In this part I am going to try and offer some solutions.
The ideal solution, of course, is world justice. If Israel would refrain from killing any more children in Gaza, and if Netanyahu would be taken to court to answer to the charge of crimes against humanity, for example, that would definitely help. Social justice would lead to less frustration and then hopefully no-one would feel the need to adopt radical ideas. But all this of course is a distant dream, or maybe a long term objective, and let's keep working towards that. But in the meantime, how do we tackle this growing problem of increasing frustration that can in some instances lead to radicalisation? This may only be a tiny percentage of our total Muslim community that adopt radical ideas, but it only takes a couple of crazy people to do a whole lot of damage.
I heard two statements from imams in Paris following the terrible shootings, both of which I felt were not the right response. Of course the acts were condemned, something we must all do, but then I heard the suggestion, something along the lines of, "we need to teach our children in schools about respect for democratic values" - I guess he was angry, and we all are, but it did sound a lot like "we need to pin our kids down and tell them what's right and make them listen to us". Any parent of a teenager however, might understand, teenagers don't respond too well to being told how things should be, and actually, sometimes the more you shout at them, sometimes the more they go and do the exact opposite. The other suggestion I heard from an imam was that police aren't doing enough and need to do more to protect our children - as if it is lack of security that is the problem here, and police the solution. Really, is this the best that we as a Muslim community can come up with? Put the blame and the solution in the hands of our schools and police? I for one, as a mother, am not prepared to sit back and trust the police and schools to protect my children, no way! Sure they might help, but shouldn't we first look at ourselves?
I have here some suggestions regarding how we can tackle radicalisation, or rather keep our kids safe, primarily for the Muslim community. I believe in looking for solutions from within. But since there will be other authorities reading this, let me also first offer a few suggestions for the none Muslim society:
For Governments (in particular the British government, since this is who I know best):
- Please sort out your foreign policies and put human rights for all before national self interest.
- Please keep offering your support to the Muslim communities in whatever way you can. This may come for example in the form of support for youth clubs - both Muslim and none Muslim - let's get our young people included in society. Let's help youth leaders to get training in how best to work with the youth of today, and briefed in the complexity of issues our youth are coming up against. Also please support any interfaith activities - we don't need government ministers making a show of themselves in marches of solidarity trying to score points in popularity ratings, but any practical support such as funding to help with communications and basic resources might be a good idea. And yes please do keep encouraging schools to work at those multi-cultural issues and help bring about policies of inclusion for peoples of all faiths and those of no faith also, focusing on our shared humanity.
- Please consider carefully how to 'bring back' youths who were often let down by society and sucked in and abused by radical movements with sinister agendas. Many of these youth are victims of an unjust society. When our government's political agenda was to go to war with Syria, fighters were being held up by the media almost as heroes. When the foreign policy changed, the media did too, and all of a sudden those people who had ventured out to try and help 'save babies from slaughter by the evil Assad' were all of a sudden revealed to be terrorists. Some youths were taken in by deceitful people and went to fight in Syria simply because they wanted to protect and stop the suffering of innocent civilians, then when they got there they realised what they had got themselves into was not what they expected, but they were not allowed to return. Some mothers worked with government agencies to help bring their sons back, but when children returned, of their own accord, they were locked up and given hefty prison sentences. Remember the biblical story of the prodigal son - perhaps showing mercy to those who turn back after realising their mistake would be a better approach? The reformed 'terrorist' would likely be a far greater ambassador to save other youths from making the same mistakes than anyone else could be.
- Please reflect on how other countries with widespread problems of terrorism helped to overcome their issues and restore calm to an otherwise out of control situation. Many countries, after suffering terrible pain, remembered mercy and brought in amnesties and programs to help rehabilitate 'terrorists', to help them work through feelings of injustice, understand any wrongs they might have committed and help them reintegrate back into local communities.
- Please remember that heavy use of force never helped to solve a problem of terrorism, rather the opposite. But of course you already know that.
For Main Stream Media
- Please stop treating some lives like they are worth a thousand times more than others. Might you write a policy that states all lives are of equal value, and ensure that your reporting and scheduling of stories lives up to that policy?
- Please give greater air space to the voices of the oppressed, the minorities and the seriously frustrated. Suffering voices need to be heard. We all get to see the reports you don't cover, via social media. Your picking and choosing which stories to cover and which to ignore leads to huge frustration throughout our society.
