it's as if you have taken the lives of all humans, and if you give life to someone, it's as if you've given life to the entire humanity. You cannot punish innocent people for the sins of the guilty. And the killing of people riding on the train or on the bus is unequivocally condemned by the Muslims of this country as elsewhere in the world.

CONAN: Are Muslims in Britain--do they cooperate with authorities as they--there have been any number of investigations of extremist groups and alleged extremist groups over the past several years. Do people cooperate with these investigations, or is there some resistance?

Mr. TAMIMI: I can tell you as a senior member of the Muslim Association of Britain, one of the main organizations in this country, that we've been liaisoning and cooperating with the authorities for the past four years. It is not in the interests of any of us that terrorist actions should be carried out in this country. And I addressed a big crowd the other day on Saturday afternoon in a vigil very close to the bus that was bombed on Thursday, and I said...

CONAN: Mm-hmm. In Tavistock Square, yeah.

Mr. TAMIMI: Yeah. And I said that it is the duty of every single one of us, including the Muslims, to be vigilant and to be cooperative. And if I have information leading to the arrest of the culprits, I would immediately hand it over to the authorities.

CONAN: These are not easy things to do, though, and we don't have to look that far back in history to see the long history of Irish extremists and the difficulties of people in the Irish community of turning over people who were responsible for atrocities that they committed.

Mr. TAMIMI: Well, this is different. The Muslims of Britain do not consider it to be, in any way, justifiable or excusable to kill innocent people in this way, even if you are angry with Tony Blair or with George W. Bush or whatever. I think the Irish situation has similarities, but had differences as well.

CONAN: Our number, if you'd like to join our conversation, is (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. E-mail address is We're speaking with Azzam Tamimi of the Institute for Islamic Political Thought in London.

And Nazda(ph) joins us. Nazda calling from Weston, Massachusetts.

NAZDA (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hello, you're on the air.

NAZDA: Yes, I am.

CONAN: Go ahead.

NAZDA: OK. My comment is about the terrorism and the Islam or the Islamic community. That we are always make an assumption that terrorism is related to Islamic religion, but I feel that it is the political agenda. The people happen to be Muslim in the practical area of the world which is mostly Middle East. You know, they have the political agenda about Palestine; they have a political agenda about the world. So these happen to be in the Middle East and they are political agenda, but it sounds like the Islamic--you know, the Muslims are against West, but it is not the religion against the people; it is the political agenda they have. And that's the political policies from the Western policy against, you know, the--Hello?

CONAN: Yes, yes, we're still here.

NAZDA: Yes. The people are the where--East are against the policy of West and (technical difficulties) that happens to the Muslim in that part. But it is not like against the Christian, against the Jews; it's the politics.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Yet we do--and, Nazda, you know, of course, I take your statement at face value, but in statements from some extremist leaders, there's always talk of infidels and crusaders and that sort of thing. There are certainly...

NAZDA: I think that's their issue. They don't have any `ism.' You know when relativism and Marxism and--they have some `ism.' So Islam--you know, both political ...(unintelligible) they don't have an `ism' so they are Muslim, and they think they can use that, but that's not right. I feel like that's very unfair for the rest of the Muslim world.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And, Azzam Tamimi, that's quite similar to some of the things you were saying.

Mr. TAMIMI: Yes, exactly. And I'd like to say this, that we cannot deny the existence of very extremist individuals, but these extremist individuals will not have a following, will not be able to recruit anybody had there not been a political crisis. There are not only one political crisis, there are political crises around the world: in Palestine, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Chechnya, in Kashmir. Despotic corrupt governments across the Muslim world do not respect human rights. All of this accumulated together does provide extremists with a weapon that enable them to recruit.

CONAN: Nazda, thank you very much for the call. We appreciate it.

NAZDA: You're welcome.

CONAN: If you'd like to join our conversation, it's (800) 989-8255. The e-mail is More after the break.

I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking about last week's bombings and what it means for Muslims, both in Europe and the United States. We want to hear from our Muslim listeners this hour about the reaction in your communities. Our number is (800) 989-8255. Our e-mail address is

We also want to hear from the rest of you, if you have questions about what happened and why. Our guest is Azzam Tamimi, director of the Institute for Islamic Political Thought. He joins us from the studios of the BBC at Broadcasting House in London.

