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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

British Bombers' Rage Forged in Discontent

LEEDS, England -- Mohammad Sidique Khan was never on the corner, a detail that friends offer as a compliment.

In a neighborhood where many young South Asian men had lost their way, or foundered into drug dealing, Khan's peers admired his focus on family, work, working out and Islam.

The discipline of Khan, 30, was shared, and not just with his friends Shehzad Tanweer, 22, and Hasib Mir Hussain, 18, who joined him on a murderous assignation in London on July 7. The three men and Germaine Lindsay, 19, detonated four bombs that killed 56 people, including themselves.

Khan, Tanweer and Hussain were part of a larger clique of young British-raised South Asian men in Beeston, a neighborhood of Leeds, who turned their backs on what they had come to see as a decadent, demoralizing Western culture.

Instead, the group embraced an Islam whose practice was often far more fundamentalist than their fathers' and always more political, focused passionately on Muslim suffering at Western hands.

In many ways, the transformation has had positive elements: The men live healthier and more constructive lives than many of their peers here, Asian or white, who have fallen prey to drugs, alcohol or petty crime.

Why Khan, Tanweer and Hussain in particular crossed a line that no one had before, how they and Lindsay linked up, or whether their plot was homegrown or steered from outside Britain, remain mysteries, at least to the public.

But the question asked since their identities were revealed after the bombings continues to resonate: What motivated men reared thousands of miles from the Muslim world or any direct experience of oppression themselves to bomb fellow Britons, ushering in a new chapter of terrorism?

Many here see answers in the sense of injustice at events both at home and abroad that is far more widespread among Muslims than many Westerners recognize; in the rigid and deeply political form of Islam that increasing numbers of educated European Muslims are gravitating toward; in the difficulty that some children of immigrants in Europe have had in finding their place or direction.

Theirs is a broader story being played out by such children of immigrants across Britain and Western Europe.

The young men have grown up brown-skinned in white Britain, in a blighted pocket of Leeds straddling their parents' traditional values and the working-class culture around them.

They have been reared shoulder to shoulder with old stone churches and young hooligans, and face to face with attitudes toward family and morality different from those taught by their parents.

"They don't know whether they're Muslim or British or both," said Martin McDaid, a former anti-terrorist operative who converted to Islam, took the name Abdullah and worked in the neighborhood.

They are alienated from their parents' rural South Asian culture, which they see as backward. Reared in an often-racist milieu, they feel excluded from mainstream British society, which has so far not yielded to hyphenated immigrant identities as America has. They have come of age in an era marked by conflicts between Muslims and better-armed powers -- India, Serbia, Russia, Israel, America and Britain -- and the rise of an ideology that sanctifies terrorist attacks against the West in response.

So some young men have solved the "don't know" riddle by discovering a new assertive and transnational identity as Muslims. The change has played out within families in the small, brick back-to-back terraced houses of little Beeston's lattice of down-at-the-heels streets.

In one corner shop sits Ejaz Hussain, 54, who came from a Pakistani village in his teens, and has reared eight children in Britain. The bombers' fathers and he worshipped at the same mosque. Their sons left, rejecting both the mosque's form of Islam as incorrect and its determination to keep politics outside the mosque's doors as unjust.

Walk down Stratford Street, past another mosque of the elders that the bombers and their cohort rejected, to the store of Mohammad Jaheer, a burly Bangladesh-born shopkeeper who has adopted the dress of the Prophet since going "religious," as young men here say, 10 years ago at 16. Islam has saved him from what he calls an animal-like life as a Western businessman spending time at clubs, he said. He helped form the Iqra Learning Center, an Islamic bookshop, five years ago, to educate Muslims and non-Muslims about the faith.

That bookshop, just a few blocks from his shop, was raided by the police because of its possible links to the bombers. Over time its education came to include provocative material that some contend was meant to inspire jihad. But McDaid, who worked at the bookshop, said it was intended only to awaken awareness and raise passions -- among Muslims and the British establishment alike -- about the oppression of Muslims around the world.

