By Wokeman (blogger)under the title “Is this the Profile of a Bomber?“,May 14, 2006
Mohammed Sidique Khan (1974-2005) taught youngsters, and reckoned he had skills by way of getting them off drugs, as well as in conflict-resolution. Putting aside unwarranted speculation, and posthumous character-blackening, let’s remember him with the words of Sarah Trickett, wife of the Labour MP John Trickett: “He was great with the children and they all loved him – He did so much for them, helping and supporting them and running extra clubs and activities.” He was a gentle man. Khan wrote of this professional skill of his: “I’m energetic, I [look for a] way of bettering things – Can build up trust and rapport with disillusion, understanding and empathy … I feel patience and understanding comes through experience and maturity – I constantly analyse society and speak to people regarding current issues. I consider my ability to empathise with others and listen to their problems as well as offer viable solutions to be one of my strong assists.”
A graduate from Leeds Metropolitain University, he lived with his Indian, non-Muslim wife Hasina Patel whom he met there and 14 month daughter Maryam. His wife’s mother Farida Patel was a pillar of the community and had attended a Buckingham Palace tea party attended by the Queen, to receive an award for bilingual education, and she was one of the first Asian women to be invited there. All the locals knew Farida and Hasina, from their work in Dewsbury schools. His wife Hasina is said to have held anti-Taleban, pro-feminist views, and she worked in education as a “neighbourhood enrichment officer”. The Patels were known as being opponents of Muslim extremism and supporters of women’s rights. Neighbours told the media: “They seemed like a really happy family. Hasina was from an Indian family and there are not often mixed Pakistani and Indian marriages but they didn’t mind.” They added that the family were devout, quiet and respectable. Hasina was understood to be pregnant with a second child.
At the Hillside Primary School in Beeston where he worked, Khan’s task was to liaise with children’s previous schools on their special needs and to assess their learning skills. On their first day at school, children would rely on Khan, who was their official “buddy”. He was given the privileged position of sitting, with the head teacher, through interviews with new families to the area. Many were single mothers, fresh immigrants, refugees or victims of domestic violence.
Khan had been a teaching assistant at this School in Leeds since 2002. “He was a good man, quiet,” said one parent, speaking outside the school. “When I told my daughter she said ‘no, he can’t do something like that’. I had to go and buy the paper and show her.”
Another parent, Sharon Stevens, told the Press Association how he had been a “big supporter” of pupils and parents. During its last Ofsted inspection in 2002, the school’s learning assistants had been singled out for special praise in dealing with a transient pupil population from a socially deprived area. Khan spoke about his work to the Times Educational Supplement at the time. “A lot of [the pupils] have said this is the best school they have been to,” he said (Hillside school was profiled in the TES in 2002). Khan always wore Western clothes to the school.
Each weekday morning at 8, Khan used to visit the home of Deborah Quick to pick up her two daughters, Harley and Robyn, and take them to Hillside Primary School. The two girls were members of what Mr. Khan called his “breakfast club,” an early morning service to help parents on welfare get their kids to school in time for an 8:30 breakfast and 9 a.m. start. Conscientious and cheery, Mr. Khan was “brilliant,” recalls the girls’ mother. As word spread of his kindness, other parents in Beeston, a deprived and drug-blighted district of this northern English town, asked Mr. Khan to pick up their children, too. Unable to fit them all into his small, navy blue Vauxhall Corsa, Mr. Khan started walking them to school. He continued to take Ms. Quick’s daughters, then 6 and 4, to school until early 2005. (Mrs Quick’s boyfriend recalled that Mr. Khan had urged him to take up kickboxing as a way to curb his “negative energies,” and seems to have been a bit irritated by this memory; but maybe that was a psychologically insightful comment by Khan, expressing his philosophy, of helping people to fulfil their lives.)
Few men were more popular on the streets of Beeston than Khan, the 30-year-old family man, recognised by his sensible sweaters and neat, coiffeured hairstyle. Khan became involved in the community-run Hamara Healthy Living Centre in Beeston, and worked at its youth outreach project, the Hamara Youth Access Point on Tempest Road, a £1 million Government-funded scheme opened two years ago by Mr Benn, its patron, and his father Tony, the former Labour minister, in 2003. Hamara is an Urdu term, which means “ours”.
Khan was given two EU grants of £4,000 to open boys-only gyms for Asian youths in the area, grants designated as supporting community groups in deprived areas. In July 2004 he visited Parliament as the guest of a local Hemsworth Labour MP Jon Trickett. There he was praised for his teaching work.
