Zaid Hassan's response to the London bombings

Our friend Zaid Hassan – one of the folks behind the Pioneers of Change social entrepreneurship project – posts his reflections as a Londoner and a Muslim on the July 7th bombings:

At the mosque this afternoon there were two police-women standing outside, in fluorescent bright yellow-jackets. One was quite old. I couldn’t help but think “police-women? That’s quite odd. I wonder what that means?” The mullah reminded us that it was for our own good and we should be respectful. I saw a young man talking to them. Later on in the local donar kebab place a young laughing Somali boy put his friend in a head-lock, yelling “you’re under arrest!” White people look on blankly.

Zaid raises the difficult quesion, “Why is no one talking about the cause of the London attacks?”

Why is no one talking about injustice? Surely it’s obvious? Surely we all know that the prime cause of terrorism, of such acts is injustice? Surely we know that if terrorism is madness then it’s a madness caused squarely by being a victim of forces beyond comprehension? By being on the receiving end of an intolerable amount of injustice? Of having no tears left, of being drained of empathy.

I search around me in vain for empathy. I can see courage, bravery, bluster, pain, fear, sadness, but no empathy. No empathy and no justice.


  • Gabe

    No Zaid, I noticed that. But maybe there’s something you didn’t notice about my question. My point is not that you’re disconnected from the bombing, that you’re not a stakeholder in London. I agree that your home was bombed, and I accept that this is a source a distress for you.

    But please answer my question. If instead your mosque that was bombed Thursday, would you ask that everyone consider the injustice that the bombers perceive? Because surely they would perceive of an injustice. Most bombers do. Like the IRA, ETA, and Tim McVeigh.

  • Last year in April I was on Robben Island here in South Africa with an amazing group of people, many of whom had been involved in the Forgiveness Project. People who had lost their entire family in Rwanda, Northern Irishmen who had bombed and killed from both sides, a woman whose village had been obliterated in Cambodia, the brother of a 9-11 victim, and of course a number from all sides who had lost limbs and relatives during the apartheid era. There was a capacity for empathy. The focus was on “healing of memories” through story-telling, and on restorative justice – justice not through punishment and “an eye for an eye”, but through bringing victims and perpetrators together and through attempts by the perpretrators to restore what had been lost.

    One of the many stories I remember is that a woman from the States had had as her first though on 9-11 “Some of us have done a terrible thing today”. What does it take for us to be able to think “some of us”? I don’t know if you like that question but for me it is a useful one.

    I live in South Africa, but I am from Denmark and Friday is the first day that I read of a threat of a terrorist attack on Denmark which has always seen itself as a non-violent and responsible player in the global arena. Our government is changing, and they decided to participate in the Iraq war. I had a conversation with my husband yesterday about how this is the globalisation of war – you can no longer restrict it to a small territory when you choose to engage in this kind of war. I hope it doesn’t happen in Denmark, but I take the risk seriously and I think it’s only realistic to be aware that if it does happen, it is happening as a result of my country’s engagement in Iraq. I don’t think it is a direct result purely of Denmark’s actions and not of the terrorists’ actions, but my brain is also incapable of seeing a world in which the terrorists actions are a single cause resulting in this effect. I’ve seen enough to know that that kind of linear thinking doesn’t serve us.

    I don’t read Zaid as condoning the violence or discouraging people from using non-violent approaches. He himself is choosing the pen over the weapon, and sharing his honest feelings here. Further, he’s encouraging us to have a conversation the mainstream news isn’t having – around the causes. What do you think are the causes, if not victimhood?

  • Mike

    You said “Asking the weaker side to exercise restraint is unrealistic”. Tell that to Mahatma Ghandi. Tell that to Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Negotiating a peace with people who recruit children or the mentally handicapped (amongst others) to be suicide bombers is the unrealistic fantasy.

    Thanks for your comments!

  • Zaid Hassan

    Gabe. The answer to your question is, yes, of course I would.

