The day of July 7, there’s some news story in the morning about an explosion in the Underground train network. I’ve worried for a long time that suicide bombing in London is inevitable and I am afraid. Then the apparent explosion is attributed to a ‘power surge’ and I am relieved. But then there are three ‘power surges’, which is impossibly optimistic and I am afraid again; the inevitable reality emerges slowly but surely. It has finally happened. The story unfolds and its 9/11 all over again, but this time it’s here, at home in London, humble London, cheerful, polite, friendly, swinging London that has always managed, complaining and yet really uncomplaining about the weather and the traffic and the bloody trains. Always soldiering on and always there for me, London. Now the trains are bloody in the worst possible way; just as they were in the IRA years of the seventies and eighties.
Please God, it will be some Arabs or North Africans who slipped in pretending to be asylum seekers, never intended to build a life for themselves, bloody foreigners. But it gets worse. Three of the suicide bombers are British-born young men of Pakistani origin, from somewhere up North, where there are lots of Pakistanis.
The contempt and anger which I feel are tinged with a helpless understanding. They were sold the lie of separation from the moment of their birth, from family who meant well and knew no better. Too many Muslims, especially ‘up North’, recoil in horror at the drunken, lecherous, shameless, drug-crazed, vomiting-on-the-pavement, wanton depravity that seems to have become the norm for young people in British society and, unable to find a comfortable middle ground, they veer forcefully to the other extreme – absolute, joyless, religious drudgery and partition.
They have discovered the easy familiarity and comfort of creating their own separated community-states (little-Pakistans, little-Bangladeshs) and hold these isolated bubbles of existence, frozen in time, not appreciating any of the potential of the indigenous society, labouring forever under the excuses of racism and decadence, and harking back with false sentimentality to an idealized vision of the morally upright, decent, just and pious society back home; a vision that is a myth, a lie.
From within such a bubble, boys like these can see throughout their entire lives the sensual delights of the outer world – women, music, dancing, freedom, careers, convertibles – and yet are forbidden these for an enforced life of miserable puritanism, bad theology and assumed second-class citizenship. Going to Qur’anic school for several hours a week drains from them any ability to achieve academic excellence in regular school, condemns them to tired mediocrity. They are instilled with an inferiority complex, a belief that they have no right to seek their own happiness and that Western society (because it struggles to accommodate everyone tolerantly and even-handedly) is somehow decadent and wicked. They have no freedom of choice and no expectation of ever having happiness in this life.
On top of all this is the intense sexual frustration that can be neither discussed nor fulfilled, but not to worry, a ‘nice girl’ from the village back home will be imported, so that the boy is not corrupted by a vivacious, feisty, challenging and independent white woman. I can imagine what was said to them. (“She won’t be the best, you are hard sell, you are not doctor, what can we say you are? … you don’t even have proper job … but she’ll be good girl … she won’t be educated … no need of education … she will cook and clean, won’t cause you any problem, won’t ask for anything … the educated ones are trouble … but you are hard sell … what to say for job? … at least you have British passport … don’t be too fussy.”)
Faced with this misery, they were willing to believe the old lie – whether Protestant, Catholic, Sunni, Shia, it’s all the same – that the purpose of your one chance at life is to secure your place in Heaven and to avoid Hell. Once you believe this, you look for short cuts and guaranteed routes. The truly Islamic way is to spend your life doing good deeds, with humility and self-discipline. But this seems quite arduous and takes too long, especially if life seems dull and unfulfilling, and is under the shadow of that miserable arranged marriage. So if someone authoritative – a silk-tongued confident leader with a powerful persona, hiding his own fear and cynical political agenda – presents a shortcut, based on the intense glorious passion of hatred and destruction, rather than of love, it seems irresistible. No more dull, grey semi-existence, instead a thrilling top secret mission against the ‘evil empire’ and eternal glory thereafter. Allahu Akbar! God is Great!
They were willing to die because, in their own perception of reality, they had nothing to live for.
But what if the purpose of life is not to gain Heaven and to avoid Hell? What if the purpose of life is to make the most of life as an opportunity, a joy, a privilege to exist and live and love and make a difference … a good difference, not a bitter, twisted metal and charred flesh difference. What if every problem cannot be blown away, but has to be healed and if you don’t take the responsibility of dealing with it, you try to explode your way out of it, you are destined to come back and face it again … and again … until you get it right.
That would require a change of approach, wouldn’t it?