Have That Conversation: You Never Know, It May Change Lives

25/09/2017 17:11
Bloomberg via Getty Images

It is a terrifying thought - "what should I do if I think a child is being radicalised"?  I have met many parents and relatives who have experienced these fears. They may worry about the impact of speaking out, or worse still - the consequences of not speaking out, if their concerns turn out to be valid. It is an unenviable position.
 
As the details of the attack in Parsons's Green emerge, many will wonder what led the perpetrators down the alleyway of extremism. There may even be parents reflecting on whether their own children are at risk of choosing this dark path.
 
Thankfully, the damage done last Friday was not as catastrophic as it could have been. But rather than pray there isn't a next time, we must strive to better understand what exposes someone to the poison of radicalisation in the first place.  Because while no one radicalisation journey is the same it often begins at the door of a very vulnerable young person. 
 
Terrorists have a modus operandi: they groom those who are most vulnerable into believing society has rejected them, incubate their frustrations and then proffer them with violence as a solitary lifeline. Like a manipulative drug dealer, they promise false solutions through the most poisonous of all drugs, extremism.
 
This does not mean perpetrators are absolved of agency, nor does it minimise the absolute importance of bringing them to justice. But to respond with blanket hatred means we miss an opportunity to intervene in those cases where it is not yet too late. 
 
That's why I started Families Matter, a campaign aimed at raising awareness of radicalisation by educating family members on possible signs to look out for.  We run workshops across the UK, from Blackburn to Brighton, Cardiff to London. After all, radicalisation knows no postcode, and no boundaries.   
 
While there is no textbook answer on whether a young person is at risk, we educate families on the warning signs something may be wrong.   For example, does that person express themselves in a 'them and us' manner about others who do not share their religion or beliefs?  Has their circle of friends changed, including on social media? Are they distancing themselves from friends they were previously close to?
 
Some of these behaviours are of course, common teenage traits. That's why it's important to feel confident about asking the questions. Asking questions doesn't make you a bad parent; and to worry about someone doesn't make you a 'spy'. Instead it empowers parents to seek help without fear of stigma, and supports those whose lives have been affected by the trauma of losing loved ones to these hateful ideologies. Because the love of a mother, father or sibling can make all the difference. And just one conversation may not only change lives, but save them. While the authorities, police and online companies each have a role to play, we as parents, friends and community members must also do our bit to stop terrorism in its tracks.
 
As a British Muslim, I'm proud that since last Friday people have refused to put their lives on hold. After all that is exactly what the terrorists would want.  But likewise, this should not mean carrying on as if nothing has happened, nor accepting terrorism as a normal part of life.  Instead, we need our communities to be bold enough to debate what the signs of radicalisation look like so we stop these venomous ideologies ever taking hold.  If we respond with hate alone, we do nothing but stoke the fire radicalisers rely on.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS