Sue Vogel / Jun 23, 2006

The Reaction of Muslims to the Suicide Bombings in London and Elsewhere



The London bombings of 7th July 2005 by British-born Muslims shocked Britain and the world.  In the following months, whilst newspapers reported some anti-Muslim feeling and there were some attacks on mosques, the general mood was one of wanting to explore why this should have happened.  Official enquiries were begun and their results will be referred to below, but it will be argued that the main obstacle to understanding was the failure of Muslim leaders to condemn suicide bombing of civilians unequivocally, whether in Britain or elsewhere.  The majority of Muslims in Britain may well be peaceable and law-abiding and have few other concerns than to live their lives, pursue their careers and bring up their families.  However, it cannot be ignored that the London bombings were carried out in the name of Islam, and that many Muslim leaders, religious and secular, have failed to distance themselves significantly from the Muslim concept of jihad which provided the impetus for them.

The main stumbling block to unequivocal condemnation may be the Islamic cultural imperative that a Muslim's prime loyalty should be to the Muslim community, the umma, particularly when it is perceived to be under threat from outside. This is exemplified by the reaction of the Muslim community to racist attack in Sydney in 2005, and will be further explored below.  Historical, socio-cultural and psychological explanations for this lack of identification with the host community will be considered, although it can be argued that all are, to a certain extent, intertwined.  The impact of fear as a barrier to speaking out will also be explored.

Not all Muslims are extremists, nor are all extremists terrorists.  Nevertheless a significant number of present-day terrorists are Muslims and may willingly define themselves as such (Al-Rashed A, 2004)[i]

Historical explanations for Muslims' qualified condemnation of the London bombings:

Bravmann, 1972[ii], argues that Islam is the most Manichaean of religions.  Belief stands in stark contradiction to unbelief; there is no middle ground.  A Muslim either merits Paradise or is condemned to Hell.  Bravmann suggests that out of this comes the need to subjugate unbelief by all means possible.  Muslims are taught that G-d sent His last prophet as mankind's last chance.  The Qur'an states that Muhammad's purpose in coming was to bring all men to the true faith.  Muslims believe that there will be no more prophets, so it is G-d's plan that Islam will be the universal religion and that Muslims will enjoy their promised superiority in the world. Initially this seemed to proceed according to plan: Islam defeated the polytheists, Jews and the Crusaders and progressed to Christian Europe. Turkey and Egypt were once important outposts of Christianity.

From around the 18th century onwards, however, European armies began conquering and colonising Muslim countries. The impact of all this on Muslims was devastating.  They believed that they would conquer the world – the extremists still do – but they still had to face the bitter fact that G-d's plan had gone wrong for them.  It must have seemed, and still must seem, that G-d had abandoned them.  Having held the belief that they would one day rule over the whole world and would subdue it to Islam, there came the shocking realisation that the hated infidels outranked them and their defeat is brought home to them daily with the establishment of a Jewish state in Dar-el-Islam.  Insular and inward looking, they are frozen in time with their anger and grief.  Their reaction is similar to one of narcissistic rage as a result of the experience of this deep narcissistic injury.

Also within the Islamic narrative are stories of those who betrayed the Prophet - the polytheists of Mecca who exiled him to Medina in 622 CE, which is when the Muslim calendar begins. Once in Medina, he accuse the Jews of having betrayed him by not converting to Islam and by siding with his opponents in Mecca.  In March, 627 CE, after the Battle of the Trench, (so-called because the heads and bodies of the slain were dragged into trenches), Muhammad imposed the ultimate penalty on the men in the Jewish clan of Qurayza – his third and final major Jewish rival in Medina – the  beheading of all the Jewish males and enslavement of their women and children.  The Qu'ran records this in Suras 33:25-27.

The Crusades exacerbated this persecution complex - 'Crusader' is now a common pejorative used to refer to Christians as the persecutors of Islam.

Socio-cultural explanations for Muslims' qualified condemnation of the London bombings:  

The Muslim relationship with the rest of the world may be undermined by particular negative attitudes referred to as "defects" in an online article by Tarek Heggy in 2005[iii].  Heggy, a liberal Muslim philosopher who is extensively published in Arabic, articulated what he called the "Arab mindset" which can arguably be applied to Muslim culture generally, although it is recognised that not all Arabs are Muslims nor are all Muslims Arabs. 

Heggy suggested that these negative attitudes arise from three main sources: the repressive climate which prevails throughout Arab societies, a backward educational system which lags behind modern educational systems, and a mass-media operated by those responsible for the climate of oppression to serve their own interests.

Among the negative attitudes listed are those which may be argued to be precursors of development of pathological narcissism, such as deep feelings of inequality with others in terms of results and achievements, making for a sense of inadequacy that is sublimated into an exaggerated and unfounded pride and overblown rhetoric used to compensate for the appalling lack of concrete achievements.  Others, such as a culture that encourages conformity and discourages diversity; limited tolerance for the "Other" or for criticism and the virtual absence of self-criticism, an aversion to compromise (which is deemed to be a form of capitulation and defeat) and a tendency unquestioningly to accept stereotypes at face value, are arguably indicators of the authoritarian personality type (see Adorno et al, 1950)[iv].

It could be argued that the net result of these is a serious weakening of the Arab's/Muslim's sense of efficacy and selfhood at the interface of his culture and that of the west.  As will be seen, the most predominant reaction to such contact at this interface is fear and a subsequent drive to assert power over and to subdue the other.  It is argued that this is a rudimentary and maladaptive psychological defence against shame, which, at its extreme, may be expressed as narcissistic rage.

One reason for the persistence of this defensiveness may be that the Muslim concept of umma, or the sense of belonging to the worldwide Islamic community, is one of the chief principles of Islam.  This actively discourages the observant Muslim from interacting freely with the wider community.  One interpretation of the Qur'anic verse below (see page 6) is that every practising Muslim's loyalty should be to his religion first, and to any other state or political entity second. Furthermore, a true believer of Islam should not follow the rules and customs of other governments unless they are in accord with Islamic law (shari'a). Where they are not, then shari'a law must be adhered to.  It is not difficult to imagine the difficulties this may present to the 1.3 billion Muslims who may be living in secular states throughout the world.

The confusion of observant Muslims about the extent of their loyalty to the laws of countries in which they reside would seem indicate that they perceive themselves to belong to the worldwide Islamic "nation," rather than to any particular state on the map, although al-Awa (1983)[v] attempted to clarify their duty.  Nevertheless, newspapers issue statements in increasing numbers by some Muslim groups or individuals who refuse to obey the secular laws of the countries in which they live, preferring instead to establish Islamic rule in those very states. This, indeed, is the self-declared raison d'etre for one extremist Islamic group, Hizb-ut-Tahrir.  Many countries today struggle to understand and deal with this principle, and their responses to such Islamic claims vary considerably.

This enduring tendency of observant Muslims to separate themselves from non-Muslims is encapsulated in their view of the world, which they see as being divided into Dar al-Islam (the house of Islam), where Muslims rule, and Dar al-Harb (the house of war).  The obligation for Muslims is to make the whole world Dar-al-Islam, by force if necessary.  For extremist Muslims there is little doubt that the West is Dar al-Harb, but more moderate observant Muslims may not subscribe to this.  Rather they might conceptualise it as Dar al-Kufr (the house of Infidels).

The exaggeration of the dichotomy for the observant Muslim, that the world is split in two, into those who are with him and those who are against him, perpetuates the belief that the umma is his only loyal ally.  Logically, therefore, he is obligated to extend the umma until it spreads over the world.  Thus the concept of hijra, the process of migrating and establishing a Muslim community in a non-Muslim context, has an important place in Islamic theology. The word hijra is used to describe a migration (or more accurately, and perhaps tellingly, a flight), in particular the flight of Muhammad and his followers in 622 AD from Mecca, where they were persecuted, to Medina, where they established the first Islamic state.

Observant Muslims may see the establishment of a Muslim community in the UK as a contemporary hijra. However, Sookhdeo (2005)[vi] says that an important question arises as to which seventh century hijra they compare it: the hijra to Abyssinia in which the Muslims became contented and loyal subjects of a Christian king or the hijra to Medina where they seized political and military power. 

Psychological explanations for Muslims' reactions to the London bombings

A lifetime of Qur'anic teaching and a cultural narrative warning Muslims of the dangers of the infidels can inculcate a natural sense of suspicion and isolation, and also, most importantly, a natural sense of superiority. This is often made worse by a peculiarly Muslim sense of victimization.   It has been argued that the Muslim mind is preoccupied by conspiracy theories and that Muslims often tend to believe that they are the victims of heinous plots hatched against them by their enemies (see Heggy, 2005 and Pipes, 1996)[vii].

