Young Muslims tell MPs ‘unhealthy focus’ on extremism is stigmatisingthem

Young Muslims have told politicians at a meeting in Bradford to discuss radicalisation that they feel increasingly demonised and isolated.

MPs and around 70 young people aged between 16 and 25, representing Muslim communities in Bradford, Leeds and Dewsbury, met in a hotel for the two hour Big Conversation event. 
Organised by the home affairs select committee it was the first of its kind with three more planned later in the year in Manchester, Birmingham and Cambridge. It was held in a bid to “open dialogue” with young people from Muslim communities.
Bradford has made national headlines in recent years with families being reported as going over to Syria to join Islamic State and it being the home of 7/7 bomber Shehzad Tanweer .
After the event was opened by Labour MP Keith Vaz, chair of the committee, young people were given an hour to discuss a list of questions among themselves before they were given an opportunity to take the floor and voice their opinions.
Among the issues they were asked to consider were whether they felt particularly vulnerable to radicalisation and what role Islamophobic hate crimes played in radicalising young Muslims. Attendees were also asked for their thoughts on the government’s Prevent policy.
Muslims said that there was an “unhealthy focus on Islamic extremism” whereas other forms of extremism, such as rightwing views, were not being scrutinised as much. The media was also consistently mentioned as “stigmatising” Muslims and portraying them in an “increasingly negative light”.
Other Muslims recalled their experiences of unwittingly becoming the focus of police attention after taking part in innocent projects to talk about radicalisation or expressing their views about atrocities against Muslims on social media.
Faizer, a politics student at Bradford University, said: “We feel oppressed and feel that we cannot be open about our views on social media. I have stopped myself from posting things on Twitter because I feel that it could have a knock-on effect and could lead to unwanted attention.”
Another student called for increased communication between imams in mosques and the government. He said: “We should have a mechanism where imams can speak to the government about those that they feel are vulnerable and who are likely to be radicalised. It would mean that young people could be spoken to early on before they become extremist.”
Another young person called for a “level of consistency” in the police approach to different types of extremism and called for controversial columnist Katie Hopkins to be investigated.
She said: “Why is it that Muslims are always singled out. There should be a level of consistency. There are other people who are voicing controversial opinions yet I don’t see them getting arrested or investigated.”
Labour MP Chuka Umunna attended the event and said David Cameron’s recent remarks about Muslim women being deported if they could not speak English were “disgraceful”. He said: “Islamaphobia in this country is allowed to go unchecked and it is not met with the same outrage as, say, racism or sexism. This is no longer acceptable.”
Vaz promised the students that their views would be taken onboard and would feature in a final report to be presented to the prime minister and home secretary.
He said: “There will be no long speeches about what we think is right, we hear enough of those from people in suits every Tuesday. We wanted to come out into the community to hear from you. Absolutely everything is on the agenda. We want to know what is going wrong so that we can take action.”
He added: “The compelling evidence we heard from witnesses so far in this inquiry has shown us how little the processes and factors leading to radicalisation are understood.
“Too often the voices of young Muslims are represented by groups and individuals who are disconnected from the reality on the ground.
“By engaging in this series of frank, open discussions with young Muslim people, starting here in Bradford we hope to better understand what is happening at the heart of their communities, and what can be done to put forward an effective counter-narrative to radicalisation. It is clear that parliament needs a big conversation with the wider community on these issues.”
Bradford West MP Naz Shah, said: “The job of governments is to develop policies that create cohesive communities and togetherness. Clearly Muslim young people’s sense of feeling British is being put to the test by policies like Prevent.”


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