THE BLOG

Extremists Prey On The Most Vulnerable: We Must Continue To Come Together Before It's Too Late

31/08/2017 17:38
Channel 4

For the past week, Daesh's deathly destruction has once again dominated our airwaves. Some of this comes as a result of The State, Channel 4's controversial but important depiction of four young Brits travelling to Syria. Sadly, much of the debate has also been the result of the horrific, real-life atrocities in Barcelona less than a fortnight ago.

One common thread across this coverage is particularly striking - the strong bond between the perpetrators and their families. In Barcelona, the attackers were all young men who had been radicalised, the youngest being just 17. One had travelled to Morocco to visit his family before the attack and another left a note to his parents begging forgiveness.

Family relationships were also at the heart of the stories featured in The State. The central character's motivation for travelling to Syria was a misplaced desire to follow in his brother's footsteps despite his father later pleading for him to return. Powerful scenes also depicted those radicalised desperate to call home and in the final episode, a mother abandoning the militants to save her son. Together this points to the unique relationship between parents and their children. It can also signify the guilt associated with the perpetrators' violent intent and the fact family relationships can so often be the spark that changes hearts and minds for the better.

Some will argue that their families could, and should, have done more. This is an understandable and human perspective. After all, the parents of the Barcelona attackers have themselves expressed disbelief and shame that such "good boys" have committed an act of such evil. One women who lived in the same Spanish town has spoken of her remorse at not acting on her concerns.

While we cannot and must not blame their relatives or friends, we can encourage people to have frank conversations before it's too late. That's why I started a campaign called Families Matter supporting parents, family and friends concerned that their loved ones might be vulnerable to radicalisation or extremists.

Families are often best positioned to spot the signs of radicalisation. I have met many mothers and fathers who have seen their children groomed online, often before their eyes. The despair at not knowing what to do can be gut-wrenching, making it even more important they know who to speak to, so that where possible tragedies are avoided.

Much of the criticism of The State has been based on the idea it humanises those joining Daesh. But the point is that those who commit terrorist acts are human, and preventing future atrocities requires an understanding of how they entered down that dark path. Whether or not you watched it, liked it or hated it, the series raises the imperative question of what drives young people to turn away from the people that love them.

There is no exact science to knowing whether someone is planning an act of terror. Yet while no two radicalisation journeys are alike, the presence of risk factors, vulnerabilities and potential moments of intervention are almost universal. This could include feeling isolated, excluded and unworthy. Young people attracted to Daesh are almost always vulnerable in some way, which is the very reason they can be targeted by those espousing venous hatred. Like a parasitic vulture preying on the weakest, extremists are experts in picking out their prey.

No matter who you are or what you believe, we all have a role to play in tackling terrorism. As a British Muslim, but also as a human being and a mother, I feel a deep responsibility to do what I can. As individuals, families and communities it is incumbent on us all to have these conversations and work together. The signs might not always be obvious. That's why raising awareness about what they might be and what to do is so important. The second you sense that something is wrong is the second you should feel able to seek help. You can get in touch with us if any of these issues concern you as well as find information on spotting the signs. By reaching out, the love of a mother, brother, father, sister or friend can make all the difference.

In the wake of Charlottesville, Barack Obama's tweet that no one is born evil, became the most liked in history. My hope is that we put this message into practice and recognise that we each have a responsibility to reach out to those who are vulnerable before it's too late.

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