Hussain, who helped organize two peace marches in the bombings' wake, rejects the notion that an outsider from al-Qaida recruited the men, although others disagree. He pointed to his head and said in reference to the bombers, and other young Muslims, "al-Qaida is inside."

An Epic Migration

Ejaz Hussain was 16 when he left his 40-household village in Pakistan and came to Britain in 1967. Everybody was going; no one planned to stay long. He did not realize that he and so many others were part of an epic, and permanent, migration that would reshape Britain in so many ways, the events of July 7 being just one.

The British Raj officially ended on Aug. 15, 1947, but its relationship to its subjects did not. In the following decades men of the Indian subcontinent came to Britain en masse to supply cheap, unskilled labor for factories, foundries and, especially, textile mills in northern Britain.

The majority of them were farming Muslims from the Mirpur region of Pakistani Kashmir. Others came from Gujarat in India, or what is now Bangladesh, or, as with the bombers' families, Punjab province in Pakistan. Most were poor, of rural backgrounds and often uneducated, although Hussain, the thoughtful, genteel son of a policeman, had more education than most.

They started with perhaps £5 in their pocket, and worked 16 to 18 hours per day, with a beaver-like determination to earn and build something for the next generation. Hussain, now 54, worked in factories and mills, drove a taxi, and has run a corner minimart for 15 years, raising eight children along the way. Integration was minimal, thanks to barriers of race, language, culture and religion. The migrants were the colonized who came to live among their former colonizers.

"When we came, we were like servants," Hussain said. Even though they had time for little beyond Friday Prayer, if that, they were Muslims still, for whom true assimilation into Western ways, like drinking, would inevitably be sacrilege.

In the late 1980s, most of the mills and factories closed. Men began driving taxis, or opened shops or other family-run businesses that required round-the-clock tending by an extended family. Others simply retired.

The first wave's attitude was, and largely still is, one of gratitude toward Britain, which offered a livelihood and left them alone to practice their religion. "Britain is the greatest country in the world" for those reasons, boomed Arif Butt, a forceful figure in Beeston who runs one of its mosques and has clashed with its youth.

Arshad Chaudhry, an accountant and member of the Leeds Muslim Forum, sees it differently. "They were very timid," he said of the first wave.

Tough Neighborhood

Beeston Hill, where Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer were raised, and nearby Holbeck, where Hasib Mir Hussain grew up, have a dreary, dissolute air. The houses somehow seem shrunken in scale, and the dreams of many youth seem to have been sized to match.

The two neighborhoods are about 77 percent white and 18 percent "Asian or Asian-British," according to the 2001 census. Almost half the population is under 30.

Many white residents of Beeston tend toward tattoos and pit bulls. The drinking starts early, and openly. Trash and furniture clot some streets. Faces have been ravaged by drugs, whose use peaked a few years ago when legions of zombie-like heroin addicts wandered the streets.

More than 10 percent of houses are vacant. Nearly a third of the population of about 16,000 receives welfare benefits. Unemployment is nearly 8 percent, more than double the rate for the rest of Leeds.

Whites and Asians live politely, but distantly, adjacent. Both groups say that South Asians have actually prospered more than whites, which has generated some resentment. Plenty of British Muslims face staggering poverty and unemployment, but the bombers and their immediate circle were not among them. At least some youths seem more directionless than deprived.

In some ways, Hussain and other elders say, the young people have had it easy. At the age when their fathers worked like mules, the sons are playing cricket, studying, hanging out. Compared with their parents, they are well educated, thoroughly literate, fluent in English and the Internet.

Some know family businesses are waiting for them to take over. Some go on benefit as soon as they reach adulthood. Some sell drugs.

"They are getting lazy, getting spoiled from the government," said Abu Hanifa, 60, another shopkeeper.

And yet Hussain and others think the young have also had it harder.

