Young Muslims from Leeds have united in one voice with a survivor of 7/7 to call on the Government to use real dialogue rather than rhetoric in formulating its counter-radicalisation policies.
Gill Hicks, who lost both her legs in the 2005 London bombings carried out by four young men - including three with links to Leeds - returned to the city last night to speak at the launch of a major report by the Leeds Muslim Youth Forum.
She had earlier made an emotional visit to the city on the 10th anniversary of the atrocity.
The report, put together from workshops and interviews with 100 Muslim youngsters from Leeds, makes 12 key recommendations on increasing dialogue and grassroots work with youngsters, many of whom might be at risk of radicalisation from groups like ISIS.
Launched a day after the Prime Minister announced a series of new counter radicalisation measures as part of a five-year Government plan - and blamed a lack of integration for leaving some young people vulnerable to the poisonous ideology and propaganda of ISIS - the Muslim Youth Speak: 10 Years On report urges policy makers to engage directly with the country’s young Muslims and learn the lessons that it claims have not been learned a decade after the 7/7 attacks.
Miss Hicks, who gave an emotional keynote speech at the launch attended by hundreds of people, said: “We are in a roomful of people who might have been nine or ten years old [when 7/7 happened], and growing up in the shadow of the events of July 7, 2005 is something I would like to talk to them further about, how they’ve ended up on this journey to be a part of a group that is absolutely dedicated to making a difference.
“It’s very important for me be the segue at events like this, an embodiment of what can be good and what we also should remain optimistic about.
“Many people have been doing so much good work since July 7, 2005. It’s not only inspiring, but for me it’s also reaffirming.
“What I represent is the connection to the event. I’m a living fact of what happened, and of what can happen when we really look at the brilliance of humanity rather than looking at something that might be hate-filled or looking for retribution.”
She praised the work of the Leeds Muslim Youth Forum, which has been relaunched in the wake of the ISIS crisis to help inform grassroots projects and provide a safe platform and voice for many youngsters.
Asked if decision-makers could learn from the forum, and from dialogue rather than political rhetoric, Miss Hicks said: “Absolutely. I’m an active believer of that.
“But it’s vital that the action is the right type of action. What I am sure about is that we need to have everybody signed up to that page - young people, all of us.
“I don’t want young people to feel the burden of having to make the difference.”
Opening the conference, Imam Qari Mohammed Asim, from Leeds Makkah Mosque, said the young people from the forum were “incredibly inspiring and motivating” and it was “important to channel that energy, that dynamism”.
He stressed that with increased political violence and instability across the globe in the name of Islam, some young British Muslims face “additional challenges” and risks. He said there is a “pressing need to reclaim the narrative about young people” and to promote concepts of “collective compassion and social action”.
“One of the key things that extremists do is call people to action,” he said.
“The counter narrative that we need to develop cannot just be to call people to inaction.
“We have to have viable alternatives that young people can buy into and have a sense of belonging to and eventually make a difference.”
The youth conference comes two weeks after the country came together to mark 10 years since 7/7, and to honour the 52 innocent people who lost their lives during the attacks,
The LMYF report reflects on the tragedy and impact of the bombings, but also gives a damning verdict on the failure of policy makers to engage with the country’s young Muslims or to learn any lessons a decade after the attacks.
The report criticises the Prime Minister for his earlier 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 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.
>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.