LONDON - While passing through certain London neighborhoods one cannot help but notice the religious and ethnic plurality of this cosmopolitan city. The South Hall area in the vicinity of Heathrow Airport is a good example. The colorful costumes, chattering of foreign tongues, and the sights and aromas of distant lands lend this place the appearance of a gigantic movie set right out of the pages of A Passage to India.
Behind visible tranquility, however, deep fissures are evident between the native population and the immigrant community. The recent terrorists attacks in London have further alienated these communities from one another.
While the physical damage and casualty count would soon be known, the long-term effects on British society and in turn British Muslims are hard to predict. Needless to say the besieged Muslim community and its leaders have their work cut out for them.
It has been public knowledge that some mosques in Great Britain have over the years sheltered hard-line Muslim fundamentalists and some imams have openly preached intolerance and violence toward the perceived enemies of Islam.
Those enemies include just about anyone who does not agree with them, both Muslim and non-Muslim.
Taking advantage of lax immigration laws, some firebrand imams like Omar Bakri Mohammad and Abu Qatada came to Great Britain and have preached hatred of the "decadent west" to their congregations. The immigration laws are now being tightened to keep such individuals from entering these "decadent" lands.
Belatedly the Muslim community in Great Britain is also taking note of the militants in its midst. At least four Muslim members of parliament have said that their community could no longer live in denial and must tackle extremism within it. Tony Blair has called for a summit of Muslim and other political leaders to work with the Muslim community to help curb extremist tendencies.
The Muslims in Great Britain have lived a separate existence from the rest of the society. From the early 1950s and through the 1970s, Great Britain imported cheap labor from Pakistan and other parts of South Asia, and these nominally educated immigrants flocked to the industrial cities of Leeds, Manchester, Bradford, and Birmingham.
There they have lived isolated from the mainstream Britons in their little Pakistani cocoons, where they recreated the semblance of what they had left behind. Most of them saw and judged English society through the prism of their own orthodox religious beliefs.
In this vacuum of isolation grew up two generations of alienated young men; some with strong feelings of deprivation, paranoia, and religious zealotry. Add to that rather high unemployment among young Muslim men and you have a perfect climate for recruiting terrorists.
This phenomenon was the subject of an episode on the BBC drama series Spooks. In one episode, "Nest of Angels," a young Pakistani boy is recruited as a suicide bomber by the imam of a Birmingham mosque. (The imam was played by Qarie Marshall, a hometown boy from Toledo.)
The episode was condemned by Muslims in Great Britain as an unfair and unrealistic characterization of their community. Two years later the fiction turned into reality in the subways of London. Three of the four bombers were first generation Pakistanis and the fourth was a Jamaican convert.
What can the Muslims do to prevent repetition of what happened in New York, Madrid, and London?
There are many things they can do, and these apply to Muslims living in Europe as well as in America and Canada.
First and foremost they should condemn terrorism in the strongest terms and without any reservations. Period. Such terrorist acts cannot be justified under any circumstance, including all the real and perceived grievances against the West.
They have to take back their mosques from the fundamentalist crowd. Militancy can incubate only in a milieu of extreme fundamentalism and increasingly the mosques in Europe, America, and Canada are being taken over by these elements. Not all fundamentalists are violent but all religious violence comes from that end of the spectrum.
Curtail the import of religiously educated but functionally illiterate imams from the Middle East and South Asia. They may be knowledgeable about religion but they are incapable of relating to the society they live in. The moderate Muslims should take on the challenge of establishing their own Islamic seminaries.
Sometimes catastrophe brings in its wake unexpected opportunities. The London bombing is a wake-up call for American and European Muslims. They can either become proactive and take charge or continue to be represented by the shortsighted fundamentalist elements.