Portrait of the Bomber as a Young Man

Why the children of England’s immigrants look to radical Islam for a sense of belonging

| January-February 2006

Second-generation British Pakistanis, like those who planned the 7/7 London transit bombings, lack “a durable sense of identity,” writes Aatish Taseer in Prospect (August 2005). An Indian-Pakistani-Londoner himself, Taseer explains that the often educated and wealthy young men who are drawn to radical Islam come from a background of cultural dislocation and social detachment. Islam offers them a sense of order, identity, and purpose. Case in point: Hassan Butt, a 25-year-old from Manchester who dreams of dying a martyr in service to a worldwide Islamic religious state. His thoughts and motivations (he spent two years in Pakistan recruiting people to fight the coalition forces in Afghanistan), are captured in a markedly candid interview with Taseer, which is excerpted here. His fury and resolve provide a critical afterword to Utne’s interview (November-December 2005) with the moderate Parvez Ahmed, who sits on the Council on American-Islamic Relations.—The Editors 


Hassan Butt: I grew up in a very open-minded family. There are only four of us. My parents never made us pray, never sent us to the mosque, which was very different from your average Pakistani family who would make sure that the child learned something. 

Aatish Taseer: So how did you discover Islam, or rediscover it? 

HB: Well, being Kashmiri, I’m hotheaded by nature, and so are my brothers. That was leading us down a path of destruction. A lot of the people I grew up among were on drugs, were involved in crime, prostitution, at very young ages. I remember when I came across the first Muslim who talked to me about Islam in a language I understood. He pointed out that I had a lot of anger and frustration that I should direct in a more productive manner. It was from there that I got discussing Islam seriously—even though we were hotheads, me and my brothers always had brains, we weren’t thugs. We were still getting top grades in our exams. 

AT: How old were you when you changed? 

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