Members of the Make A Change, See A Change campaign pose for a selfie with their local MP, Stephen Doughty. (Photo: M4C)
Show Hide image

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​.

 

Getty
Show Hide image

The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.