Grant Woodward: We’re sleepwalking our way into hands of Islamic State

Talha Asmal.
Talha Asmal.
Have your say

Talha Asmal was an otherwise ordinary 17-year-old from West Yorkshire who dropped out of his A-levels to drive a car filled with explosives for the Islamic State.

One of the last photos shows him grinning in front of the Toyota he’ll die in. He looks like a lad who’s just passed his driving test rather than one who’s about to become Britain’s youngest suicide bomber.

His parents say he was groomed – in their eyes that makes him a victim rather than a terrorist.

I don’t see it that way. Asmal knew what he was doing and made a conscious decision.

But a big part of the problem is that lads like him don’t need much grooming. They’re stuck in limbo. They feel more a part of the Muslim world than the western one.

Imagine for a moment that you’re a teenager – still unsure of who you are and where you fit into the universe.

Your parents moved away from Britain before you were born and you’re living in a far-off land that doesn’t feel much like home.

That country, for reasons that seem to have more to do with money than morality, invaded Britain, leaving civil war in their wake. A civil war that’s left members of your family homeless, grieving for lost loved ones, or dead.

Putting it like that, is it any easier to get a handle on why young Muslims from Yorkshire are willing to blow themselves up in the name of Islamic State?

Maybe not. And don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m an apologist for those who maim and torture in the name of their twisted “cause”.

But it’s the sort of conversation we need to have if we’re ever going to get a grip on a problem we can no longer afford to ignore.

If we can’t get into the heads of these wannabe terrorists then we’ve got no hope of beating them.

The fact is that young Muslims in Leeds and across West Yorkshire are angry. So angry they’re willing to give up their lives in the most appalling of ways.

It doesn’t help that their religion teaches them to reject a lot of what they see other, non-Muslim teenagers doing.

Binge drinking and all that goes with it – sadly such a central rite of passage for British youngsters – is anathema to them. Already that makes them an outsider.

But the process starts much earlier. Looking at schools for my children, it was striking that in two of the four Leeds schools we visited there was hardly a white child to be seen.

This wasn’t a reflection of the surrounding areas which were a mix of cultures, so what had happened? The trouble is that this is an elephant in the room no one seems to want to acknowledge.

I saw a documentary a few years back where children in Bradford were being bussed to nearby schools just so they could see white kids and vice versa.

That problem hasn’t gone away. If anything, it’s got worse. We’re sleepwalking our way to a dangerous segregation.

I’ve even heard of Church of England schools heavily dominated by Asian pupils coming under pressure to allow Muslim preachers in to deliver religious education.
It’s human nature to want to be around people like you, but if children of different races don’t mix then we’re sowing the seeds for the sort of distrust now being reaped by the likes of Islamic State.

Just last year, schools in Birmingham were allegedly targeted by hardline Muslims as part of a plot to infiltrate state schools and preach extremism.

It’s why in two weeks’ time, public bodies, including schools, will be under a controversial but groundbreaking new legal duty to prevent people being drawn towards terrorism.

It’s at least 10 years too late, but it’s crucial that all schools start actively teaching the importance of tolerance and understanding other cultures and faiths.

But we should go further, doing away with faith schools altogether and ensuring a much better mix of cultures in the classrooms.

Otherwise the Talha Asmals will just keep on coming.

Mixed feelings over Savile play

I MET Jimmy Savile a few times – once spending a couple of hours chatting with him in his strange penthouse flat overlooking Roundhay Park.

When my wife phoned he picked up my mobile and pretended to be a massage parlour owner, explaining I’d left my raincoat behind.

Call him up and you’d always have to go through the same routine. “Is that Jimmy?” you’d ask. “Does he owe you any money?” came the reply. “It’s Grant Woodward here from the Evening Post.” “Not the Grant Woodward?” And so on and so on.

Behind the cigar and soundbites, Savile wasn’t a particularly nice man. That much was obvious even when he was alive. He could be cranky, evasive and downright rude, especially if you refused to go along with his act.

And now we know what we know, I feel uneasy that someone’s written a play about him. An Audience With Jimmy Savile opened in London last week to mixed reviews.

I haven’t seen it – and I’m not sure I need to. After all, I saw Savile’s act up close and personal, I’ve no need for TV mimic Alistair McGowan’s apparently spot-on impression.

Some of Savile’s victims have seen the play though and have given it their blessing. And maybe there is some value in showing how Savile’s act duped us all.

I just feel culpable that, like so many others, I saw a strange, grumpy old man in front of me rather than the monster he truly was.

Right man-child for Top Gear job

I REALISE that if you’re a man it’s considered a crime to admit you don’t watch Top Gear, but it always seemed incredibly juvenile to me.

I know, I know, that’s the whole idea. But it was childish in a private school, won’t-this-be-a-tremendous-wheeze kind of a way.

If I ever saw any of it, I half expected a sniggering Clarkson and Co to be hauled off by matron for tiffin after yet another of their jolly japes.

That being the template, Chris Evans is probably the perfect man-child for the job. And, after the cringe-inducing resurrection of TFI Friday the other week, he’s probably in need of a new gig.

I was just amazed the studio didn’t collapse under the sheer weight of nostalgia on show.

But I’m not sure his unveiling as the next Clarkson was worthy of top story status on the BBC – a clear case of the Beeb losing its news marbles and trying to flog its money-spinning product.

And no, I still won’t be watching.