Islamic Britain: How the UK Deals with Radical Muslims

By Watts, Greg | Commonweal, January 16, 2004 | Go to article overview

Islamic Britain: How the UK Deals with Radical Muslims


Watts, Greg, Commonweal


London has become the center of the Arab political world, leading one writer to describe it as "Beirut-on-Thames." The racks outside newspaper stands on Edgware Road and Queensway are stacked with dozens of Arabic newspapers and magazines, many produced in the capital. While the majority of Arabs in the United Kingdom are moderate Muslims and dutiful citizens, there is growing anxiety over the number of Islamic terrorists with ties to Britain.

In 1994 Osama bin Laden established his "media office" in London under the control of Khalid al Fawwaz. (It was closed in 1998.) "Shoe bomber" Richard Reid was a member of the Brixton mosque, and nine British Muslims are currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. Jack Roche, another British Muslim convert, was recently charged by Australian police with plotting to blow up the Israeli embassy in Canberra and the consulate in Sydney. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who attended the London School of Economics, masterminded the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.

One of the most radical groups in the UK is al-Muhajiroun, which has allegedly recruited large numbers of young British Muslims for the Taliban and for Al Qaeda training camps. In a recent interview in Lahore, former al-Muhajiroun member Ali Qureshi claimed that the recruits would arrive in Afghanistan with money collected from British mosques. Al-Muhajiroun claims to function in twenty-five British cities and to run seventy-five prayer groups a week. In July 2003, the police raided its offices and the homes of two of its leaders, but no arrests were made. The group also has connections with London's Finsbury Park Mosque, which is run by Sheikh Abu Hamza al Masri, currently wanted by the authorities in Yemen for alleged terrorist activities.

There are an estimated 1.6 million Muslims in the UK, the majority living in London and other urban centers. They have gradually become more integrated into British society and can now be found sitting in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, running major companies, occupying key academic and legal positions, and hosting TV and radio programs. Many Muslims are concerned about the emergence of Islamic fundamentalists in the UK. Chowdhury-Mueen Uddin, deputy director of the Islamic Foundation, in Leicester, distances himself from groups such as al-Muhajiroun: "These groups are very insignificant and don't represent the mainstream Muslim community. The media in the UK concentrates too much on these groups. If there's a discussion on TV, there will always be a representative from one of these groups on it. They survive on publicity and the more you give them, the more confident they become."

Radical Muslims turn up every Sunday in Hyde Park to proclaim their beliefs and, in some cases, their support for Osama bin Laden. Crowds have gathered at the park for 150 years to hear and argue with all manner of people who stand on small ladders or plastic crates and express their unpopular and sometimes extreme views of life, politics, religion, and science. Jay Smith, an American member of the Brethren in Christ International Fellowship, is the founder of the Hyde Park Christian Fellowship, whose members meet for prayer each Sunday at All Souls Church and then make their way along Oxford Street to what's known as Speakers' Corner.

"I get on the ladder and start the ball rolling," he explains. "Normally the Muslims come around to the front and try to shout me down. In August I was slammed in the face by a big, tall Muslim who was standing next to me. …

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