It would be hard to imagine a crowd of Muslims marching on the streets of Richmond shouting: “American Police go to Hell!” and parading banners that state: “Shariah, the solution for us!” However that is what has been happening on the streets of my own hometown of Luton, thirty miles north of London.
Richmond, where I have lived for the last twenty years, has a Muslim community, however it is a community that is peace-loving, and contributing to the diversity of the American dream. By contrast, my hometown has become home to a large population of Muslims, mostly of South Asian descent, and sadly gained a reputation for being a source of extremism.
On 7th July 2005, the four London bombers were filmed on CCTV entering the train station in Luton to travel together up to the capital. The station entrance is one that I have passed through on many occasions. Taimour al-Abdaly who carried out the Stockholm bombing in December 2010 was an Iraqi-born Swedish citizen. However he lived with his wife and children in Argyll Avenue, Luton, a road which runs along the back of my High School. On other occasions I have seen reference in the media to convicted Islamic extremists who had connections to Luton.
My attention was recently drawn to a BBC documentary entitled “My Hometown Fanatics” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SX8hQ28aR0) and first broadcast in the UK in February. Stacey Dooley, the presenter, is a young documentary maker who grew up in Luton and returned to her home town to explore the growth of the Islamic presence in the town. She also talks to the leaders of the English Defence League, a street protest movement which opposes the spread of Islamic extremism in the United Kingdom, and which has its origins in Luton.
In the documentary Miss Dooley contacts Muslim women she knew in school, meets with a number of moderate Muslims in the community and visits the Mosque. She also walks the streets of Luton alongside a group demonstrating against the perceived lack of respect from the local police for Muslim culture and customs, and talks to former members of Al Muhajiroun, a now banned British Islamic group with links to international terrorism. Interspersed with these conversations are her contacts with the EDL in which she explores their desire that the Islamic community embrace liberal British values and integrate rather than maintain a separate cultural identity.
The EDL emphasize that they have a broad base of support including members of the Jewish, Sikh and Muslim communities. In a BBC interview a Glaswegian Muslim of Pakistani origin states that he is a member of the EDL because the EDL stands for the strengthening of British patriotic values (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQpYCTeKbOY).
As a reflection on the interviews with Muslim radicals on the streets contained within the documentary I have to ask a question that the presenter does not ask. Why are Muslim radicals in Britain so committed to destroying the society that their parent’s generation obviously found so attractive as they immigrated to Britain? In the decades immediately following the Second World War, hundreds of thousands migrated from Pakistan, Bangladesh and North India in search of work and a better life in Britain. Their welcome stemmed from the colonial relationship that Britain had with the subcontinent. British industrial success was based in part on the Protestant work ethic, and despite the evils of industrialization and colonialism, I would suggest that nineteenth century Britain enjoyed the blessing of God flowing in the wake of the eighteenth century evangelical revival. The Muslim world has never enjoyed great industrial or material success. Until the mass extraction of oil in the post war years the Gulf mostly remained the same desert of poor nomads that it was when Islam first appeared in the 7th century. At the same time the Muslim world continues to be typified by tribal warfare and violence. So why does the Muslim extremist think that enforcing his form of strict Islam will bring all things into a true submission to God?
Regrettably the documentary fails to include any point of view from the church. There are strong churches in Luton which are committed to proclaiming Christian truth to the Muslim community. Their points of view are however missing from the narrative. Sadly this is more a commentary on how secular much of British society has become; a secularism that really has no idea how to respond to the Muslim community with the only answer that can bring reconciliation.
Check out an earlier post related to my hometown: