From the horse's mouth

When I first joined my current company, I had a co-worker -- who has since moved on to another job -- who I'll call M. M is a muslim, and from what I've learned, prior to the September 11th attacks, M was fairly relaxed about his faith. After the attacks, he became much more serious about it, attending mosque regularly and, most noticeably, cultivating a large and luxuriant beard -- provoking a certain amount of good-natured teasing that "he's the one in the corner who looks like a terrorist".

From what I've heard, this pattern of increased attention to faith, and increasingly visible faith, was fairly common for young British muslims after 2001. M and I still keep in touch occasionally, so following July 7th we started talking about the attacks via email. I thought I'd give you guys a snippet of the conversation, which I think is very illuminating, coming as it does from somebody who is not a community leader, a cleric, or anyone else who has a vested interest in painting a rosy picture of religious relations in the UK.

This text has been trimmed of various bits at the beginning and ends, but is otherwise unedited. I will let his choice of words and phrasing pass without the filter of my interpretation, as this is such a sensitive topic.

I wrote:

So, I'm sure you're tired of people asking you carefully-phrased questions recently, but since I used to sit across the desk from you and call you a terrorist, I think you can expect less tact from me...

Do you think there's a large number of British Muslims who are angry enough and radicalized enough to think Thursday was a good idea, or justified in some way? In short: are there more where the bombers came from, or were they just isolated crazies?

He wrote:

Whether there are enough British Muslims angry enough - Big Yes. I guess that also goes for non muslims judging my the turnout for the anti-war march. Now whether these muslims are radicalized enough to commit murder - I have no idea. From all the muslims I know - they wouldn't even think about it.

I think these guys are brainwashed big time. Technically speaking they are not even Muslims - because suicide is completely forbidden - even if you kill soldiers. Suicide is basically a one way ticket to hell in Islam period.

Whether it happens again or not - I'm guessing it will.

Whatever happens from now on - remember what I told you, suicide and killing innocent people is completely NOT allowed - anytime, anywhere.

These guys are in hell now.

I wrote:

I'm well aware that their actions are incompatible with Islam, but it's reassuring to hear it so vehemently stated. And good point about the anti-war march. It's terrible to think that there are so many so angry, though.

Again, I feel like I'm asking you as if you could somehow speak for all Muslims, which I know isn't true, in the same way that people ask me questions about gay people as if we all think alike and feel the same way about everything. But given that caveat, from what you know of those who are angry, what is it that they're angry about? Iraq specifically? Israel vs. Palestine? The general situation in the middle east? All of the above? What would make them less angry, in your opinion? Is there some big, obvious move that would help this situation that nobody is making -- like pulling out of Iraq, say?

He wrote:

(in order of importance)

1) Palestine/Israel problem - US gives billions of $ + weapons to Israel who have killed thousands of innocent palestinians who want their land back. According to UN what Israel are doing is illegal btu no one gives a shit in the west.

2) Kashmir problem - thousands of muslims getting killed by India in Kashmir but no on gives a shit in the west.

3) War on Iraq - if they wanted to get Saddam why not send in the SAS to smoke him out rather than kill 100,000* civilians. Speaking of regime change why not do Zimbabwe next who kill and torture just as much?

* you never really hear about this figure in the media do you?

4) Bosnia - 9000 Muslims got massacred while the whole world watched.

5) Terminology - what's the difference between a US/Israel army officer killing a 10 year old muslim boy point blank range and a suicide bomber killing a innocent 10 year old israeli boy? Nothing, but one of them is called a "Terrorist" while the other isn't.

6) Hypocrisy - US have killed millions around the world - vietnam, cuba, iraq, japan, etc yet they are made to look like honorable

So for those of you who are wondering, after July 7th, what it is that could make people so angry, don't get brainwashed by glib rhetoric about "evil hates freedom" and "they hate our way of life". These guys are angry at stuff we did to them -- Kashmir in particular can be blamed pretty squarely on Britain -- and although their methods remain abhorrent, their anger cannot be painted as unjustified.

Update 2005-07-18: M informs me that what I've heard from other co-workers is incorrect, and that he actually became increasingly interested in Islam well after 9-11; more like 2003. Nevertheless, the general pattern in British muslims still exists.