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A Muslim Tries to 'Explain Brussels'

05/04/2016 13:10 | Updated 05 April 2016

A Londoner was arrested recently for writing a tweet saying he'd approached a Muslim lady and asked her to 'explain Brussels'. Why should she understand any more than a Christian or an Atheist why someone would detonate bombs indiscriminately? Of course, because these barbarians claimed to be carrying out these atrocities in the name of her religion. Was it a clumsy and even silly thing to say? Probably. Was it a hate crime? No.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims would echo the iconic words of a bystander who told an attacker at a London Underground station, 'You ain't no Muslim bruv'. The vast majority of devout Muslims see nothing of their religion in the acts that are being carried out in its name; so why is it that Muslim men and women seem so susceptible to this brainwashing that is turning them into monsters?

For all of the talk about security and intelligence over the past few days, few people have stopped to ask the obvious question, 'how do we stop people from becoming radicalised in the first place?' If we are to solve this long-term challenge then it's a question we need to answer.

Nobel peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai once said, "With guns you can kill terrorists, with education you can kill terrorism." These people weren't born evil or violent, so how do we understand and begin to tackle what happens in the run-up to boarding a plane to Turkey, with the aim of reaching Syria? Frankly, if some politicians and so-called community leaders in places like Brussels had not placed those questions out of the realm of normal political discourse a few years ago then we might be in a far safer place today.

There is no single path to radicalisation, but there are some similar routes that we could begin with. The first one is the identity crisis that many people face. When I was growing up the best example of inter-faith dialogue was probably in my school playground. There I would mix with kids from different religions and none. We learnt that we had differences but we were all brought together by British values. Yet even I recall times when people would tell me that I was not British because I looked different or worshipped differently. It made me doubt who I was at times. So imagine that you have parents who emigrated to the UK or Europe a few decades ago, and they tell you that your origins are Pakistani or Moroccan. You visit your relatives in your parents' country of origin and they tease you for your English or French accent and for having less in common with them than you thought. Many Muslims in London would probably have more in common with a Christian from London than a Muslim from Lahore. For some this may lead to some questioning and searching for an identity.

Normally teenagers with an identity issue dye their hair or get their tongue pierced. They don't blow up a train. So what's different? This is where the friends, families and neighbours need to step in, because people's vulnerability can be abused to destructive effect by highly manipulative people. They operate on the internet, on Snap Chat or through games consoles. They take advantage of the Muslim concept of Jihad which, at its core is about a Muslim's spiritual struggle within oneself against sin, and whether at the end of our lives our good deeds outweigh our bad ones. Extremists will convince young people that they can never live a good life in the 'decadent' West, and they anger them with images of Muslims being killed by 'the West'. They may then convince them that there is a short cut to Paradise by committing acts of 'Martyrdom'.

This is only one possible path, but there are others including violent individuals in prison or out looking for a new cause. What can the state do? That's a difficult question. Perhaps there are roles for teachers and community workers to try and spot signs of radicalisation; but that's not always easy and there is always the risk that in seeking to identify signs of radicalisation, young Muslims may feel targeted increasing the sense of being different.

National and local governments can share ideas and good practice with each other, as can local community projects tackling radicalisation. We could create awareness networks at the national, European or global level, but too often the EU's idea of inter religious dialogue is to get a very senior Imam together with a Bishop and a Rabbi.

In prisons they must be more vigilant to violent criminals seeking to replace one form of violence with another. Yet realistically this problem can only be tackled within the Muslim communities themselves. Some Mosques need to be more accessible by teaching in local languages about the true meaning of Islam. Community leaders need to find projects that can bring together young people to talk about their identities and values in way that they understand.

As a Member of the European Parliament for London, I am trying to support charities and projects in London that do just that. One project that I work with and highlight at every opportunity is TUFFS FC, a football club set up by the Unity of Faiths Foundation. It beings together kids from all faiths, but mainly Muslims, to play football on a fully equipped pitch. These kids want to talk about their identities and what it means to be a young Muslim living in London, and TUFFS gives them a safe outlet. One girl at the club recently confided in the club's founder that she was planning to go to Syria, showing him a Snapchat conversation that she'd had. Knowing that she was a massive Chelsea fan he gave her a choice of going through the gates of Heathrow to Turkey and onto Syria, or going with him to Chelsea's ground, Stamford Bridge. She chose Stamford Bridge. As she arrived she kissed the pitch, she met then manager Jose Mourinho, and she has never been back since. Think of how much death and destruction that one act could have prevented?

So don't expect Muslim to explain what happened in Brussels any better than non-Muslims; but that does not mean that Muslims can wash our hands of trying to find solutions to stop people from misusing our God to cause carnage.

Islam itself is not the disease, and for many of these wayward people a better understanding of Islam could be part of the cure. We have a responsibility to do all that we can to show them that.

Many Muslims realise that it is not good enough to simply say these people are not Muslims. Many are looking for answers to how we can show vulnerable young people that carrying out these despicable acts is not Islamic.

Otherwise, we realise that we will continue to be asked - however unfair that may seem - to explain more devastation that is undertaken in the name of our faith.

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