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"The War Within"

Aired January 17, 2007 - 14:00:00   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The angry among them. A million Muslims live in the city that some now call Londonistan (ph). What are they doing about violent Muslim discontent?
Hello and welcome.

Right now in London, six men are in Court, accused of a failed attempt to bomb the London transit system in the summer of 2005. It was not an isolated event. Two weeks earlier, four suicide bombers killed 52 people and about a year afterwards police announced they had discovered a plot to bomb planes leaving for the United States.

The majority of British Muslims are opposed to terrorism, but there are others. Radical Islamist, Omar Brooks, for example, who called the transit bombers completely praiseworthy; Anjem Choudary, another activist, who says the real terrorists are the British regime and even the British police.

How does Muslim Britain decide what path it will take and whose leadership it will follow?

CNN's Christiane Amanpour has produced a one-hour documentary look. On our program today, "The War Within."

We'll pick up the documentary at an unusual meeting.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The small group of Islamic extremists who turn up at every rally and protest in Britain have come here to Ireland to debate moderate clerics who say their religion has been hijacked by the likes of Anjem Choudary and Omar Brooks.

OMAR BROOKS, MUSLIM EXTREMIST: We drink the blood of the enemy. We can face them anywhere! That is Islam! That's jihad! And (SPEAKING IN ARABIC) said, "I laugh when I kill." And he said to his own people (SPEAKING IN ARABIC). He said, "I come to slaughter all of you!" So anybody who wants to stand in the face of the Muslims, he will face the banner of jihad.

AMANPOUR: There aren't many people following the banner of Omar Brooks, yet he and his colleagues have loudly dominated the public debate about Islam. But tonight, the moderates fight back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people, ladies and gentlemen, have a good look at them. They actually think if you kill children, if you kill a woman, you would go to heaven. You have no chance in hell. And you're a lawyer, Mr. Choudary -- can I speak? You're a lawyer and you would know that you can't go to heaven except if you claim insanity. This is not an ideology. It's a mental illness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a common thing to say that the enemy, you know, they eat the babies, they kill the children, they're fundamentalists. And that happened in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). There's a lot of propaganda. What are Muslims supposed to do when they're being killed in the streets in Afghanistan and Baghdad and other places, in Palestine. Do they not have the same rights to defend themselves? In war, people die. People don't make love, they kill each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to remove this idea that Islam is a religion of peace. Islam is not a religion of peace. There is evidence in the book of Islam called the Koran sanctioning violence.

AMANPOUR: But does the Koran really sanction this kind of violence? No, says Sheikh Shaheed, who has spent a lifetime fighting apartheid and Islamic extremism in South Africa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These extremists claim to know Islam, but their ala carte version of islam. They seem to portray God and Christians as a cruel and uncompassionate monsters. I demand them to provide proof from the text of the Koran, the holy book of Islam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chapter (UNINTELLIGIBLE), verse 29, what does it say. "Fight those who do not believe in Allah and in hereafter."

AMANPOUR: To decipher the Koran, we visited the same East End neighborhood where our journey began, to talk to Imam Usama Hassan (ph).

(on camera): They say, but look, these verses in the Koran that are quoted justify this kind of violence. What's going on?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're nearly always taken totally out of context and nearly always ignoring the spiritual aspect, the aspects which talk about forgiveness and repentance.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Few people here have studied the Koran as closely as Imam Hassan (ph). He had memorized it by the time he was 11, and at 19 he briefly fought in the jihad against Communists in Afghanistan.

But he says there is no justification for violent jihad here in Britain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have the wrong intention, you can justify your criminal actions from any text, whether it's a Koran or the Bible or Shakespeare.

There are passages, like in the New Testament, where Jesus Christ is alleged to say, "Think not that I have come to bring peace, for I have come to bring the sword." That's a famous quote in the New Testament. But clearly, most Christians don't misunderstand that to justify terrorism and wonton violence.

AMANPOUR (on camera): What is your reaction when you hear this book, the Koran, and those words, taken in vain to justify what you've called crazy Islamic terrorism?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It makes me furious, people who do that kind of action and who support it are a very tiny minority. But it only takes a handful, of course, to create devastation.


MANN: It is a fascinating piece of work. We'll have another portion of it in a little while and the entirety of it over the weekend, but Christiane Amanpour joins us now from London to talk about what she found in the city and the country around her.

Christiane, I guess one way of describing this is a high-stakes contest for the loyalty of an entire generation.

AMANPOUR: Well, it is, and it is definitely, as we found, the war within. The question really is, who is going to win this debate. Is it the radicals, the extremists, those who condone and preach violence? Or is it the vast majority of Muslims, not just here in England, around Europe and also around the Islamic world. Are they going to stand up, be counted, and yank back their religion back from what they say it's been hijacked from the extremists.

