The Dewsbury teenager Talha Asmal is "UK's youngest ever suicide bomber". Photo: YouTube screengrab
Show Hide image

Remember – just 0.02 per cent of the British Muslim population go to join Middle East conflicts

British Muslims should be celebrated, not demonised due to the very few, like Talha Asmal, who go to join conflicts in the Middle East.

I woke up this morning on the eve of Ramadan to news stories about two young British Muslims who chose to get involved in the conflicts in Iraq and Somalia. I am deeply saddened by the choices they made, and I can barely imagine the suffering their actions have caused.

However, it is important to say that the British Muslims involved in the conflicts in the Middle East represent just 0.02 per cent of the British Muslim population – that’s one in every 4,500. The vast majority of British Muslims are peace loving people who make a hugely positive contribution to British society and the wider world.

Unfortunately and not surprisingly, it’s the news stories about terrorists that stick in people’s minds. Today sees the publication of a YouGov poll showing that much of the UK public have a hugely negative view of Muslims, with perceptions of terrorism and extremism to the fore.

The results of the poll also suggest a decline in public sympathy for refugees, and a particular disregard for refugees from Syria and the Middle East.

In 2014, only 31 per cent of those surveyed believed the UK should not provide refuge to people fleeing conflict and persecution around the world – compared to 40 per cent in favour. In this month’s poll that has been turned on its head: those against offering refuge outnumber those in favour – 42 per cent compared to 34 per cent.

Only 29 per cent of people agree that the UK should welcome refugees from Syria and the Middle East, compared to 34 per cent who would welcome refugees generally.

These findings are extremely worrying. If negative public perceptions about Muslims and Middle Eastern refugees go unchallenged, global sympathy and support for those caught in conflict will decline at a time when humanitarian needs are enormous and UN budgets are chronically underfunded.

Over 30m refugees and others in the Middle East are in need of humanitarian aid, and the British Muslim community that is perceived so negatively gives with huge generosity to charities like Islamic Relief as we work to deliver that aid – particularly in Ramadan.

Isn’t it time we celebrated the role British Muslims play as part of the solution, rather than the Muslim community being demonised again and again as part of the problem? Coming from Birmingham, the city that Fox News described as a Muslim-only zone, and living through the Trojan Horse saga, I know only too well how that feels.

You seldom find them on the front pages, but Islamic Relief UK is blessed with an army of 4,000 grassroots volunteers who bring out the very best in our communities and embody the faith-inspired action that Islamic Relief is all about.

In the run-up to Ramadan, British Muslims have been beavering away at different fundraising activities around the country – from the #Cakes4Syria campaign to the numerous fundraising challenges from the Great North Run to the Great Wall of China.

These kind of stories should be heard much more, and these are the kind of choices I want our young people to make.    

The holy month of Ramadan that starts tomorrow is a time when Muslims reflect on their blessings they have received and commit to helping those less fortunate. British Muslims donate more than £100 million to charity in Ramadan alone.

The poll shows that people are less inclined to give to victims of conflict in the Middle East. I can’t help noticing that fundraising appeals for areas in conflict consistently raise less than those for natural disasters, as if some people in need are more or less deserving than others.

Whether or not people give, should not be determined by ignorance and prejudice. Every life is precious.

And in line with our message for Ramadan this year I would encourage people to: "Share your relief with those who need it most."

Jehangir Malik, Islamic Relief’s UK director

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

0800 7318496