Members of the Make A Change, See A Change campaign pose for a selfie with their local MP, Stephen Doughty. (Photo: M4C)
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As young Muslims, our community felt under siege. This is what we're doing about it

When local boys in Butetown left to join Isis, the local Muslim community was shell-shocked and villified. But a group of young women is working to make things better.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the need for Muslims to speak out against extremism. After the events in Paris and Copenhagen, as well as the continuing numbers of people leaving Europe to join the Islamic State (formerly Isis), people have been suggesting that Muslims don’t do enough to denounce extremism.

It’s ironic that the media, while saying this, doesn’t really give Muslim voices anywhere where they can say how much they don’t agree with extremism.

It only takes a few looks at the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad to see that extremism and violence have no place in Islam.

But anyway, more importantly than just speaking about it, me and a group of other young people in Cardiff have been doing something about it.

At the end of a successful project initiated by Movement for Change aimed at reducing the amount of used needles disposed in the Butetown area of Cardiff, an event occurred that led to the formation of a new group – MCSC (Make a Choice, See a Change). The name was decided by our group – mainly made up of young Muslim women - to reflect what we aim to promote: making a choice against radicalisation and taking a stand which will create a change within our community and beyond.

The event that raised the concern about radicalisation was when two boys from Butetown were radicalised and went to Syria to join Islamic State. As well as the fact that two boys had been led astray and groomed by criminals, the story fed into a stigma around the religion of Islam as well as fuelling stereotypes about Muslims. Inevitably, this raised great concern within our community, especially the youths. So, a group of us came together to decide what we can do. We meet at the Butetown Youth Pavilion to discuss the changes needed.

After discussion it was found that we needed to focus on four areas that needed to change to try and prevent any radicalisation taking place in any community. That meant improving the relationship between the community and the police, policing extremist activity, social media education, and looking at the relationship between the community itself and young people. From here, we began deciding which areas to work on first and which solutions we could look to achieve. It was agreed that radicalisation could be prevented by educating youths through the most influential channel of information today – social networking. We want to provide young people with information regarding radicalisation to protect them if they ever come across it.

To do this, we’ve begun working with people in our community like the local MP Stephen Doughty, as well as other organisations like the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, to see how we can best put materials and information together. Alongside this, we felt improving the relationship between the community and the police was vital in order to ensure that people within a certain community feel confident enough to confide with them about any concerns they may have. Many agreed that often people didn’t necessarily ‘trust’ the police, causing a barrier between them and the affected community. So we began to tackle that. We asked the local Chief Superintendent and the local officers from the Prevent team to meet with us regularly, so that they could develop a relationship with the community - through us.

And since then, we have met with them on a number of occasions at the police station to discuss local concerns, suggest ways in which their approach can change and, importantly, just to maintain our developing relationship with them. After agreeing on the four fundamental areas for change, the group has met even more regularly with our local Prevent officer Mike. He has helped us understand the work that the police does, and the difficulties they face. And we have also been able to help Mike understand things from our side. When we first began this work, nobody felt they would ever go to the police if they had any concerns about radicalisation in the community. But when we last asked, six or seven of the group said they would go to Mike.

That’s a huge change, and if we can keep that going then it has the potential to stop young people getting caught in the trap that extremists set for them. We were also given a great opportunity to feature on the BBC to share our beliefs and show what we as a group have been doing and why. Through this work – and as an important part of fighting against extremism – we want to show people that their perceptions about Muslims, and particularly young Muslim women like me, are often inaccurate. Throughout this journey our aim became to not only organise as Muslim youths and help to represent young Muslims, but also protect them against radicalisation and stereotypes by showing what we really are: just young people with ambitions and aspirations like every other young person in Britain. We’re hopeful about the future and our ability to make change.

Next Monday, we’re meeting with Yvette Cooper MP, the shadow Home Secretary, to tell her what we think her party should be saying on this issue. We’ll continue our meetings with the police to make sure that we’re all on the right course as things happen and events change. And we’re hoping to affect education policy in Wales, to ensure that young people are taught how to be resilient online against the threat of grooming at the hands of extremists. Together, we’re making a choice, and already, we’re seeing a change.

 

Muna Ali is a leader in the Make a Choice, See a Change project instigated by Movement for Change​.

 

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Article 50: Theresa May tries to charm the EU but danger lies ahead

As the Prime Minister adopts a more conciliatory stance, she risks becoming caught between party and country. 

She may have been a "reluctant" one but a Remainer Theresa May was. The Prime Minister's first mission was to reassure her viscerally anti-EU party that Brexit meant Brexit. Today, by invoking Article 50, she has proved true to her word.

In this new arena, it is not Britain that has "taken back control" but the EU. When Brussels drew up the divorce proceedings it did so with the intention of maximising its influence. The withdrawal deal that Britain reaches must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states, representing 65 per cent of the EU’s population. The two-year deadline for leaving can only be extended by unanimous agreement. Even the much-maligned European Parliament has a vote.

While keeping her famously regicidal party on side, May must also charm her 27 EU counterparts. In her Commons statement on Article 50, she unmistakably sought to do so. The PM spoke repeatedly of a new "deep and special partnership" between Britain and the EU, consciously eschewing the language of divorce. In contrast to Donald Trump, who pines for the EU's collapse, May declared that "perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe" (prompting guffaws and jeers from Tim Farron's party and the opposition benches). Indeed, at times, her statement echoed her pro-Remain campaign speech. 

Having previously argued that "no deal is better than a bad deal", the Prime Minister entirely ignored the possibility of failure (though in her letter to the EU she warned that security cooperation "would be weakened" without an agreement). And, as she has done too rarely, May acknowledged "the 48 per cent" who voted Remain. "I know that this is a day of celebration for some and disappointment for others," she said. "The referendum last June was divisive at times. Not everyone shared the same point of view, or voted in the same way. The arguments on both side were passionate." 

Having repeatedly intoned that "we're going to make a success" of Brexit, May showed flashes of scepticism about the path ahead. She warned of negative "consequences" for the UK: "We know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy. We know that UK companies that trade with the EU will have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part, just as we do in other overseas markets. We accept that." May also acknowledged that any deal would have to be followed by a "phased process of implementation" (otherwise known as transitional agreement) to prevent the UK falling over what the PM once called the "cliff-edge". 

In Brussels, such realism will be welcomed. Many diplomats have been stunned by the Brexiteers' Panglossian pronouncements, by their casual insults (think Boris Johnson's reckless war references). As the UK seeks to limit the negative "consequences" of a hard Brexit, it will need to foster far greater goodwill. Today, May embarked on that mission. But as the negotiations unfold, with the EU determined for the UK to settle a hefty divorce bill (circa £50bn) at the outset, the Prime Minister will find herself torn between party and country. Having delighted the Brexit-ultras to date, will she now risk alienating the Mail et al? The National Insurance debacle, which saw the government blink in the face of a small rebellion, was regarded by Remainers as an ominous precedent. May turned on the charm today but it will take far longer to erase the animosity and suspicion of the last nine months. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.