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

Getty.
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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.