In an alien culture, work ballasted the migrants, as did the traditional values they had imported from home. The young have no such anchors; they sometimes seem to be living in rooms without walls.

Mohammad Sidique Khan's generation was the first to be educated entirely in Britain. The schools they attended made almost no accommodation to their presence. They learned almost nothing about Pakistan or Islam's history and traditions.

Instead, they were expected to become British, and many have tried.

But in areas like Beeston, young men say, that has also meant learning how to drink and do or sell drugs at an early age, how to lose your virginity by 14.

They grew up in rough inner-city neighborhoods where "hardness" -- the ability to fight anyone, at any time -- was essential, said Hussain's son Nadeem Ejaz, now 30, who runs the family's green grocer shop. He still has vivid teenage memories of the red shoelaces favored by young racists from the National Front etched in his brain.

At local high schools, boys have regularly divided into white and Asian gangs.

The second generation does not have the servility, the passivity, of its progenitors, said Ejaz Hussain. Raised in Britain, they want their rights, even if they have to fight for them. In him, this inspires both pride and fear.

Hussain sees a continuum of self-destruction between July's bombings and race riots that occurred just 10 miles away in 2001 -- seemingly disconnected rage. "Why this damage to their own streets, their own cities, their own communities?" he asked of the Asian youth who participated in the riots, echoing those who now ask how the bombers could turn on their own society. "Maybe if we had paid attention then this wouldn't have happened."

A good many young Asian men here are, in British social welfare parlance, "NEET": Not in Education, Employment or Training. Here and in other South Asian communities over the past 15 years, they have begun to out-English the English, selling drugs and serving prison terms at alarming rates.

In Stratford Street, a Bengali-British drug dealer with a gold tooth and a practiced air of menace sits on a stoop. Jaheer, the Bengali-British shopkeeper, passes him by. As Jaheer and his friends see it, the critical battle here has been between those who have succumbed to their milieu, dragging their community down, and those who have sought to rescue and uplift it.

In that effort to fight Beeston's addiction, violence and aimlessness, they say Islam has proved an invaluable ally. To those who say Islam turned the bombers against Britain, they answer that Islam also saved youngsters from Britain.

Drawn by Religion

Jaheer was among the first to become religious, and others soon followed. One by one, young men who regularly slept through namaz, or prayer times, awakened. Khan was among them; so, later on, were his fellow bombers, Tanweer and Hussain.

The group was always a small minority among Beeston's youth, but an influential one. The pioneers coached those who followed them in how to live as Muslims in the West, bringing a new social conservatism to bear. It is permissible to look once at scantily clad women in summer, they would tell youth. After that it is a sin. Young men put away their televisions, saying there was no appropriate programming for Muslims, and sometimes imposed new restrictions on their wives.

"They were doing quite well with the young brothers," said Nadeem Ejaz, crediting Khan and others with weaning youths from drugs. "It was smack city around here. These people took on the initiative to clean up the community."

The group of friends created a network of organizations to lure Asian youth off the streets through sports, nature outings and extra education. For the Leeds City Council, desperate to counter the social ills present in Beeston and similar communities, the men were an ideal conduit. Over the years the council funneled grant after grant to the organizations they worked with, and some of their efforts showed success.

Khan was among the grantees. Under the auspices of the South Leeds Asian Youth Association, he twice applied for, and won, grants of about £2,000 ($3,600) apiece for gym equipment at two different locations, according to council records.

At the same time, the group's newfound faith was distancing them from their peers, and sometimes bringing them into conflict with the choices of their parents.

One of Ejaz Hussain's sons became very religious five years ago. He works at his father's corner shop, joking with customers, calling the women "luv," the standard Yorkshire greeting. But the shop sells cigarettes, bacon, tinned pork and girlie magazines. To him, the shop -- the fruit of his father's decades of work -- violates his faith, and he has unsuccessfully tried to persuade the family to give it up.