This persecution narrative played itself out in Sydney, Australia, in December 2005, after thugs ran amok beating up innocent bystanders of "middle eastern" appearance.  Muslims were attacked, and although the police quickly arrested the perpetrators there was immediate retaliation by the Muslim community, retaliation which arguably turned out to be more severe than the original attacks.  Many Muslims shifted the blame for their overreaction onto the 'racist' Australians, ignoring the equally racist retaliation of the Muslim Lebanese youths. Then the Muslim community drew a protective shield around itself and refused to co-operate with police. This is an example of Muslims defending Muslims against non-Muslims who, in their perception, constitute a threat to the umma.

The concept of hijra is an important aspect of the Muslim perception of the territorialism of the umma, and it also raises interesting questions about the psychology of a people who, rather than make contact and interact with the indigent communities to which they have migrated and respect their social and religious  mores, seem to have a need to encourage if not try to compel that community to adopt their own view of the world.  A recent example of the former was a statement by the new Chair of the Muslim Council of Britain, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, during an interview with Alice Thomson in the Daily Telegraph on 10 June 2006.  Dr Bari said that his aim will be to encourage Britain to adopt more Muslim ways, as well as to encourage Muslims to be good British citizens but he did not think that Muslims should adopt too many British practices.   

There may be various reasons for this need to encourage or compel towards Islam, the main ones being (again) the entrenched psychological rigidity which is a reaction to perceived threat of persecution, the sense of superiority mentioned above, an exaggerated sense of entitlement and the belief that common social mores and laws of the land into which they have come do not apply to them. They are also characteristics of the authoritarian personality (Adorno et al, 1950) which will be further explored below.  Having argued this, however, it should be pointed out that most moderate Muslims are generally like everyone else, interested in getting a good job and spending time with their family. The ideological battles within Islam are largely irrelevant to them, and in truth they may not be particularly observant or theologically aware. They just wants to be left to themselves to live their life.

However, being a Muslim places some unique pressures on the observant Muslim. One of them is an insistence upon loyalty to the Islamic community, the umma. The Qur'an constantly warns him of the evils of the mushrikun and kafirun and clearly states, in typically dichotomous, authoritarian and absolutist terms: 

Believers, do not seek the friendship of the infidels (kafirun) and those who were given the Book before you, who have made your religion a jest and a diversion. 5:56

Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and deal sternly with them. Hell shall be their home, evil their fate. 66:9

As a result of the combination of the introjected shame of defeat centuries ago and numerous defeats in the past hundred years, and the Qur'anic injunction which requires him to be so, the observant Muslim, even when he is to all intents and purposes well-integrated into the wider society in which he lives, may still feel a greater sense of loyalty to a fellow Muslim than to a non-Muslim. The recent protests and riots over the Muhammad cartoons are a good example of both of this readiness to tap into the Muslim persecution narrative and the sense of loyalty to Islam. Whilst it was largely the radical orthodox who took to the streets a large number of moderate Muslims also condemned the cartoons. Their failure to speak out against the extreme behaviour of the rioters tacitly condoned and may even have encouraged their behaviour. Very few moderate Muslims actually argued in favour of freedom of speech (however contentious the argument in this case), rather, the rhetoric was largely about an attack on Islam.  There was no public apology for, much less a sign that they recognised the offence caused by, their own depiction of other religions in cartoons in the media of Muslim countries, (notably the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist cartoons reminiscent of the anti-Jewish propaganda in Hitler's Germany).  This is hardly surprising given that, in terms of their persecution narrative, Muslims were the victims in this case.

Many Muslims are usually bewildered and disturbed by the negative views of Islam occasioned by the terrorist attacks. When they do not actively denounce or dissociate themselves from the ideology which spawned them, they are likely to interpret this in terms of the persecution narrative and seek to defend Islam. This leads to what progressive Muslims have called a simple denial of the very real problems facing Islam. At its worst the persecution narrative leads to manifestly grotesque conspiracy theories about extreme Islamist terror attacks, for example that the culprit is usually Mossad in connivance with the US.  President Ahmadinejad of Iran accused Israel and the US of attacking the al-Askari mosque in Sammara, when in reality the culprits were Sunni insurgents. The result, unfortunately, is that an observant Muslim's loyalty may often be torn between Islam and the ethos of the country in which he lives. It also means that, if forced to choose, many observant Muslims will tend to support the radical orthodox rather than support an infidel, Jew or Crusader.