And that is really what we focused on in this hour, to see whether there was another voice and what that other voice was saying, and we did find the other voice. And you will see it as you put more of the program on and as people see it over the weekend.

MANN: The rest of Britain has an enormous stake in this. It's not just Muslims who are out in public, who are in the transit system, who are on planes, who fear terrorism. What's the rest of Britain doing while this debate rages?

AMANPOUR: Well, you can imagine that Britain was shocked to its very core on 7/7/2005, when those young, homegrown Muslim men went and blew themselves up and blew 52 innocent British passengers on the underground and on the buses. And this really did shock England. And this is really what launched our desire to find out what was going on inside the community.

And what we found is that because of a lot of reasons, because of policies, because of all sorts of things, much of the Islamic community has been radicalized. People are angry. But people also, there is another side to the story, and what people are seeing is they're fed up with being tarred by the same brush. They're fed up, most of the community is fed up by being tarred with all of the suspicions of terrorism. They feel that there is a great Islamiphobia going on and there really is this anti-Islam going on.

And so what we tried to find were the moderate, the mainstream, the individual Muslims here who want to go and prove that actually their religion is not all about violence and who are really working at a grassroots level within their own community and across the cultural communities to try to make the situation more one of acceptance and tolerance.

MANN: How much of this is a slit between generations?

AMANPOUR: Well, we did find that, and again, one of our guests on your program later will talk about this, because in the mosques there is a very distinct split that comes down along generational lines. For instance, some of the more conservative, more outlandish things that are said by some of the elders and preachers in the mosques come right from a tribal traditional root that perhaps they had when they came from their original countries, such as Pakistan.

And the young Muslim men, we found, many of them feel alienated. They said to us, we don't even know where to go for guidance, because in our mosques, the elders who are really from a much older generation just don't understand us and don't want to listen to us.

MANN: One of the most interesting mosques isn't even there yet. People are calling it the mega-mosque. And it's become to some extent a symbol both of British public support for Muslims in their midst and of suspicion. Tell us about it.

AMANPOUR: Well, precisely. You've wrapped it up very, very well.

Here is this young, British architect, a Muslim himself, who has built and formatted this incredibly beautiful mosque that is meant to be built in a pretty devastated part of East London. Actually, it is quite near to where the Olympic site will be in 2012. And there is a huge amount of controversy over it, because one of the English counselors in that area is saying that, you know, this needs to have much more investigation and debate before it is allowed to proceed, and many are thinking that this is because of this general sort of mistrust about Islam and Muslims today that rages not only here in Britain and around the world.

But one of the main issues is that the people who are funding and sponsoring this mosque, some of the bombers have been praying at their mosques in parts of England. They, of course, say that it's not our fault that some of these bombers prayed in our mosques, but there is this sort of suspicion that has arisen around this mosque. And we'll see whether it actually does go ahead and it does sort of symbolize a lot of the mistrust that's going on right now, and actually a lot of the hysteria that's going on. A lot of the reporting about Muslims in Islam is very hysterical, very one-sided and stereotypical, which is we tried to go beyond those stereotypes and tried to show a different picture.

MANN: Christiane Amanpour, thanks very much.

We take a break. When we come back, more about the fork in the road for British Muslims and their faith.

Stay with us.


MANN: British Muslims are an enormously diverse group, some going back generations in the country, some just arrived. But when they were polled last year, more than 4/5 said they considered themselves Muslims first and British citizens second, and with that attachment to their faith many had questions about where it was leading them; 2/5 said they were very concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in Britain.

Welcome back.

Many Muslims feel they are being stigmatized by non-Muslims, considered guilty by association as terrorists because of their religion, but it's not just outsiders who are raising questions about the strains inside the Islamic community.

Navid Akhtar is a television producer who has turned his lens on his own people and he joins us now from London.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Christiane calls this a war within. What do you call it?

NAVID AKHTAR, FILMMAKER: Well, I think war is a big of a strong term. I think there is just basically, we've reached a watershed, and there is a sense of trying to find a new future. We know what's gone wrong. We've analyzed the past. We've seen the results of that. But nobody seems to have a sense of a vision of where we're going, what does it mean to be a Muslim in the 21st century and what does it mean to be a Western Muslim, a Muslim of the West, not somebody who has immigrated there.

Many Muslims, like myself, were born there. This is -- you know, we are part of that society. But at times we don't feel welcome or we don't feel a part of it. But how can we overcome those issues and create an Islam which is actually European in its essence.

