In this strange new world we’ve started to become used to in recent years, one of the mantras repeated after each fresh terrorist atrocity goes like this - only the tiniest of minorities is to blame: most Muslims reject violence against civilians.
And it’s hopefully true.
But then what? After the ritual condemnations from mainstream Muslim groups - even choreographed at times, like those issued by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and other groups after the July 7 bombings in London - everything continues as normal. Until the next horror.
It’s time Muslim communities worldwide moved beyond denunciations. They simply don’t hold water any more.
Let’s take as an example, the case of Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed. The Syrian-born fundamentalist cleric has been living in London since the British Government gave him asylum after the Saudis expelled him in 1986. For years he has been preaching a message of hatred, openly espousing jihad against America, Israel and - yes - Britain.
Eleven months before Al-Qaida’s 9-11 attacks, I interviewed Bakri in London, outside a Regent’s Park mosque an hour after Friday prayers. We spoke shortly after he roused hundreds of young men into a frenzy of chanting and Allahu Akbars in celebration of the bombing one day earlier of a US Navy destroyer in the Yemeni port of Aden. Seventeen USS Cole sailors died in the bombing.
Bakri watched impassively as his followers set alight US and Israeli flags and chanted slogans such as: “USA, you will pay, Osama is on his way” and “Bomb, bomb Tel Aviv, the White House, Downing Street”.
In that October 2000 interview Bakri praised a campaign of escalating Palestinian violence in Israel, adding that he hoped it would spread to all Muslim countries, and to non-Muslim countries too.
“There’s already plans of action in different parts of Europe, not only in the Middle East,” he said.
Bakri also said, “We do not target civilians and women and children,” although that contradicted his own earlier statements expressing support for terrorist attacks which cost hundreds of civilian lives, including Hamas suicide bombings in Israel and Al-Qaida’s 1998 bombing of American embassies in East Africa.
That Bakri could stand in a London street and, under the gaze of uniformed policemen, incite Muslims to violence says much about the laws of that country. (The British Government recently finally announced its decision to prioritise new laws against “encouragement” of terrorism.) But his freedom to spew his vitriol says even more about the community of which he considers himself a part.
Neither in 2000, nor the following year when terrorists struck the US so devastatingly, nor in the years since - marked by outrages in Bali, Beslan, Jakarta, Istanbul, Madrid, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and now London - has the British Muslim community turned against Bakri in any meaningful way.
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