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memri
September 22, 2006 No.
1294

Saudi Historian: Racial Discrimination is a Main Reason for the Extremism of Muslim Youth in Britain

On August 15, 2006, the Saudi online daily Al-Iqtisadiyya published an article by Saudi historian and university lecturer Dr. Hatoon Al-Fassi, titled "British Muslims Between Two Identities and Interests." In her article, Dr. Al-Fassi stated that racial discrimination is one of the main reasons for the extremism of Muslims in Britain. She also gives examples of provocation of the Muslim public by the British police that took place during the 1990s. [1] Dr. Al-Fassi concluded that the responsibility for the extremism of Muslim youth in Britain is shared. It is caused, on the one hand, by the discrimination from which they suffer and the hostility of the police towards them, and on the other, by the extremist ideology which reaches them in the form of inciting pamphlets and fatwas.

In another article on Muslim extremism in Britain, published one week later, Dr. Al-Fassi focused on extremism amongst Muslim students on British university campuses, as manifested in religious sermons that contained messages of xenophobia and discrimination against women, and also in extremist fatwas being circulated among the Muslim students. [2]

The following is a translation of excerpts of Dr. Al-Fassi's first article:

The Third Generation [of Immigrants] Began "To Be Aware... of the Racist Discrimination They Were Suffering"

"The arrest last week of 24 Muslim Britons of Asian descent, who were accused of attempting to blow up 10 passenger airplanes en route from Britain to the U.S., sparked in me memories from the period of my doctorate studies in the late 1990s in Manchester - one of the most important centers of the Muslim communities in Britain, particularly of Muslims of Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, and Afghan descent, called 'Asian' or 'South Asian.' [During this time] I was witness to some phenomena that I expected would lead to extremism of one kind or another, sooner or later. [These phenomena] occurred at the same time as, and sometimes strongly competed with, heartwarming expressions of moderate Islamic awakening.

"The Asian Muslim community in Manchester is considered to be one of the biggest communities created with the revolution of the textile industry. Manchester was a pioneer of the textile industry in the early 20th century, and because of this industry, several communities of workers from the British colonies formed in Manchester: from the Indian subcontinent, from Africa, and from Ireland. The workers' districts in northern Manchester were known for their extremely difficult living conditions and surroundings. This environment was suitable for the emergence of socialist and communist revolutionary movements advocating the rights of workers and the improvement of their living conditions...

"[It was] under these circumstances that the Muslim community tried to find a foothold for itself. The first generations [of Muslim immigrants] were known for their attempts to adapt to their new situation, and to gain material achievements to compensate for the losses caused to their homeland under the pressure of the imperialists. They did not devote much attention to cultural or religious disputes [with British society]; their main concern was to preserve their customs and their religion within their extremely restricted private environment.

"But in the third generation [of immigrants], there began to appear more complex problems connected to identity, independence, search of self, and the attempt to differentiate the self from the motherland while preserving the new identity that had formed for this group of European Muslim youth. Yet with the beginning of their awareness of themselves and of their rights, [the British Muslims] began also to be aware, on the one hand, of the expansion of the Muslim world, of its problems, and of their belonging to this new space, and [on the other hand] of the racial discrimination that they were suffering based on their religion and their origin, which their parents and grandparents had not dealt with...

"Adding to the anger about this discrimination in Britain was the increase in the unemployment rate among the Asian Muslims, and their difficult living conditions... as well as their seclusion in the so-called Muslim ghetto in certain cities such as Manchester, Bradford, Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham, Luton, and other cities..."

Islamic Holiday Gatherings "Caused Frightening Tension Among the English, and Caused the Police to Place Their Forces on Maximum Alert"

"The time of the Islamic holidays, particularly 'Eid Al-Fitr, were the main opportunities for hundreds of young men and women from the various British cities to come celebrate [together] in Manchester, and they gathered in the Rusholme area, known as 'Curry Mile' for its Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants... These were opportunities to celebrate, that began with the morning holiday prayers held in big tents erected for the purpose in one of the big public parks... The young men and women, and the children, were seen in their brilliantly colored traditional clothing, embroidered with threads of gold and silver, going from place to place, and every time we passed a group of people we blessed them with the holiday blessing and they blessed us in return...

"These holiday gatherings caused frightening tension among the English, and caused the police to place their forces on maximum alert - to the point where they erected barricades at both ends of the neighborhood,... with their dogs waiting in the [police] cars.

"One year, I witnessed a provocation by the police that developed into a brawl in which a car was burned. [The police] intervened with their dogs that chased us and hundreds of people who were passing by, and this aroused fear in the hearts of all and spoiled the festive atmosphere...

"The festivities held in an unorganized and spontaneous fashion in Rusholme were not characterized by violence of any kind. But there is no doubt that the sight of police moving amongst us with their pistols (or so it seemed to me), their billyclubs, and their dogs constituted a provocation to the sensibilities of the Asian youth - who viewed this as violation of their religious freedom and of their freedom to celebrate their holidays...

"[We have also recently heard] of a British youth of Asian descent whom the [Manchester] Police attacked last year with blows, for no reason, and took out one of his eyes. A number of complaints were filed against the police, in which [the police officers] were found guilty. This prompted the Manchester Police to be more careful, but did not stop it from being apprehensive of these gatherings. At the same time, the affair made young Muslims more sensitive towards all kinds of provocation."

Extremist Ideology and Fatwas are Another Reason for Extremism Among Muslim Youth

"All of this prompted me to explain some of the background for the tense relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in British society, which push [the Muslims] to extremism. This extremism has ample causes both in the circumstances [of Muslim life in Britian] and in the ideology which constantly reaches [the Muslims] in free pamphlets. [These pamphlets] disseminate fatwas that have no connection whatsoever with the tolerant [nature] of Islam or with the circumstances of the Muslims in Europe, as well as communiqués of an un-Islamic nature that complicate their lives and put them under constant psychological pressure, [making them feel] guilty for every action, every glance, and every word.

"This means that the responsibility for the extremism of the [Muslim] youth is shared - an issue I will discuss in detail in a coming article."


[1] http://www.aleqtisadiah.com/article.php?do=show&id=2912, August 15, 2006.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1274 "Saudi Historian: Muslim Student Organizations in U.K. are Rife With Extremism, Xenophobia, and Discrimination Against Women," August 31, 2006,

Saudi Historian: Muslim Student Organizations in U.K. are Rife With Extremism, Xenophobia, and Discrimination Against Women.