As a British Muslim "Why didn't you do more? What's the solution?", "What's the alternative?" are the questions repeatedly being asked of me. On 22nd May 2017 at 10:30pm as I watched the horrors unfold in Manchester, and my husband rushed into work along with his colleagues to deal with the trauma cases in the aftermath of the attack, I knew my faith would be back under the spotlight again.
We had been here before just a few months earlier with the attack on Westminster Bridge and were here again with the London bridge attack. However this time as much as we tried to distance ourselves from the attackers it appeared the spotlight was firmly fixed on the Muslim community. Not only do we have the anxiety of potentially being victims of the indiscriminate terrorist atrocities that occur but also the fear of reprisal attacks which unfortunately, despite the solidarity shown by most, proved to be true as numbers of hate crimes rose both in London and Manchester.
Could I or the community have done more? There have been statements by a senior retired police officer, Mak Chisty, stating Muslim communities have failed in combatting extremism and has drawn attention back to mosques, madrassahs and Islamic societies being used as vehicles for extremist ideas. Clearly having children who regularly attend Madrassahs, and may one day attend a university, this statement was frightening, that is until I looked at the evidence. A report by the Home Office Select Committee entitled "Roots of Violent Radicalisation" actually found no major cause for concern at religious institutes and bluntly dispelled claims that universities and by extension Islamic Societies presented a major problem. It also observed that the claims rested on nothing more than the fact that terrorists had attended universities but there was no evidence to confirm that this is where they were radicalised.
Mr Chisty also advised Muslims to take to Facebook to condemn extremism which in itself was infuriating as my Facebook and Twitter timelines were nothing but posts of condemnation, pictures of numerous vigils held by the Muslim communities and Imams who refused to perform funeral prayers for the terrorists. As a former police officer he will also be aware of the numerous times the community reported two of the attackers, Salman Abedi and Khurram Butt, to the police so its worrying when statements by high profile individuals show how out of touch they are with the community they speak on behalf of. The expectation that I should be come James Bond in between the school run, homework and seeing patients is unrealistic yet that does not mean I will not do everything I can to keep my children and others safe from harm.
Following the attacks there have been a plethora of faces claiming to be experts on extremism and apparent voices of the community purporting solutions of how to tackle radicalisation. However as a Muslim it became very clear that these individuals were out of touch with the grass roots Muslim community as they used terms such as Islamism which most find offensive and inaccurate, conflated integration and British values with terrorism, didn't once question the Prevent strategy most Muslims perceive be toxic, attacked other individuals and organisations, and any solutions offered appeared to require funding for initiatives they were already promoting, calling into question their sincerity to objectively be leading on this discussion. Suggestions also worryingly seemed to place all the emphasis on the Muslim community. Surely the ultimate responsibility for keeping the country safe lies with the authorities and it is dangerous to state otherwise but yes as a member of society I have a responsibility to work with the authorities too.
So what is the solution and if Prevent is not fit for purpose as many have shown it not to be, then what is the alternative? Is an alternative needed if existing laws already prosecute acts of political violence?
I cannot speak on behalf of the Muslim community but can only draw on my experience as a mother to 2 boys, working as a doctor in an inner city part of Manchester with a large ethnic population where I also grew up and being a practising British Muslim.
As a mother to 2 boys where conflict resolution is a daily occurrence, the one thing I know is conflicts are not resolved only by listening to one side and ignoring concerns. There are clearly two opposing views of the Prevent strategy and any criticism of the strategy shouldn't be silenced or selectively attacked if voiced by a Muslim. There are many who are critical of the strategy including Andy Burnham, numerous organisations such as the NUT, Rightwatch UK, UN and Open Society Justice Initiative but only attacking the Muslim voices for being critical is nothing short of professional Islamophobia. Over the past few weeks there have been calls for an open and honest conversation around terrorism by numerous high ranking individuals but this can only happen if all voices are heard to ensure discussions do not happen in a counterproductive pro-prevent echo chamber.
As a doctor I practice evidence based medicine. No-one can predict who will be violent but there is no doubt that the threat from terrorism is real but I don't understand why the cause of radicalisation and any resulting act of violent extremism is not approached in an academic evidence based way. In my experience for someone to commit an act of violence and have nothing left to live for there will be triggers whether its drugs, alcohol, socioeconomic deprivation, mental health, domestic violence or foreign policy and a loss of protective factors ie breakdown in family structure, lack of sense of belonging, and the vulnerable individuals may use ideology as a justification to carry out the final act of violence. There have been approximately 8000 prevent referrals to date which means the information is there. Surely the triggers are what should be addressed, not necessarily through a new strategy, but possibly by improving services which have previously been underfunded such as drugs and mental health services. Socioeconomic barriers and job discrimination must to be addressed and the link that has been shown between foreign policy and domestic terrorism requires acknowledging and an honest discussion being had.
As a Muslim the solution needs to allow me to practice my faith without fear or discrimination. Islam has been around for centuries before terrorism existed. There is no need to reform it or create a British version of it. It is and always has been compatible with "British Values" so this isn't the issue. There is no need to label political violence as Islamist extremism and by doing so vilify a whole community.
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has said it's time to press the reset button and ensure that this time the Muslim community is an equal partner in the fight against terrorism, but the question I want to ask is whether the government is brave enough to have the grassroots community around the table and start right at the beginning by clearly defining the problem we are addressing, as only then will we find a solution because for me, enough is enough.Suggest a correction