MANN: Well, let me ask you about something you touched on very briefly, which is where does the anger, does the alienation, come for people who've been in Britain for generations, for people who are as British as anyone is?

AKHTAR: Because if you actually look at their reality after four or five generations of being here, many people are actually economically no better off than when their grandparents or their great grandparents arrived there, and they're seeing an increase in new migrants coming in who perhaps are moving forward because they're white or their Christian.

So there is a sense of kind of victimization taking place, which a person in a very remote, northern part of Britain sees economic collapse taking place in his community and associates himself with what's going on in Palestine and seems himself in the same mode of victim, because that's happening to him because he's a Muslim, not because of the economic factors in his own area.

So there was a generation who have grown up and seen nothing but a lack of opportunity, large amount of growing racism towards them and a sense of no way of getting out of it. And so that anger, then, has been actually picked up by people who are perhaps not even people native to the U.K., who have come in to exploit that.

MANN: Let me pick up on a point that you make, which is that they are treated as foreigners. They are maybe economically not moving forward as quickly as they had hoped. Immigrants have a tough time, right or wrong. Immigrants have a tough time in a lot of communities that can great them with racism, with a cold shoulder, and with economic disadvantages that they don't deserve. What seems to set Muslims in Britain apart, say, from Africans, who are also perhaps mistreated fairly frequently and whose home countries may not be generously treated by Western foreign policy, seems to be that they have an ideology, they have an ideology that justifies violence, that can't really be blamed on their treatment at home.

AKHTAR: We have to be very careful about generalizing all Muslims into this. In particular.

MANN: Some technical problems there. Our apologies. We will try to restore our satellite link.

Forgive me. Go ahead.

AKHTAR: . so even though that community has been established there for quite a while, it has internal problems to do with leadership. It has a sense of actually thinking that many of the first generation didn't actually want to accept this as their country. They came for a specific reason and then to go back. And so two generations on, we've inherited a little bit of kind of unclear ideas about who we are, and into that, that ideology, those seeds have been planted. People have arrived with those ideologies. They're not inherently something that the people locally came up with, the younger people, came up with those conclusions themselves, but it's a badge that's been given to them.

MANN: What should Muslims of all stripes expect from non-Muslims? Should the rest of Britain wait patiently while a tiny handful -- and once again, it's a tiny handful -- of young men decide whose side they want to be on?

AKHTAR: I think the first thing we need to do is consider ourselves as Britons or we need to consider ourselves as human beings, and there is a sense of this is not going to be tackled by actually saying, well, the Muslims are on this side or the British public is on the other side. I am also a member of the British public, and I think I don't expect anybody to wait for a generation to grow up.

We are facing a crisis. We have seen what happened last year. We have to deal with these things now. The politicians are very aware, community leaders are very aware, of where the wart is and where they haven't even focused on that.

I think what you are going to see, and I think it's already beginning, is there is an empowerment of younger voices, and women in particular, and that's where the natural leadership will emerge, and then from within those communities, workable solutions will arrive, not committees and groups that meet in White Hall or kind of issue edicts in terms of how people should behave or integrate. That has to come from those people themselves, and I think it is beginning to happen. I'm quite confident about that.

MANN: Navid Akhtar, thanks so much for this.

We're going to take a break. When we come back, on that very point, talking to someone who is trying to ease tensions around a pool table.

Stay with us.


MANN: Walthamstow is an ordinary working-class community in northeast London, but after last August's discovery of the plot to blow up airliners traveling from the U.K., police descended. They arrested 14 men with a raid that startled the neighborhood, to say the least.

Welcome back.

Like the rest of London, Muslims make up about 15 percent of that corner of the city. Most of them were born in Britain of Pakistani descent. Muslims have been elected to the mayor's office of Walthamstow and to parliament there. But it too found itself some kind of battleground in the war on terror and it's where one youth worker, Hanif Qadir, went to work.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Extremism can thrive amongst kids who see no way out of their ethnic ghettos.

HANIF QADIR, YOUTH WORKER: They're into all kinds of vices. They're into street crime, gun crime, drugs, car theft, credit card fraud. But then you've now got another threat.

AMANPOUR (on camera): What's the new threat?

QADIR: The new threat is radicalism. It's a cause. Every young man wants a cause.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): So Hanif's cause is to break the ice. This time, in a pool tournament between the police and the young men who often find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the street, they just hate the uniform. That's all. So this will break them barriers. I think it's a brilliant idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is unusual see it, but I like this. It's quite good at the same time, because like the kids and the police are mixing together (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

QADIR: All it takes is just one pool tournament. And it wasn't just the game. It was them being here. They were in the same room, having a laugh at a joke, with the same guys that they've arrested many times and may arrest again. But you know what, they've got one thing in common now. They're playing pool. And the young men got a chance to beat them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On behalf of the Metropolitan Police, this is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Active Change Foundation Pool Tournament, October 2006. Well done.

