Stranger than fiction?
In this case, fiction is right on target.
Shahid Hasan was born of Muslim parents from Pakistan in Kent near London; he immersed himself in rock music and postcolonial literature at a young age. He went to study in London, where he drifted into an affair with his lecturer DeeDee Osgood, who also introduced him to the sensual experiences of drug-induced hallucinations. His trance-like universe of moral relativism was disturbed when he met a group of his coreligionists who promised him answers and certainties, if only he renounced his wayward path and became a true believer. Shahid felt their austerity was more virtuous than the shameless hedonism that DeeDee pursued. London was Jahiliyya, the pre-Islamic city of ignorance and decadence; the clarity of the Book would wipe away those cobwebs, he thought.
Farid, born in Bradford in northern England, surprised his family by suddenly giving up his passions--cricket, pop music and designer labels. He then broke off his engagement with Madelaine Fingerhut, the white daughter of a senior police officer, much to the disappointment of his Pakistani father, a taxi driver called Parvez, for whom the imminent wedding was like winning the lottery. Farid told his father: "In the end, our cultures cannot be mixed. . . . They say, integrate, but they live in pornography and filth, and tell us how backward we are." Like many other British Muslims of the second generation, feeling estranged from their parents, he found the polite sermons of older imams dull. He preferred the radical messages of a conservative imam from Pakistan who had moved to Bradford. Encouraged by these words, Farid campaigned against prostitution. When Parvez confronted him, Farid left home--with a backpack.
The experiences of Shahid and Farid--particularly the eerie departure with a backpack--are remarkably similar to the transformations in the lives of Shehzad Tanveer, Hasib Hussain and Siddique Khan, three of the four bombers who killed 56 people, including themselves, in the London bomb blasts of July 7. But there is one key difference: Shahid and Farid are fictional. They are characters the British author Hanif Kureishi created.
Mr. Kureishi has been writing for several years about the dangers of radical Islam in Britain with remarkable prescience. Farid appeared in Udayan Prasad's 1997 film, "My Son the Fanatic," based on Mr. Kureishi's story that had earlier appeared in The New Yorker magazine. And Shahid was the protagonist of his 1995 novel, "The Black Album." While Farid's fate remains uncertain at the conclusion of "My Son the Fanatic," "The Black Album" had a life-affirming end. When Shahid's Islamic friends decided to burn a book by an author Shahid admired (a clear reference to Salman Rushdie's 1988 novel, "The Satanic Verses"), and even as opportunistic leftists cheered the Islamists, Shahid left them, rushing to DeeDee, who had opposed the burning, and together they fled London.