Best wishes

I signed up for the Google ad service, whereby ads supposedly related to the content of the blog get placed in the box over to the side of this page. Suddenly, after I posted my reactions to the London bombings and the apparent desperation of some British Muslim youth, I see a bunch of ads for "Muslim dating". That's a happy result of Google's algorithms! Hey, guys. Feeling lonely and unappreciated? Don't get a bomb. Get a date!


Fiction to grasp reality: British Muslim extremism

Yesterday I mentioned Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie, and I regret having omitted Hanif Kureishi, as fiction writers who can help us understand what happened last Thursday in London. The BBC has published portraits of three of the suspected (almost certain) bombers. And this report from Leeds by Dominic Casciani suggests some of the powerful factors that drive some Muslim youth to such extremist actions. One "young man, wearing traditional Pakistani dress and a beard," describes one reason why the parents, first-generation immigrants who presumably want their kids to stay of trouble, can't control them. "There's a language barrier - the kids speaking English, the elders not - and then there are huge cultural barriers. Some of the kids won't talk to the elders, they think it's too difficult."

And as Thursday's events confirm, a huge cultural barrier can grow between these youth -- as assimilated as they appear -- and the white majority around them, despite the many shared experiences and common language. The people of Britain, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, cannot begin to control this desperate tendency among those young people until they can imagine what their inner lives are like. No doubt there are social workers and psychologists in those communities (such as Leeds) who are able to imagine. For the rest of us, we must rely on the fiction writers such as Smith, Rushdie, Kureishi and their successors to provide us the elements for our own imagining.

For historical background on the militancy of British Muslims, see today's article by Roger Hardy, BBC Islamic Affairs analyst, UK multiculturalism under spotlight.


Home-grown fanatics & Zadie Smith

The discovery that the London bombers were four British-born lads of Pakistani heritage, radicalized in their own North England community, made me think immediately of Zadie Smith's angry young British Bangladeshi in White Teeth. The most serious action he undertakes is joining in a mass burning of a novel that neither he nor anyone he knows has read, but that he has been told insults Islam (that other novel isn't named, but the reference is clearly to Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, a wonderfully complex and comic book about cultural displacement of South Asians in Britain). Smith's treatment, like Rushdie's, is comic, but the dynamic toward terror is evident.


London bombings: a personal response

My apologies for the long silence while I was in Spain. Without a home computer (see earlier note on getting robbed in the Atocha train station on April 30) it just seemed too complicated to try to digitalize and post my thoughts, so I returned to my more ancient system, notebook and pen. If any of those handwritten notes from the past two months seem still worth sharing, I'll post them. Those that were on current events that are no longer current, I'll spare you.

I boarded the bus from Carboneras to Madrid last Tuesday evening at 8:30, and arrived at the Estación Sur in Madrid (a bus terminal connected to a metro stop) around 6: a.m. on Wednesday. There I got right onto the metro and, with one change of trains, got to the Barajas airport where I checked in and waited for a 3:25p.m. Iberia flight that got me to London Heathrow a little after 6 p.m. London time (7 p.m. Madrid time), and just barely caught the British Airways flight to JFK that got me in about 8:45 p.m., New York time. The next morning I learned about the London bombs on the tube and bus.

The images -- not of the blood, but of the setting -- were very familiar to me, and so were the accents of the people trying to comprehend what had happened. Usually on trips to Spain, we have used the London tube and a long bus ride to connect between Heathrow (for the NYC-London segment) and the smaller airport Stansted, clear across town and beyond, for cheap flights between London & Spain. And when we can, we like to walk around the center of the city itself. Also, over the past year we have made some dear friends among the English retirees and semi-retired living in and around Carboneras, but still strongly connected (through children and grandchildren and other associations) with the homeland. This massive attack thus seemed as close to me, almost, as the attack on the World Trade Center towers in 2001. (See my 5-day personal account, Attack on New York .)

Bravo to the brave Londoners, especially all the emergency medical and other personnel. We don't know precisely what the bombers had in mind (since we don't even know who they were), but it sure looks as though you Londoners are being made to pay a price for Tony Blair's mad-dog aggression in Iraq. Which, truth be told, has caused many times as many fatalities, mostly Iraqis, as the New York, Madrid and London attacks combined.

The New York 9/11 attack occurred long before Bush and Blair's attack on Iraq, proving that some Arab religious nuts had other grievances against our city. Still, I think the recent London bombing must be related to the images of destruction and death in Iraq, much of it caused by Arabs resisting the occupation but much more of it -- the destruction of Falluja, for example -- by the bombs and artillery of the U.S. and its allies. If, as seems almost certain, the London attack was organized in similar fashion to the attack on the Atocha train station in Madrid on 11 March 2004, the operatives were a pick-up team of local boys of Arab or other Muslim origin, knowledgeable of the local terrain and transport system and radicalized largely around the Iraq issue. (On the Madrid attack, see Casimiro García-Abadillo, 11-M. La venganza. Madrid, 2004; see also my op-ed column on the Spanish elections 3 days later, Historic Reversal: Bombs and Ballots in Spain).

Doesn't it seem odd that the people who bombed Baghdad and allowed its ancient treasures to be pillaged now claim to be defenders of civilization? Blair actually used that phrase right after the London attack.