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Violence In Europe Leaves People Fearful


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Today, we're going to spend some time on some important stories coming from overseas. In a few minutes, we'll hear what one young woman's charges of rap reveal about how Pakistan's system of justice works - or doesn't - when it comes to sexual violence.

But first, we go to Europe, which has seen two recent episodes of violence that raised troubling questions for many people about immigration and assimilation. Last week, the capital of Sweden, Stockholm, was literally on fire. Hundreds of youths torched cars and buildings and attacked police in largely immigrant areas over a week of rioting.

And in the United Kingdom, 10 people have now been arrested after two men murdered British soldier Lee Rigby by running him down with a car and then brutally hacking him to death in a London street last week in full view of many bystanders.

We wanted to talk more about what's behind these stories, so we've called upon NPR's Europe correspondent, Philip Reeves. Philip, thanks for joining us.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: You're welcome.

MARTIN: Also with us, Mehdi Hasan. He's the political director of the Huffington Post UK. Mehdi, welcome to you. Thank you so much for joining us.

MEHDI HASAN: Thanks for having me on.

MARTIN: Philip, I'm going to start with you. What do we know about the 10 people now in custody in this attack? How are they linked?

REEVES: Some of them have been arrested and then released. Some of them are on bail. I suspect that what we're seeing here is a roundup of people who may have been associated with the two suspects, and therefore, the police are keen to talk with them. Some of them have been arrested, the police say, on suspicion of conspiracy to murder, but they haven't been charged.

And I think it's important to hold that in mind, because it means that the central question in this issue - which is whether this was part of a larger conspiracy, whether this reflects a new tactic by an extremist Islamist organization that has now decided to target soldiers on the streets of the UK - that question remains unanswered.

MARTIN: Tell us a little bit more, Philip, if you would, about the two suspects who remain in the hospital. They were shot by the police on the scene. I think many people by now have seen what is some fairly gruesome footage, you know, of the entire interaction. So tell us a little bit more about them, if you would.

REEVES: Well, the most abiding image, of course, is the one in which one of the suspects is photographed standing there, addressing someone who's holding a cell phone. He is carrying a cleaver and a knife in his hands. His hands are covered in blood, and there he is in broad daylight, talking with a passerby and explaining to that person his motivations for what he himself describes as a barbarity.

We know a little bit about them in terms of their age. One's 28, one's 22. They are Britons. And I think it's important to hold onto that, because there is, in this sort of situation - we've seen it before when young men of Pakistani origin, for example, have been arrested over alleged terrorist-related offenses - there is a tendency to redefine their nationality in terms of their ethnic origins.

Their ethnic origins are Nigeria, but we don't know to what extent that is relevant in the circumstances. One important fact has emerged, which is concrete, and that is that one of the two suspects went to Kenya, and he was held there, detained by the Kenyan security services, on suspicion of trying to join an Islamist militant organization in Somalia.

However, the case fell apart, and he was deported to the U.K. Why does that matter? It matters because the British security services clearly knew about him. And it seems in this case that he somehow slipped through the system and was able to carry out, undetected, the plans for this attack, and then to carry it out in all its awful horror.

MARTIN: Hmm. Just picking up again, Mehdi, I'll go to you now. And one of the things that Philip talked about is this enduring image that a lot of people have who have followed this story. I'll just play a clip of one of the individuals, Michael Adebolajo, talking about what he did to a passerby who was filming him. I'll just play a short clip.


MICHAEL ADEBOLAJO: The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers. And this British soldier is one. It is eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. By our law, we swear by the almighty Allah that we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone.

MARTIN: Mehdi, talk a little bit about how the country has responded to this.

HASAN: Well, I think the country's responded in two main ways, one of which I highly approve of, and one of which I probably don't. The first is that the country - led by the Conservative prime minister of a coalition government - came out very strongly the next day to say that this is a betrayal of Islam. This is a betrayal of Muslim communities. You have done a lot for this country. Nothing in Islam justifies such violence, and we must stick together and not allow our opponents to divide us.

The mayor of London, also a Conservative, came out and said similar points. And the guy you just played a tape of there, he also told a passerby that we want to start a war in London. And I think he's failed to do that, hopefully, despite some of the far-right protestors we saw yesterday here in the capital.

And one of the other reactions I probably haven't been a fan of is this attempt to shut down any debate about the wider causes and context of radicalization and political violence. As you heard in that clip, our confused young man who is, at this moment, of course, a suspect in a crime, so we have to be careful what we say about him.

He says in that clip, you know, this is in retaliation for Muslims being killed abroad. In another clip, he talks about troops in Afghanistan, eye for an eye. Almost every single radical who is picked up, who is caught, whether it's your Boston bombers, whether it's the Times Square attacker in the United States, whether it's these Woolwich attackers, these alleged attackers in southeast London, they always seem to cite foreign policy.

And yet we're told we're not supposed to debate the role of foreign policy in radicalizing young men across the world.

MARTIN: Hmm. Philip, do you want to add to that?