And let's get another caller on the line, and this is Mike. Mike's calling from Roanoke, Virginia.

MIKE (Caller): Hello.


MIKE: Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

MIKE: The program is always excellent.

CONAN: Thank you.

MIKE: I read just this morning Thomas Friedman's piece saying that Muslims themselves must condemn this. He mentions the fact that to this day, no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden, and that could be extended top his ilk. Yet they condemn Salman Rushdie to death, and the Muslim community needs to speak out forcefully, that this is an outrage. This is wrong.

CONAN: Thomas Friedman, of course, the columnist for The New York Times. I think this was a piece--What?--last Thursday or Friday.

MIKE: Yeah.

CONAN: And the fatwa against Salman Rushdie issued in Iran. Azzam Tamimi, is this a valid point of view?

Mr. TAMIMI: No, Thomas Friedman is wrong, and I made this clear when it was pointed to me the other night on MSNBC. As soon as 11 September happened, major renowned Islamic scholars around the world, as well as Islamic organizations, including those that the United States of America considers to be terrorists--Hamas and Hezbollah--unequivocally denounced the attacks. And the scholars in Saudi Arabia, in Syria, in Egypt, all over the place have denounced all these atrocities. So to claim that the Muslims have not been doing this--actually, the Muslims have been blackmailed over and over again to continue to apologize for the acts of those terrorists, and that is unfair.

MIKE: But a fatwa is not an apology; a fatwa is a condemnation with consequences. Has anyone done this in a major way?

Mr. TAMIMI: No, fatwa does not mean that. Fatwa means a religious edict regarding a particular manner. For instance, is it permissible to kill an innocent person? Of course, it's not, and that would be a fatwa. But to issue a fatwa saying Osama bin Laden should be killed like Khomeini did with Salman Rushdie--both would be wrong. In the case of Khomeini, it's wrong also.

CONAN: Hmm. Mike, thank you.

MIKE: Thank you.

CONAN: Joining us now by phone is Mahmood Thamer. He is an activist in the Shiite community here in the United States. He joins us from his home outside of Baltimore, Maryland.

Good of you to join us today.

Mr. MAHMOOD THAMER (Former President, Islamic Society of Baltimore): I'm happy to be with you. Just with a little correction. I am not active in the Shiite community, but in the Muslim community.

CONAN: In the Muslim community.

Mr. THAMER: Right.

CONAN: Please excuse me. I'll take that correction. I wonder what's your perspective on how this issue of Muslim extremism is playing out in the United States? How has London changed things, do you think?

Mr. THAMER: Well, I think it is a despicable act. It is an insult and an aggression against Islam as much as it is against the United Kingdom, and I believe it is repugnant by Islamic principles. And it is very counterproductive and stupid from the logistical point of view, because these kinds of acts never result in helping anybody's cause.

But on the contrary, it diminishes the cause of Islam, and it allows people to be repulsed by Islam and encourage its enemies. So I think that the people who do these things are not only doing things against non-Islamic countries, but against Islam in general and the Muslim communities everywhere in the world.

CONAN: Let me ask you the same question I put earlier to Azzam Tamimi. There have been many investigations in this country after 9/11, before 9/11 of Islamic extremists. Is uprooting these people the job of police, of prosecutors? Is it the responsibility of the Muslim community?

Mr. THAMER: I think it is the responsibility of both. Of course, the police, because this is their primary responsibility, to take care of the situation at hand. But at the same time, it is the responsibility of the Muslims to stand up, speak it clearly and denounce acts that are, A, un-Islamic, B, they are done in the name of Islam and, B, they are very counterproductive and inimical to the interests, the name and the life of Muslims everywhere.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we have from Gregory Rich(ph): `I often hear members of the Islamic community say these extremists are pursuing a political rather than a religious agenda. However, I've never heard a coherent political objective from al-Qaeda or any other group. If these attacks are politically motivated, what is the objective?'

I don't mean for either of you to speak for al-Qaeda, but, Azzam Tamimi or Mahmood Thamer, do you have opinions on that?

Mr. TAMIMI: Well, al-Qaeda does have political demands. It's very clear. They want American troops out of Arabia. They want now Iraq--withdrawal from Iraq. You see, we disagree with them not with the political demands, but we disagree with them with the tactics, with the methodology they adopt.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TAMIMI: And just one point, if you don't mind. I don't think that anything the Americans--there was anything the American Muslims could do to prevent 9/11, because the perpetrators simply were not homegrown; they came from outside. And when they come from outside, what can you do?

Mr. THAMER: Yeah. This is Mahmood Thamer talking.


Mr. THAMER: I completely agree with this. But I would also add that although the Muslim communities in the United States could not have done anything to prevent the 9/11 attack, but I believe all of us, including the Muslims, have a responsibility to stand up and speak clearly against extremism. And I think that this is in our own interests, in the interest of the Muslims, as well as the interest of all the groups in the United States and everywhere. Extremism does not help anybody anywhere. And whatever goal any group has, this is not the kind of tactic which will help you to reach that goal. It is very counterproductive no matter what the grievance is and what the circumstances are.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Makzoud(ph) in Fairfax, Virginia.

MAKZOUD (Caller): Hello. My question for Mr. Azzami is that there's--a dangerous movement is going on in the United States, and that's people taking the face value, the word of Koran by face value, which says anybody who is non-believer, anybody who is not believing in your religion should be killed and should be destroyed and they are infidel. And if this is interpreted right or wrong, how can we help educating people in the United States that this is not real Islam? I take my answer off the air.

CONAN: Thanks for the call. Azzam Tamimi.

Mr. TAMIMI: Yes. Thank you very much for the question. The Koran very clearly states that those who do not fight you and remove you from your land or oppress you, God does not forbid you from being friendly to them and from coexisting with them, etc. God prevents you from conceding to those who drive you out of your land and seek to kill you, so there is a distinction between the two. When I live in Britain as a British citizen, or when my fellow Muslims in America live as American Muslims with their rights preserved and respected, the first part of the verse applies and then--and what we are commended to do is to be friendly to everybody and to be law-abiding.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. THAMER: I would like to add to that very important question, and that is clearly, the Koran says that there is no compulsion in religion. There is no coercion in matters of faith. And the idea that anybody who disagrees with you should be eliminated is a very strange idea and interpretation of the Koran. And the whole history of Islam speaks for its tolerance and acceptance of people at a time when the tolerance and acceptance of people other than your faith was not known. The churches and the synagogues have flourished in Muslim countries for a century and--for a millennium and a half, at a time when the Muslims had the absolute power to crush these religious minorities living within the Muslim body. But they did not do it not because they were Jeffersonian in thinking, but because the Koran tells them that they cannot--they should not and they cannot coerce people in matters regarding their faith.

CONAN: There are obviously differing views on that, modern-day Saudi Arabia, for example.

Mr. THAMER: Right. Right. And I think this kind of reminder of the history of Islam and the meaning of the Koran should be clearly enunciated by all of us, the Muslims, so that this strange interpretation that, you know, he who disagrees with you should have his head cut off--this is something which is a strange interpretation. It is not the kind of practice that the Muslims have done throughout the ages. And as a matter of fact, these people who say these things not only consider the non-Muslims infidels, but the Muslims infidels, and that they are--and that they belong to the extremely minute segment to which they belong.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Well, Mahmood Thamer, we wanted to thank you for joining us today. Appreciate your time.

Mr. THAMER: You're quite welcome.

CONAN: Well, Mahmood Thamer, we wanted to thank you for joining us today. Appreciate your time.

Mr. THAMER: Quite welcome.

CONAN: Mahmood Thamer, former president of the Islamic Society of Baltimore, and he joined us from his home in Maryland.

Here's an e-mail question from Matt in Hanover, New Hampshire: `Mr. Tamimi claimed on Al-Majd TV on July 7th that the bombings in London were not only in response to Iraq, but also the Afghan War, which he called unjust. Does he believe that liberating Afghanistan was immoral? Was the Taliban autocracy moral in his view?'

