Islam UK: Anger and sorrow on the streets of Beeston

In the Leeds district that spawned three bombers friends and families are divided.

By Severin Carrell
Published: 17 July 2005

Until dawn last Tuesday, Beeston in Leeds was another insignificant northern suburb: a compact grid of shabby back-to-backs. It is now at the centre of one of the world's most intensive terrorism investigations, five of its houses standing shrouded in a cocoon of scaffolding and white plastic sheets, crucibles of a plot to commit mass murder.

Many hundreds of its residents have been evacuated as troops clad in armoured suits and forensics experts in white overalls guided bomb-sniffing robots into their neighbours' homes.

Streets that usually ring out with the sounds of strong Leeds accent, Afro-Caribbean patois, Bengali, Urdu and Punjabi now echo with news broadcasts in Japanese, French, Spanish and - above all - American accents, and the hum of TV satellite van generators. Because of the actions of three local men - Mohammed Sidique Khan, Shahzad Tanweer and Hasib Mir Hussain - Beeston is famous around the world.

The residents almost uniformly express shock, disbelief and sorrow. Yet in their attempts to explain why their neighbours went to London to kill scores of fellow Britons, the tensions come to the fore.

Iraq broke surface late on Thursday afternoon, as two friends in their thirties launched into an intense debate over whether the bombers were politically and morally justified to target London. As the men - whom we will call Khalid and Arif - argued beside an old ice-cream van, small groups of onlookers gazed at them with curiosity.

The increasingly furious political and theological debate exposes the turmoil many young Muslims now feel after Thursday's attacks.

His hands stabbing the air for emphasis, Khalid was emphatic. "The simple thing is: if they hadn't gone into Iraq, none of this would have happened," he said. "They've gone into Iraq as a business, to make money. You speak to any of the boys around here: it preys on your mind, it breeds frustration, and it breeds anger."

His well-built friend, Arif, gently retorted: "It doesn't breed anything - that's the wrong word. Two wrongs just don't make a right."

Khalid's claims alarmed Arif. Like most of Beeston's Muslim residents, he doesn't accept that Iraq is a justification for violent revenge. They all search for a "guiding hand", the indoctrinator who beguiled the bombers into killing London commuters. News of an Egyptian link or the role of an outsider, the Jamaican convert Germaine Lindsay, are seized on. " There was a bigger player behind them," he insists.

"No, our kid. No," said Khalid, his pale Kashmiri face colouring. " There was nobody stood behind them, brainwashing them. There's people stood behind them telling them what the truth is. God allowed this to happen, that's what I believe. Islam says to me I have a duty to help any Muslim who is in need."

But that's wrong, replied Arif. "It's not any Muslim. It's any human - that's what the Koran says." Judging by the nods of onlookers, he won that point. Arif seemed to win most points. Few seem persuaded by Khalid's angry rhetoric.

Khalid came back at him, arguing "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth ". And, he claimed, the Koran's requirement for a Muslim to openly declare war on an enemy has already been met by the Islamist terrorists - the people known among Muslims as "jihadis". "They've given a warning - a notice of war. If you come and kill our innocents, we will kill yours."

Arif, briefly silenced by this, tried to calm his friend down. He replied: " But I would be killing innocent Muslims. That's against Islam. This was my friend of 18 years. What happens in Iraq, it doesn't give him the right. You're in anger. I'm in sorrow."

This sadness is, for the vast majority, the dominant feeling. Muslim leaders have, over the past week, effectively repudiated the young bombers as Muslims - rejecting any claim their actions are authorised by the Koran.

Arif explained: "Everybody in this community is feeling the families' sorrow. Nobody is blaming them. It's not just that they've lost a son, a brother or a father. They have to deal with the fact they've lost him from Islam. Islam does not allow this."

Alive in many minds is the image of Shahzad Tanweer's uncle, Bashir Ahmad, his face etched with grief, stress and weariness, reading out a statement on Wednesday apologising for his nephew's role in the bombings.

"The uncle feels too much shame," said Arif as we strolled past clumps of local kids, lolling in the sunshine on BMX bikes and walls. " He doesn't need to. We're suffering with them. These kids grew up through my hands too. These bombs touched him and me personally. Even now, I can't believe it."

But what Arif and Khalid's dialogue revealed is an even deeper tension within Britain's Asian immigrant communities - a tension between older generations living by their rules and codes and their British-born children, who have often complex and competing dual identities.

For the great majority, explains Mohammed Shafique, a community worker in north Leeds known to his friends as Shaf, this means happily wearing Western clothes outside home, smoking, following football and the music charts or reading the latest blockbuster. They are utterly British. Yet at home, they wear traditional shalwar kameez, defer respectfully to their elders, dutifully take care of chores and observe daily prayers.

A large majority juggle these different cultures with skill. There are inter-racial marriages in Beeston. White kids and Asian are best mates. But when it comes to political issues such as Iraq and competing, often more radical religious beliefs than their parents, those tensions are at their greatest.