REEVES: Yes, I do. I think one reason for that is - this is being challenged, is that people feel that if you discuss it in terms of its possible context in that way, you are inherently justifying it. No matter how often those who believe that there is a connection with foreign policy say that they are absolutely appalled by this crime, which is unjustifiable, the moment they venture into that area, they are at risk of being accused of justifying it.

But I think that is an issue which is quite easy to sort of negotiate intellectually. More complex, though, is the argument that says it's not about justifying the crime. It's about actually playing into the hands of those who committed the crime by allowing them to set the agenda to talk about what they want you to talk about, which is the reasons they've given for committing this atrocity.


HASAN: That's a fair point. And I would say off the back of that, if we're going to do that, we should be consistent. What we don't - what we have, however, is a lot of journalists jumping on the point you heard in the tape there about swearing by Allah became a big quote on the front page of lots of newspapers and news websites here in the UK.

And it's almost like we focus on the bit we want to focus on: their Islamic identity or otherwise of these alleged attackers, and not on anything else. What's been so interesting here in the UK is this time around - unlike after the July the 7th bombings on the London underground system - everyone universally and rightly has condemned this barbaric act.

The Muslim community in particular was very quick off the mark in saying this violence has nothing to do with Islam and nothing to do with the 99.9 percent of the three million Muslims in this country who abhor such acts of brutality.

MARTIN: And if you're just joining us, we're talking about unrest in Europe with Huffington Post UK's Mehdi Hasan and NPR's Philip Reeves. So, Philip, tell us more about the situation in Sweden. I think that this came as a surprise to many people, because Sweden is - has this global reputation as being a place of great tolerance, and that the riots went on for a week in reaction to the police killing of a 69-year-old man who was wielding a machete.

Can you talk a little bit more about that?

REEVES: Well, it's led to a debate in Sweden - not for the first time - about a great tranche of different issues. It concerns the extent to which the number of people in the population who are of immigrant origin have integrated into Sweden. It concerns the growing wealth gap there in Sweden, which I think some people believe is one of the motive forces behind the violence of the last week. It concerns, in particular, an issue that is of primary importance to the whole of Europe right now, and that is the high level of unemployment among young people, particularly young people of immigrant heritage. That is being seen as a factor here, too.

PHIL REEVES, BYLINE: And it's putting society under a lot of fresh strain, strain which, by the way, was there before. It's not as if Sweden was happy and calm and contented until last week and then, suddenly, this trouble started. Let's not forget that anti-immigration and anti-Islamic political forces there have been on the rise for some time now. The Swedish Democrats are the third largest party there.

MARTIN: Mehdi, I'm going to give you the final word. We have about a minute left and just wheeling back to this question of the response to the violence, where do you think the conversation goes next?

HASAN: I think the conversation has to go towards one of the roots of this disaffection, which applies to what Phil was talking about in Sweden and we have similar London riots here in 2011, two years ago, some horrific violence in the summer from some of our disenchanted, disenfranchised young people. And a lot of terror experts say that the violence that we see from Islamist terrorists goes beyond theology or even ideology in foreign policy and it's about (unintelligible) alienation, so there are some common factors. And Phil mentioned unemployment, poverty, inequality, disaffection, lack of trust and I think the conversation has to be about - how do we get these guys and girls, to a lesser extent, across the continent - how do we get them enfranchised, both politically and economically?

Because what we're seeing right now is people outside of the political system, people outside of the economic market and being turned towards all sorts of radicalism, either of the gang variety or of the extremist and terrorist variety. And the only way we're going to get through this is not by dividing ourselves, but by bringing these young people into the system somehow.

MARTIN: Phil, I'm going to ask you...

REEVES: Can I just add one thing?

MARTIN: Yes. I did want to ask you to give a final thought, as well.

REEVES: Well, I've been wracking my brains and it's very hard to generalize, but there is one thing that I think we can all identify as being common to this complex series of problems that we're seeing fanning out across the landscape, and that is issues of identity. I believe that the reason that we're seeing a rise in anti-immigration politics is because there's a rise, I think, of people who feel that their national identity, their traditions, their culture is under threat because of immigration and they turn to anti-immigration parties, especially at a time of economic problems, austerity and so on.

And, equally, I think, among the young men who are taken to the more extremist form of politics, I think there's an identity issue there, too. You only have to go to Pakistan and see how uncomfortable people who are British, who have returned home to their families in Pakistan, but are second or third generation immigrants, and arrive in Pakistan and do not feel they fit there.

If they're also made to feel they don't fit in the society in which they hold citizenship, you know, by events like the ones we've just witnessed in London, then I think they face issues of identity, too, which are very painful for them and it alienates people. And I think that's the chemistry of this.

MARTIN: Philip Reeves is NPR's Europe correspondent. Mehdi Hasan is the political director of The Huffington Post UK. They were both with us from London.

Gentlemen, thank you both so much for speaking with us.

HASAN: Thank you.

REEVES: You're welcome.


MARTIN: Coming up, we head to Detroit, which is struggling with how to pay its creditors the billions of dollars they're owed. The city's financial manager has his eye on the cultural gems house at the Detroit Institute of Arts. There are works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Warhol. They're worth billions, too, but will the cost of the city's pride be even higher? We'll find out more about that in just a few minutes on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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