Some Muslims may deny Muslim culpability for supporting extremism by arguing that the radicals represent a tiny minority.  However, it can be argued that the extent of support for extremism is not known, and there is evidence that that it is far more widespread than many Muslims would want to admit.  For example, in 1990 the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a radical orthodox political party, won the majority of the vote in the Algerian local elections. Six months later they won a significant majority (188 of 231 seats) in the first round of the parliamentary elections. The army then staged a coup, because they considered an Islamist victory a danger.

Likewise in the recent Palestinian elections the radical orthodox party, Hamas, defeated Fatah and formed a government.  It states openly that it intends to destroy the state of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants[viii].  Fatah lost the election because of corruption and incompetence and Hamas had built its popular reputation because of its community work. Nevertheless the Palestinians who voted for them knew what Hamas stands for.

In the west, however, most Muslims do not take sides and some are even indifferent, but if they are forced to make a choice they will often choose orthodox Islam over an alternative which involves association or affiliation with infidels.  This is a major dilemma for progressive forces within Islam.  As in many societies, the masses will vote even for extremists if they think the quality of their lives will be better.  Extremist Muslims do not have a loyalty to Western democratic ideals – they have a loyalty to Islamic ideals which, according to the Islamist organisation, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, are incompatible with western democracy, which is kufr.[ix]

Islamic society is inclined towards the shame-based and emphasises submission – to the will of Allah, to the Muslim clerics, to the wishes of the umma.  Alongside the susceptibility to shame is a preoccupation with dishonour, a state to which women are thought to be particularly prone, and honour killings of women abound, often on the flimsiest of pretexts, because of real or imagined transgressions against the family's status.   We hear of mothers killing their daughters for having been raped, and brothers their sisters for having gone off with a man of whom they disapproved.  The perpetrators of these killings are rarely punished, and where they are, the punishments are token (Hadidi et al, 2001).[x]  

The preoccupation with honour (and with being shamed for dishonour) may mean that most Muslims who adhere to tradition are likely to exhibit an external locus of evaluation rather an internal one (see Rogers, 1969, 2003)[xi].  Rogers (1964)[xii] writes about the result of holding an external locus of evaluation, and this may offer some explanation for the rigidity with which traditional or extremist Muslims persist in holding the values they do:  Rogers suggests that when a person has relinquished control to others, he feels profoundly insecure and easily threatened in his values and often may not know what his own values really are.  This sense of threat results in his holding the values he has taken on board from others very rigidly and confusedly, but yet believing they are his own values.  He may be fearful that these strongly held, introjected values may be destroyed, which makes him hold onto them more rigidly and the same can be said about any religion or belief system.  Such a person has, in Rogers' terms, lost contact with the potential wisdom of his own experiencing and has become estranged from himself.

A person with an external locus of evaluation also tends to feel shamed very easily, cares very much, often too much, about what other people think and, because he cannot identify with how he really feels or what he really believes, is more likely to defer to the majority view if it is expounded strongly enough, even if he disagrees with it.   Not to do so would make such a person very afraid of being ostracised.

Since the focus of Islamic identity is to be at one with the umma, ostracism would probably be unbearable, and since apostates and others who question Islam are either imprisoned or put to death, few openly share dissident thoughts.  Added to this the persecutory anxiety about being isolated and alone and at the mercy of the kufr may result in a sort of phobic aversion towards any behaviour which might cause this to happen. Even moderate Muslims may give themselves permission to override their individual opinions where this suits, in order not to be singled out, or at worst cast out, by their people. 

The Islamic narrative above is dominated by the notion that a Muslim cannot and should not trust anyone other than another Muslim because all others will betray him and it can be argued that the knee-jerk reaction to the events in Sydney were exaggerated because it was a manifestation of persecutory anxiety and fear, and perhaps even an act of faith to convince their brethren of their solidarity so that they would not be cast out of the fold.  The furore over the Muhammad cartoons was perhaps a deliberate and calculated manipulation of this fear of ostracism.

Extremist Muslim behaviour and attitude towards the wider world may also be explained in terms of the authoritarian personality (Adorno et al, 1950).  Adorno et al argued that the authoritarian personality is expressed essentially by excessive conformity, intolerance, insecurity, superstition,  rigid, stereotyped thought patterns and submissiveness to authority,

Although Adorno et al emphasise that the authoritarian personality is not a discrete personality type and that relatively few individuals are so extreme, as defined above it provides a useful and readily understandable rationale by means of which we can understand manifestations of extreme, violent behaviour by a mass of people, such as occurred in Sydney and as a result of the publication of the Muhammad cartoons.

