The news that the deadly bombings of three subway trains and a bus in London on July 7 were likely the work of four British Muslims is a nightmare for the Muslim community. They're putting British Muslims under examination as never before, as Britons of all kinds try to figure out how anyone could commit such acts.
It is true that many of Britain's 1.6 million Muslims live in a world of relative economic deprivation, isolated from the rest of British society. Such conditions more often lead to a life of petty crime than radicalism, say sociologists. But with Muslims underrepresented in politics and with few role models in wider British society to follow, some young Muslims are doubtless alienated. At a time when overall British unemployment has been the lowest in decades at about 5%, joblessness among Muslims still approaches 15%, according to the Office of National Statistics. The rate among Muslim youths is 22%. British Muslims also rank at the bottom of the tables in school degrees, quality of housing, and other indicators.
But the statistics don't capture the other end of the Muslim experience: the increasing success many have had in business, which establishes them in the mainstream of British economic and social life.
Some Muslims hold top financial jobs in the City of London, while others cater to local needs in gritty neighborhoods. Amjad Pervez owns a food services company with 70 employees in Bradford, a small city near Leeds, the apparent hometown of the bombers. Pervez, who emigrated from Pakistan in 1969, supplies fish and chips shops around the northwest. Today, he worries about his vans being torched and his employees being beaten up by xenophobes bent on avenging the London attacks.
Yet such concerns aren't even on the radar screen for Zameer Mohammed Choudrey, Global Chief Executive of Bestway Group, a $3.3 billion London wholesaler, which supplies corner stores with everything from chocolate bars to toilet paper. "We don't think we have been helped or hurt by being Muslims," says Choudrey. "I don't recall anyone asking me about religion. That is how insignificant it is."
Indeed, many Muslims are moving up the economic ladder. Azad Kanani, 46, a partner in Bloomsbury accounting firm Blinkhorns, says being a Muslim has never been an obstacle for him professionally and is fading as a factor for others. A generation or two ago, the Muslim community "was restricted to corner shops and so forth," he says. "Now you see a lot of Muslim boys and girls becoming professionals."
Like others in their community, Muslim business owners recoil at the thought of Muslims committing the murders. "I am appalled that someone could do something like this to themselves and innocent people," says Pervez, who says "mindtwisters" lurk on the fringes of Friday prayers at some mosques, ready to recruit. Even Muslims who make it to university aren't always safe from such enticements. "They are alienated: They don't know how to socialize," says Pervez.
Can Muslim business help solve the problem? In Bradford -- which was rocked by ugly race riots in 2001 -- and other parts of West Yorkshire, a group, Asian Trade Links, organizes mentoring programs and internships for youths. "They get to meet people who are successful and [we hope they'll] aspire to be like them," says Arshad Javed, who owns Shabab Restaurants, a catering business in the area.
The Muslim Council of Britain, a London organization, has been meeting with industry and government officials to find solutions to the unemployment problem. "It is trying to do a lot," says Kanani, an active member. "But it could do with more resources." Resources are badly needed for a fight that must be won.
By Stanley Reed in London