  • Tim

    I am naturally saddend by the bomb attacks on London. Zaid is right though in that we have
    made enemies amongst Islamic extremists, there will be a reason for this and we should
    understand that reason. That is not to say we will agree with the terrorists or sympathise
    with them, as our views may be so far removed that we cannot reconcile them.
    However we should at least understand why we are enemies. Simply saying that the terrorists
    oppose are evil and oppose freedom and truth is too simple an explanation and the issues
    should be better understood.

  • Gabe

    So it’s the morning after the mosque bombing. Inside the mosque men are scraping flesh from the walls and mopping blood from the floors. Surgeons at the hospital are removing nails or metal pellets from the bodies of the survivors. The same morning, you’ll speak up, publicly, and say “What about the injustice?”, the injustice, that is, waged by the bombing victims. Well, you said you would, so I’ll take your word for it.

    Of course I think that would be a mistake, a very real invitation for more bombings, a subtle legitimization of the bombings.

    Frankly, I do agree it behooves a society to examine the motivations of terrorists, but in a measured way that doesn’t reward, encourage, and legitimatize the slaughter, and I feel this response would fail that test, miserably so.

  • Faith

    I am someone of both British and Irish origin. My mother is Catholic, my father is protestant. Like many people in this country, I have a mixed heritage and I am proud of all the parts that make up who I am. I accept that the British have behaved terribly towards the Irish in the past, and I am proud that some of my ancestors were freedom fighters in that country…BUT I will not, can not, condone the IRA murders of innocent bystanders. There is no way that the actions of the IRA can ever be justified. Being proud of my heritage does not mean supporting the acts of mindless violence brought upon this country by fellow Irish citizens.
    In the same way, Muslims should always be proud of who they are and where they came from. Proud of their ancestry, and sad at the injustices that have been levelled against them. But the only way to move forward is together – with an understanding and respect for each other. Nobody should have to choose between being a Muslim and being British. If you live and work in this country, you are both.
    The people who died last Thursday came from all religions, all nationalities, all backgrounds. I was born and bred in London, and feel proud to count amongst my friends people of every colour, religion and ancestry. That is London. It’s a mixed environment, and mainly a harmonious environment. And I love it.
    There will always be acts of injustice in this world, but these will never be a legitimate basis for the random and vicious murders of innocents.

  • I have to agree with the sentiments expressed in Zaid Hassan’s article. Terrorism, the use of terror, is a tool used by people who have no hope left in the world, or in fellow humans. I agree that it is right to condemn, it is right to denounce this kind of violence, any kind of violence, but is it not also just as right to pledge an end to it?
    I can understand the voices calling for revenge, retribution, payback, but don’t people think that kind of reaction, that kind of immediate response results in a foolish spiral toward a bloodier future?
    All I’m saying is that stepping back from the violence and asking the pertinent questions is a better solution toward justice than another war, another bombing attack in a presumed enemy’s country. All that does is prolong the hatred. Extend the losses.
    Living in the US in this climate of fear and retribution has shown me that we haven’t made any progress to finding a true solution to ending these bombing raids. But I believe that understanding the causes and motivations of the other side would go a longer way to proving to these people that the west is not the enemy.

  • Zaid Hassan

    Gabe, I hear you and I would suggest that there are limits to what we can learn from your hypothetical scenario. I am not condoning murder – subtle or otherwise.

    You have constructed an artificial response that is far removed from the real workd. I would speak out, but I hope, with a degree of sensitivity to the victims and also with a feel for what would work regarding timing. By that I mean it would be rather stupid to go up to anyone who has suffered a personal loss and offer them analysis or advice as to why they have suffered a loss. I ask the question of why in my article to a broader audience – you and me – not to those who are still struggling with their grief.

    If people hear the question “why” as a signal that murder is acceptable then they are simply wrong and I have communicated poorly. I will point that out as many times as necessary.

    I don’t think asking why, in any situation, is a mistake. It’s certainly not an invitation to more bombings when compared to the rhetoric post-9-11 or even last week in London.

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