Adorno et al identified the authoritarian personality type as not wanting to give orders; rather, their personality type wants to take orders. The authors argued that people with this type of personality tend to seek conformity, security, stability and become anxious and insecure when events or circumstances upset their previously existing world view. Such people are very intolerant of any divergence from what they consider to be the normal (which is usually conceptualized in terms of their own religion, race, history, nationality, culture, language, etc.), and tend to be very superstitious and lend credence to folk tales or interpretations of history that fit their pre-existing definitions of reality.   Their thinking is extremely stereotypical about minorities, women, homosexuals, etc, which in turn means that they are very dualistic: the world is conceived in terms of absolute right (their way) or absolute wrong (the "other" way).

Further study of this personality type has since shown that, whilst authoritarians feel secure at the subservient polarity of the type, where they are glad to take orders, they also enjoy exerting authority and to have people they can look down upon. This latter, of course, may emerge as prejudice in the forms of bigotry, racism, sexism, and is by no means confined to Islam;  it offers explanation for extreme events such as Abu Ghraib and the My Lai massacre.

Thus, the authoritarian personality emphasises polarities.  Two distinctive behavior patterns are submissiveness and aggressiveness, which on the surface seem to be mutually exclusive, but in fact their coexistence in the same individual is a hallmark. The authoritarian personality seeks to be told what to do (is submissive to a superior), but will brook no argument when giving orders to inferiors in the hierarchy. S/he is aggressive towards others, especially those considered to be lesser in some way (e.g. of a different faith or ethnicity, or a different species). Racism and bigotry are common.   Authoritarians like to be followers in a group even as they enjoy giving orders to that same group.  That mind-set exists across all political, economic, and religious spectra. It also afflicts both genders.

When a society comes under the authoritarian influence, it can become radicalised en masse. Authoritarianism led the German masses to fanatical support of Hitler.  Susceptible young Muslims are increasingly radicalised by the groups who follow Wahhabi and Deobandi and other radical Mullahs, just as extremist political Zionists exert similar influence over susceptible young Jews.

An authoritarian personality can function as part of the glue that holds the umma so tightly together and that Islam, through the Qu'ran, Hadith, and Shari'ah, requires submission, conventionalism and aggression, which are hallmarks of authoritarian personalities. It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that Islam produces more than its share of terrorists and suicide bombers.  It does not encourage independent thinking; it values submission to Allah and obedience by and to those in the "chain of command."  Beyond that, the Qur'an, Hadith, and Shari'ah preach or permit violence while very rarely invoking love as an important human emotion to be developed and enjoyed. Women are explicitly made inferior to men.    Islam rewards or punishes behavior in an authoritarian mode and does not emphasize secular education.

In the light of the foregoing, those Muslims who wanted to condemn the London suicide bombings unequivocally and publicly may have stayed silent because they were afraid of retaliation or because they were acting from the submissive pole of the authoritarian personality polarity – the need to follow orders.  There are precedents for justifiable fear of retaliation from well publicised cases which illustrate the ways in which the umma deals with Muslims who speak out against it or try to leave -  eg in the case of Salman Rushdie, the fatwahs issued against apostates such as Walid Shoebat and Abdul Rahman, both of whom converted to Christianity. Rushdie went in fear of his life after the publication of his book, "The Satanic Verses."  Rahman was denounced by his family and put on trial for his life in Afghanistan.  Shoebat's transgression was compounded by his renunciation of Palestinian terrorism against Israel (he was a member of the PLO) and he now lives in America.

Looking again at the public statements of the moderate Muslim leaders after the London bombings, it is suggested that they may be located at the submissive pole of the authoritarian personality polarity, in that although they condemned the bombers, they did so in such terms as not to place themselves outside the umma.  Instead they excused the bombers' behaviour, and deflected the blame and the bombers' responsibility for their own actions, (in much the same way as did the Muslim community in Sydney), by linking the frustrations of the suicide bombers with their sorrow for their Palestinian brethren and the British government's role in the war in Iraq. This need to deflect blame when the fault is theirs is a common trait in people who exhibit authoritarian personality traits, who are afraid of being shamed, who are rigid thinkers who cannot bear to be wrong, and who believe that they are somehow special.  To accept blame would detract disastrously from this inflated sense of themselves, and would give rise to cognitive dissonance on a massive scale, for if all devout Muslims are the favourites of Allah then what they do can never really be wrong.  Add to this the innate sense of victimisation mentioned above and they can argue that, because the umma is one nation, irrespective of nationality, cut one and they will all bleed, for all are bound to avenge the injuries of their brothers and sisters.

