"Untold" story of WW2 stirs Muslim youth pride

Fri Jul 3, 2009 7:43am EDT
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By William Maclean

BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Taunted by racists as a "Paki" and "terrorist," Haroon bin Khaled spent his teenaged years feeling rejected by mainstream Britain and increasingly drawn to al Qaeda extremism.

But the young Muslim of Pakistani descent found an unexpected answer to his alienation the day he heard the story of how Muslim soldiers, many from what is now Pakistan, fought and died alongside Britons against the Nazis in World War Two.

Almost at a stroke, the jobless young man with an unpromising future felt a sense of belonging. As he examined the facts, he began to shed his belief Britain despised him or that fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan was a worthwhile idea.

"Truthfully, it touched me," said the former gang member, now 21 and with a prison stretch for fraud behind him.

"If that could be shown to other youths it could make a big difference."

That "difference" could be better community relations, hurt in the years after the September11, 2001 attacks on the United States and especially after four young British Islamists carried out suicide bombings in London in July 2005, killing 52 people.

It could also help security by dissuading Muslim men from joining the Taliban war against Western forces in Afghanistan, or from taking part in attacks at home such as the London bombings or attacks in Madrid in 2004 that killed 191 people.


<p>In this picture released exclusively to Reuters on January 31, 2009, Taliban militants with their weapons pose for pictures in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan January 30, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer</p>