Out Of Tragedy Comes Hope?

On August 11, 1965 citizens of the United States woke up to news of an incident which, one way or another, changed fundamentally recent American history: the traffic arrest which lead to the Watts riots. The nature and context of the London Bombing may be different, but its impact on a nation may not be. I retain my view: the effects of what has just happened will be significant.

Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner has just said this:

This is a sea change. Out of tragedy comes hope. I’m going to be meeting with a series of senior Muslim leaders this weekend and we will work a way through in which they provide information. Let’s say they operate their own third party reporting, they set up their own terrorist hotline, these are the kind of things we can do.

“I’m absolutely positive we will break this, we will break this horror that has descended on us.

This points us in one direction, the need to open information networks inside the muslim community in the UK, this would also point to increasing cooperation with the security services from countries with large muslim populations (like Pakistan and Egypt) and the deployment of their operatives on UK soil.

Another direction to follow may perhaps be gleaned from looking through this summary of an interview with ex-Guantanamo detainee Moazamm Begg. Among things he says which ring a chord with me is the following:

Begg described racism that he encountered when he was growing up in the 1980s. Some of his Pakistani friends were beaten up by skinheads, he says. “Almost everyone back then was harassed at some point for being dark-skinned, for being Pakistani,” he said

This was surely the case. Hopefully much of the world he describes has now improved, but young people in their twenties will have lived their formative years in this environment.

This point is also worthy of note:

But the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims was more acute in regions such as West Yorkshire, which includes Leeds, the northern city where at least three of the four suicide bombers in last week’s attacks are believed to have grown up. The fourth is believed to have been Jamaican-born.

Unlike Birmingham, Begg said pockets of West Yorkshire are dominated by immigrants from specific regions. Many of the groups have not assimilated into British culture, making it easier for radical recruiters to deepen the divide and fan hatred, he said

There is no one answer here, all we have are pointers, but two areas which obviously need to be addressed following the July 7th bombings will be the leveraging of ‘local information networks’ and a long hard look at the process of integration and acceptance.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

21 thoughts on “Out Of Tragedy Comes Hope?

  1. “But the divide between Muslims and non-Muslims was more acute in regions such as West Yorkshire, which includes Leeds, the northern city where at least three of the four suicide bombers in last week?s attacks are believed to have grown up. . . Unlike Birmingham, Begg said pockets of West Yorkshire are dominated by immigrants from specific regions. Many of the groups have not assimilated into British culture, making it easier for radical recruiters to deepen the divide and fan hatred, he said.”

    All that is true – I believe from personal observation and what I have been told by researchers – but it offers no explanation as to why low assimilation has been a particular feature of inter-communal relations in Yorkshire. Nor does it link to an array of other factors peculiar to Yorkshire, such as the relatively high crime rate in the region, the recent steep increase in violent crime, the high incidence of sex offenders in West Yorkshire or this:

    “A left-wing academic, unmasked as a spy in the unfolding Cold War scandal, has denied acting illegally or betraying his country. Vic Allen, 77, a former leading member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), said he had ‘no regrets’ over providing information to the East German Stasi secret police. The retired Leeds University professor, from Keighley, North Yorkshire, said he did pass on information about CND’s activities. But he said he considered that perfectly legitimate because he belonged to a pro-Soviet, pro-East German faction of the group. . . The allegations come only 24 hours after the BBC unmasked Hull University lecturer Robin Pearson as a former Stasi agent.”
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1999/09/99/britain_betrayed/451366.stm

    Or this:

    ” . . The crudely printed sheets seemed like scurrilous ravings, but again and again the police and district auditor’s investigations have backed him. If detectives confirm his estimates, then the alleged land deals, bribes, private finance initiatives and fiddling of expenses will form a ?60 million criminal conspiracy, Donnygate will be the greatest local authority corruption scandal of the Nineties. . . ”
    http://society.guardian.co.uk/councilsincrisis/comment/0,8146,400417,00.html
    http://society.guardian.co.uk/councilsincrisis/story/0,8150,464447,00.html

  2. “All that is true – I believe from personal observation”

    Hello Bob, we seem to be back now with comments. I was explicitly thinking of your earlier point when I put this regional issue. But, of course, this doesn’t explain Luton etc.

