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.

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