"We Love Death As You Love Life": Britain's Suburban Terrorists
224 pp., 25.00
Multiculturalism Rethought: Interpretations, Dilemmas and New Directions
Edinburgh University Press, 2015
400 pp., 39.95
Can't We All Just Get Along?
In 1961, nine year-old Mohammed Riasat left his home in Kashmir to go with his father to Derby, an industrial town in the English Midlands. His father came to earn money, leaving his wife and other children in Kashmir and planning to return. He found work in a local foundry. Mohammed was the first Pakistani at all the schools he attended. He knew no English and there were no special classes to help him.
Mohammed made friends with local boys through soccer. He was very good, going on to play for the youth team of the local professional club. He had a strong sense of being Pakistani, but understood little of his religion, Islam, other than that he should not eat pork. When he arrived in Derby there was no mosque and no imam to teach him more.
As an adult, Mohammed moved on from soccer to powerlifting. He lifted with Sikh friends in Derby, although he refused the customary post-gym drinks. He returned to Kashmir for arm wrestling tournaments, where he lost only once in 25 years.
In 1976, Mohammed married a woman from Pakistan. The Riasats and their seven children were one of a growing number of Pakistani families in Derby, who together wanted to create a good community for their children. Mohammed was part of a group that asked the local schools if boys and girls might have separate swimming lessons. The district eventually granted their request.
Over time, Mohammed began to take his religion more seriously. He grew a beard and made the hajj. He was the director of the Pakistan Community Centre for many years. Now retired, he spends much of his time looking after his disabled son.
I met Mohammed Riasat while researching religion and immigration in Derby, my hometown. When I grew up there in the 1980s, I had friends whose stories were similar to Mohammed's, even though I did not know it then. The regular retelling of one's story required of my own children was not a feature of English schools. So I knew almost nothing about Shaharyar Alikahn, Sadiq Warsi, or Neil Chakraborti other than that they looked different. Our class's ignorance showed up in the racist song for which we got into trouble: "Sri Lanka, paradise, / Where all the Pakis eat peas and rice."
Thirty years later, however, I felt real kinship with Mohammed Riasat as I sat and listened to him over a cup of tea in his office. I have lived outside England for all but four of the past twenty years, most of them in the United States. Like Mohammed, I have two homes: the place where I was born, where my family of origin still lives, where the trees, birds, and sports all have deep resonance; and my adoptive home here in the United States where I watch my own children grow up. Like Mohammed, I am thankful for where I live. But also like Mohammed, I don't always feel that I fit.
The difference, of course, is that I have not been an object of racist abuse since I moved to the US. I might get the occasional unwelcome comment, but most of the time they come from people who like the English. It's hard to blame life's difficulties on where I am from. Nevertheless, as I learn about European Muslims who feel stranded between different cultures, it's not hard to be compassionate.
In "We Love Death as You Love Life": Britain's Suburban Terrorists, Raffaello Pantucci has written the first comprehensive account of Islamic extremism in the United Kingdom. He tells the stories of the young men who killed 52 in London on July 7, 2005; of Abu Hamza and other imams who preached violence; of the two converts who beheaded an off-duty British serviceman in 2013; of numerous foiled plots. Indeed, he tells all the stories that are publically available. It is a detailed, depressing read.
Pantucci discusses various theories seeking to explain why young British Muslims are attracted to violence. Lack of social mobility is one, although some British terrorists were university graduates with professional careers. Anger over Britain's foreign policy in the Middle East was important for many; an Iraqi doctor, born in Britain, who had watched children die due to sanctions, heard Madeleine Albright say that was a price worth paying, then gravitated toward extremism and took part in a suicide mission in Scotland. Grievance alone is not enough, however: Muslims in Europe have experienced that for decades, and most of the aggrieved never consider mass murder. The vital ingredient in Britain in the early 21st century is the increased availability of an ideology of violent jihad.
The people who latch onto it are often converts to Islam, or people ignorant of their religion. They are not representative of mainstream Islam in the UK. The book does not cover the recent civil war in Syria, but there are stories of people ordering Islam for Dummies before they went. There are similarities with those who commit mass shootings in the United States: disaffected young men who realize they can make a name for themselves by unleashing their hatred of others in spectacular, evil fashion.
What people like Mohammed Riasat wanted was to be able to build their own cultural and religious communities in England. The same was true of the Sikhs and Hindus that I interviewed. This desire for recognition of one's own community is at the heart of multiculturalism, an idea that is now mature enough to be a recognized branch of political theory. Most European countries are now multicultural, whether they like it or not. But multiculturalism is now under attack from politicians and others who see it as the explanation for how their societies have come to harbor terrorists.
