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15 August 2005updated 24 Sep 2015 11:31am

Young Muslims hold the key

They are the only ones their alienated and angry peers will listen to, argues Ziauddin Sardar

By Ziauddin Sardar

Oscar Wilde is seldom cited to argue the Muslim case; it would seem these days that no one presumes ordinary human nature applies to Muslims. “I can resist everything except temptation,” Wilde wrote. Tony Blair is about to flout this elegant aphorism with legis-lative measures intended to keep young British Muslims out of temptation’s way.

The Prime Minister wants to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir and send hateful preachers back to where they came from. That will not get rid of Hizb ut-Tahrir – it will only send Hizb followers underground, and make them immeasurably more alluring to the disaffected youths everyone is anxious to protect from incitement. And so, they will become seamlessly linked to all the actual incitement that so invisibly and effectively produced the bombers of 7 July. Deporting hateful preachers makes a mockery of our claim to be a liberal and tolerant society. What is tolerance if you cannot tolerate the intolerant opinions of others?

What we know is that in Northern Ireland stern legal measures – from internment, Diplock courts and an armed presence on the streets to proscribing organisations and even banning the voices of certain leaders – served only to heighten the minority community’s sense of injustice. Result: the engaged terrorists, though few in number, were able to submerge themselves in a latent sea of discontent. No one has yet calculated how many years that added to the misery of the province.

Disaffected young Muslim men are spoken of repeatedly. Yet no serious consideration is being given to how to speak to them, and especially how to listen to them. There is a sense rampant among British Muslims of injustice and anger, as well as shock, revulsion and fear. Rather than being encouraged and required to take ownership of its problems, the Muslim community in general is being goaded into an impotent flurry. Not surprisingly, it reacts like a headless chicken.

Blair will proscribe organisations and imams. Authorised preachers will be sent by communities to talk to target audiences. Neither is a reasoned approach. The ideas spouted by the pernicious groups and preachers are readily available on the internet, where they cannot be contained. Indeed, the internet is awash with not only all the bizarre perversions of Islam, but the entire handbook of how to become a terrorist bomb-maker and user, training camp anywhere not necessarily needed.

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The imams to be despatched by concerned Muslim worthies are representatives of a generation that has already signally failed. They lack both credibility and a coherent message relevant to the concerns and needs of young Muslims.

It does not take incendiary preachers to radicalise young Muslims. Nor can the fires be quelled by compliant, pacific clerics. The greatest impetus to radicalisation is watching the news on television or reading the red-top daily papers. The news informs Muslims, young and old, of the double standards of UK foreign policy and the injustice suffered by Muslims elsewhere. The red tops cast Muslims as perennial victims and/or villains.

Blair’s most effective banning order is already in place. Iraq is not to be spoken of as a cause of the Middle East’s slide into mindless violence. If discus-sing blatant reality is the first casualty, it hardly matters what policy initiatives follow.

The problem is not mosques and organisations operating in the open. The more indiscriminate the targeting, the more an entire community, already under pressure, sees itself cast as a potential fifth column under general suspicion. The problems are unemployment among Muslim youth, the whole range of social exclusions, underachievement, and failed promises of regeneration of inner cities.

Like the war in Iraq or watching the unending suffering of Palestine, these do not justify resort to mass murder. But they contribute to a context. And doing something about them may be a good beginning. They must be remedied as problems in themselves, and also in preparation for defusing the time bomb of terrorism.

The blood-soaked traditional exegesis of Islam, too, is a problem that has needed our attention for a long time. But it can be defeated only with open debate, by a new generation stepping forward to pioneer a language and programme of moral, social and political engagement. The Prime Minister should send packing his hand-picked “leaders”, including the lords and baronesses he has appointed over this country’s Muslims. He should be talking to young Muslims, encouraging them to take leadership positions – for only they can engage and communicate fully with their alienated peers. The trouble is, such engagement would only heighten the conviction that something must be done about culpable British foreign policy and ill-considered legislation that violates civil liberties. So, we are back to square one.

The slogan during the Second World War was “Careless words cost lives”. Making policy on the hoof, and adopting a stance of Churchillian defiance (before going on holiday), can only give aid and comfort to the enemy of us all.

Ziauddin Sardar’s Desperately Seeking Paradise: journeys of a sceptical Muslim is published by Granta Books (£8.99)

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