Jaw, jaw, not war, war

29 Jul 05
VICTORIA MACDONALD | Stockwell, in south London, is the sort of neighbourhood that most people drive through to get somewhere more exciting.

Stockwell, in south London, is the sort of neighbourhood that most people drive through to get somewhere more exciting.

It sits at the crossroads of the A23 and the A24, leading, respectively, to Brighton and Portsmouth. But last Friday it was the centre of world attention when police shot a young man and the Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair said the shooting was ‘directly linked’ to the anti-terror operations.

We now know that the young man, Jean Charles de Menezes, had nothing to do with the terror campaign being waged in London. He was a 27-year-old Brazilian electrician, who, for reasons that might never become clear, ran away when confronted by armed police. He was shot perhaps as many as eight times.

But, before all this was known, assumptions were made that the young man was a Muslim because eye witnesses had said he looked Asian. In the chaos as he ran, or was pushed, on to the tube, it is understandable that that is what they saw.

By Saturday morning, the Muslim community in Stockwell and the rest of the Lambeth borough were becoming decidedly twitchy. After all, on the Thursday there had been an attempted bombing at Oval tube (the next stop up from Stockwell), then there was the shooting and, by midnight Friday, two arrests, also in Stockwell. As had been the fear in Leeds following the July 7 bombings, so was there concern in London of a backlash against Muslims.

Muslim leaders, local councillors, Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey, the borough Commander Martin Bridger and a number of other community leaders gathered on the steps of Brixton mosque to proclaim that ‘recent incidents had failed to divide the community and that Lambeth remained united and determined in its stand against acts of terrorism’.

Lambeth council leader Peter Truesdale said: ‘Lambeth is a tolerant, harmonious community and it is staying that way.’ Bridger said: ‘Today once again I witnessed the inner strength of Lambeth’s communities, standing together to condemn the recent atrocities, which have nothing to do with Islam.’

What they would not say on the record was that the mosques in Lambeth have been fighting against Muslim extremists moving into the area and targeting the young and perhaps disaffected. I asked them why they were not prepared to admit this publicly but one and all they would reiterate only that this was a united community.

That many mosques have developed a good relationship with the local police is laudable, and entirely necessary if any information is to be gathered. To say that the terrorist incidents have nothing to do with Islam is to be welcomed, too, because it needs constant reiteration.

But the mosques in the area have a hard battle ahead. Brixton mosque, for instance, was where the shoe bomber Richard Reid once worshipped before being lured away by extremists operating in and around both the mosque and the local market. Many of the more radical elements moved to the Finsbury Park mosque but this has been closed down so they are moving back towards Lambeth. Stockwell mosque has even drawn up a strategy to deal with them should they try — again — to take over there.

I have been told that after Friday prayers it is common for ‘those on the fringes’ to stand outside mosques handing out leaflets. One Muslim MP said there was only so much mosques could do but that it was time to find out things like where they were holding their meetings and who was printing the leaflets.

To this should be added the question, why have they been able to lure young men away from their family mosques? This needs to be answered not just by the mosques and the local communities but by the government. The recent YouGov poll published in the Daily Telegraph claimed that one in four British Muslims sympathises with — although in no way condones — the motives of suicide bombers. Even more worrying: 18% say they feel little or no loyalty to this country. Alienation levels among men are more than three times higher than those among Muslim women living here.

This week Sir Ian Blair met Muslim leaders to discuss co-operation with the community. On July 20, the prime minister invited 50 leading Muslims to discuss clamping down on extremists. Margaret Hodge, the works minister, suddenly found it unacceptable that a quarter of the 150,000 Muslim graduates in Britain are out of work.

This is a problem that has been going on since the mid-1980s and yet it has taken these atrocities for the government to start talking. Even now they are not talking to the younger Muslim community, the community that keeps having the word disaffected put before it. That is where they must now direct their attention.

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