It is these tensions which allegedly led Mohammed Sidique Khan and his wife Hasina to split up last summer. It is here, say Arif and Shaf, that many parents fail to give younger Muslims the freedom to openly express themselves or to take active political and religious roles in their communities.

It is here where parallel lives become secret lives; where parents, friends and imams lose control and influence. This, in part, is why young men such as Hasib Mir Hussain or Shahzad Tanweer feel an explosive sense of anger. Tanweer's father, Mumtaz, had once served as a community policeman - a volunteer "special policeman" - in the 1980s. He was - and is - a pillar of the local community.

While their shift towards hardline Islam was detectable to friends and family, their adherence to the "jihadi", violent cause of the terrorists, was not.

"There's no fanatical imams preaching hate," said Shaf. " That's not the norm. We actively discourage people like al-Muhajiroun and Hizb ut-Tahrir. That's why it is so unbelievable that this has happened. It's rocked our foundations."

Arif explains: "From a very, very young age, we've two cultures clashing with each other. From Monday to Friday, we're British Asians, but at 3.30 after we get back from school, we're expected to automatically turn off the Western thing and become just a Pakistani or a Kashmiri, and then go to the mosque.

"From a very young age, you're living two parallel lives - two different lives you have to balance."

Even now, few locals will openly discuss what each of the bombers did or did not do. Arif knew one of them, but refuses to give his name.

"I never speak ill of the dead," he said. "I've known him for about 18 years. Never once did I think there was an inclination of this kind.

"He was the kind of guy who would actually keep his eye out for anybody's son, brother, daughter, sister. He wasn't a vigilante, but he would just stand around in the dark hours making sure everyone was OK. I just can't fathom it. We're just at a loss."

The leaders of Britain's Muslims


Who are they?

The UK's main umbrella organisation founded in 1997 with hundreds of affiliates, including mosques, Muslim schools and most Muslim groups

What do they stand for?

Moderate, mainstream. Its stated purpose is to "promote co-operation, consensus and unity". It is seen as the main "voice" of British Muslims

Leading light

Its secretary is Sir Iqbal Sacranie

Position on terrorism

It condemns all acts of terrorism but is being criticised for apparently failing to condemn those seeking to excuse suicide bombers in Israel


Who are they?

Trains imams and represents mosque leaders nationally

What do they stand for?

Influential training group for imams. It advised the Home Office to have stricter entry visas and introduce training for foreign imams

Leading light

Its chairman is Dr Zaki Badawi, an Egyptian-born scholar and principal of the Muslim College in London

Position on terrorism

Dr Badawi appeared with other faith leaders to condemn the London bombings. However, he was banned from entering the US on Thursday


Who are they?

A new, younger, more radical group of Muslim activists

What do they stand for?

Involved in the Stop the War campaign, it has more left-wing political views. Its members are involved with George Galloway's Respect Party

Leading light

Dr Azzam Tamimi

Position on terrorism

Has been forthright in condemnation of London bombings but some spokesmen have made highly suspect remarks about suicide bombings


Who are they?

London-based civil rights group that says it seeks to win justice for oppressed Muslims

What do they stand for?

"Our inspiration derives from the Koranic injunctions that command believers to rise up in defence of the oppressed

Leading light

Its chairman is Massoud Shadjareh

Position on terrorism

The group "condemns in no uncertain terms the attacks perpetrated in London". Has since accused Blair of demonising Muslims


Who are they?

A forum founded after the Salman Rushdie affair that aims to campaign and lobby on issues of concern to the Muslim community

What do they stand for?

Its main campaigns are against "discriminatory" anti-terror laws, forced marriages and extremists

Leading light

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddique

Position on terrorism

The London attacks were "inhuman, mindless and unwarranted"


Who are they?

Moderate non-campaigning "vehicle" for the promotion of Islam and Islamic values

What do they stand for?

"We believe that working for Islam is not just about campaigning for Muslim rights, but also about sharing Islam's view on God, life and society"

Leading light

President Dr Munir Ahmed

Position on terrorism

"The Islamic Society of Britain totally condemns the vicious and indiscriminate attacks"


Who are they?

International, secular political party open to all Muslims "regardless of whether they are Arab or non-Arab, white or coloured"

What do they stand for?

The creation of an Islamic state worldwide and the imposition of strict sharia law

Leading light

Spokesman Qasim Khawaja

Position on terrorism

The group "does not advocate or engage in violence". Nevertheless, it has been banned from campuses since 1995


Who are they?

Set up by the radical cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed after he split off from Hizb-ut-Tahrir in 1996

What do they stand for?

A militant, fringe group which advocates transforming the UK into an Islamic state and supports terrorist acts abroad

Leading light

Omar Bakri Mohammed

Position on terrorism

It welcomed the 9/11 attacks. It claimed to have recruited hundreds of British Muslims to fight in Afghanistan


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