Covering the "why" of terrorism

young british muslim First France. Now Great Britain. There are, of course, huge differences in the two stories. Great Britain seems to be dealing with genuine terrorists bent on mass murder while the French rioters were less terrorists and more gangs intent on creating havoc, and not necessarily death, in their neighborhoods.

Reporters are trying to answer that big question confronting the West: Why are young British Muslims, typically from south Asia, getting involved in terrorism? Here's the beginning of an answer from Sunday's Washington Post:

In one of Europe's largest Muslim communities, young men face a lack of jobs, poor educational achievement and discrimination in a highly class-oriented culture. Prime Minister Tony Blair is the most outspoken ally of President Bush, and their policies in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen by many Muslims as aimed at Islam.

Britain's long tradition of tolerance has made it an oasis for immigrants and political outcasts from around the world, with its large influx of Pakistanis and other Muslims leading to the nickname Londonistan. Especially during the 1980s and 1990s, Britain became the refuge of choice for scores of Islamic radicals who had been expelled or exiled from their home countries for their inflammatory sermons and speeches.

More than any other country in Europe, Britain is struggling to cope with a surge in recruits and supporters of radical Islamic networks, according to interviews with British Muslims, and European and British counterterrorism officials and analysts. Officials said the threat is growing much faster than British authorities had expected or planned for.

That's not a bad answer, but I believe it is incomplete. This idea that if you create the right social environment, where British values are esteemed, the class-oriented system is upended and young Muslims have ample job opportunities misses the larger issue.

What needs to be answered cannot be grasped in a handful of interviews.

Those reporting on this issue need to have a deep understanding of Islamic theology and history. There's too much happening too quickly for even the best journalist, sans a thorough background in Islam, to write adequately on the "why" of terrorism. Take, for instance, this excellent lead published in Monday's Los Angeles Times:

LONDON -- The featured speaker at the annual dinner of London Metropolitan University's Islamic Society thundered with fundamentalist zeal while warning of the rage spreading among young British Muslims.

College students should try to curb their "anger and frustration at injustices I see against myself and my Muslim brothers and sisters in this country and globally," said cleric Abu Aaliyah, according to an audio feed on the student group's website.

The next speaker at the March dinner congratulated a biomedical student, referred to as "Brother Waheed," on his election as president of the society. Today, that up-and-coming activist, Waheed Zaman, is one of the 23 British Muslims detained by London authorities on suspicion of plotting to blow up at least 10 U.S.-bound jetliners in midair.

Why is Waheed Zaman involved in a plot to kill thousands of people?

Did the teachings of cleric Abu Aaliyah influence him toward terrorism? Or, as the story suggests later on, did Aaliyah influence him away from acts of violence?

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