Arguably the most disturbing effect of this problem is the rigidity and enduring nature of the antipathy of the more observant Muslims to the wider, non-Muslim world; an antipathy which is almost biblical in nature, in that it seems to be taught or inculcated from generation to generation.  Given this mind set, young Muslims in the West today may indeed be confused, torn between the rigid uncompromising demands and boundaries of their faith, and, by contrast, the enticements and limitless freedoms of the western way of life.  Their parents may be unable or unwilling to undertake the task of educating them about how to make the transition between the worlds and may duck out of their responsibility.  The confusion in the young displaced Muslim leaves him open to any group which appears to offer certainty.  Extremist Islam seems to offer answers, and may be compared with an opportunistic infection which moves in when the identity's immune system is compromised by confusion, anxiety about ambiguity and the ensuing sense of alienation.

Another major psychological factor, particularly for young Muslim men, may be the Muslim attitude to sex, which is at the same time both repressive and obsessive.  Almost all young people go through stages where they feel confused about their sexual identities. 

Islam almost idealises sex (a prime example is the promise of 72 virgins to the shahid ["martyr"] who successfully completes).  A young Muslim male without money, however, finds the getting of sex almost impossible.  Women are married off as early as possible (as early as nine years of age in Iran), so as to give as little opportunity as possible for honour to be compromised.  A man who cannot afford a wife cannot have a girl friend therefore he may masturbate, watch films or have sex with submissive men because Muslim culture defines the penetrated man as the homosexual, whereas the penetrator is almost always defined as heterosexual. Shi’ite men are allowed to enjoy religiously-approved prostitution in certain cases, especially when on pilgrimage.   Young unmarried men who are prey to unacceptable sexual fantasies about women may well project their anger and self-disgust onto the women whom they blame for causing them to have "impure" thoughts.

The Muslim attitude to sex arguably leads to massive frustration which may release itself or be manipulated into violence.  The sexually repressed young men may find release for their frustrations by identifying with the violent radical agenda.

Probably, many Muslims stayed silent in the wake of the London bombings because they wanted to be invisible in British society, to blend in and not be noticed.  However, they might also have felt ambivalent, given that observant Muslims perceive themselves to be Allah's favourites and that their duty is to spread the da’wa (literally the call to truth) of Islam throughout the world (see Pipes,1996); and also in the light of the fact that such a Muslim is encouraged to participate in the construction of the hijra (see above) within the wider non-Islamic community.  Therefore, once again, we have two polarities which have the potential to exacerbate confusion in the moderate Muslim – on the one hand he may want to blend in, to be a good citizen and earn a living, and yet on the other, and particularly when his loyalty to Islam is tested, he may seek to identify with his more extreme brethren because he cannot afford to be shamed or dishonoured and alienated from the umma and/or because he is bound to expand the umma by spreading the da'wa.  Given all this, it can be argued that even a moderate Muslim would find it almost impossible not to side with the Muslim community, even when its views or behaviour is extreme.

The way forward?

Although Western governments are often confused when faced with the seemingly immutable world view of Islam with its marked reluctance to integrate with wider communities, it is imperative that this integration be encouraged and that it should eventually succeed.  One way forward might be if Islam can come to interact with the world in a spirit of mutuality, rather than expect the world invariably to accommodate it.  However, if the views of Professor Tariq Ramadan[xiii] are at all representative of the viewpoint of Muslims living in Britain, it seems that this may take some time.

Interviewed on 20th July, 2005 by Trevor Kavanagh of "The Sun", Ramadan condemned killing "innocent people by suicide bombing" but qualified this by his explanation of why this had taken place.  When asked why four British Muslims strapped bombs to themselves, he answered:

"There is no simple answer.  What happened in Iraq and what is happening in Palestine had an effect.  International issues are felt by the community as a direct attack.  Under certain pressures, people can be pushed so hard that they are driven to the last resort." 

Later in the same interview, when he was asked about Muslim integration, he said:

"Muslims have to reach out.  But so do the British people.  Tony Blair also has to listen to the people when millions are saying 'No' to this war." 

