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July 19, 2005

Why some British Muslims bombed their own country

Posted by Anthony McRoy

Why did some British Muslims bomb their own country? Dr Anthony McRoy - an expert on Islam in the UK and the author of a forthcoming Social Affairs Unit study on the politics of British Islam - offers some answers. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director.

Like most Britons, I was shocked that the London bombers were British-born – but not entirely surprised. It is not the first time that British Muslims have engaged in jihad or sacrificed their lives in what are called "martyrdom operations"; the innovation is that they did it in the UK, against their fellow-Britons. What drives young Britons to attack their compatriots?

To understand this, we must recognise that people in all religions have trans-national confessional allegiances – Christians, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, and of course Muslims. Muslims belong to the Ummah – the global Islamic community. Muhammad's migration from Mecca to Medina on 20th June, 622, is known as al-Hijra and, being the turning point in Muhammad's career, was declared to be the beginning of the Muslim era. In the Declaration of Medina, effectively the constitution of the Islamic city-state, Muhammad stated that the Meccan migrants and the people of Yathrib (Medina) together:

constitute one nation (Ummah) in distinction from the rest of the people.

This Ummah is the primary community to which Muslims in Britain belong, and it can be seen from this that the strongest communal links for any Muslim - according to Islam - will be those with the Ummah, rather than with fellows of his race, ethnicity or nationality. As a British Muslim student declared about the American action against Afghanistan in 2001 [Q-News, No. 337, "Ready for jihad: Young, Muslim and angry", (October 2001), p. 15]:

I've always believed that I am Muslim first, then British…
Hence, the tendency for second- and third-generation Muslims to regard their Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Yemeni, etc., ethnic origins as secondary to their faith, and to identify their distinction from the rest of the British population as being essentially their membership of the Ummah, is not only natural, but actually "scriptural".

The Ummah concept has influenced British Muslims to be actively concerned with the Gulf war and Bosnia and to feel directly affected by these events. It explains why British lads would turn on their compatriots. Sir Thomas More, in his execution speech stated:

I die the King's good servant, but God's first.
If there is a cleavage between Caesar and God for any devout religious believer, God wins out every time. The difference in Islam is that God is Caesar, and temporal Caesars are false gods, to use the concept of Sayyid Qutb, the Islamic thinker who influenced Bin Laden. If there is a tension between loyalty to Britain and loyalty to the Ummah, for the kind of Muslim who carried out 7/7, the latter has the greatest demand.

Even among the most moderate Muslims there is exasperation about US and UK foreign policy. From what they see as pro-Israeli bias, to the Gulf war, the stationing of US forces in the Islamic holy land of Arabia, despite the Hadith (narrations of Muhammad) forbidding the presence of non-Muslims there, the invasion of Afghanistan and finally, the straw that broke the camel's back, the occupation of Iraq, which engendered immense anger among Muslims, Muslims increasingly believe themselves to be the victims of a modern-day crusade. After all, that is how Bush first described "the War on Terror".

Islamic ethics, unlike Christianity, eschews turning the other cheek. Rather the Qur'an tells Muslims (Surah 2:190):

Fight in the cause of God those who fight you.
Because of the Ummah concept, Muslims in Britain view themselves as part of the oppressed – when Muslims in Palestine or Iraq suffer, British Muslims see it as though they themselves are suffering. Since the British government is a close ally of America, it follows that the British Caesar is at war with God, so it is clear where the loyalties of the Ummah's residents in Britain should lie.

Al-Qaida have argued, against the tradition of Islamic jurisprudence, that anyone in a country occupying Muslim lands who pays taxes and votes for the government engaged in "aggression" shares its guilt, and is a legitimate target. If any Muslims are killed, they are simply collateral damage. Hence, killing their compatriots – and even their co-religionists – presented no ethical problems for the bombers.

Another casualty of the bombings are politically correct sociological explanations for the attacks. One bomber was a teacher, another was a student – scarcely the "wretched of the earth" to borrow from Fanon. Moreover, neither Sikhs nor Hindus carried out the bombing, so one cannot blame anti-Asian racism as the cause.

Further, it cannot be asserted that domestic Islamophobia was the progenitor; the government was pledged to introduce a law against Religious Hatred. The bombers were "cleanskins", people with no previous history of terrorist or extremist involvement, so one cannot blame "extremist preachers"; after all, if at least two bombers were well-educated, how could they be influenced by mullahs often barely literate in English? The anti-Muslim backlash ironically supplies the answer; it is unlikely that any of the violent incidents following 7/7, including the murder of a Muslim man, resulted from Far Right incitement. Rather, it was the massacre itself that "incited" that violent backlash.

Equally, it was the foreign policy of the US and UK that "incited" the bombers. The government refused to listen to the 2003 protest which rallied against the war – the biggest demonstration in British history. It also refused to listen to the electors – especially Muslims – who deserted Labour for the anti-war parties. Rallies failed, elections failed – leaving, as they saw it, only one option. Muslims are influenced by the concept of family and communal honour (izzat) and defence of the honour of Islam (ghairat). Al-Qaida echoes the feelings of most Muslims about how "humiliated" they feel by the occupation of Arabia, Iraq and Palestine, and honour can only be satisfied by blood. The bombings were a message to America and Britain to listen and change course – to stop "shaming" Muslims, by quitting the Muslim world. As there is no immediate sign of that happening, the terrible fact is that both Britain and America should expect more outrages like 7/7.

Dr Anthony McRoy is a writer on Islam in the UK. He is writing a study on the politics of British Islam for the Social Affairs Unit.

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I have spent half my working life in Islamic countries, and we are lucky to get such perceptive thoughts as those of Dr McRoy -- and so well expressed.

A US missionary in Pakistan, running a medical charity for the past 30 years, tells me that the NorthWest Frontier Province never turned out more than 3 percent vote for the religious parties, which now govern in an unbeatable, pro-Taliban coalition. He thinks that 95% of the public would vote for bin Laden over Bush. Dr Roy helps explain why.

Posted by: s masty at July 19, 2005 02:41 PM

A very helpful and insightful article, which is rare in that it touches on (although could go further) into the theological mechanisms driving the radicals. Bush et al may have lit the blue touchpaper, but the Islamist's had built the bomb all on their own.

By the way, there is a new blog covering the MCB at:

Posted by: Derek at July 20, 2005 03:16 PM

To murder one's own country men, women and children cannot be condoned in any shape or form for in the anarchic wasteland you will find your lifeless kin. And then it is too late.

I disagree that these men or women are driven by religious zeal against the UK. For they are quite educated and know of the transgressions of all nations.

Rather it has more to do with the economic rascism that is woven into the daily fabric of thier lives. Like a tapestry.

As a UK citizen I have written to the Sudanese government urging them to show compassion and also to the Saudis reminding them of the word.

Posted by: Joynur Rahman at May 25, 2009 04:46 AM
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