Murtaza Shibli is someone I got to know when he was the press officer at the Muslim Council of Britain. Earlier this year he asked if I would contribute to a book he was planning, in which some British Muslims would write about what they were doing on 7 July 2005, how the immediate aftermath of the London bombings affected them, and their reflections five years later.
As well as contributing a chapter, I got inveigled into proofreading all of the other chapters, and generally helping Shibli pull the book together. He has personally financed its publication and will keep any sales revenue. I and the other authors and contributors have given our time and effort for free, because we believe that having British Muslims tell these stories will be good for them and for our country as a whole.
The leaflet "7/7 Muslim Perspectives" contains more details about the book, including my complete chapter and details of the other contributors along with excerpts from their chapters. Please feel free to share this leaflet as widely as you wish. Please note that the company website www.rabita.org.uk is not yet active.
The dedication and the text of my chapter are also imported below. At the bottom of the page is a link to the page for this book on Amazon.co.uk.
When so many people are murdered at one time, the mind is numbed. Each one left behind so many relatives and friends, whose lives will forever be affected by the sudden loss that they have suffered. While it can be painful to think about individual grief, focusing on a single victim can help one understand the enormity of the crime.
In 2008 I attended a memorial lecture, organised by Miriam Hyman's family. The trust that they created in her memory continues to help people today.
The greatest tribute that we can pay to the
deceased is to overcome the hatred and division that the killers sought to foment.
When I was asked what 7 July 2005 means to me, my first reaction was to step back and ask myself the question “Who am I?”
I was born in Pakistan but have lived in Manchester since I was less than two years old. I have no memories of Pakistan and have never set foot there since my migration. When President Bhutto pulled Pakistan out of the Commonwealth, I chose to become a British citizen rather than having my status in Britain change to ‘alien’. However somewhere in my personal files I still have an expired Pakistani passport (never used for actual travel anywhere) which I obtained when I was about 18, and I have never found any reason to renounce my Pakistani citizenship. By religion I am a Muslim and professionally a chartered accountant and a chartered tax adviser. On 7/7 I was a tax partner based at the Manchester office of PricewaterhouseCoopers but made regular business trips to London.
The day before, 6 July 2005, was a memorable day in its own right. That was the day that London was awarded the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games following outstanding lobbying by the British Olympic bid organising team aided by Prime Minister Tony Blair. I personally felt a massive sense of exultation at getting the Olympics which was shared by most of the country. Sadly the excitement was to be shattered the following day.
On Thursday 7 July I was working in my office in Manchester. After wandering around the building to see another tax partner, I was casually chatting with his secretary. She mentioned a mutual colleague who at times is somewhat accident prone! He was down in London and the secretary mentioned with some levity that our accident prone colleague had been unable to get to his meeting due to a power failure on the Underground!
Over the next hour or so the news gradually emerged that there had been a bomb and that some people had been killed. Then gradually the full enormity of the attacks emerged. My wife's family are from the London area and many of them work in central London, some near the area of the bombings. My elder daughter was a student at University College London. Accordingly for several hours my wife and my brothers and sisters in law were making frantic telephone calls to make contact with and account for all of our relatives. The task was made harder as the mobile phone system was jammed by hundreds of thousands of other people trying to do the same thing. Fortunately nobody in our family was injured or killed. However as I write this, tears fill my eyes thinking about the many other people who were similarly trying to call their loved ones only to be met initially by silence, followed by the dreadful horror of learning that their relatives and friends had been seriously injured or killed.
Our standard office hours ended at 1730 but I almost always worked later than that. However I had full discretion when I wanted to come and go, especially as I was a partner in the firm. I recall that I did not rush home from work immediately but worked quite late before going home to face the 24-hour television news channels. Exactly the same thing had happened on 11 September 2001, when by early evening the office was deserted but I was still working; subconsciously I preferred the comfortable environment of the office rather than watching the continuous horror on the television. I knew that once I got home I would be glued to the television screen.
My next memory is of the following Monday, 11 July, when I was due to attend an all-day PricewaterhouseCoopers training event in London. As always, I took the train from Manchester to London Euston. At London Euston the taxi queue seemed to be a mile long, stretching all the way back into the main station concourse, far longer than I have ever seen it. That didn't matter to me as I was already determined to take the Underground. My attitude was the very simple British one “I'll be damned before I let those bastards frighten me away from continuing my normal life by taking the Underground.” Despite this being the rush hour, the Underground train was pretty empty, although not completely deserted, as obviously many regular passengers had decided to avoid the risk of underground travel, evidenced also by the length of the taxi queue. I got to the training event on time. About an hour and a half later another partner from Manchester arrived, very late, despite having travelled from Manchester on time. He explained that his wife had only allowed him to attend the London training event on the express promise that he would not use the Underground; he had given up on the taxi queue and had walked all the way from Euston to the hotel where the training event was taking place.
The evening of the following day, 12 July, was bright and sunny and I was in Heaton Park in Manchester, the largest municipal park in the city. I was attending an event called ‘Saudi Arabian Days’ organised by the Saudi Embassy to showcase Saudi business and culture. It was a glittering occasion with no effort spared, including transporting camels to Manchester. At the event I had a long conversation with a Muslim member of the House of Lords and other leading members of the Muslim community. I think that very day the identity of the suicide bombers had finally been established and it was clear that they were not terrorists sent from abroad but home-grown British Muslims who wished to kill their countrymen. All of us recognised how terrible this was and the potential for a backlash against the British Muslim community.