Multiculturalism Rethought, a hefty collection of essays, brings scholars together to further discussion of the idea but often feels like a defense of it. In the face of acts of domestic terrorism, political leaders have echoed popular fears about Muslim immigrant communities and stated the need for shared values. As David Cameron put it in 2011:
We have allowed the weakening of our collective identity. Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives… . We've even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values …. Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism …. A genuinely liberal country … says to its citizens, this is what defines us as a society: to belong here is to believe these things.
In the book, the most bullish voices are Canadian: Charles Taylor and Will Kymlicka, both of whom see multiculturalism working well among English and French speakers in their homeland. By contrast, the European authors are left trying to explain how multiculturalism makes sense for countries now fearful that their Muslim communities may be nurturing violence.
Yet multiculturalism's defenders believe that the facts of diversity require forms of accommodation. Allowing different ethnic and religious communities some degree of autonomy under a shared legal system has problems, but it is the wisest and most humane solution to this diversity. The increasingly popular idea that governments might require people to share the same values—something different, it needs to be said, from requiring people to obey the same laws—can sound ominous, even coercive.
The book's sole contributor from the United States, Benjamin R. Barber, is honest about the tensions between democracy and multiculturalism. Most democracies began in small, homogeneous states, and the challenge of cultural diversity too easily leads to a politics of fear on the part of the majority: viz. Donald Trump, PEGIDA in Germany, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. Barber is not optimistic that encouraging multiculturalism will be enough: the extent of diversity in modern societies and the power of religious belief, which cannot easily be confined to the private sphere, will vitiate the idea of national community that democracies require.
Barber's solution? Constitutional patriotism. Or, the American way. "Civic patriotism," writes Barber, "defines a voluntary area where the rites and rituals of constitutionalism and civic history play the role of unifying norms around which a community of citizens otherwise differentiated by background, religion and economic status can nonetheless be constructed."
In the case of the United States, this patriotism revolves around the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as well as the stories of the Founders, Lincoln, King, Parks, and others. "Claim the American civic stories as your own, embrace these declarations and speeches as the core of your civic value system in place of the countries you leave behind, and you are an American," writes Barber. Other countries should try it.
If only it were that simple. For one, it requires the subordination of religion: Barber calls this constitutional patriotism a civil religion that must trump all other religious commitments. Christians as well as Muslims may be uncomfortable with that. Second, although he recommends this approach to Europeans, it would be hard to apply in countries with a much longer settled heritage. Ironically, despite all the talk in America about the death of Christian Europe and/or its conquest by Muslims, the fact that Europe has long been largely Christian and continues to see itself as such is one of the reasons why life there can be uncomfortable for members of other religions. It would be hard to imagine a civic patriotism of the sort Barber suggests that ignores the tens of thousands of ancient churches that help form Europeans' national identities. In this respect, Europe is more Christian than the United States, and multiculturalism therefore all the harder.
Recent events have shown that Barber's solution is not perfect even for the United States. The ISIS-inspired attackers in San Bernadino are examples of people who don't buy in. There have always been some, and always will be; now, they are more likely to be armed and hostile. Modern communication means that migration to the United States no longer means severing old ties. Meanwhile, populist politicians are willing to speak in ways that either exclude others from the national community or make them feel like second-class citizens at best.
Paradoxically, if American Christians wish to remain ethically conservative they will need to become multiculturalists. As new forms of discrimination are added to the list of what is socially unacceptable, churches and other Christian organizations are asking to be allowed to live and work by different rules. They might even learn from arguments made by Muslims and Sikhs in Europe.
I was at school with a boy named Omar Sharif. He was a couple of years younger, and I did not know him well. But I am sure he experienced some of the racism that characterized the school. Pantucci's book tells the rest of his story. Sharif went on to King's College London where he joined a radical Muslim student group, then went to train at camps in Albania run by mujahedeen warriors. Back in Derby, he struggled to find work. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Sharif traveled to Syria. He ended his life in a suicide attack on a bar in Tel Aviv.
Thankfully, Sharif is the exception. Mohammed Riasat, playing with his grandchildren after school, is more normal. The freedom that democracy should provide for different peoples to live out their beliefs allows him to practice his religion. He knows there have been radicals in Derby. But he hopes that his government will allow him to continue to live in peace, even though Pakistan still feels like home. It's an unenviable spot. We should hate what is evil, but also have compassion when migration leads to confusion. Maybe then it would be less likely to lead to explosion.
Alister Chapman teaches history at Westmont College.
1. Having said that, the closest US equivalent to Europe's Muslim economic migrants are Mexican Christians. Restrictions on immigrants who come by plane means that most people who come from the Middle East to the United States are highly qualified. Muslims make up 1 percnt of the US population but 10 percent of its doctors. This is not a guarantee against radicalization, but it helps.
Copyright © 2016 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
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