'Untold story of WW2 stirs Muslim youth pride
July 04, 2009
INGHAM (Reuters) - Taunted by racists as a Paki and terrorist, Haroon bin Khaled spent his teenaged years feeling rejected by mainstream Britain and increasingly drawn to Al-Qaeda extremism.
But the young Muslim of Pakistani descent found an unexpected answer to his alienation the day he heard the story of how Muslim soldiers, many from what is now Pakistan, fought and died alongside Britons against the Nazis in World War Two.
Almost at a stroke, the jobless young man with an unpromising future felt a sense of belonging. As he examined the facts, he began to shed his belief Britain despised him or that fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan was a worthwhile idea.
Truthfully, it touched me, said the former group member, now 21 and with a prison stretch for fraud behind him.
If that could be shown to other youths, it could make a big difference.
That difference could be better community relations, hurt in the years after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the US and especially after four young British Muslims allegedly carried out suicide bombings in London in July 2005, killing 52 people.
It could also help security by dissuading Muslim men from joining the Taliban war against Western forces in Afghanistan, or from taking part in attacks at home such as the London bombings or attacks in Madrid in 2004 that killed 191 people.
Bin Khaled is one of dozens of youths of Pakistani descent in the industrial second city of Birmingham to have attended a workshop by academic Jahan Mahmood that uses the Muslim role in the war to wean young men away from extremism and alienation. Another attendee was Sabeel Saddique, 19, who used to watch videos of Al-Qaeda beheadings on his mobile phone for kicks and still feels Britain does not fully accept him.
Ive always thought that we were on our own, the burly former group member said in an interview in the largely immigrant Sparkbrook district, a drab district renowned for drug dealing.
We used to think, 'Taliban - yeah We admired them, we just wanted to be like them because everyone was always on about 'Muslims are terrorists and it just used to make us angry.
Saddique said when New Yorks World Trade Centre was attacked we all thought it was cool ... But now I see it in a different way. Thats all just wrong. Its killing innocents.
He still opposes Western armed action in Muslim countries. But he says his sense of belonging to Britain and his distaste for Al-Qaeda is real and stems from Jahans lecture, which showed what our grandparents have done for the country. He just wishes white Britons knew that history as well.
The workshop tells how soldiers volunteered in the army of Britains then Indian colony and fought in north Africa and Italy. Indias army grew from 200,000 in 1939 to 2.5 million in 1945, with Muslims making up about a third of the numbers at any one time. Most Muslim recruits came from what is now Pakistan.
In all, 87,000 Indian army soldiers were killed in the war, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Young Muslims specially identify with Jahans finding that of the 122 deaths of soldiers under 18 in Italy, 90 were Muslim. Among them were three 15-year-olds - Amir Khan, from Attock, Gulab Khan, from Rawalpindi, and Mian Khan, from Kohat.
Meanwhile, US drone attacks and prisoner abuse are undermining efforts by close ally Britain to counter Al-Qaedas anti-Western message among its Muslim communities, an influential former Islamist ideologue said on Friday.
Maajid Nawaz, director of Britains Quilliam Foundation, which calls itself a counter-extremism think-tank, said Al-Qaeda influence in Britain had reached a plateau after a long period of growth born of past government neglect of extremist activity.
The brake on Al-Qaeda advances was made possible by a new awareness in Britain of the need to stand up to intolerant ideas among groups espousing purist Islamic rule, he told Reuters.
But the possibility of further gains by hardliners remained, due to anger at Western security practices such as attacks by US pilotless drone aircraft in Pakistan that have killed many civilians as well as insurgents, he said in an interview. Drones are really a problem, he said. And if we blur those lines with extraordinary rendition, torture, and the random and wanton destruction of homes and killing of civilians, it makes it much more difficult.
He added that this was also a problem for popular opinion in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a country with long links to Britain due to its past as a former colonial power.
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