  3. We’re in this for the long haul, I’m afraid.

    The hope is that finally voices will emerge from within the British Muslim community itself to say what had been clear for some time now.

    British Muslims may start recognizing that Islam itself needs reform. Reform of the conception of the relationship between the religious and the political, reform of the role of gender in relationships, and reform of the conception of a world divided into a Dar al-Islam and a Dar al-Harb. The faith and its writ need historical contextualisation, exercised by Muslim scholars and historians.

    We shall, one hopes, no longer have to plead for an ambiguous and completely unqualified taking of sides by British Islamic clerics. The best Islamic condemnation of the bombings I?ve seen was simply one of those old ?Not in our name? posters, which makes a subtle point, and that?s fine; but no excuses, no justifications warbling on about ?Why don?t we care about dead Iraqis?? We do care about dead Iraqis, we just don?t care in the same way as we care about dead Brits, and we sort of expect other Brits to feel likewise, whatever their religion. Perhaps this will help us get there, or move a little in that direction.

    Finally we?ll be aware of the identity crisis (not mental health problem as some people have suggested.) that leads people to seek heaven by suicide as a resolution to major issues facing young Muslims.

    The people in Spain were more petty thieves than diehard crims, weren?t they Edward? Marginalized immigrants are torn between living by the values that come from applying parent?s beliefs and incorporating those of the broader peer group they encounter, including Christians. Reaffirmation of an extreme Islamic identity may be one reaction to that, perhaps even more so amongst better educated Muslims who are thereby distanced from their original undereducated community.

    This is not to deny a specifically Islamic dimension to the problem. Nor is it an excuse. Buying oneself a ticket to heaven by murdering innocents is probably more repulsive if it?s the product of self-absorption than if it is if it?s the result of poverty and fear and a culture of anger as in Gaza. Actions should broadly be judged by consequences not motives anyway. The difference is that in Gaza the manipulators promise the martyrs that their families will be looked after financially, whereas here, these British kids are offered simply an end to angst and the kind of fame touted on Big Brother.

    As Edward suggests, we need to focus more on what is happening inside the Mosques. But didn?t someone once suggest that the point is not so much to understand that world as to change it? We mainly need to make Muslim kids less susceptible to this kind of suicide by murder, so that it becomes as difficult for the recruiters to find candidates as it would be for them to have found a Harris and Klebold by chance. And that?s down to what our kids are taught about themselves, about what makes self-worth, formally and informally, in the mosque and in school.

  4. Watts, eh? These two events are so unrelated, you might as well of compared it to 1969 American Moon Landing.

    I realize Edward that your are the touch feely everything-has-a-socialeconomic-cause type of person, but really. This post is disingenuous. But from reading other British blogs, this seems to be one of two prevailing opinions both of which float to the absurd extremes, imo. Hello BNP!

    If there is no common sense, no fearless examination of the problems at hand, which is frankly quite impossible in modern day Britain and may become even more so in the future, no real solutions can be had.

    “a long hard look at the process of integration and acceptance.”

    Hmm. And whom will be doing the looking and on whom will the burden fall to ‘integrate’?

    “whereas here, these British kids are offered simply an end to angst”

    Angst? Really? Got quotes from these bombers that they were angst-ridden? By all accounts some of them were well adapted, well off, and on the surface throughly integrated.

  5. I assume you were a teenager yourself once, Rupert, not sure of your own identity ? Imagine not having an umproblematic background on which to base the eventual resolution. Or where you always a man of certainties?

  6. “The people in Spain were more petty thieves than diehard crims, weren?t they Edward?”

    Well, sort of. I think they were a mixed bag. Some were definitely old jihadis from the early ninetees. But if you notice two of the British bombers had some sort of police record. It partly comes from living on the margin of society I suppose. But obviously they don’t have the time and energy to be professional criminals if that’s what you mean. But I just want to stress that there is no real comparison with the immigration situations in the two countries. Spain in 2000 was more or less where the UK was in 1960 in this sense. If Spain is going to experience this, it will be 20 years from now, when the first born-in-Spain generation arrives. Hopefully we will have moved on a bit by then.

