I used to live in Leeds, a lovely little city in Yorkshire. Home to the debauchery of the Otley Run, the triple sports of Football, Cricket and Rugby and a tale of tragedy.
The first boy was born at the Leeds General Infirmary and lived all his life in Leeds. His father worked as a factory worker and taught his son the value of hard work. His mother used to teach him the value of community by helping foreigners who came to the little piece of the dales. She used to accompany those who were sick but didn’t speak English to the hospital where she would translate for them. He attended school in Leeds and while (like most of us) wasn’t a model student he was punctual, courteous, and social. He went on to college where he trained vocational qualification in Business. He played cricket ferociously but his true love was football. He turned out to play for the Holbeck Hornets. Those who met him said that he was a “Gentle Giant” and the only stain on his record was a caution for shop lifting which was put down to “kids will be kids”. As a mark of apology he worked at a youth centre as a volunteer.
The second boy was less of a boy than a man. He was the oldest of the four friends and a mentor figure to the other 3. He was undoubtedly this little gang’s ring leader. He was born at the St. James University Hospital and grew up in both Beeston and Dewsbury. Son of a foundry worker and a housewife, he had a relatively strict upbringing but loved his parents. He was well liked and volunteered with the community that gave so much to him. He would mentor and teach new immigrant kids about the UK. He was seen as a god fearing young man and was happily married to his wife. He made plans around everything his wife did including delaying his dreams so that she could have the baby she wanted. His mother in law doted on him. She even got to meet the queen and reportedly spoke about his achievements to her.
The third young man was born in Jamaica and moved to Dalton. He was the most tragic of the 4. A normal childhood in Yorkshire but he was enticed by crime where he worked dealing drugs. However one day he changed his mind and found faith. He become quiet and less angry. He tried to get a job and even though pay was poor he qualified as a carpet fitter.
The last young man was born at St. Luke’s in Bradford to a local entrepreneur. He was a born sportsman and represented his school excelling in cricket, football, triple jump, distance running and ju-jitsu. He studied sports science but probably wished to inherit his father’s small business empire. Often working to help his dad at his father’s fish and chip shop, restaurant and butcher’s shop. He was widely regarded as kind and courteous to everyone in his neighbourhood.
Apart from the Jamaican who was new to the group these three young men were thick as thieves and helped everyone who they met. They were model human beings… Even the Jamaican had turned over a new leaf. These are Nice Boys ™.
Except for the last thing they ever did.
On that day I was at home, relaxing after my brother’s 12th birthday party. My brother was talking to my aunt who had work in London so missed the entire party and I was listening in exhorting him to get her to buy some video game when the phone cut off.
It was the same day that these four young men had decided to go on an adventure to fight against injustice and oppression. In their own words…
I and thousands like me are forsaking everything for what we believe. Our drive and motivation doesn’t come from tangible commodities that this world has to offer. Our religion is Islam, obedience to the one true God and following the footsteps of the final prophet messenger. Your democratically-elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters. Until we feel security you will be our targets and until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.
On that day four of these young men blew themselves up using home made explosives on the Underground and on the London Bus Service. They killed 52 people between them. These nice young boys next door killed people. Their names were Hasib Hussain, Mohammed Khan, Germaine Lindsay and Hasib Hussain.
But no one really dwelt on their niceness. No one would listen to their families who honestly didn’t believe their sons did this. It was the second deadliest terrorist attack in British History (Lockerbie was the biggest), but one that lived in infamy. I still went to work that day, knowing I would have to face people who were mad at brown people.
At times like this I am proud to be British. When the vultures that are the BNP and the various right wing conservatives such as Melanie Philips came out against non-white immigrants brits rallied and told them where to shove their bigotry. The answer to bigotry is not more of it. There were incidents but they were few and far between compared to the horror show of the USA post 9/11.
But you have to admit, they were nice boys until the end. In the UK at least we don’t stand for the kind of scrutiny that americans put on their killers but if we did we probably wouldn’t know anything about them. Their story is one of faith creating alienation, and the unscrupulous taking advantage of that alienation to create hate and the notion that their cause was just. They fell prey to religious extremists who filled their mind with poison which caused them to be able to rationalise the deaths of so man and to act on it. They fell prey to a feeling by their parents that they were losing their culture so they sent them to places like Pakistan to be re-immersed in traditional culture. Where they were told that their parents are traitors and too soft to fight for justice, where their minds were poisoned by hate and conspiracy theory powered by a unquestionable belief in their holy cause.
Just remember that the next time you hear about a tragedy like this. The people who did this may have been “nice” and “not white” too. We forgot that in the UK and that resulted in the tragic death of Jean Charles de Menzies who was shot for being too fast moving, too brown and wearing a coat by a police officer who made the wrong decision.
I do wish to end on a note of absolute humanity. I believe that heroes aren’t special, they are people just like you and me who when called upon by circumstance did what needed to be done and what we are all capable of doing. This doesn’t make their achievement small, in fact it makes it bigger. If grew up with what we would call genuine heroes in my life. My grandfather was awarded for valour. I have family who were given medals for giving up their lives to save others in Ypres. My mother was a hero when she fought to be taught surgery when young women were serious discriminated against in the field. And my grandfather taught me two things, the first was how to fish and the second was what makes a hero a hero. A hero is just a human being who did the right thing when no one else was willing to. That when the odds were against him just did what he thought was necessary. Anyone can be a hero. You do not make them. While my actions have been on the small scale compared to a man who once held a position in the middle of a jungle so damp that your clothes rot away and fought with everything from gun to grenade, knife to rock against an enemy that was legendarily brave. Or compared to my mother who learnt her trade through sheer stubbornness. And all through that I have always been impressed by the humility of these people at their achievements.
I have tried to do the best I can as a human being. I think the greatest expression of humanity is someone doing the necessary and the best that they can. There were heroes at Sandy Hook, there are heroes everywhere as there are villains.
There were two cells of bombers. The second wave failed due to equipment failure. However one of the bombers called Ramzi Mohammed was confronted by a man. Angus Campbell, an off duty fire man got everyone else to evacuate the carriage to safety but stayed behind to get Ramzi to not kill himself. Ramzi was captured a while later, it is believed that the actions of Angus saved lives as well as stopped Ramzi from killing himself. He may not have the chance to live a normal life again but he gets to do something with his life rather than cause pain for others. Angus’s courage is an equally good lesson to learn from this.
I agree with Siviku on this, perhaps we should realise that the people who commit crimes from different communities have stories too. That it isn’t just “middle american white youth” who are nice boys.