Mr. TAMIMI: Well, we don't consider it to be a liberation of Afghanistan. Afghanistan has not been liberated. Now opium is back in Afghanistan. There is no rule of law in Afghanistan. There is no safety in Afghanistan. We consider that the wars on both Afghanistan and Iraq have come in line with the US interests of imposing hegemony on that part of the world. Now you don't punish Osama bin Laden by killing hundreds of thousands of people who had nothing to do with what he did on 9/11.

CONAN: In Afghanistan. Obviously some of the people in Afghanistan did have something to do with what happened on 9/11.

Mr. TAMIMI: Yes. Of course, of course, some did, but how many of them? What is the percentage of those who had anything to do with 9/11 compared to the total number of people killed and whose lives have been devastated as a result?

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Yet there were--he was a guest in Afghanistan. His movement was a guest in Afghanistan.

Mr. TAMIMI: Yes, I believe we could have continued the diplomatic channels and there were signs that the Taliban were ready to give him over to a neutral country for prosecution, because at that time it wasn't yet made clear at the time he had not yet claimed responsibility, but of course, now we know he is definitely responsible for it. What I am saying is that America is not today better than it was before 9/11. The world is not a safer place. American troops continue to be hunted down and killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, wounded as well. There is suffering everywhere. There is a crisis all over the world. We need to revise policy.

CONAN: We are speaking with Azzam Tamimi. He's at the studios of the BBC in London.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And joining us now on the phone is Kamran Memon. He's a civil rights attorney in Chicago and he's with us by phone from his home there.

Thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. KAMRAN MEMON (Civil Rights Attorney): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: I know you're active in talking about national security issues with Muslims in the Chicago area. One of the things I know you're doing is also trying to get people to read the 9/11 report.

Mr. MEMON: That's right. You know, the 9-11 Commission report is obviously a best-seller, but I'm not sure how many Americans are actually reading it. I mean, after all it is 428 pages without the appendices and notes. Certainly I know that very few American Muslims have read the report, and so my philosophy is that if they're not gonna come to the report, I'm gonna take the report to them, to their mosques, teach them about what the 9-11 Commission has found with regards to the foundation of al-Qaeda and the history of al-Qaeda's attacks on the United States.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. What reaction do you--have you been hearing from the Muslim community, particularly over the past couple of days, since the attacks in London?

Mr. MEMON: Well, a few things. First of all, shock, because any time you see an attack on a target that so many of us use, a mass transit target, it's just shocking to think that the next attack could be right here in Chicago. And then there is a feeling of helplessness. People are resigned to the fact that we are caught up--we're caught in the middle of a large struggle that we really don't have any control over. On the one hand, our government is pursuing policies that have angered many in the Muslim world, and then on the other hand, al-Qaeda is attacking American targets in retaliation, and we as the little guy on the ground in the United States often feel like there is nothing that we can do to help make the situation any better.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. That sense of helplessness, I wonder, Azzam Tamimi, is that shared by people in London? Is there more that they think they can do?

Mr. TAMIMI: No, I think we can do. I think there is a sense here that we've been able to achieve something. We're hoping that this tragic event had not happened, because in the recent election, public opinion managed to cost Tony Blair 100 seats in Parliament because people were unhappy with his policy. And if people come together, if public opinion is enlightened about the impact of foreign policy on world safety and security, then people can come together and pressure government to change policy. That's the key: change policy.

CONAN: Would you agree with that, Kamran Memon?

Mr. MEMON: Well, you know, certainly one part of what we need to do here in the American Muslim community is to encourage Muslims to do whatever they can to help protect our country, and if that means encouraging them to lobby for a foreign policy that exposes the United States less to hostility in the Muslim world, then we certainly have a responsibility to protect our country in that way.

CONAN: Kamran Memon, thank you very much for being with us. We appreciate it.

Mr. MEMON: Thank you.

CONAN: Kamran Memon, a civil rights attorney in Chicago. We'd also like to thank Azzam Tamimi for joining us today from London.

Thank you for your time today.

Mr. TAMIMI: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

CONAN: When we come back from a short break, Richard Zanuck, a Hollywood producer. This is NPR.


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