Ramadan would probably define himself as an observant, moderate Muslim rather than an extremist but even he seems possessed of the sense of entitlement characteristic of the Muslim world view.  In the first sentence above he deflects blame for the suicide bombings in London by saying that even British Muslim-perpetrated murder should be "explained" in terms of justifiable reaction to events abroad, rather than condemned unequivocally.  In this he illustrates one of the theses of this paper, namely the Muslim belief that loyalty to the umma is paramount, and that the umma transcends nationality. 

In the second statement Ramadan reinforces the sense of entitlement when he appears to agree that Muslims should integrate and yet defends the insularity of Muslim communities by arguing that the "British people" should do more to accommodate them.  Ramadan is a high profile public figure and his opinion was sought as a spokesman for the Muslim community.  Particularly interesting is his distinction between Muslim communities in Britain and "the British people," which is reminiscent of the dichotomous nature of the Muslim separation of the world into Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Kufr, as set out above.

A particularly chilling example of his failure to condemn suicide bombing unequivocally was Ramadan's interview with the Italian magazine, Panorama, on 23rd September 2004,[xiv] in which, when he was questioned about the legitimacy of perceiving Israeli children as targets for suicide terror, he was quoted as saying:

"I don't believe that an eight year old child is a soldier. These acts are condemnable; therefore one has to condemn them in themselves. But I say to the international community that they are contextually explicable, and not justifiable. What does this mean? It means that the international community today has placed the Palestinians in a situation where they are delivered political oppression, which explains (not justifying it) that at a certain point people say: we don't have arms, we don't have anything, and so we cannot do anything other than this. It is contextually explicable but morally condemnable."

Although Ramadan's answer appears internally consistent, even reasonable, upon first reading, when looked at more closely it is a prime example of the moral relativism and casuistry which seems to pervade many arguments put forward even by some moderate Muslims in order to deflect criticism of the more extreme behaviour of their co-religionists.  Ramadan condemns the murder of children in and of itself, but his statement that it is "morally condemnable" is contradicted and may be thought to be fatally flawed by his assertion that it is "contextually explicable." Once again, Ramadan explains this away in terms of the Muslim persecution narrative, ie the actions of the international community against the Palestinians.   Ramadan reacted to criticism after the publication of his views by denying that he had ever said such things. Unknown to him, however, the journalist had tape-recorded the interview.

The Muslim tendency to adhere to a dichotomous world view and to deflect blame for the consequences of their behaviour was also highlighted by Amir Taheri (2005)[xv] in a newspaper article in which he called on the British Government to refrain from making excuses for the London bombers.  British Muslim community leaders had been asked to prepare a report for the government on what the Prime Minister called "the deeper causes" of the tragedy.  When this was published in mid-November 2005, it showed the standard Muslim community response when it feels itself under threat; it deflected blame from the perpetrators and located it within wider British society, by arguing that poverty among British Muslims and Muslim anger about British foreign policy were the two main causes for the terror attacks.

In the light of this, Taheri argued that the report did a disservice both to Islam and to Britain.  The Muslim leaders, he said, cited "absolutely no evidence" that British Muslims were any more divided on issues of foreign policy than were their non-Muslim fellow citizens.  The report was dangerous, he said, because it implied that as long as some British Muslims are poor and some British Muslims angry about foreign policy, terrorist attacks are understandable if not justifiable.

Taheri went on to contend (and this is particularly important within the context of this paper) that the report created an "us and them" dialectic in which British Muslims saw their non-Muslim fellow citizens as "others."  It was a short step from that to treating non-Muslim Britons as the kufr (infidel).  He continued that the only useful contribution which Muslim community leaders could make to relations between British Muslims and the wider community is to refrain from furnishing excuses for the terrorists, to hold special sessions to condemn their ideology and put as much blue water between them and other Muslims as possible.

Taheri's views are echoed, implicitly and somewhat less formally, by Irshad Manji (2005)[xvi].  Manji calls herself a "Muslim refusenik" (in the much the same way as Soviet Jews who opposed the communist system referred to themselves and their ideas).  She considers herself a moderate Muslim and invites her fellow-Muslims to recognise and shoulder responsibility for the difficulties she says beset Islam, key among which is their tendency to locate responsibility for their extreme reactions within the wider society rather than assume it for themselves.

