I learned to speak English in East London, the area of the British capital that suffered the most from Thursday’s terrorist attacks.
When my parents moved us to London in 1975, our daily route to work and school on the Underground took us across the same stations that were attacked. I’m sure many of my friends from school still live there. My parents trained at the London Hospital at Whitechapel where many of the injured were taken.
So of course it is very tempting to turn my column this week into a love letter to London .
But I am worried that London might not believe my exhortations that the cowards behind the bombs do not represent me or the millions of other Muslims around the world who were just as horrified by the attacks as anyone who has ever fallen under London ’s charms. The statements from Muslim groups and leaders that we read whenever a terrorist attack is carried out are getting old and repetitive and I do not know if anyone is listening anymore.
I am worried that London will not believe the condemnations that begin with “Islam is against these kinds of attacks that target innocent people” and end with “but we must place them in the context of Iraq and Afghanistan and (any other place you think Muslims have suffered an injustice)”. That “but” will always be our worst enemy.
And I am even more worried about Muslims in the West, be they in
Britain or Europe or North America where I have just returned from a trip to Egypt and Syria .
It was exactly 30 years ago actually that my brother and I left
Cairo to join our parents in London . It was an unforgettable arrival for us because our relatives had bundled us in warm winter clothes – everyone assumed the weather would be cold and miserable. Instead, we arrived to find London going through one of the worst heatwaves in its history.
We took the Underground shortly after we landed in London for the first of many rides on that complex, colourful web of lines that connects every corner of the capital. Back then in 1975 and until 1982 when we left Britain for Saudi Arabia,London was not immune to terrorism. The Irish Liberation Army (IRA) had struck the British capital several times.
Signs on the walls of Underground stations urged passengers to report any suspicious packages to police. One summer while we were visiting London, security alerts led to almost daily evacuations from the Underground.
Now, the IRA’s violence seems to be confined to intra-movement problems. And the posters urging vigilance against suspicious behavior have nothing to do with the Irish but everything to do with Muslims.
But sadly the Muslims who come under the most suspicion here in the West are very rarely if ever the cowards behind such barbaric attacks. Instead they are our brothers, fathers and husbands.
My brother Ehab was one of the 5,000 Muslim men interviewed by the FBI after the attacks on September 11, 2001. Two years later he and thousands of other Muslim men were fingerprinted and photographed as part of Special Registration. That has now been suspended but hundreds of Muslim men were detained after 9/11, mistreated and released without charge. Hundreds have been deported – for some, their only crime was a minor immigration violation.
As the terrorists behind these attacks become more hidden or elusive, ordinary Muslims living and working in the West become more visible. And it is we who will continue to pay the price for their cowardice. If the statement claiming responsibility for the London attacks is confirmed to be true, then it will be yet another group which has strung together a few Arabic words for a name and a cause they assume will rally the masses around them.
Perhaps if they took the time to ask the masses what mattered the most to them they might understand that their deranged violence was the last thing they needed. As London Mayor Ken Livingstone aptly pointed out, Thursday’s attack was “not a terrorist attack against the mighty or the powerful, it is not aimed at presidents or prime ministers, it was aimed at ordinary working-class Londoners… Black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindus and Jews, young and old. “
On the same day of the London attacks, another group which has strung together a few Arabic words for a name to move the masses claimed to have executed Egypt’s ambassador to Iraq , Ihab Sherif. In this case, this group claimed not to be representing the masses but their work was apparently even more momentous. They were defending the whole Umma against Ambassador Ihab’s apparent loss of faith.
If these barbarians had watched one second of an interview with Ihab Sherif’s daughter on Egyptian television on Thursday before news of his execution was announced, they would know that this young woman who was fighting tears to talk about her father understood more about Islam than all the masked “soldier of jihad” collectively.
Who are these men who claim to care about the good of the Umma and of the Arab world? As Arabs we are burdened with unelected governments and as Muslims we are cursed with unelected defenders of our interests.
Over the past three weeks in Egypt and Syria , I spoke to many men and women who are fed up with unelected governments.
What are we going to do with these unelected representatives of Islam?