Islam's young faithful

The voices of young Muslims must be harnessed to combat Islamic extremistism in Britain, argues the

Turning 18 is a momentous occasion.

Most people mark the event partying, at a pub or with their mates. I, on the other hand, celebrated my eighteenth sitting in Homeland Security at Charlotte Douglas Airport in North Carolina.

I had been held with two other young Muslims on the way to a national leadership retreat being paid for by the Foreign Office - clearly documented on our travel itineraries.

I had no real qualms with being held, of course these men were simply doing their jobs in ensuring the safety of their nation. But was this a sign of things to come for me as a young British Muslim?

Be it the reaction of some senior politicians to well known Muslim organisations, or government white papers constructed with the help of so called “anti-extremism” think tanks, young Muslims cannot be blamed for thinking the state is not on their side.

Let's face it, Hazel Blears's clash with the Muslim Council of Britain earlier this year, over its alleged support for a document that advocated Hamas military action in Gaza, did little to draw a wide-range of Muslim voices into the public confrontation that ensued.

This simply assisted in the alienation of those who are in reality not only the best equipped to fight extremism, but actually the ones most likely to do so.

Many young Muslims, like myself, were born and bred in the UK, giving us not only a strong understanding of our religion but also a sense of “Britishness” which has allowed us to amalgamate our faith with our nationality. The result is an outlook which is a far cry from the Islam presented in the tabloid headlines.

The practise of any religion requires knowledge and belief in the teachings of the faith, which provides a universal moral code to live by. It really is rare to find young people who are willing to sacrifice all that has been made so appealing through ‘pop culture’ for the sake of a greater existence.

To me this sacrifice is minute compared to the power my faith gives me, be it strength and patience in times of difficulty, or humility and gratitude when all in life is going well. At a time when Muslims are often alienated and portrayed as villains in the media, this journey can be a difficult one.

I find it hard to comprehend that this very same Islam is being used as justification for causing widespread terror and chaos. In reality, this is not the same faith.

After all, the Qur’an states: “...whosoever killeth a human being...it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.” (S5:A32)

So rather than spending millions on targeting extremist organisations, which are finding new, covert ways to operate on a daily basis, why not simply dry up the stream of vulnerable young Muslims that flows into them by ensuring they feel as though they belong and are appreciated by society as a whole?

British Islam is far from the evil doctrine it is often portrayed as. I have witnessed it produce a young generation with ambition, knowledge, wisdom and strong moral belief allowing them to stand up for what they believe in.

It is they who hold the key to eradicating the cancer of extremism from our society.

Zeshan Rasul is Vice President of The Young Muslims UK – a national voluntary organisation aimed at providing a vehicle for young Muslims in Britain to improve society

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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