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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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood