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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 August 2005, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
'Bin Laden is seen as a hero'
Voices of Muslim youth
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs

Dawood Gustave
Dawood Gustave: Man with a mission
In the second of a series on what young Muslims really think, the BBC talks to a youth worker who has worked in some of the poorest communities in the UK - and finds out why he thinks society doesn't realise what is happening.

Ask Dawood Gustave what the average 'angry young Muslim man' thinks and he will say this:

He probably doesn't support him, but the angry young Muslim man reckons Osama Bin Laden is a bit of a hero. He's a rebel, they tell him, giving the finger to the world's most powerful nations.

And Dawood is perhaps in a good position to relay this message.

Dawood spent too many of his formative years getting into trouble on the streets of south London - putting up that proverbial finger to authority.

I'm an example of the fluidity of identity - we shouldn't dictate to young Muslims that they have to either be 'British or Muslim'
Dawood Gustave

Written off by his teachers as 'just another black trouble-maker' from a poor Peckham estate, he believes society rubber-stamped him for a wasted life. And so he played up to that image.

But then he began thinking about it - and a long personal journey away from street gangs, through Marxism and black power politics led him to Islam and, thanks to the far-sighted financial support of benefactors, a degree from Oxford.

Today, as a man in his 30s, he is embarking on a career in the law.

But for the past year, he has walked the streets of Britain's poorest Muslim communities.

He has been doing the kind of youth work where those who have 'been there and done that', try to stop others doing the same themselves.

"I was a very angry black man before I was a Muslim," he tells me in his south London flat, surrounding by LPs from his DJ days, law textbooks and now the trappings of Islam - a prayer mat, Mecca poster and the Koran.

"The processes of alienation are the same. I don't see the way Muslims are treated as any different to how the Jewish and the Irish were treated before them.

"But being Muslim makes it more difficult for these kids to become fully part of society. There has always been this underlying 'otherness' [in the British psyche] about people from the East - and our treatment of Islam is very much part of that."

Dawood's work involves trips to mosques, schools, community groups and just simply reaching out on the streets.

He presents himself as a role model to "Rude Boy" Muslim kids, as he describes them, telling them that respect and standing comes from knowing yourself, an education and uniting against inequality.

'Two countries'

"I've been working with young Muslims and they're angry - really angry and nobody wants to talk about this," he says. "When you go up north and see the conditions, it's like two different countries - and they feel that."

Dawood Gustave
Some of them see Osama Bin Laden as a bit of a hero - they see the Palestinian suicide bombers as strong - it's not because terrorism is an Islamic thing, it's about defiance - giving the finger to the West and authority
Dawood says the alienation complex comes down to the lack of a cohesive and confident society.

There's generational alienation, he says, where kids go to mosques because that's what their community does - but they don't really fit in.

There's street alienation - particularly in London - where some of the poorest areas have seen a rise in gang culture based on ethnic lines.

And he says there is also alienation through the media's "trading of negative images of Islam".

"British teenagers are being told by their own media that their identity is worthless - well how do you think they will react?" he asks.

Crucially, he says, there are two key issues that need to be grasped. The first is deprivation.

"The biggest scar on my life was growing up poor in an affluent society," he says. "Not only are you alienated, but you are emasculated.

"If you then add into that you are a young Muslim on the outside [because you are made to feel like an outsider], feeling that since 9/11 you are a suspect in a police state, then your defiance might just reinforce the stereotype."

Foreign policy

The second is Muslim anger over foreign policy, driven by the inescapable fact that Islam is a trans-national religion.

Image of the 7 July bombers entering Luton rail station

"These kids are like black kids - they'd listen to [rapper] Tupac and so on because it's a mark of defiance.

"Now we've got a first world, second world and third world and that hurts Muslims. They're seeing double standards in treatment.

"So when I ask [young Muslims], some of them see Osama Bin Laden as a bit of a hero. They see the Palestinian suicide bombers as strong.

"It's not because terrorism is an Islamic thing, or that they want to see it happen. It's about defiance.

"Tupac is not enough anymore - it's about doing this to the powerful - giving the finger to the West and authority."

How many young Muslims are susceptible to radicalisation is impossible to say. Dawood compares the question to asking white people to work out how many of their own become violent far-right racist thugs.

Neither racists nor Islamist militants put up posters advertising for recruits.


But it doesn't have to all be bad news, says Dawood. All it takes, he argues, is a bit of thought from government.

"My whole life has been about trying to find social justice because I've lived my life as an outsider. And what I have seen tells me that we need to have a debate about what a multicultural society means - how do we make it cohesive?

"Look at me today. I'm an example of the fluidity of identity. I'm British, I'm black, I'm mixed race and I grew up poor. I saw it all on the streets, the violence, the drugs and the crime.

"I'm working class and I went to Oxford, I converted to Islam. Today it's my religion that keeps me on the straight and narrow - but all the rest is part of me too.

"I shouldn't have to choose - and I don't because I'm confident enough to be all of these things at once. We shouldn't dictate to young Muslims that they have to either be 'British or Muslim'."

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