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London Attack Stokes Tensions Over Race, Religion, Immigration

The attacker, Khalid Masood, was a Muslim convert, born and raised just outside London under the name Adrian Russell Elms and a father of three

A police officer lays flowers on Whitehall around a photograph of police officer Keith Palmer who was killed in the March 22 terror attack in Westminster, near the Houses of the Parliament in central London on March 23, 2017 (VOA)

London, March 25, 2017:  As police race to identify what motivated a 52-year-old British-born father to carry out Wednesday’s attack at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, a debate is simmering over issues of identity, religion and immigration — hot topics in the wake of the vote to leave the European Union.

With police and press helicopters still buzzing overhead, thousands of Londoners gathered Thursday night in Trafalgar Square to grieve for the victims but also to express determination that life in the city will carry on as normal.

Musharaf Ahmed was one of hundreds of Muslims attending the vigil.

“These attacks — they don’t have any space in Islam,” he said. “Islam teaches the opposite. Islam teaches peace. The meaning of Islam is peace.”

The attacker, Khalid Masood, was a Muslim convert, born and raised just outside London under the name Adrian Russell Elms.

Masood, a father of three, had previous convictions for violence but no history of terrorism.

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The Islamic State group claimed online that its propaganda inspired the attack. The head of the London Metropolitan Police Counterterrorism unit Mark Rowley said Friday major questions remain unanswered.

“What led him to radicalize?” he asked. “Was it through influences in our community, influences from overseas or through online propaganda?”

Those questions echo the same deep concerns in the wake of the London bombings in July 2005 also carried out by British citizens. Who is to blame? The state, or the community? Professor Lee Marsden of the University of East Anglia has studied motivating factors behind past terror incidents.

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“I think it’s very easy to try to apportion blame,” Marsden said. “But the reality is with lone-wolf attacks, or when people are below the radar, these type of events can occur.”

The Westminster attack came at a volatile moment. Populist, anti-immigrant groups are energized by Britain’s exit from the European Union. Within hours of the attack, leaders of the far right UK Independence Party blamed immigration, even though the attacker was born in the UK.

“Groups which are in mainstream political life, particularly on the right wing of political parties, will use this event to try to pursue an anti-immigrant agenda,” Marsden said.

“As we saw in Brexit,” he added, “a lot of the debate around immigration was not specifically around Eastern European immigration which is clearly the main result of the European Union, but actually an opportunity to attack ethnic minorities within the country.”

Hayyan Bhaba, an adviser to the government on extremism, said it is vital to break down the divisions in British society. Engaging in conversation “between a lot of the frustrated communities” and having a positive dialogue can lead to “common ground,” he added.

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Analysts say those divisions extend beyond Britain and across Europe as the continent struggles with issues of immigration and integration.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo drew a link Thursday between the London attack and European Union migrant policy, claiming the assault vindicated Warsaw’s refusal to take in refugees.


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Emergence of Radical Political Groups Raises Concern in Pakistan

Concerns are being voiced about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
  • Tension in Pakistan increasing due to emergence of Radical Political Groups.
  • Extremist groups are gaining a footing in Country’s politics.
  • According to reports, goverment’s efforts are not enough to stop the emerging radicalism in Pakistan.

Concerns are being voiced in Pakistan about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

Taj Haider, one of the prominent and founding members of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has been in power five times since 1970, told VOA the country is again seeing the trend of extremist groups camouflaging themselves to enter into politics.

“Religion and politics cannot go hand in hand, but unfortunately this is our new reality. We have seen the recent by-elections in Lahore and Peshawar where militant-turned-political parties were able to mobilize people and gather votes,” Haider said. “And these so-called new political parties, with proven terror records, look determined to contest the upcoming elections in 2018.”

In a recent high-level party meeting presided by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Pakistan’s slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the government was sharply criticized on its inability to forcefully implement the National Action Plan and bar proscribed groups from entering the political sphere.

The National Action Plan is a 20-point strategy devised to combat extremism in 2015 that clearly states no banned groups can operate in the country by changing their names or identity.

Analysts say many other political parties are also agitated and wary about the recent political dynamic that has allowed radicalized groups to enter the political arena.

“The government has repeatedly said it will not allow the hardliners to enter into politics, but the reality is different, these parties are going into masses,” Rasul Baksh Raees, a prominent analyst from Pakistan told VOA.

“As long as these proscribed groups stick to their extreme ideologies and violence, they will be a danger to the society and democracy itself.”

Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed, head of the Pakistani religious party. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

PPP’s acute criticism came as Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), inaugurated the office of his newly launched political party Milli Muslim League (MML) in the eastern city of Lahore.

Pakistan’s Election Commission rejected MML’s party registration application in October, citing its link to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a U.S. designated terror-sponsoring organization.

But MML looks determined to contest the upcoming state and provincial elections. The party has several offices, has launched a website, and has a social media team spreading its messages through Facebook and Twitter.

Pakistan’s government has repeatedly emphasized it will not tolerate any political party with a proven record of promoting violence and terrorism to use democracy and political means to spread their extreme ideologies.

But critics still say the government is not doing enough to stop radical groups from entering politics.

“Look what happened in Lahore’s recent by-election and who can forget the power show by extremists on the roads of Islamabad. The government was totally helpless,” Raees said.

During the Lahore election in September, a MML backed independent candidate secured the fourth position in the race. The by-election was also contested by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TeL), another extremist religious party created to carry-on Mumtaz Qadri’s mission, the bodyguard who killed Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer in 2011 after he had demanded reforms in the controversial blasphemy law. Mumtaz Qadri was later sentenced to death.

Islamic Extremists
Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party (VOA)

In November, thousands of followers of the Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labaik blocked Islamabad roads for weeks and demanded the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, after accusing him of blasphemy. The government eventually surrendered to hardliners’ demands after Pakistan’s military played the role of mediator.

The experts say the emerging trend of politicizing militancy is a danger to democracy. They also point out the sectarian and hardline rationale will further complicate the situation in the country that has been trying to combat terrorism for more than a decade.

“Imagine when these hardliners, through political parties, will spread their extreme views on the grassroots level. What will be the future of this country?” Raees said.

But some politicians dismiss the blending of radicalized groups into politics. Haider believes the people of Pakistan can differentiate between politicians and extremists and will not allow militant-turned-politicians to thrive.

“If you look at the past, the religious parties including the Jamaat-i-Islami [an old religious party], despite having a huge following, were never able to clean sweep or get majority in the electoral process of the country,” said Haider.

“Even now, with all these efforts, I believe Milli Muslim League or Tehreek-e-Labaik will not be able to pull large numbers during the general elections. Religious or sectarian votes are scattered in the country and can’t be unified and will not help these newly established political parties to win a prominent number of seats.” VOA