Exclusive: Report reveals young Leeds Muslims blame government for ‘serious failures’ on counter-extremism

Aisha Rashid, chair of the Leeds Muslim Youth Forum
Aisha Rashid, chair of the Leeds Muslim Youth Forum
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YOUNG muslims from Leeds are calling on David Cameron to reverse the “serious failures” of the last decade to stamp out the problems of radicalisation.

The calls come on the day the country unites to remember the victims of the 7/7 London bombings, an atrocity which killed 52 innocent people as well as the four perpetrators, three of whom had links to Leeds and Dewsbury.

Exactly 10 years on, a major new report featuring the views of 100 teenagers and young people from Leeds has given a damning verdict on the collective failure of policy makers to engage with the country’s young Muslims or to learn any lessons a decade after the attacks.

The report - seen exclusively by the YEP - criticises the Prime Minister for his recent comments suggesting that some Muslim communities were “quietly condoning” the actions of hundreds of youngsters who have recently travelled to Syria to join the murderous cult of the so-called ISIS or Daaesh jihadist movement.

It also slams the “serious failure” of successive Governments to acknowledge that foreign and domestic policies have played a part in radicalising even more youngsters - and suggests that this collective failure is leading to some young Muslims in Leeds and beyond feeling more alienated and disengaged from UK society.

The report says: “It was fundamentally wrong for the Prime Minister to blame the Muslim community for young people joining ISIS. In fact this served to further alienate large sections of the Muslim community.

“They felt that the majority of the Muslim community were for peace and deplored the abhorrent actions of violently extreme groups like ISIS. Not to acknowledge the role of politics and policies in fuelling such violence was a serious failure on the part of both past and current government. The young people could see how the Internet and social media had been used as a tool to groom often vulnerable and impressionable young people.”

The report also found that:

>88 per cent of the Muslim youngsters questioned identify themselves as British, with the majority saying their Islamic values do not conflict with British values.

>They are disgusted and appalled by the actions of groups like ISIS and the 7/7 bombers. Yet they feel increasingly under suspicion and stigmatised, and under pressure to constantly prove their loyalty to Britain.

>Some mosques in Leeds were - according to young people questioned - still stuck in “time warps” and were “intimidating spaces instead of places of sanctuary”.

>Young Muslim people had nowhere to turn to discuss issues like sex, drugs and lifestyle choices.

>There was a “culture of silence in mosques surrounding political violence”, and claims that “whenever we have a terrorist attack, the mosques brush it under the carpet - they don’t talk about it and the kids are left to get answers on the street”.

>Most Muslim youngsters had experiences of discrimination in some form. There was almost unanimous opinion that the mass media played a “destructive role” in shaping young Muslims’ perception of their role in Britain. Comments included: “Negative media makes us feel alienated. The religion has been hijacked” and “when a crime is committed by a Muslim, the first thing that is highlighted is his religion...and it’s like Hitler was a Christian but no one ever mentioned that…”

>Youngsters feel that global events do impact on their local communities, with atrocities committed by ISIS, the Tunisia massacre, the Gaza conflict, Syria, far right politics, discussions around the banning of the headscarf in France and banning of minarets in Switzerland all resulting in an “outpouring of concern”.

The report will be launched at a major conference in Leeds on July 21.

And its writers and young contributors are eager for the Government to take note of its findings.

The Leeds Muslim Youth Forum, which compiled the report, is also calling on the Prime Minister to make the journey to Leeds himself to gauge real, grass roots opinions in formulating future counter-extremism policy.

The report makes 12 key recommendations including urging a clampdown on, and increased reporting of, Islamophobic hate crimes; more money for community centres to give youngsters a space to talk and meet constructively; better access to and funding of mental health workers and youth counsellors; better youth councils to be set up in mosques; open access to mosques for women and girls; and a proactive drive to increase positive representation of Muslims in the media.

Aisha Rashid, 29, is chair of the Leeds Muslim Youth Forum. The organisation was set up as a direct response to the 7/7 bombings and the city’s links to three of the perpetrators.

She was just 19 years old on July 7 2005, and finding her feet at University, when the news broke of the attacks in London, actions which she describes as “unforgivable” and “devastating”.

But reflecting on the post 7/7 world for young British Muslims, she says: “The world around young people today is so different today than 10 years ago.

“Since 7/7 things have definitely become more difficult for Muslims living in Britain, hostility and discrimination is a reality for some and more recent events have only added to a rise in Islamophobia.

“Young Muslims living in Leeds have been at the centre of the world’s media and under much scrutiny since the events of 7/7.

“The Muslim community has worked tirelessly to redress some of the negativity surrounding the Islamic faith.

“However the voice of the Muslim youth is often unheard or ignored, especially when discussions around next steps and solutions are being had. Young people are not involved, they are classed as the ‘problem’, tainted by association.

“Although most young people I speak to feel very much distanced from the events and perpetrators of the attacks they still feel their loyalties are questioned.”

Fahad Khan, 28, is a charity worker and former founding member of the Leeds Muslim Youth Forum.

He says the events of 7/7 were very important in shaping our current society and community relations.

He adds there was “plenty of good work being done in cross-community engagement” post 7/7- but he is damning about policy makers and their failure to learn the lessons of the last decade.

“What has changed really in a meaningful way?” he asks. “What are policy makers really doing that is so meaningful, and engaging with communities on a wider level?

“We have seen a stark rise in Islamophobia across the country, we have seen riots in cities across the UK a few years ago. These are in direct response to people feeling targeted, neglected, forgotten, struggling.

“I feel that the current government, and in particular ministers like Theresa May, have done little to heal scars and have done little to engage with young people, disadvantaged people, faith communities and others. Infact the scars have widened,

“Government policies towards Muslims and irresponsible press reporting and media portrayal of Muslims in the UK and across the world has resulted in the creation of groups like Britain First and the EDL.”

Mr Khan stresses that while there may be perceived failures at policy level, “communities have moved on and people want to get on with their lives”.

However he believes that it is possible to join the dots from 7/7 to current issues with ISIS.

“David Cameron recently said that some elements of the Muslim community were quietly condoning ISIS recruiting but where and who? He failed to mention that part.

“If he has the intelligence then show us. ISIS and groups like them are known to have taken the advent of social media to their advantage and use these as tools for recruitment yet the government is always a step behind.”