Radicalization of Young British Muslims
by Irfan Al-Alawi
A newly-released study from the British organization Student Rights exposes a problem of which the moderate British Muslim community has been aware for years: the advance of radical ideology among young Muslims, through videos and direct preaching.
A report, "Case Study: London South Bank University Islamic Society," discloses that the London South Bank University (LSBU)'s Islamic Society (Isoc) has exploited social media to disseminate terrorist propaganda. The LSBU Isoc, an affiliate of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), has long been known for harboring radicals and their sympathisers.
Nine times since November 2011, the LSBI Isoc has used its Facebook account to present video lectures by the late US-born Al-Qaeda preacher Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was executed in a US military drone operation in Yemen at the end of September 2011. That is, after both Al-Awlaki's role in several terrorist attacks in the US and his death were widely publicized, the LSBU Islamic Society reposted his lectures. Al-Awlaki was the Al-Qaeda leader involved in inciting the mass attack by Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood, Texas, in which 13 people were killed and 29 injured. Al-Awlaki played the same role in the Christmas 2009 attempt by Umar Farouk Abtulmutallub, a Nigerian Muslim extremist, to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit, Michigan.
Al-Awlaki maintained relations with three hijackers involved in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington, DC. After 2001, Al-Awlaki relocated from the US to Britain, where he stayed until 2004, when he went to Yemen. While in Britain, Al-Awlaki addressed the 2004 annual conference of FOSIS, and was advertized as a participant in a series of talks organized by the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and the University of London students' Islamic Societies. MAB, founded in 1997 by Kamal Al-Helbawy, a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK, is small but well-known for its fundamentalist outlook. The London South Bank University Isoc's Facebook page had 3,039 subscribers when it posted the Al-Awlaki videos. Student Rights noted in its survey that by reposting the Al-Awlaki videos LSBU-Isoc "clearly endors(ed) Al-Awlaki as an authority on religious and even political matters."
Roshonara Choudhry, a British-born Muslim of Bangladeshi background and a student at Kings College, London, in 2010 stabbed British Labour politician Stephen Timms, MP – fortunately without killing him. Choudhry told British police that she had been influenced by Al-Awlaki's videos. According to the London Guardian of November 2, 2010, she said to investigators, "I started to listen to Anwar Al-Awlaki lectures last year and then I started to get really into it and I listened to everything … like all of his recorded lectures that he made and that would have been like since November. I've been listening to him since November… everybody listens to him and likes him."
Al-Awlaki's sermons were also found to have motivated nine British Muslims -- grouped in London, Cardiff (Wales), and Stoke-on-Trent -- to plot bombings of the London Stock Exchange, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the US Embassy, the home of London Mayor Boris Johnson, and two Jewish synagogues, among many other targets. Although the nine intended their spree to be carried out around Christmas 2010, they were arrested by British authorities. After being informed of their probable sentences, as their trial was about to begin they pled guilty in a controversial arrangement, and were sentenced on February 1, 2012. The ringleader of the group, Mohammed Chowdhury, aged 21 -- and, according to Court News UK, nicknamed "JMB" for Jaamat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh, an illegal Taliban-lining terror group - was told he would be jailed for no more than 13-1/2 years. Under British penal rules, however, he may be released after completing half his sentence, in less than six years, because of time he already served. The convicted men could have been sentenced to life in prison. The other five defendants pled guilty to lesser charges of "preparing a terrorist attack". All nine had originally claimed innocence in the conspiracy. Except for Chowdhury and two associates, who were born in Bangladesh and acquired British citizenship, the would-be terrorists were all British by birth.
The LSBU Isoc has also posted videos by one of the most notorious Saudi extremists, Aidh (Ayed) Al-Qarni, known for encouraging Saudi subjects to contribute to the defence of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, and calling on terrorists to travel to Iraq to fight. Al-Qarni is infamous for the recklessness of his diatribes. In one example, he declaimed, "houses and young men must be sacrificed, throats must be slit and skulls must be shattered. This is the path to victory".
On January 6, 2012, LSBU Isoc hosted Murtaza Khan, another prominent radical, as a speaker. In 2007, the UK Channel 4 "Dispatches" documentary, "Undercover Mosque," recorded Khan asking, "For how long have we seen that our mothers, our sisters and our daughters have to go and uncover themselves in front of these filthy non-Muslim doctors?"
The susceptibility to such appeals of British Muslim youth, especially through the student societies linked by FOSIS, has been aggravated by the assault on British Islam by advocates for the Deobandi and Wahhabi sects, along with the Muslim Brotherhood. Islam in the UK is South Asian in its majority origins. People of Pakistani, Indian, and Bangladeshi ethnicity account for about three-quarters of Muslims in the UK, who total 1.5 to 2 million. Deobandism is a fundamentalist interpretation that first appeared in India almost 150 years ago and inspired the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Through the mass revivalist group Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), as well as in Deobandi madrassas [Muslim religious schools] in Britain, students are inculcated with fundamentalist views from an early age. Deobandi boarding schools in the UK, created on the model of the original Darul Uloom Deoband in India, include Darul Uloom London, located in Kent, and Darul Uloom Bolton. Darul Uloom Bury, near Manchester, the oldest, was launched in 1973.
Deobandi madrassas produce imams who press radical attitudes on British Muslims. Most British Muslims are moderate, traditional, and reject and resent the fundamentalist invasion. But in the streets of East London and other cities with large Muslim communities, Deobandi agitation is a daily fact of life. Student groups such as the Isoc at LSBU and others affiliated with FOSIS provide an alternative source for the transmission of radical doctrines.
It has been asserted widely that Deobandis now control a majority of British mosques. Although they may have gained institutional leverage, they have not won over the majority of British believers in Islam. Moderate British Muslims must take back our mosques and university student societies from the extremists and work to drive the Deobandis out of all positions they have captured.