At this visit to Parliament, the group met the International Development secretary, Hilary Benn. Mr. Khan won respect as a social worker committed to ridding the streets of drugs, being involved in a 2001 government study on fighting drug use. He was invited to the home of Hillside Primary’s head teacher, Sarah Balfour, whose husband, Jon Trickett, is a member of parliament. On a trip to London in July last year, Mr. Khan and his students had a tour of parliament from Mr. Trickett
Khan used to work for the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), helping promote British firms overseas. He also helped Leeds police deal with confrontations between rival gangs of youths. Leeds education authority’s personnel file on Khan, obtained by The Independent under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, shows details of his work for the DTI’s export arm in Yorkshire in the mid-1990s, when Britain was seeking more trade links with Asia. Khan left to study at Leeds Metropolitan University in September 1996, and took a 2:2 in business management, his file reveals. He clearly believed his vocation lay in steering disenchanted youths away from crime. He took paid youth and community work from Leeds council while finishing his degree.
He worked together with Shahzad Tanweer in getting youngsters off drugs, and they built up ‘the Mullah Crew’ a group of Asian youths to do this. It could involve forcible ‘cold turkey’ chill-outs for several days, for the drug addicts. This would be accompanied by outdoor activities like climbing up the North Yorkshire moors and canoeing in Wales. On June 4th, 2005, Tanweer, Khan and a bunch of other youths from Beeston had a fine day out, Whitewater rafting in the Snowdonia region of Wales. It was unusual for groups of young Asian men to participate in the sport, but, thanks to Khan being in charge of the group, relaying the instructions and translating for those who could not speak English, it went O.K. One can see Khan making the ‘peace’ V-sign to the photographer, and Tanweer with a broad grin at the bottom of the picture. The press had some difficulty in attributing a fiendish, sinister meaning to this outing, mere weeks before July 7th, but … they managed.
He and Tanweer used to meet at the small corner-shop the Iqra Islamic Learning bookshop (a registered charity) in Beeston where Khan was a volunteer worker. The police raided this and closed it down, and its manager Naveed aged 29 was subjected to 12 days of mental torture in solitary confinement at Paddington Green. The shop sold Korans and tried to give locals somewhere to meet and get them off drugs (heroin was quite an epidemic locally, with 10-year olds on it) – and, as regards its selling ‘anti-western videos,’ I was told that these were probably 9/11 truth videos (by a nearby shop-owner, who knew the people).
On his school job application, he described one of his practical experiences in conflict resolution: once, when a “potentially dangerous” confrontation arose, “I have an excellent rapport with the youth [community] so … I targeted the ringleaders and spoke to them, calming them down and offering sympathy as well as empathy. We then approached the teachers and as a large group casually walked together up Beeston Hill which [defused] the situation.” Associates of Khan have confirmed his role as an interlocutor between police and youths.
Lack of religious views: On his religious views, its hard to find comments beyond a neighbour’s remark: “He didn’t seem to be an extremist. He was not one to talk about religion. He was generally a very nice bloke.” Afzal Choudhry, a community worker who took part in the summer sessions (During summer holidays he ran workshops for kids), praises him for being “always ready to get involved.” Mr. Khan, he says, was not particularly religious when they first met around 1997. Mr. Khan sometimes got “what we call the Friday feeling” and would go to mosque for Friday prayers, but he otherwise didn’t pray much, says Mr. Choudhry. “The other Pakistani lads would have to go mosque because their families would say ‘You’re going to mosque.’ But Sid didn’t go,” says Ian. “He didn’t seem interested in Islam and I don’t ever remember him mentioning religion.” Khan was, by all accounts, an exceptionally well-integrated person. His anglicised name “Sid” was just one symbol of his willingness to take on a British identity. “If it wasn’t for the colour of his skin, he would have been [seen as exclusively] English,” says Ian. “I just thought of him as a Beeston lad – and that’s what he was – a Beeston lad, born and bred.” But, this may have changed with his marriage and he did make the pilgrimage to Mecca with his wife Hasina, returning in February 2005.
Khan’s anger: “You could not carry out a civilized conversation with him on Iraq,” recalled Arshad Chaudhry, head of the Leeds Muslim Forum, an umbrella group of local Islamic leaders. Khan was a mild and gentle man, and yet we may be glad to hear of this righteous indignation, whereby he expressed his forthright views concerning the war.