There has been another issue that has made it tempting for me to stay hidden under the duvet over the last few days. That would have been an attempt to avoid the “Luton and extremism” headlines that have been all across the media since the discovery that the suicide bomber who died in the attack in Stockholm in Sweden on Saturday had spent the last ten years living in the town. (BBC news report here.)
From the reports it seems there is little doubt that the bomber, Taimour Al Abdally, who was born in Iraq, grew up in Sweden, and moved to Luton to study at our local university in 2001, was radicalised during the time he spent living in the town. How directly connected with that radicalisation Luton was remains to be seen. However, coming on top of the news that the controversial American pastor, Terry Jones, who this year threatened to burn copies of the Koran, was planning to attend a rally in Luton organised by the English Defence League in February, it meant that yet again Luton was associated in the public mind with extremism.
This is all very frustrating as this not a picture of the town that most Luton residents recognise. Generally speaking people in the town do get on well with each other. We do not have a deeply divided and polarised community. The voluntary sector, the council, and others work really hard to bring people together, often with great success. For example, it was only a couple of weeks ago I was attending a community event in my ward where a large group of residents had come together to make decision about their local area. This group included elderly white working class people, some young Asian Muslim women, police and community support officers, volunteers from one of our Afro-Caribbean youth groups, and council workers all pitching in and working together.
In my experience the majority of Luton’s muslims are decent, moderate and sensible people. As are the majority of people of other faiths and no faith. It was noticeable how all the news report did mention how Al Abdally was actively confronted about his extreme views by people at the Luton mosque he attended.
I rather liked the comment made by Sarah Allen, one of Luton Council’s officers, in today’s article in The Economist that “Apparently we’re sitting at the epicentre of the world clash of civilisations. I don’t see that.” I don’t see it either.
Yet I worry about falling into the trap of denying a difficult reality. I want to take the view that the actions of one individual shouldn’t tar the town with an extremist brush. The claim that Luton is a “hotbed of terrorism” as the Daily Mail, who else, put it, is a nonsense. Yet, as well as seeing examples of good community cohesion, I have myself seen the evidence that extremism isn’t confined to a few isolated individuals. We have a large, and young, Muslim population and a proportion of them hold extreme views. They are a minority. But how large is that minority? How big is the problem and are we tackling it appropriately?
The answers to these questions is something that I feel I need to think more about. Although, I do know that it is a very real tragedy that since Saturday two Luton children are without a father.
- From The Economist: “Extremism in Luton: What went wrong”
- The Independent: “Bomber ‘stormed out’ of UK mosque”
- The Guardian: “The ‘bubbly’ Luton radical who became a suicide bomber in Sweden”
This content was originally posted on my old Strange Thoughts blog.