    “we?ll be aware of the identity crisis”

    Yes, I don’t think people were saying – at least not on this blog – that it’s a mental illness problem in the sense that ‘they’re all nutcases’. I think the point is that this identity crisis has a psychological dimension, and that there will be a psychological profile, as well as a social one. It is important also for criminal detection that this is the case. This identity crisis can take the form of a bipolar personality, which is what we seem to be seeing in the ‘what a nice guy he was’ comments.

    As to the leaders, well there is a long standing issue of whether Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Milosevic, (Zaqawi?) are serious sadistic fruitcakes. Which doesn’t mean to say you don’t need to analyse their ideology (if and when they have one).

  7. Your double negative is confusing:

    I think you mean “Imagine having a problematic background on which to base the eventual resolution.”, yes?

    Everyone has problems I suppose. Sounds to me like your assuming they did, hence that was part of the problem. I’m merely pointing out that by all accounts, some of them didn’t.

    But, supposing your right, suppose that these kids were dreary, depressed, confused. Why was the act they performed deemed a valid solution? I don’t think an honest answer can be found in Britain. Well, except by the insightful Charles Moore.

  8. I. Blair: I?m going to be meeting with a series of senior Muslim leaders this weekend and we will work a way through in which they provide information. Let?s say they operate their own third party reporting, they set up their own terrorist hotline, these are the kind of things we can do.

    My goodness, I hope this is just a matter of crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s at this point. Shouldn’t something along these lines have been a major priority since, say, September 2001? If the Metropolitan Police have not been pursuing these initiatives, at the very least on a background basis, for the last three and a half years, that’s negligence that’s very near criminal.

    I hope that things are better in Germany. Back in early 2002, I asked the Bavarian interior minister how a largely white, Christian police force expected to infiltrate and gather intelligence on a largely non-white, Muslim threat, and he said “That’s a life-and-death question for us.” I sure hope that answers have been found in the three intervening years.

    Kudos to the Metropolitan for having planned what to do in the event of an attack, for having rehearsed, for having responded as well as can be expected, and for the fast work afterward. But if they’re just now thinking how to work with the community many somebodies have been sleeping soundly at the switch.

  9. “My goodness, I hope this is just a matter of crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s at this point.”

    No, not really Doug. I think its the pending agenda. In Germany too I imagine.

  10. “I don’t think an honest answer can be found in Britain”

    My god, you do hold the brits in high regard.

    “you might as well of compared it to 1969 American Moon Landing.”

    Well if this means I’m “the man on the moon”, yes I am, and proud of it.

    There was a before and after to Watts (remember the Black Panthers, and Elijah Mohammed?). Before Watts many black Americans didn’t feel comfortable with the idea that they were both black and American, after the changes which ensued, by and large they did. Many young Muslims born in Britain are in the same situation, they have difficulty with feeling themselves to be Muslim British. This is the sea change we have to make.

    “I realize Edward that your are the touch feely everything-has-a-socialeconomic-cause type of person”

    I’m glad you realised it because I didn’t. I am not a reductionist. I believe in multiple causality. Btw: coming back to the moon for a moment, what caused the ‘big bang?’. I mean in astrophysics, not international finance :).

  11. There was a before and after to Watts (remember the Black Panthers, and Elijah Mohammed?). Before Watts many black Americans didn’t feel comfortable with the idea that they were both black and American, after the changes which ensued, by and large they did. Many young Muslims born in Britain are in the same situation, they have difficulty with feeling themselves to be Muslim British. This is the sea change we have to make.

    Blacks in America were up until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, second class citizens by law. Hence the boiling over and frustration of the 60’s and to some degree the 70’s. But they have always argued from a moral point of view, based on the ideals of American/European philosophy, that their position in American society is unjust. They have simply made America be what it claims to be. That’s positive. The separatists movements are a relatively small phenomenon.

