By Amina Lone
My heart goes out to the families of the people killed by evil madmen. I am angry, despairing and hopeful. My English resolve keep calm and carry on kicks in. But we must do something. It’s deeds not words time.
My frustrations lies in our inability to be wise, balanced or mature. Some politicians, individuals and the media, whipped into a mass of hysteria, have hijacked the debate around extremism, counter- terrorism and security. The pendulum swings from ‘Lets put everyone back on boats and send them home (Being a Birmingham woman, a narrow-boat will do) to ‘It’s nothing to do with religion’.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
The terrorists share many traits: they are often on criminal fringes, male, possess a lack of emotional intelligence and a history of violence against women. The Muslims, however perverted their version of the faith is, and the far-right nationalists all falsely claim to speak for the majority.
It would be remiss and frankly stupid for the government to ignore these commonalities and only focus on their faith. Ideology needs a breeding ground and the risk factors identified are part of unpicking these barbarians’ motivations.
The other side of the Crescent lies within all of our communities. Many from the white liberal communities seem unable to grasp that Muslims are not one homogeneous group. They can and do have bad eggs within it.
The saying ‘It’s the little things that matter’ is apt. When a relationship breaks down, it’s usually the first thing to go. The relationship between the state and some in faith communities has broken down. How are we going to have open and challenging conversations when we cannot even talk about gender segregation at non-religious meetings, parents withdrawing their pre-pubescent girls from swimming classes (in state schools) because of their faith and children under the age of ten years old being covered up because of their gender?
I regularly receive messages about grassroots conversations. Recent distasteful conspiracy theories include the London attack was conveniently timed for the General Election; a young man saying, “Isis aren’t in the UK” and Zionists were behind the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Despite what the self-appointed community leaders preach, there is a battle within Islam. A vocal minority, often middle-class, well educated, well versed in the language of equality and media-savvy, are pushing a ‘One Islam’ narrative.
This idea of ‘One Islam’ is not only misleading, it is deliberate. There is a concerted effort to ‘streamline’ Islam and institute a list of pre-determined Key Performance Indicators that some Mullahs and men approve of. These include not shaking a woman’s hand, growing a beard (males only) and women ensuring those ravishing locks of hair are explicitly hidden or all hell breaks loose.
This ‘official’ Islam also encourages policing anything that depicts the ‘community’ in a negative light because “Muslims are the real victims.”
Dissent, critical analysis and debate is discouraged. Instead we have a dystopian version of Islam, control and command presented as acts of Ummah (the idea of one people) United.
This is not new. One veteran women’s-rights campaigner shared a story which ended with the threat, “If you don’t leave, you’ll be put in the boot of the car and never be seen again”. She was working in Bradford in the 90s.
My ‘us and them’ includes my white 72-year-old neighbour. She is part of my Ummah and she is not Muslim. We stand together with millions of ordinary Brits against extremism of all kind. We will not be moved.
The challenge is when faith, a private matter, clashes in public spaces and contradicts our wider values. Government may ignore it but tensions that arise are left to ordinary people to deal with. We are all let down when politicians and civil leaders don’t defend universal values of equality, justice and freedom.
Equally, don’t blame Muslims for companies that want to cash in on the green pound. That’s not creeping sharia, it’s creeping consumerism.
To make society work you have to oil its cogs. We need to invest in English lessons if we want people to learn the language, we need to have more neighbourhood policing for that is where grassroots intelligence is gathered.
The young must be supported. A 17-year-old told me: “I saw a 23-year-old hijab-wearing Muslim woman I vaguely knew smoking. She panicked when she saw me because I could ‘tell on her’. I reassured her and she ended up pouring her heart out about not having freedoms that other young people did”.
Imagine being so desperate to be heard you unburden to a virtual stranger. Policies like the Prevent Strategy should be reviewed, its remit widened and rolled out to support young people across the board.
Having just returned from a research trip to Pakistan and witnessing activists holding a mirror up to their society, I am more emboldened to defend our Great British values. In Pakistan people are killed for the inference of blasphemy. Read about 20-year-old Mashal Khan, a university student tragically beaten to death by his fellow students.
Freedom does not come cheap. The suffragettes and the men and women who defended us in two World Wars, sacrificed their lives for us. We need to honour them with everyday acts of defiance. Hold a million mirrors up to the extremists. Blind them with tolerance, our decency. We should stand proud as one British Ummah. United. Defiant. Resolute.
Amina Lone is a trustee of the Henna Foundation and co-director of the Social Action and Research Foundation. You can follow her on Twitter.