THE BLOG

My message to Manchester's Muslims

08/06/2017 13:20

The 2017 election campaign will always be remembered for the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, which brought troops onto the streets and the prospect of our human rights laws being re-written.

The politicians have bickered about police numbers, the intelligence services have been accused of ignoring warnings about the perpetrators and Muslim communities have faced searching questions about terrorists radicalised in their midst.

I was born into a very traditional Muslim family and, growing up in Oldham, had a strict upbringing. What worries me is that too many Muslim communities have become increasingly polarised since 9/11, turning in on themselves. The children have grown up being called terrorists in the playground; they don't feel like they belong to Britain and they don't feel wanted. When looking for a job, a Muslin name can be a liability.

When I was growing up, the Arndale shopping centre bombing in Manchester led to a backlash against the Irish community and a lot of Irish families felt isolated. Maureen and Frank, our Irish neighbours, felt ostracised. The same thing is happening now, but on a much wider level because the Muslim community in Manchester is much bigger.

This concerns me. Growing up in the 1980s, there were plenty of Muslim boys and girls who wanted to be British - they wanted to listen to the same pop music, they wanted to have their hair permed. It was very hard to get children to go to the mosque, they had to be dragged there by their parents. Religion was secondary to us, fitting in with the culture was our primary concern. Girls started going to universities - I was one of the first in my neighbourhood to do so - and that broadened our horizons. It was a way of integrating. But now you have a generation which has taken a step backwards; they don't feel they belong, they are not embracing Britain.

These days mosques are full of youngsters. The message is different, it's more political. They're trying to find something to identify with and religion is a shield that protects them from the world outside.

So, how do we tackle the problem?

As a child, I remember the Imams had one role, which was to teach the Koran. The sons of those Imams have themselves become Imams, they've grown up in Britain and been educated here; they need to realise they have more responsibility than their fathers' generation. They need to have proper discussions in mosques and send out the message 'Not in our name'. They need to work more closely with the police to help identify and monitor young people in danger of being radicalized.

The police, in turn, need to become more culturally intelligent; they need to be re-skilled so they understand how to work with Muslim communities. David Cameron once said we need to educate illiterate Muslim women so they can help prevent terrorism; my mother was illiterate but she was neither a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer. If that sort of lazy message is delivered by our politicians, we cannot ever expect to get to the heart of the problem.

UKIP's approach is even more misguided. In its manifesto was a commitment is to ban women from wearing the veil in public. In case party leader Paul Nuttall hadn't noticed, neither the suicide bomber in Manchester, nor the three terrorists responsible for the London Bridge rampage or the lone wolf terrorist who went on a killing spree in Westminster were wearing a veil.

Troops on our streets is not the answer - they are a stage prop to make the public feel safe, but not a way of addressing the underlying causes of the problem. Theresa May promised to put more pressure on the tech companies to stamp out the radicalization taking place on the internet and social media platforms; this is where the government's efforts need to be directed if we are serious about confronting and defeating the terrorists.

But it also needs British Muslims to deliver an alternative message to our own communities. My message is: this is your country, this is where you live, you need to help build this country, not destroy it.

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