There has been a lot in the national news recently about West Yorkshire and unfortunately most of it has been focused on the negative. Both Bradford and Dewsbury have hit the headlines for the wrong reasons and it is now more important than ever to stay together and stand strong.
Bradford has seen its fair share of problems in the past – most notably the 2001 riots. At that time the people who live and work there joined together and found a way forward. This time the headlines are about extremism. There is an unconfirmed report that one of three sisters who went missing from the city may now be in Syria. The majority of people who live in Bradford will be shocked by this and will be unhappy to see Bradford in the news for the wrong reasons.
Now is the time to show people that West Yorkshire has a lot to offer and that just because a minority choose to follow extremism it does not, as one national newspaper has suggested, have areas that are ‘a breeding ground for extremism’.
I know that there will be a lot of shock and concern from people in the area. Only by working together will we better understand and deal with the danger posed by radicalisation and travelling to places like Syria and parts of Iraq.
I think that young people don’t fully understand what it could mean to be in one of these places. They are likely to witness extreme violence and could become either victims or perpetrators of the violence themselves and could be drawn into committing extremely violent acts that they would deeply regret.
If anyone is concerned that a friend or relative is expressing extreme views or contemplating travel to Syria or parts of Iraq then it is vital they take action to try and prevent them leaving. Think about the options – you can do nothing and your son, daughter, brother, sister, niece or nephew could leave the country to make their way to Syria or parts of Iraq where the likelihood is that they will never come back, or you can take action and stop them leaving – they may hate you for it but surely it’s better that they’re alive and safe than fighting as part of an extremist group.
We need long-term solutions now, not knee-jerk reactions. I have launched a scheme called Community Voices – this is an online training platform that provides a service to credible voices within local communities who are helping to tackle online radicalisation. The training offered helps members of the public to spot the early signs of extreme ideologies. It also educates the young and potentially vulnerable and impressionable members of society by challenging what they see online and explaining if it is right or wrong. Community Voices shows people that they are not alone and there is support out there for them.
Let’s all work together to show the rest of the world what West Yorkshire is really about – a multicultural society full of hard-working, honest and caring people.