LUTON, England — It wasn't supposed to happen here. Luton prided itself on its many ethnic faces, the 135 languages spoken in its streets about 30 miles north of London. But it was here, on July 7, 2005, that four Muslim men — three of them British — launched a terrorist mission that would kill 56, including themselves.
“7/7” was Britain's own “9/11” and, unlike Madrid's train bombings the year before, these were home-grown suicide bombers. One lived in Luton.
Luton's mayor, Haji Abid, a Muslim born in Bangladesh, says Muslims here feel alienated.
“Well, unfortunately the events of 7/7 had affected us,” he says. “There is some feeling of Muslims being alienated,” Abid says, “but we're trying to reassure them that there's a mainstream and we're part of that mainstream.”
Muslims are Europe's fastest-growing demographic group: South Asians in Britain, Moroccans in Spain, Turks in Germany and North Africans in France. They are 20 million strong and some 5 percent of Europe's population.
Muslims here and throughout Europe say that relations were strained with non-Muslims even before the terrorist attacks in London and Madrid. But since those bombings, it's only gotten worse.
Nasreen teaches English to immigrant Muslim wives — to get them out of their homes and into Luton's streets. But police checks and racial slurs are on the rise. Luton is frightening.
That, says Nasreen, is “because the other community might be thinking that we are all terrorists.”
And Luton's whites are just as scared.
“You seem to feel more under threat now than before,” says one woman.
Video: Islam in Europe Some analysts call it a “virtual wall.”
“We are building out of ignorance, out of mistrust, out of fear something which is ‘us versus them,’” explains Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan.
There are efforts to bridge differences. MSNBC.com visited London's Ismaliya Primary School , where Muslim children learn to be good citizens, too.
“I think I'm British,” says one young student. “I'm a British Muslim.”
But with more than 70 percent of Europeans, according to polls, now worried about Islamic extremism at home, Muslims, increasingly feel they are targets because they are Muslims.
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