In order for progress to be made there needs to be an enduring calm and an absence of perceived threat to Islamic culture from the Western world, and likewise Islam must be seen not to be a threat to the West. Moderate Muslims and Jewish and Church leaders are strenuously engaged in trying to bring this about, but their efforts are not widely known or written about.   


1  Al-Rashed, A (2004). Innocent religion is now a message of hate.  Article in The Sunday Telegraph, filed on 5th September 2004 

2  Baravmann, M. (1972). The Spiritual Background of Early Islam, E. J. Brill, Leiden 

3  Heggy, T (2005).   “The Arab Mind.”  [Online]. July 18, 2005.  web page:  taken from Heggy, T (1998). Critique of the Arab Mind,  Cairo: Dar Maaref.  Published in Arabic but excerpts translated online 

4 Adorno, T. W, Frenkel-Brunswick, E., Levinson, D. J. & Stanford, R.N. (1950).  The Authoritarian Personality.  New York: Harper 

5 Al-Awa, M.S. (1983). The Political System of the Islamic State, 6th Edition. Cairo: al-Maktab al-Misri al-Hadith  

6 Sookhdeo, P (2005).  Will London Burn too?  The Spectator,12th November, 2005 

7  Pipes, D (1996). The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy. New York: St. Martin's Press

8 The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) 18 August 1988

9  Al-Khilafa Publications (1997).  Dangerous Concepts: to attack Islam and consolidate Western Culture.  London 

10 Hadidi, M., Kulwicki, A. & Jashan, H (2001).  A review of 16 cases of honour killings in Jordan in 1995. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 114 (6) 

11   Rogers, C.R. (1969). Freedom to Learn. Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill, and: Rogers, C. R. (2003).  Client Centred Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory.  London: Constable and Robinson 

12  Rogers, C. R (1964).  Toward a Modern Approach to Values: The Valuing Process in the Mature Person.  Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology ,68, 2  

13 Ramadan, T in an interview with Trevor Kavanagh, Political Editor in "The Sun" newspaper, 20thJuly, 2005

14 Ramadan, T, in an interview with Silvia Grilli (23rd September 2004) , in Panorama "The art of ‘explaining' the killing of Jews"

15 Taheri, T (2005). Refrain From Excuses for the Bombers.  "Gulf News," 23rd November 2005

16  Manji, I (2005). The Trouble with Islam Today: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing

[i] Al-Rashed, A (2004). Innocent religion is now a message of hate.  Article in The Sunday Telegraph, filed on 5th September 2004 

[ii]  Baravmann, M. (1972). The Spiritual Background of Early Islam, E. J. Brill, Leiden 

[iii]  Heggy, T (2005).   “The Arab Mind.”  [Online]. July 18, 2005.  web page:  taken from Heggy, T (1998). Critique of the Arab Mind,  Cairo: Dar Maaref.  Published in Arabic but excerpts translated online 

[iv] Adorno, T. W, Frenkel-Brunswick, E., Levinson, D. J. & Stanford, R.N. (1950).  The Authoritarian Personality.  New York: Harper 

[v] Al-Awa, M.S. (1983). The Political System of the Islamic State, 6th Edition. Cairo: al-Maktab al-Misri al-Hadith  

[vi] Sookhdeo, P (2005).  Will London Burn too?  The Spectator,12th November, 2005 

[vii]  Pipes, D (1996). The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy. New York: St. Martin's Press

[viii] The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) 18 August 1988

[ix]  Al-Khilafa Publications (1997).  Dangerous Concepts: to attack Islam and consolidate Western Culture.  London 

[x] Hadidi, M., Kulwicki, A. & Jashan, H (2001).  A review of 16 cases of honour killings in Jordan in 1995. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 114 (6) 

[xi]   Rogers, C.R. (1969). Freedom to Learn. Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Rogers, C. R. (2003).  Client Centred Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory.  London: Constable and Robinson 

[xii]  Rogers, C. R (1964).  Toward a Modern Approach to Values: The Valuing Process in the Mature Person.  Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology ,68, 2  

[xiii] Ramadan, T in an interview with Trevor Kavanagh, Political Editor in "The Sun" newspaper, 20thJuly, 2005

[xiv] Ramadan, T, in an interview with Silvia Grilli (23rd September 2004) , in Panorama "The art of ‘explaining' the killing of Jews"

[xv] Taheri, T (2005). Refrain From Excuses for the Bombers.  "Gulf News," 23rd November 2005

[xvi] Manji, I (2005). The Trouble with Islam Today: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing

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