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Changing approaches to terror in Birmingham

This is a guest post by Brummie

This week’s convictions of plotters who wished to replicate the murder of Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg in a Birmingham suburb are a turning point.

The West Midlands have long been a centre for jihadist activity. As far back as 1999 a student at Birmingham University made an appearance on a jihadist propaganda video. Other West Midlands exports have reached terrorist training camps. One of the failed July 21st bombers fled to the Small Heath area of Birmingham; the same area currently confronting the realisation that people within their community have pleaded guilty to an attempt to murder a fellow Muslim.

Recent past history at opposing Islamist violence has not been reassuring, with so-called community leaders being less than helpful. Dr Mohammed Naseem, Chairman of Birmingham’s Central Mosque, was less than convinced that the July 2005 London bombings were carried out by Muslims, saying “We are in the 21st Century. The cows can be made to look as dancing, the horses can speak like humans, so these things can be doctored or can be produced.” His mosque has also invited talks from 911 truthers, which is not unsurprising given his own views on 911.

At the time of the arrests of the beheading plotters, Dr Mohammed was quick to point out that this was symptomatic of the UK’s slide into a Nazi-style Police State. This latter observation was surprising, given that the very same Police force was also responsible for referring the Channel 4 Dispatches Programme Undercover Mosque (largely concerned with Green Lane Mosque in Small Heath) to OFCOM a few months later on the grounds it had misrepresented extremist preachers. The assistant chief constable of the West Midlands Police, Anil Patani, wrote in a letter to Channel 4: ‘It is clear that Undercover Mosque had an impact in the community and the cohesion within it.’ The West Midlands Police seem make strenuous efforts to support community cohesion, unlike the SS, although OFCOM did find their complaints less than convincing.

However, the times are a-changing! Dr Mohammed Naseem has apparently accepted that those who were convicted in the beheading plot should be punished. This plot was apparently not planned by MI5, or the CIA. Condemned by their own mouths, the beheading plotters have done the apparently impossible and made Dr Naseem confront reality.

A BIRMINGHAM mosque leader today vowed to pay a prison visit to the fanatics jailed over a plot to kidnap and behead a British Muslim soldier. Dr Mohammed Naseem, chairman of Birmingham’s Central Mosque, said he wants to meet the five men behind bars “to tap into their minds”. He accepted that they deserved to punished, but remained unrepentant in his criticism of the way police arrested them and insisted the local Muslim community “still lives in fear” since the swoops. But police chiefs said their actions had been justified and vindicated.

Dr Naseem said: “I want to see the men in jail so I can try to understand why they wanted to do such an appalling thing.”I want to tap into their minds, to try to read and understand them. “We need to know why and how people get involved in such extremism so we can prevent this happening and prevent others from getting sucked in.”

I am told that Dr Naseem is not alone, and that there is a change occurring in views on extremism in Birmingham. The guilty pleas in particular have affected opinion. Of course, the conversion is not complete. Dr Naseem told The Birmingham Post on Tuesday this week that he would react in the same way to any future arrests, saying “We are on the same side as the police, but they will always arrest members of the community on suspicion before talking to us.”

Quite why Dr Naseem feels he should be tipped off to future arrests is not clear. It would be a shame if he was suggesting that areas of Birmingham are no-go areas for the Police.

Elected politicians in the City also continue to spread unhelp memes. A local Council member has spouted the old grievance argument for terrorist activity. Similarly, Clare Short argued, in The Birmingham Post while discussing the recent flawed Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) report in an article called “No foolish rhetoric should divide us and drive us to extremism”, that:

I thought that the powers-that-be had learned that the way to defeat terrorism is to deal with the original problem with justice. And thus we now have peace in Northern Ireland. While working to find a just solution, we should seek to keep our people united by respecting the best of our history and institutions. And thus we must stand together on a commitment to the rule of law, to fair trials for all and to respect for people of different origins and religions that make up the populations of all the major cities of the UK.

Many non-Muslims in Birmingham are deeply angry that Blair followed Bush into a dishonest attack on Iraq that has brought terrible suffering to the people of that country. Many Muslims and non-Muslims worry that the approach to Afghanistan is flawed and they would prefer to see blue-hatted UN troops rather than Nato deployed in Afghanistan and would prefer to encourage negotiation with all but the most intransigent resistance in Helmand province rather than widespread bombing that turns peaceful village people into enemies of Nato forces.

It is probably a majority of the population of Birmingham who believe the oppression and suffering of the Palestinian people is deeply unjust and unbearable and would like Britain and the EU to stand up for a just solution.

Thus we should say loud and clear to the old dodderers in RUSI that we stand together for justice and against violent attacks on innocent people and will not allow their foolish rhetoric to divide us and risk marginalising unstable people and driving them into the hands of extremists.

Still, despite these attempts to avoid the real issue, Dr Naseem’s apparent conversion from a conspiracy theorist should be welcomed, especially if it is linked to wider changes in perception.