- Please learn about respect for other peoples, cultures, religions. Please don't hit people where it hurts, especially when they are already down, just in the name of 'freedom of speech'. Just because you can, that does not mean you should. Many things you do avoid, hateful words or topics that may cause more harm than good, when you choose - please remember that different things hurt different groups of people. Please let's not confuse hate speech, that which provokes and leads to further hatred, with freedom of speech. Let's remember balance and moderation. Sensitivity is a good thing.
- Please stop jumping on the stories of fear and hatred, just to sell more. Might we see more stories of hope and unity, particularly between people of different faiths? There are plenty, if you care to look. You happily broadcast messages of hatred from misguided radicalists, but seldom do you broadcast messages of peace.
- Please give greater platform to our youth to help them voice their frustrations.
For Parents of Young Adults (Muslim and none Muslim)
- Please let's listen to our children and discuss difficult topics with them, say over dinner - because if you aren't, someone else for sure will be. For example, how many of us actually discussed the recent shootings with our children? And when the bombs were dropping on Gaza, did we talk about this, or did we like to pretend it wasn't happening? Did we ask our children what they had seen? Did we ask them how they felt when they saw the dead corpses of young people who were just their age? Or did we think that would be too painful to talk about? If we do not encourage our youth to talk about their feelings, however upsetting that is for us to listen too, then their feelings of frustration can become overwhelming and will inevitably lead to anger.
- If you struggle with matters of the Internet, if you don't understand the complexities that our youth are faced with today, have a look for parent support groups in your area (or form one). My son's school for example ran a workshop for parents regarding how to keep our children safe on the Internet, and they also ran one for the children too. These things can help.
- Let's try not to forget our own youth and the difficulties we put our own parents through. Let's try and be understanding and give our children all the love, support and gentle guidance they need during these extremely difficult times.
For Students (Muslim and none Muslim)
- Now is a really great time to get together with your various student groups and to reach out with interfaith activities, action groups to help bring about a more just society, and youth work.
- Consider getting together and reaching out to local mosques (or other places of worship) to help out with programs for our youth. You are ideally placed to bring some of your own experience and enthusiasm to help us all tackle this problem together.
- If you have any friends that are struggling with the feeling of injustice, perhaps getting involved with some groups with extreme ideas, try and reach out to them, talk it out, try and help them find someone to talk to who might offer some guidance. Sometimes its the quiet people who start to drift towards radical ideas - try to take care of those people who at times seem sad or quiet or cut off from everyone else - if you have any concerns then have a chat with one of your favourite tutors, they might be able to help.
- If you are experiencing any feelings of extreme frustration leading to anger yourself, let me tell you out of experience, action is the best way to deal with that. When you get a group of friends together and start to do some postive things to bring about a fairer society, one step often leads to another and you might be amazed at your results.
For Religious Leaders of None Muslim Traditions
- Please look for ways you might help support your Muslim community with interfaith activities that help build understanding. If you haven't yet, see if there is a mosque in your area, make a call, start talking. Let's make our communities strong by building on our friendships and understanding.
- If you happen to think Islam is a religion of hatred, and I know from personal experience when I was a Christian that some religious leaders do (although certainly not all), then please learn more and get to know some Muslims for yourself. Challenge yourself, question your own preconceived ideas. When you start to learn more I am convinced you will be surprised that we share many of the same values.
For Muslim Communities and Mosque Leaders
Here's a comment I received recently which sums up exactly my feelings on this matter:
"We are all saddened by the events in France. It is a tragedy for everyone involved. We are in need of good youth programs that can channel their feelings of frustration into something positive. It's not simply a matter of correcting wrong theology, but of also providing a positive social outlet. It's one of the biggest challenges facing our global community." Abu Amina EliasThis for me this is the area which can make the greatest difference. If you haven't yet, please watch this video and reflect on this lesson from nature (also posted in Part 1), 9.45 minutes in:
The buffalo keep their growing calves safe by keeping them centre of the pack. When one of them wanders astray, mother buffalo goes after it and does not give up in fighting off multiple wolves to bring her young calf back to safety. We too are faced with a similar scenario, where radical wolves are waiting to pick off those of our young that go astray. How sad that two of the young men who carried out these atrocities in Paris turned out to be orphans - the very ones our Prophet Mohammed pbuh told us to go out of our way to care for, to love and protect.
- Please look at your youth activities. Do you even have a youth group at your mosque? One that is attended by young adults over say the age of 13? One that supports our young people through the most difficult years of their life and a support group for young adults faced with many frustrations?
- Consider inviting all your youth into your mosque to discuss the current events, to give them a platform to discuss their frustrations, and then offer guidance. Don't just advertise and sit back to see who comes - go and find the young people, especially the ones most marginalised, the ones you don't usually get to see in the mosque.
