Ramadan has begun and as ever, during this holy month, the Muslim community in Britain gears up its giving commitment. But at the moment, there will be little heard about that. Instead, we are confronted daily with the reality of young people being coerced into extremism, people from our own communities, within our shores.
I think there is a connection between these two things, and this connection has been sadly underexplored. Following my field visit to Pakistan with the Muslim Charities Forum earlier this year I've been convinced you can only win the battle against extremism if you fight with both hands. So on the one hand, security and legislative means. On the other, there is a development approach. You need to understand the role of Islamic charities, civil society organisations and how the leadership of those organisations is developed. The attention of the media and Government has been relentless on the former and they say very little - nothing in fact - about the latter.
All too often community leaders are looked at through a single prism: the old fashioned view of the bloc-vote-mobilizing demagogue. We hear horror stories of clan systems being used to sway peoples and sway the political system: 'biraderi' as it is known. David Aaronovitch wrote an interesting critique of this kind of community leadership yesterday in which he explains the relative toxicity of the concept.
But there is another kind of community leadership. Charities and social enterprises, often with young, progressive people at their heart, who mobilise groups through common purpose and affection - rather than biraderi bloc voting - to do good. This is the kind of community leadership that gives the concept a good name. And we hear nothing about it.
I wrote recently to Theresa May on these points. As a result I will be having a meeting with Lord Ahmad at the Home Office on Monday 6th July, to press these points. I will be joined by Jehangir Malik of Islamic Relief who will represent the Muslim Charities Forum. Jehangir is a young, dynamic charity leader who is determined to modernize leadership in the Islamic community. He sees a new generation of young people ready to change the perceptions and practices of their civil society. More power to his elbow.
I do believe that change is possible. It was fascinating to see the remarks of Michelle Obama in Tower Hamlets. She said that people too often see only the veil and ignore the person and deride the religion. Baroness Warsi was vocal on Tuesday about the need for the Government to be seen to “stand alongside” Muslim communities rather than a “policy of disengagement”. George Osborne at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday spoke about preventative measures at the community level to tackle extremism. David Cameron gives a speech in Slovakia today in the wake of the reported suicide bombing by Dewsbury’s Talha Asmal and the apparent departure of the Dawoods to Syria. The PM rightly argues there is a link between extreme social attitudes and the path to young people heading to join up with IS. As he says:
“This paves the way for young people to turn simmering prejudice into murderous intent. To go from listening to firebrand preachers online to boarding a plane to Istanbul and travelling onward to join the jihadis...
“If you’re a troubled boy who is angry at the world or a girl looking for an identity, for something to believe in and there’s something that is quietly condoned online or perhaps even in parts of your local community then it’s less of a leap to go from a British teenager to an ISIL fighter or an ISIL wife than it would be for someone who hasn’t been exposed to these things.”
"We are ignoring the fact that the radicalisation starts with the individual.”
Clearly the politicos 'get' the fact that radicalization begins with community disengagement. But nowhere are they mentioning the items that foment engagement: charity, civil society, the next generation of young leaders who are primed to do good. There does not yet appear to be any significant shift in policy or extra help from the Government to tackle the problem and to empower those people, charities and communities who can.
That's where we come in. We believe that the Government does need to look at how to support communities in tackling extremism. One way to do this is to support the role and work of Muslim charities who are prominent in communities. Instead of supporting them they face a whole range of problems that hinder them. That needs to stop. We need the Government to now back the rhetoric by firm action to support progressive community leadership. The non-toxic sort.
In ACEVO's election manifesto 'Free Society' we called for government to work with us on developing this kind of civic leadership in the Muslim community and to develop a commission with us to make it happen. We've taken the first step to realizing that manifesto idea; we fully intend to see it through.
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