Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Suicide bombers next door 

That the London suicide bombers were young was no surprise. Most suicide bombers are, with many Palestinian "martyrs", in particular, just out of their teenage years. Young people make perfect recruits for suicide bombing - for the same reasons that young people do other stupid thing like becoming a Marxist revolutionaries at university, joining a gang, or speeding while high on drugs - because they are idealistic, rebellious, impressionable, and careless about own safety and well-being.

By all accounts, all three (since we still don't know the identity of the fourth suspect) have led ordinary suburban lives, with plenty of friends, cars and cricket. Their parents were hard-working first-generation migrants who have built successful family businesses, too busy making it in their new country to care about politics. Maybe too busy, too, to know just what exactly their sons were getting up to and what sort of people they were becoming. None of the "baby boomers" appears to have had any ties to known terrorist or radical groups, but they were getting noticeably more religious recently. Normally that's not a cause for alarm, but these aren't normal times.

All this makes it imperative for the Western Muslims to help monitor their own communities, which as most ethnic communities do, often tend to be insular. The authorities are unlikely to be the first ones to detect the early signs of radicalization - families, friends, neighbors and community leaders, including moderate imams, have to be the ones on the look-out for suspicious activity and warning signs. Unlike in other areas of law enforcement, it is significantly more difficult for the authorities to get good intelligence or infiltrate Islamic radicals.

As Alice Miles writes in "The Times":
It is now clear that there is something constructive that the politicians can do. Forget the mourning, and tear into those Muslim ghettos instead. Force them to open up. Make the imams answer. Tell them to let their women speak, as they have been prevented from doing until now. We have done softly, softly. We have pandered to fears about religious hatred. We have listened with utmost sympathy to their concerns.

No one should stigmatise any community, the police said yesterday. But those bombers have stigmatised the communities that made them, and we should spare a thought for the devastation wrought on those communities; but then we should insist that they cannot continue in a state of alienation from the rest of society. That is a challenge for them, and for all of us. They, too, must become ordinary.
This will be a difficult task. The silent majority might not sympathize with terrorists (whatever they actually think about the supposed geo-political "root causes" of violence, such as the Palestinian question or the war in Iraq), but there is a fear, I think, that to be seen as cooperating too overtly with the authorities will be seen as a sell-out. But the other options is losing children to jihad.


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