    The situation in Britain, and Western Europe in general is much different, both historically and ideologically. Europeans and Muslims primarily know each other through confrontation, with Europe being on the defensive throughout much of that time. So what we have now is essentially a grand experiment. The Muslim immigrants of the 50’s and 60’s came from a time of great European influence on Muslim thought, hence their greater willingness to become European. But I think it can be argued that this new generation of Muslims is simply reverting to traditional Muslim thought. Europe is Dar-al-Harb, a place where Muslims are persecuted and must therefore be resisted. But a rational look at the facts on the ground indicate that Muslims in Britain at least, are in pretty good shape. Sure there’s racism, but there’s racism everywhere. I think that’s a canard, and one Europe clings to because to confront the alternative is awful difficult. Furthermore, Muslim claims of being treated as second class citizens strikes me as rather ironic, considering that the idea of the infidel/dhimmi is a staple of Islamic thought in both the Koran and Islamic jurisprudence. In modern Islamic society this has faded in the last 100 years( depending on where you go ), but 100 out of 1400 years doesn’t inspire much faith in me.

    Btw: coming back to the moon for a moment, what caused the ‘big bang?’. I mean in astrophysics, not international finance :).

    What caused it? Dunno. God, perhaps? A malfunction?

  12. “The situation in Britain, and Western Europe in general is much different, both historically and ideologically. Europeans and Muslims primarily know each other through confrontation, with Europe being on the defensive throughout much of that time.”

    Everything up to here fair comment, and I broadly agree (ie about the US). What I also believe is that societies and communities evolve, and that is what we all need top do here, evolve. I suppose Rupert, you’ve got me wrong, I’m not one of those “touch feely everything-has-a-socialeconomic-cause” type of people at all, rather I am in the humanist tradition. I don’t believe we are determined either by our history or by our genetics, we are influenced by them but not determined by them, we can change. As I said, I am not a reductionist, and I think the future is an open question.

    “The Muslim immigrants of the 50’s and 60’s came from a time of great European influence on Muslim thought, hence their greater willingness to become European.”

    Yes, I agree…there was Arab nationalism in the shap of Nasser, Asad and of course secular Baathism in Egypt, Syria and Iraq, and the whole situation was different in Pakistan with Bhutto et al. But somewhere along the road we lost it.

    I hate anti-semitism, and defend Israel’s right to live in peace, but if someone had had the courage to resolve the Israel/Palestine question back then, history might have been very different.

    “But a rational look at the facts on the ground indicate that Muslims in Britain at least, are in pretty good shape.”

    Again I think this is true, if it wasn’t they wouldn’t keep coming.

    “But I think it can be argued that this new generation of Muslims is simply reverting to traditional Muslim thought. Europe is Dar-al-Harb, a place where Muslims are persecuted and must therefore be resisted.”

    This, I think is the issue. If this was true the ‘experiment’ is doomed to failure. But I don’t believe it is. I think the road is a difficult one, but we have little alternative other than to embrace it. I think those who live in Europe and feel the way you describe are a small minority. I couldn’t give you a percentage. I think many UK muslims are now in a state of shock, and it is our role to try and help them make the transition, in this sense I very much endorse Ian Blair’s sentiments.

    It turns out the three Leeds bombers had actually been banned from the local mosques, the question is why Scotland yard didn’t know this. What is security and communication like?

    On the position of religious leaders, the position is not that different from Bishops in Belfast and Bilbao who, in their time, have found it difficult to condemn what is obviously to be condemned. This weekend we have made a start, but only a start.

  13. I’ve also seen it said from time to time, erroneously, that fatwa are never issued against terrorism. Well….

    Britain’s largest Sunni group on Sunday issued a binding religious edict, known as a fatwa, condemning the July 7 suicide bombings in London. The Sunni Council said the bombings in London trains and a double-decker bus were against Islam, adding that any type of suicide attack was against the Quran. The attacks killed 55 people, including the four bombers, who were Muslims.

