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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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle