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Friday, July 07, 2006 

A year on.

A year ago today, at around 9:40am, my father was driving through Tavistock Square, having just left Covent Garden market. 7 minutes later, Hasib Hussain detonated his explosives on the number 30 bus he was on, after having apparently missed his chance to kill himself at the same time as his 3 fellow bombers. The explosion killed 14 people.

It's only when my father realised later that night that he had missed the bombing by a matter of minutes that the reality of what happened dawned on both of us. He was not the only one who had a near miss. No doubt hundreds, possibly thousands, made split-second decisions which meant they were out of the possible line of fire. 52 people were not as lucky, and hundreds of others were horribly injured.

Obsolete doesn't live in London, so it can't comment on the apparent solidarity that quickly followed, along with a measure of defiance. Sadly, within weeks, and especially after the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, that solidarity started to crumble.

Which brings us to today. Yesterday we saw Shezhad Tanweer, apparently filmed in the same place as the previous video which starred Siddique Khan, pointing his finger, telling us that Britain deserved to be attacked because "we" voted for a government that oppresses Muslims around the world. Apart from upsetting those killed in the bombings with the timing, which must raise the question of why al-Jazeera could not have sat on the video for a while rather than inflaming what should have been a tender and sombre occasion, it quickly led to Inayat Bunglawala (media secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain) on CiF saying it should make the government realise that it must recognise the links between 7/7 and its policies overseas, as predicted by Sunny Hurndal. It drew the usual responses by those who see Islam as purely a wicked and vicious faith.

Some issues should be ironed out. There is no excuse whatsoever for the bombing of innocent civilians. Terrorists must not be allowed to get away with justifying their actions based on Western foreign policy, or with saying that it's deserved because "we" voted for the government. However, there is a difference between a grievance and a justification. Not just Muslims, but also many millions of people in this country feel aggrieved that our political leaders launched a war of aggression against Iraq, on what we now know was flimsy, politically spun and entirely spurious intelligence. We were lied to. That is a legitimate grievance. Despite what some liberal-leftists who supported the war say, making the point that the Iraq war has left us not more safe, but less safe, is not to give terrorists the opportunity to blackmail us over our foreign policy.

The other worrying thing, again pointed out by Sunny Hurndal, is the way that the main Muslim organisations now seem to be the only ones being approached to speak out. Some of their spokesman have or have had extreme views, yet at the same time the Labour party has given large amounts of taxpayers money to Muslim Council of Britain, the same organisations responsible for a lack of introspection that Blair barked about earlier in the week. What seems to be emerging is that they only seem to be able to point to Western foreign policy as being why 4 Muslim men did what they did. The point is valid, but 2 million of us marched against the war and don't feel the need to explode ourselves to continue to show our outrage.

Hurndal's point was emphasised last night on the BBC's This Week programme. They invited on, of all people, the Muslim winner of Miss England. Not only was she articulate, but she noted that the Muslim community in Britain tends to be inward-looking and conservative, especially compared to some Muslim countries, even in the Middle East. The contestants in Miss World from Egypt and Malaysia had no problems in taking part in the bikini contest, while she felt under pressure to wear something not so revealing from those in her own community. As a result, she wore a sarong.

Hurndal expands his point on CiF, reporting on a debate organised by the Fabian society. David T, who is one of the more reasonable and eloquent contributors to Harry's Place, also comments, and points out the way that some of Muslim groupings are increasingly turning to Mawdudist and Muslim Brotherhood ideology, although he also puts it down to the notion of Muslims feeling victimised, which is not only exaggerated, but they also undoubtedly have been over the last year. It's the feeling that Islam is under siege in this country, emphasised by the likes of Melanie Philips with her concentration on the Judeo-Christian ethic and idea that Islam is incompatible with democracy and "Britishness" that means that the idea of victimhood is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The media has to share some of the blame. In their bid for increasing comment and reaction, they turn first of all to the Muslim organisations and rely on their sometimes unhelpful statements. Newsnight, when debating Islam, allowed the likes of Anjem Choudary, the idiot from al-Ghuraba, to be involved, along with a token white person and a Tory Muslim, rather than anyone who doesn't belong to some organisation. While the survey of last month was in some ways worrying, it also showed that things are nowhere near as bad as some have made out. More effort needs to be made on both sides, both by the media and by those in the Muslim communities themselves to make sure that other voices are heard. They are definitely out there, but at the moment are only being heard inside, not outside.

As well as being a day of reflection and quiet contemplation, today should also be a day of hope. We should hope that the one of the darkest moments in British history can be used to make sure that such a thing never happens again. All the talk of when, not if, is only helpful to those who wish to keep the level of fear at a premium. Effort is required by everyone. There is one thing that the government could do to kickstart this: it should order the independent inquiry into the events of 7/7 which is so desperately needed.

Update: Well, it looks like I fell into every trap set by Lenin for today's coverage. Rest assured, this sentimentality isn't here to stay. And yes, we should also be remembering all the innocents killed in Iraq and Afghanistan both by the coalition forces and terrorists as well.

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Hurndal's point was emphasised last night on the BBC's This Week programme. They invited on, of all people, the Muslim winner of Miss England. Not only was she articulate, but she noted that the Muslim community in Britain tends to be inward-looking and conservative, especially compared to some Muslim countries, even in the Middle East.

A classic example of the doninant narrative being about Islam and Muslims. Many of these things are interesting discussions - why are British Muslims more practising than those in the 'Muslim world'? - but it has absolutely nothing to do with terror. You can obviously be a very devout Muslim, as hopefully I am, without charging about with bombs.

Please also don't fall into the trap of thinking David T knows anythign about this. Al-Qaeda hate 'Maududists' and 'MB' types. In fact, these groups that David T accuses of being in this category are the very ones who have stressed positive engagement with politics to change foreign policy - marching on the streets against war just like you did. That's really why David T doesn't like them.

I'm no fan of Harry's Place and David T's strange obsession with the SWP and Trotskyists in general is mystifying. He does seem one of the least worst on HP, however. I more included his piece because it was along similar lines to Sunny's but taking a harsher line which I disagree with. They would rather see Mubarak and others still holding power in Egypt than the Muslim Brotherhood democratically challenging them.

I'm still supportive of the Muslim organisations, but I think their leadership and line needs to be challenged more. I'm certain that they are not fully representative, as we're well aware, and as a result they can contribute to doing the image of Muslims down as a whole.

You're not alone in wondering how representative they are - it is though a difficult judgement to make as I'm sure you'll agree.

Most Muslims that get space in the media are the Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Zia Sardar, Irshad Manji types. Let me assure you they are extremely out of touch. I would even say they are successful because they've had no relation with the Muslim community and grassroots. I believe mainstream Muslims need to engage with society in a way these people successfully have.

Their views are out of step with Muslim opinion though, hence their normally angry voices directed at the community.

I'd say the likes of MCB are also out of step as in they are not very radical. If it was left to ordinary Muslims to put forward their views to the media and government it would be more of a vent. MCB and so on have a sticky wicket in that they cannot come across as so "unrespectable" while at the same time having to balance their grassroots constituency with what their public face to media and government should be.

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