    Obviously this is to be welcomed. I am not sure though that it will have any direct effect on those who are politically bent on terrorism, any more than the threat of excommunication by the Roman Catholic church was in the case of members of the Provisional IRA.

  14. “Did the catholic church ever treaten to do that?”

    Threaten, people inside the church did this plenty of times, actually do it, only during the first half of the last century I think (someone please correct me if I am wrong here). During the ‘troubles’ protestant fanatics made a lot of issues about this. There might seem to some to be an inconsistency in denying consecrated ground to someone who for some tragic reason takes his own life whilst granting a person who dies manipulating a bomb intended for innocent civilians burial rights with full military honours.

    In this sense the UK is well accustomed to politically inspired terrorism with a religious dimension.

  15. In this sense the UK is well accustomed to politically inspired terrorism with a religious dimension.

    I’m not at all familiar with the IRA, but my understanding was it was an Irish nationalist movement. Did the IRA every set off a bomb in Britain, then release a communique quoting the Bible? Or something similar?

  16. Rupert, i know you want to act as if there is no non religious base beneath Bin Laden and is gang but the major difference between the IRA and UDP members is faith. If you except communist speak as similar than the IRA certainly did

  17. The IRA campaigned in the name of a community, and segregation in Ireland was on religious lines, but they weren?t fighting for Catholicism. I don?t think opposition to abortion was an IRA motivation.

    Didn?t the ?Loyalists? kill more people ? Perhaps the Protestants were fighting on religious grounds more that the nationalists were ? resistance to incorporation into an Irish state in which Church doctrine determines law to some extent.

    ?

    The Pakistan connection is worrying because a lot of the security establishment in Pakistan is sympathetic to the Jihadists. Since we can?t watch everybody who goes on holiday there, we?ll have to rely on their community telling us about those who come back weird. And here, I admit we have a problem, since the bombers own parents didn?t seem to notice much change.

    Anyway, Edward?s link to the description of life in Beeston shows that the issue is not just a matter of ideology but of how that ideology fits into a way of life. For the young, it?s going to be confusing.. They?re pulled in different directions and the temptation is to come down hard one side or the other ? especially those who?ve grown up Muslim but have had enough education to grasp how alien Islam is in a European context.

    It?s not something those of us without any experience of such problems find easy to understand. If we make the effort, we may discover just how difficult an issue it is to grasp, because we?ll have to address the way an Islamic upbringing shapes a person?s self definition. Those ways are a lot more unfamiliar to us than we?re used to, from the religious spectrum we already know – Catholic, Jewish, Orthodox. I think we need some well-informed sociology that isn?t predetermined by the desire to reach a conventionally ?anti-racist? ?pro-diversity? answer. This is not at all a racist point, by the way.

    The danger is not just going to fade away. There will be other conflicts with Islamic countries, other humiliations of the Ummah, and perhaps domestic issues. We need a long-term perspective as well as good policing.

  18. “Or something similar?”

    It’s complex, the question would be whether some of those who did the killing were able to find comfort in their faith. My guess is they were. John is also right to raise the questions about the protestant extremsts. The basis of the feud could well be seen in a theological view of the figure of the virgin mary in Christianity and the role of the pope as god’s representative on earth. But of course you can also give “touch-feely” social explanations (ie the ones you don’t like).

    The 8 people who were savagely gunned down in a Belfast bar following the Republic of Ireland’s victory over Italy in the world cup were killed in the name of ‘No Popery’. I don’t imagine they needed to issue a communique.

    BTW in Kosovo I don’t think we should miss the point that it was Orthodox Christianity which was used as an ‘aid and comfort’ for the massacre of members of another faith, in this case muslims.

  19. You also had in the not so distance past the Spanish Civil war and Italy and the Pape state as examples of “religious” wars. In both cases you have a lot of support of foreign members of the same “fate”

  20. Why is it better to be a Rangers supporter than a Celtic fan?

    Because it’s a lot easier to sing ‘Fuck the Pope’ than ‘Fuck the General Moderator of the Assembly of the Church of Scotland’

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