Whilst sitting at a counter extremism conference, in room a with a fabulous London view, ironically something quite ridiculous, frightening and extreme was going on just a few miles away in Cricklewood.
As it turned out, not many people had heard about two people being run over outside a Mosque by white racists who didn’t much like Muslims. Those who had heard needed reminding whenever I brought it up in conversation. “Oh yes, I remember. Silly idiots, weren’t they drunk or something?”
Each time I found myself having this conversation I found myself becoming increasingly exasperated by the excuses that those I spoke to afforded to the Mosque attackers. A select few understood my frustration, but most did not.
Think of it this way. Can you imagine if people with Muslim sounding names had run a car into some people outside a church? You can easily envisage the outrage. The lack of concern I observed really was hypocrisy at its best. I have tried to challenge extremism for over 12 years. If I felt so upset and outraged, imagine what must have been going on in the minds young Muslims.
I wanted to find out what such people were thinking so I made my way to the local mosque and asked the imam. “What was the response of the young people who attended the mosque youth club.” He said there were obviously discussions around the attack when it happened. It was a shock to the local community and they had reached out to their neighbours to offer support. The imam explained that young people said they felt like they were second class citizens, their lives were not as important and it seemed unfair that no one cared about the people who had been knocked down. Nobody organised human chains. There was generally only limited media attention. On the whole, the attack was not on people’s radar.
The apparent lack of public concern gives the impression to young Muslims that incidents only matter when perpetrated by an Abdul, Farooq, or Jamal. In turn, that leaves them susceptible to conspiracy theorists who will tell them that society is against them, their identity, their religion, God and everything they stand for. So what should they do? Anjem’s crew has an off-the-shelf answer for them. How many will listen to him before it’s too late?
How do we face young Muslims, look them truthfully in the eye and say that things are not messed up?
But what if there was an alternative view, another way forward for young people to feel hopeful that they can make a change, to challenge hatred and not to give up? We need to create a generation of optimists and the way to do this is through collaboration, empathy, and a desire to right the wrongs. We also need to believe that hard work pays off.
On the 19th of October during Hate Crime reporting week there will be a stand outside my Mosque in North London. It is not much but it’s a start. Young people need a space to air their views, build relationships with those who understand and empathise with them. Whatever they hear in the news, whether it is an Islamist attack or Far Right neither one is good for young Muslims
We need to drive out extremism together. The young and old, the black the white, the Muslims, the Jews, all faiths and none, the gay the straight: it is time to campaign loudly and clearly. We’ve had enough of extreme views, that represent an ignorant minority. The time to do this is now as we see the damage of extremism, of their poison seeping into the veins of society.
Yaxley Lenon and Choudhary and their fellow travellers capitalise on unrest and division. Let us get there first. Together.