The European commission’s vice president Franco Frattini called for the emergence of a “European Islam”, in London last Wednesday.
He told journalists, after a meeting of European ministers gathered to discuss the foiled plot to bomb transatlantic flights, “We want a European Islam”. His comments reflected the problematic integration of Muslims in Europe and their inability to integrate into western societies. Before discussing the different levels of assimilation for each community and especially the Pakistani complex, I feel it is necessary to examine European Islam more closely.
Some of us might believe that Frattini’s call is part of the fight against Muslim identity, in a post September 11 world, and seeks to dissolve “our Islam” in order to transform it into a pawn between East and West.
This might be true if it weren’t for the presence of a real problem, with social and security implications for the Muslim communities in the West, especially after members have committed terrorist acts.
Calling for the emergence of a European Islam does not mean that the religion should be torn down because its main principles, the Quran and the Hadith, will remain as is and are non-negotiable. It does mean, however, that religious and community leaders should be aware they are living in Europe, are subject to laws other than those of their countries of origin, and should not be the only social outcasts. Some might ask: How can Chinese, Indian and Mexican immigrants live in the west and preserve their identity, which is what Muslims are demanding? This is a harsh but necessary question that we ought to ask ourselves before others do so.
I thought about these issues as I read about the British group implicated in the foiled terror plot to bomb commercial jetliners and the Pakistani link, headed by Rashid Rauf, an alleged key mastermind behind the plot, and his brother, both from Birmingham.
According to press reports, Rashid Rauf led a complicated life in Britain and suffered from the contradicting influences of two cultures, as Pakistan continued to lure him. He eventually moved there in 2002, after his uncle was stabbed in murky circumstances and joined a radical Islamist group.
His youngest brother, Tayyib, also visited Pakistan, as the family led an isolated existence, away from mainstream British society.
Is this because of racism against them in Britain? Perhaps, but blacks and Asians also suffer from racism. Why is the Pakistani response different?
Friends and colleagues of Abdul Rauf, the men’s father, remember him as a polite, unobtrusive and very devout man who held on to Pakistani traditions, after coming to Britain in the early 1980s and settling in Bordesley Green, a south east suburb of Birmingham. He managed a successful bakery, producing items from Asian sweets to iced sticky buns. He also founded the Crescent Relief organization to provide assistance to survivors of the deadly earthquake which shook Pakistan in October 2005 and the 2004 Asian Tsunami. Questions have been raised about whether these funds were diverted for terrorist purposes.
Rauf, like many other Pakistani immigrants, visited his village, Haveli Beghal, in the traditional Mirpur district, on several occasions. Friends claim he was attending a wedding there when his sons were arrested. Salma, his wife who never left the house without a hijab, taught girls the Quran in an outbuilding behind the family home.
If we examine the lives of the young men of Pakistani origin who were behind the 7/7 attacks in London, we notice a similar story: individuals living in almost complete isolation from society. Why is the Pakistani immigrant community unable to integrate into mainstream British society?
Even Arabs, who are in the spotlight following the September 11 attacks, are more integrated than Pakistanis!
Is Islam from the subcontinent behind this extreme attachment to identity and the readiness for extremism, considering the large number of Islamist groups in Pakistan, which have put the government under pressure? Or are British colonial rule and the partition of India, following independence in 1947, to blame?
The fall of the Muslim Moghul Empire and the bitter colonial rule that followed have, undoubtedly, bequeathed the people of the Indian subcontinent an extremist disposition and the entrenchment of Muslim identity.
The questions asked above need to be examined if we are to analyze the characteristics of Islam from the subcontinents and its products, including the Taliban and Rashid Rauf, as their might be many more like him.