When I won the election only weeks ago, nothing could have prepared me for speaking to two dads whose children have been abducted by their own wives.
So what do we know about and why? Truth be told we don’t.
Like most people in this country, I am shocked that mothers younger than me with children as young as mine and some who live in my constituency, have gone to Syria – a war zone.
What I do know is that both Imran Hussain, Member of Parliament for Bradford East, and I have been working very hard to do our best in trying to understand what has happened and why.
We have met with the fathers, the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Head of Police, the Shadow Home Office Minister for Crime and Security, West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner and the Home Secretary herself, all in between managing the media circus and our other constituency and parliamentary duties. Work is continuing to find the missing children and return them to safety.
I have tried my utmost to try and make sense of something which just doesn’t make sense and settled at knowing that it’s not going to happen, but what I have explored are the peripheral issues which have come to the forefront following these events.
By suggesting that some Muslim Communities “quietly condone” extremist ideology, the Prime Minister has added further controversy to the issue and created more rifts.
So in essence, the government’s response to “fixing” this is to teach “British Values”, the slight problem being that I and many other British people still haven’t seen a definition of these British values.
If we are to get to grips with understanding what’s before us, beyond the apparent, which is that we have extremist terrorist groups which churn out propaganda through a variety of well-oiled propaganda machinery and groom people through various channels, then we must talk to the communities and not at them.
I have said this throughout my campaign and continue to say this… we, the communities have our own solutions. The will and abilities to address the needs and issues of our communities are there. What is missing from bringing this much needed approach together is community leadership which is inclusive of all and without hidden agendas and egos. We must empower this leadership to take ownership of the issues and become stakeholders of the solutions, so they play a meaningful part in changing the community narrative.
Ultimately, despite starting with the best intentions, it is clear that the current government prevent strategy is failing, to the degree that in some areas it has fuelled a “them and us” culture. What we need to do is go back to the drawing board and start with the promotion of core human values of tolerance and respect and then move forward together.
Let’s be clear, Terrorist acts are committed by individuals, not communities; but only communities can prevent and defeat them. The Muslim community is at the frontline of our current battle. Any general knows that to win, he must motivate and support his troops. Not denigrate and demoralise them before the fight has even commenced.
The time is to stop using the blame culture to abdicate our own responsibilities. I say ‘ours’ to include both the government and the community. As a government, we need to offer solutions and opportunities that support belonging and a sense of pride with personal identity within a rich and diverse society. But equally, I want to see more consistent approaches and strategies employed by ‘community leaders/imams/interest groups’ coming together and strategizing and using community infrastructure too and taking responsibilities.
The launch of the Islamic Curriculum on peace and counter-terrorism by Dr Tahir Ul Qadri and many other initiatives are positive steps, however, we need to ensure that they reach every mosque, church, temple and community centre.
As a collective / we must look at and understand why a small number of people are being radicalised in this way. Why is there a vacuum and how are we dealing with this vacuum?
We need to move away from the current status quo and start to work with the Muslim community. Rather than haranguing the community in the media we need to support Muslim communities to address issues of marginalisation and promote excellent and inclusive institutions and spaces. The time is to live out basic universal values of tolerance, equality and justice for all.
This has to be a multi-pronged approach which engages others too as politicians, public servants and the media have an even greater responsibility to be measured and fair when they speak about all our communities. That includes being objective and impartial when analysing the root causes of terrorism and extremism – if we allow ideology and counter-ideology to cloud our understanding of these issues , we will never get close to resolving them.
So yes, let’s emphasise the decent values of tolerance and respect we all share. But let’s recognise that good values are rooted not only in a given culture or religion but in our shared humanity. Only then will we defeat this threat, together. After all did not Eric Pickles only recently (January 2015) state in his letter to Muslim Leaders ‘British Values are Muslim Values’.
Naz Shah, Member of Parliament for Bradford West
Follow me on Twitter @NazShahBfd