- Look at ways you can support your young people to voice their grievances peacefully, say through the arts for example - this may be visual, such as through drawings and paintings, through writing, such as poetry or written accounts - how about helping them start their own local newspaper, writing and performing a play - creating music - there so many ways that art can be used to express the frustrations of the youth today, to help them get their voices heard and to speak out for a more just society. Let us embrace the arts for a higher purpose.
- Let's help our young people to make a positive difference in this world. This can be teaching them how to go about peaceful protests, lobbying politicians for change, emailing world leaders, fund raising for charities for those people in need. There are so many positive things our young people could (and should) be doing to change this world - let's give them all the support they need to do this, whilst always keeping a watchful eye to help keep them safe.
- Let's encourage talented teachers and artists into our communities to inspire our youth with ways to work towards a greater vision. There are so many good things we could get involved with that would keep us so busy, we simply wouldn't have the time to sit on our frustrations.
- Look at getting some professional training on youth leadership. Visit other successful youth groups - they don't have to be Muslim ones, they may be from a local church for example. A church I used to attend had the youth at the heart in all they did and it was truly amazing to see some of the results. Young people used to turn up at that church with some serious social issues but they were welcomed in and made such a part of the community that it made huge differences on their lives. I remember one guy who had a drug addiction to heroine walking into church one day, kicking his habit and cleaning up his life almost overnight. Let's not be afraid to look at what other people are doing to cope with the challenges young people are faced with in society today and to learn from positive examples, wherever they may be. Or you might travel out of your locality to visit a successful Muslim youth group in another area.
- When I was a teenager I attended a youth club which was run by the youth themselves - every member of the committee was a young person, we were just assisted by a youth worker who would help give guidance every step of the way. We all learnt so much from the experience, some skills which stay with me even today. Maybe this could be a way to re-energise the youth at your mosque? Maybe give them the reins? Just have those wise people on hand to make sure they don't go racing off on the wrong track, someone they can trust and talk to in confidence, and they should be just fine.
- Let's get discussing those difficult verses which the radicalists love to use in order to promote angry responses. Let's research them and discuss them, look for deeper meaning, together, especially with our youth - it is our young people that need this information more than anyone - let's give them the tools and information that they need to navigate through these rough waters.
- Let's get sharing all the countless stories of our Prophet pbuh regarding his patience and forbearance, especially during those times of frustration, great hardship, and how he responded when he was mocked and ridiculed. There are so many rich examples, let's draw strength from them and share them with our youth and also the rest of the world.
- Please consider interfaith activities. Are you involved in any? If not, how about giving some local church/mosque/temple leaders a call and starting a discussion? It may lead to some great things. There are so many ideas regarding what could be done to improve communications, build friendships and improve understanding. Many radical ideas, in all different communities (not just Muslim ones) are born out of fear which is broken down through greater understanding. Here's a crazy idea: give your local right wing party a call and invite them for a chat over a cup of tea - we all know that Allah can makefriends even out of our enemies.
- Please look at ways to ensure that women are fully included with your activities. If you don't have any women on your mosque committee, maybe now is a good time to invite some on? And if you don't even allow women to visit your mosque, really this needs addressing (I personally have experienced this problem on two occasions) - lack of space is simply not an excuse. Women are important because they bring balance and can help to calm men down when they are struggling with frustrations. Balance is important now more than ever. Women are also well placed to understand the frustrations of our youth and have many creative ideas on how to go about this - a mother's instinct is needed, please make sure our women are heard.
- Please walk by your mosque and imagine yourself as a stranger - consider how welcoming it is, how easy it is to go inside and find out information and reach someone to find out more. I've had a difficult time with this, but these are not difficult issues to resolve. Please try and make sure you have support in place to welcome new people into your community, especially those people new to Islam. You may find that some people who are coming into the faith from other religious traditions, are exactly the people you may need to help you better understand people of other faiths and help you reach out to the wider community to promote greater understanding. Or maybe those new people have some great skills that might benefit your community if you welcome them in and help them find a way to get involved.
One last thing, maybe you are one of those people who really feels very angry with the Western world, to the point where you are considering some kind of armed struggle? Please, please don't give up on love. Anger really does cloud the vision. However hurt and frustrated you may feel, reach out to someone you can trust who is promoting a path of peace, not war, share your frustrations and ask for guidance. May Allah swt guide us all.
You can now download the full report here. Please do so and email to your own mosque and community leaders.