Citizens UK launched a commission titled Islam, Participation and Public Life chaired by the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve PC QC MP, to investigate how the British Muslim community could better participate in the life of British society. This Commission will take place in a series of hearings across the country and I had the honour of organising the hearing that took place in Cardiff.
Dominic Grieve MP said:
"Civil society must be accessible to all; a fractured social system will only worsen the current situation where a small minority of young Muslim men and women somehow see life with IS as a better choice than their situation at home."
Stephen Crabb, the Welsh Secretary said:
"The answer to the seduction of Isil [Isis] is not a greater dose of secularism that delegitimises their faith in the public space," he said. "I believe the marginalisation of religion in our national life risks pushing more young Muslims into the arms of Isil."
As a Muslim, active Welsh and British citizen, I couldn't agree more with both the statements of Dominic Grieve and Stephen Crabb. I have listened to and met with many young Muslims, and it appears that the sense of alienation, demonisation and the rise of Islamophobia have led them to feel unwelcome in their own country. Some feel hopeless and as a result marginalised from civic, social and political life.
The media, the current government and some politicians across the political spectrum have launched their own 'Witch-hunts' of Muslims who display their versions of 'unacceptable behaviour'. In the media and the national print, Muslims are often referred to with negative nouns. A study made by Cardiff University shows that 25% of articles in the national print refer to Muslims as terrorists, 20% as extremists and about 1% only refer to them as citizens.
Such negatively biased rhetoric manipulates the sub-conscious of the general public and socially conditions them to accept the stigmatisation of Muslims by using stylistic techniques that are psychologically loaded to produce the desired result, which is Islamophobia. Muslims now are seen as the bogeymen who are threats to our British civil society rather than equal citizens and contributors to the society.
It does not stop here, there is a wide-spread notion that secularism implies enforcing faith to be a mere private matter; from putting on a religious symbol, such us a pendant cross or the hijab (head-scarf), to expressing the moral motives inspired by one's faith. In my view, secularism equates to freedom and freedom encompasses religious pluralism where faith and non-faith groups can express their faith or views, at the same time participate in the public life freely and confidently. I love the fact that I can be confident within my faith and identity, sharing it with the world and expressing my faith through wearing the face-veil, at the same time actively participating in public life by organising voter registration actions, holding politicians to account and joining campaigns such as living wage and social care.
However, under the new proposed counter-extremism strategy, where 'extremist' and 'entryist' behaviours are vague and undefined, subsequently, anyone can be classified as such. I and other active Muslims can be easily accused of 'entryism', as Peter Clarke is caliming, just because I wear the face-veil and I adhere to my Islamic traditions to the best of my ability and participate in public life!
This is very dangerous, as it straddles Muslims on the horns of a dilemma, where if they do not participate, they get accused of lack of integration and if they participate they get accused of 'entryism' due to the the anti-Muslim narrative, that Muslims are the 'other', fifth column and that Islam is incompatible with British 'values', causing life for British Muslims to be even more difficult to live.
This is what both ISIS, or as I prefer to call them Da'esh (the very name they hate) and the Islamophobes alike, aim to achieve, through this repulsive politics of fear and the promotion of the sense of 'otherness', where non-Muslims are frightened of Muslims and Muslims are frightened of participating in public life. This divisive approach and discourse of 'us' and 'them' must be quashed and replaced by the politics of hope and the discourse of 'we'.
We need British active citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims who are confident within their identity and express their faith privately and publicly, contributing towards British social activism and social community cohesion.
I have always believed that the battle against Islamophobia cannot be won by guns but through radical transformation of knowledge and promotion of mutual understanding and I will not spare any time or effort until I see Muslims accepted as equal citizens in our country.