The news that a terrorist plot had been uncovered in Britain sent shock waves through the country's Muslim community. It now appears that nearly all of the men arrested in the aborted plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners were British citizens of Muslim descent. The established Muslim community leaders fear their young population is becoming more susceptible to Islamic radicalism.
Only three days before news of the air bomb plot emerged, Britain's top Muslim police officer, Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur, warned of the growing anger among the country's Muslim youth. He says some British anti-terror laws indirectly discriminated against Muslims and radicalize young Muslim men.
"The cumulative effect of Islamophobia, both internationally and nationally linked to social exclusion, has created a generation of angry young people who are subject to exploitation," he said. "The simplistic anti-Western messages of extremist organizations can be attractive to such vulnerable young people advocating closed and hostile views of other religions."
On Friday, it emerged that nearly all of the 24 young men in custody in the alleged plot are young British Muslim men, just as were the four suicide bombers who attacked London's underground subway system on July 7 of last year. Paul Beaver, an independent consultant on terrorism and security, says that came as a shock.
"These are homegrown people, no imports here," he explained. "They're people who live in east London, High Wycombe, and Birmingham, spread across the country. They want to kill their own fellow citizens. I find that deeply disturbing."
There are nearly 1.5 million Muslims in Britain. Most are emigrants from South Asian countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. They tend to live in their own communities, with the local mosque as a spiritual and social center. Relations between the Muslim community and authorities are a touchy subject here, and no politician has expressed any view about the apparent deep involvement of young British Muslims in a vast terrorist plot.
In a VOA interview, Ahmed Sheikh, president of the Muslim Association of Britain, said the overwhelming majority of British Muslims condemn terrorist actions, noting that such actions affect both Muslims and non-Muslims. But, he adds, the Islamic community has been resentful of what they see as a growing Islamophobia by some police and politicians after last year's subway bombings.
"Police are there for the benefit of all the community," he said. "But actually there is some Islamophobia or fear within the police element. There is discrimination against Muslims and the Muslim community generally. And last year since 7/7 [the subway bombings], there were lots of laws which were meant to sideline the Muslim community."
Sheikh says comments such as those made by President Bush Thursday, in which he referred to "Islamic fascists," are resented by Muslims and feed the climate of discrimination.
"The other thing that will feed the Islamophobia in Europe, in London, in the West, is the statement of your president yesterday when he said you are in fight or in war with 'Islamist fascists,'" he added. "This kind of statement and this kind of remarks really do increase the Islamophobia within the wider community."
Paul Beaver says the vast majority of the Muslim community is law-abiding and against terrorism. But, he adds, they are in denial about the radicalization of their youth.
"And I think that's probably their own failing of their own community," said Mr. Beaver. "They weren't able in Britain to create their own imams, their own teachers, their own mullahs, if you like. What they did was import people from places like Afghanistan, Somalia, Algeria, Egypt. And I'm afraid that the British authorities didn't really check them out. When they started preaching against Western civilization we just thought they were harmless. They weren't harmless. They radicalized people."
Ahmed Sheikh adds that Western policies in places like Iraq and Lebanon complicate community efforts to stop young Muslim men from becoming terrorists.