Enormous praise is due to the Mayor of London at that time, Ken Livingstone, for the way that he pulled Londoners together to prevent the divisions that the killers obviously hoped to foment. Londoners of all religions came together to recognise their common humanity and great credit is due to Ken and to our national politicians of all parties who recognised the need for Britons to unite.
There is a saying that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and then as farce. Two weeks later on Thursday 21 July I was driving between meetings in Bradford and Blackburn. I stopped at the motorway services for lunch and as I did so was listening to the BBC Radio 4 news at 1300. This reported the failed bombings in London that day. While greatly relieved that nobody had been hurt, I had to smile at the ineptness of this particular gang of terrorists. Sadly the following day tragedy struck again with the catastrophe of the mistaken killing by the police of Jean Charles de Menezes.
Since then, there have been many other terrorist plots by Muslims. Fortunately, all have been successfully prevented by our security services, or like the attack on Glasgow airport, have failed. The consequences for the British Muslim community if these attacks had succeeded would have been terrible, as we would have seen an anti-Muslim backlash. Sadly that is one of the key goals of these terrorists, to divide British Muslims from other British citizens, and to cause us to tear our country apart, the way that some other countries have been nearly destroyed by internal strife. I do not want to see British Muslims being interned like the Japanese residents of the United States during World War II or being expelled. However nothing would please the terrorists more.
Stepping back and reflecting over the last five years, the following points come to mind. Some Muslims are in complete denial. They simply do not accept that the 7/7 bombings were carried out by Muslims. Instead they believe in conspiracy theories such as pinning the blame on the British government (to provide an excuse for government anti-Muslim policies) or pinning the blame on outfits like Mossad (since Mossad would like to blacken the image of Muslims). Sadly people are always ready to believe in conspiracies. They never go through the logical thought process of asking how many people inside the British security services and government would need to know about an official government plot to murder its own citizens, and the likelihood that every one of these people would remain silent.
Another sector of the community accept that the bombings were carried out by the individuals named, Mohammad Sidique Khan and others, but somehow don't regard them as Muslims. It is true that setting off bombs on the Underground is a very un-Islamic thing to do. However, if you had been able to observe the lifestyle of these individuals prior to 7 July 2005 you would have seen them reading the Qur’an regularly, praying regularly, fasting and doing everything else that you see Muslims do. Accordingly, in my view you have to accept that these people were Muslims by any objective measure. This applies even if your view theologically is that once they formed the intention to commit mass murder they had distanced themselves from God and turned away from everything that Islam stands for.
The most common thing I hear from the Muslim community is that the bombers did it because of our country's foreign policy, especially Britain's unbalanced support for Israel and our country's invasion of Iraq, which almost all British citizens now recognise to have been utterly misconceived. It is clearly true that those were the reasons why these people chose to kill, since they have told us that in their suicide videos. However, stopping the analysis at that point is seriously incomplete. There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of Britons who feel equally strongly about issues such as Palestine and Iraq who do not become suicide bombers. Almost all of the British Muslim community feels strongly about Palestine and Iraq but apart from a tiny minority of terrorists, British Muslims confine themselves to lawful opposition and political protest. What was different about the bombers?
Looking at the suicide videos, the bombers clearly believed that the bombings they were about to carry out would be a good deed in the eyes of God. It is clear to me that these individuals did not expect to go to hell as a consequence of their actions but instead expected to go to heaven. If they had believed that they were going to hell, they would not have carried out their actions. Many brave people are willing to give up their lives for their religious beliefs in order to serve God with the hope of entering paradise. However I cannot conceive of anyone who is religious wanting to promote a political cause on earth, if this means consciously defying God and consciously choosing to be cast into hell for all eternity.
I have laboured this point because many in the British Muslim community deny that the religious beliefs of the killers matter. I suspect that the people with this position think that if they accept that the killers were influenced by their religious beliefs, somehow this will reflect badly on Islam. Such a view is completely wrong; God's true religion cannot be tarnished by the crimes committed by a few (or even by many) Muslims. Islam’s truth cannot be tainted by human misconduct.
However, while there is no problem with Islam, there is a problem with some Muslims which we need to face up to. While I believe that if I were to kill a random collection of Londoners God would sentence me to hell for all eternity, there are some Muslims who think that such conduct would be a passport to heaven. Such people are dangerous because once they believe that God has given them permission to kill British citizens they will try to do it unless our country subordinates its policies to their view of the world. Today it is our foreign policy in any one of a number of places; tomorrow it will be our country's policy of allowing people to drink alcohol or to wear miniskirts.
What we need is a clear and consistent message from all Muslim leaders, repeated regularly, that killing other people except in self-defence or in a legally declared war is a crime against the law of God which will result in you being sent to hell. Only when this is accepted by all British Muslims will we be free from the threat of terrorist acts being committed by misguided Muslims.
As citizens, we also face dangers from other would-be terrorists such as homophobes, anti-Muslim bigots, Irish republicans and others. However, as I was asked to reflect upon 7/7, I have focused on the danger from those Muslims who are seriously misguided about Islam.
I occasionally think about how I might feel after discovering that one of my sons or daughters had become a terrorist. Apart from the shock, I think the overwhelming reaction would be one of guilt, to ask “Where did I go wrong; what did I fail to teach him or her?” Fortunately, my own children have been brought up in an atmosphere where they were encouraged to think independently, and show no signs of religious extremism. Nor have they encountered the problems I hear about from other Muslims such as repeated stop and search which can cause people to become less supportive of the police. The key vaccines against becoming a religiously motivated terrorist are a true understanding of one’s religion and real appreciation for our society and the way that it governs itself.