Moderates need to take on Jihadists
By Saira Khan
· A British Muslim recalls how the seeds of Islamist extremism were sown across Britain more than two decades ago
· July 09, 2007
IN July 1989 I had an experience that scared and alienated me, but also made me realise who I was and, more important, who I was not and would never be.
I was 18 and in my first year as an undergraduate at Brighton University, where I was studying for a degree in humanities. I was meeting new people: people of different religions, cultures, ages, sexual orientation, experiences and interests.
I was growing up, realising for the first time that there was a world other than the one my parents talked about constantly: the world of Long Eaton (where I lived) and Pakistan. I was discovering that I had a lot more in common with British non-Muslims than I had hitherto realised.
That summer two relatives of my mother - girls of my age - came to stay with us, as they had done often in the past. Like me, they were in their first year at university, but they had changed completely.
To my horror, the girls I'd known so well - who were fun, happy, easygoing - arrived at our house wearing hijabs. I'd never seen them dressed like that before, and it was totally alien to me, as well as to my family and to mainstream Pakistani culture.
The two girls I'd known for years, who used to talk about boys, clothes, fashion, music and films, were now wearing Middle Eastern outfits and claiming that this was their new religious identity and that it was the proper way to dress for any woman claiming to be Muslim.
They told me they had joined an Islamic group at their university that involved daily lectures about Islam. They said most of the lecturers were from the Middle East. Their key message was that it was necessary to create an Islamic state, which meant Muslims all over the world had to unite. These people believed - and believe - that there is no Islamic state and therefore one must be created where all Muslims can live according to the true laws of Islam.
One of girls told me that the way her parents had brought her up as a Muslim was not the true way and that her parents were misguided and she was trying to educate them through what she had learned from her Islamic group at university.
"People like you, Saira, are not Muslims because you are confused (about) religion and culture," she said. "There is no culture, there is only religion, and until you accept that you cannot call yourself a Muslim." She went on to state, "We are not British, we are Muslim."
My two former companions were extremely well-rehearsed in presenting their arguments. To support a certain line of debate, they would recite chapter and verse from the Koran. It's impossible to argue with someone whose get-out clause is always, "It is written in the Koran. We can't argue with God's word."
The sad thing was that these girls had worked so hard to get to university to study medicine and enable themselves to get a great job. Their mother was just as shocked as I was by their transformation, at the way they spoke and by the extent to which they despised Britain. As she put it: "I sent them to university to study and become doctors and they've come back telling me that I'm not a proper Muslim and that I need to wear a hijab."
Back then, however, nobody seemed to take too much notice of the stark transformation of these two young women and the change in their attitude.
My point is not to say that women who wear the hijab are extremists - much less that they will at some stage be involved in some terrorist activity - but to suggest that this is how, in many cases, extremism starts.
It dawned on me after the July 7, 2005 bombings in London that the seeds of extremism had been sown across Britain long ago, and that it had been allowed to flourish for more than 20 years.
We are not fighting a new phenomenon that raised its ugly head in 2005: we are fighting more than 20 years of planning and preparation by those who want Britain to be an Islamic state. Of course, most British Muslims won't become violent extremists, but most will endanger society - albeit unwittingly - by supporting and condoning the actions of extremists.
Very few will admit this in public, but many will say behind closed doors that they are sympathetic to the bombers' cause and that they can understand why they are doing it. These things are said in front of young children and justified by reference to various conspiracy theories, which nearly always involve Jews, the US and the CIA.
There are too few moderate voices among the Muslim community. As a result, the extremists have their say and are not contradicted. This gives the non-Muslim population the impression that all Muslims are either extremists or agree with radical Islamic principles.
The war against terror cannot be won without moderate Muslims coming out and standing up for British values: the values of integration and living peacefully in a secular society.
We should not be scared to shout this out, loud and proud; we should not be intimidated by a few hotheads into thinking we are any less Muslim if we say we are British and don't want to go around blowing up innocent people in the name of Allah.
British Muslims have to realise that there is no "but" after a sentence such as, "I wholeheartedly disagree with the terrorist actions and the killings of innocent civilians."
BBC journalist Saira Khan was a runner-up in the first series of The Apprentice in Britain. This is extracted from The Spectator.
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