AMANPOUR: It's a good start for Walthamstow, but it is only a start.

QADIR: You can be Muslim and you can be British, you know. Like you can be Christian and you can be British, you can be Jewish and you can be British.

If the British-born Muslims really want to do something to stop people damaging Islam, then start reading up on your book, explaining it to your children. Come out of your denial phase. The only conspirers against Islam at the moment, right, and the biggest threat to Islam at the moment is our enemies within.


Hanif Qadir joins us now from our London studios.

Thanks so much for being with us.

There is a debate going on about young men and Islam and the future. Who's winning in Walthamstow?

QADIR: Well, I am winning at the moment, but there is a problem and if (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are not clearly in place then we're going to have various agencies who are going to beat us at, you know, what they're good at.

MANN: Let me ask you more about that. Who are the agencies? Is the problem internal? Is it that there's poverty in the community, that there's frustration in the community, that the economics and the prejudice of growing up in that part of the world are working against the interests of young men and women? Or is the threat from outside, from foreigners, from ideology?

QADIR: There is, I mean, many threats, all sorts of matters. But there is also a problem from within the community, and it's people who adopted this approach and this ideology that, you know, would like to go out and try to recruit young people off the streets just to further their own political agenda, their own evil agenda.

The problem that -- we haven't got a problem with working with young people or with building intergenerational gaps or, you know, creating community cohesion. We've never had a problem with that. I think it's very easy for me, or for organizations out here, to do that. The problem that we are facing is from the local, small-minded politics that go on in our local authorities. And until our local politicians address that and take of those blinkers that they're wearing, we're not really going to make much of an impact.

MANN: Well, let me ask you about that. The mayor is a Muslim. Members of parliament have been elected from that area who are Muslims. What's the problem with local authorities?

QADIR: Again, Jon, there is a lot of problems. There is very small- minded politics. It's about who they -- it's about who they like and who they dislike. The methodologies behind Islam, there's a lot of different sects in Islam. And if they don't agree with one, they'll sideline them.

The problem that we are really facing, like, again, I say, we're not having any problems with the young people. I find that very easy. I find it very easy, working with the elders and creating understanding, which they don't really understand, because you need to understand the dynamics of the street to venture into the hearts and minds of our young people. Our local politicians, the Muslim counselors, the Muslim mayor, whoever they are, they do not understand the dynamics, and until they understand that, they're not going to get very far. It's those agencies, the radical elements that exist, forget the drug pushers, forget all the other vices that exist. They understand the dynamics. And that's why it's very easy for them to go out and recruit our young people.

But we're getting some support. We're getting -- I mean, the local police in Waltham Forest are being instrumental in the support that they're giving us and I can't say enough about them, but we -- the issues that I've been saying for years have been falling on deaf ears with the local authorities, and I honestly, sincerely say that until they come out of that denial phase themselves, we're not going to make much of an impact.

MANN: Let me ask you in very concrete terms, what has to happen? What do the local authorities, what do ordinary people, what do good people like you have to do?

QADIR: I'll carry on. I'm going to carry on, regardless of the support that I get. But we're going to be plodding along. If we get the right support, the resources that we really need, then, you know what, we can make a huge difference. The local authorities need to work with people on the ground, identifying who we shoot. Without working with those people on the ground at grassroots, it's going to -- we're going to see more of these problems. I said that last year, following 7/7. If we don't engage with the youth -- we had an engagement event post-7/7, the first of its kind, and I was on record saying that if we don't carry on these events, we're going to see problems growing. And a year later, I'm not a clairvoyant or anything, but a year later, we had August 10, and we're going to have many more issues if we do not work on the ground with the people on the ground who can identify and root out the enemy within.

We're not going to do it by posters and leaflets. We're going to do it by infantry on the ground and, you know, I can't say that enough. I am going to need the support. I'm going to be writing to people in America, to businesses and things, for their support, because if I get sidelined by the local authorities, I'm going to need support, and I'm going to try to reach out to every, every individual outside of the country, in the country, to lend their support, so we can make a difference, because I want to live in this community and I believe that, given the support, we can do it.

MANN: Hanif Qadir, thanks so much for talking with us.

QADIR: You're welcome.

MANN: You can see the entirety of Christian Amanpour's "The War Within" this weekend beginning at 0700 hours GMT Saturday.

That's all for INSIGHT for now. I'm Jonathan Mann.



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