Religiously, the young men came at Islam like converts -- questioning everything, accepting nothing. If they were going to practice, they wanted to do it in what they considered the right way. If they wanted to go to heaven, they felt, they had to find the purest form. They wanted evidence for whatever they did in the Quran. All of the young men quickly rejected the Islam of their parents, who practice a Sufi-influenced strain of the subcontinent called Brelvi. Shaped partly by Hindu and folk customs, it believes in the power of pirs, or holy men, and their shrines.

The youth, Khan the most vocal among them, labeled such beliefs the contamination of Islam by "innovation."

They stopped praying at their parents' mosque, and turned, instead, to the more rigid, orthodox Deoband school of Islam, which also had a small mosque in town. The adherents of Deobandism include the Taliban of Afghanistan; they take what they see as a highly literal approach to the faith. In Britain, as in Pakistan, it is this school that is fast-growing -- starting seminaries, producing English-speaking preachers, and drawing young people away from the more liberal Islam of their parents.

Eventually Khan and his friends left the Deoband mosque, too, saying its approach to outreach was too narrow, its focus too apolitical. And the young zealots felt only frustration and contempt for the imams of the mosques, who were often brought from the subcontinent, spoke minimal English, knew nothing of the moral maze young British Muslims face, and abided by an injunction by mosque elders that politics or current events involving Muslims should stay outside the mosque.

A Politicized Islam

For the young, Islam was politics. "There is a lot of hatred" because of Iraq, Kosovo and Kashmir, Ejaz said. If the mosque makes subjects like that taboo, if their doors are closed, he said, young people are going to go somewhere else.

In Beeston and across Britain, that is exactly what they are doing, which is why Prime Minister Tony Blair's call for mosques to preach against extremism may be an exercise in futility.

Educated children of Muslim immigrants are finding their way to an extreme form of Islam spreading not through mosques but through Islamic bookshops, the Internet and university societies, said Roger Ballard, an anthropologist in Manchester who specializes in Pakistani Muslims in Britain.

The form is called Salafism. It originated in the Arabian peninsula in the 19th century, and has helped inspire groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida. The Salafi demand for purity and rejection of any Islam except that of the early years can lead to deep intolerance even for fellow Muslims like Shiites.

Salafis see politics as embedded in the DNA of Islam. They take to heart the injunction that the ummah -- the global community of Muslims -- is "like one body": if one part is suffering, the rest will be in pain as well. They believe, therefore, in an obligation to physical jihad, or struggle, under the right conditions. For educated young European Muslims who learned nothing of their own history in school, Salafism is a natural fit, Ballard said. It provides unequivocal answers. And, he said, it is largely "do it yourself."

In Beeston, the young men did do it themselves. After they left the mosques they gravitated to the Iqra Learning Center, the bookshop Jaheer and friends founded in 2000. Here, they were free of their elders and their old ways. They studied, debated and produced literature and videos, set up computers, all of it with an agenda that was political as much as religious.

Their effort to create an Islamic identity in young British Muslims has been fueled by the belief that the West is waging a war not against terrorism, but against Islam, a notion powerfully strengthened by the invasion of Iraq.

This notion has become a recurring motif in the materials circulated by Islamic bookshops like Iqra. CDs produced and distributed by Iqra juxtapose images from the Crusades with horrifying images of war-mutilated Muslim babies. They superimpose a cross dripping blood over Iraq and Afghanistan. At the end of the video are images of what McDaid called "mujahedeen," Muslim soldiers fighting back in an array of conflicts, but he insisted those images were not on the copies given away.

Under new laws Britain is weighing against "indirect incitement" to terrorism, all of the material on the CDs could become illegal. To the young men here, that is perplexing and wrong.

In his corner shop, Ejaz Hussain, whose Islam his children rejected as too liberal, opens the newspaper and sees a report, pushed inside by more reports about the London bombers, about 25,000 civilian dead in Iraq in two years.

"People keep asking what was in their heads," he said quietly.

Hussain changed worlds by coming to Britain, and now the world he made there has been irrevocably changed by its youth.