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'Counter-narrative' needed to draw young from extremism, Riz Ahmed tells MPs

Star Wars: Rogue One actor Riz Ahmed has warned better representation of young people from minority backgrounds is crucial to curbing the spread of extremism.

The star said the country had "failed" to equally recognise BAME, LGBT and disabled people as he called on the Government to do more to boost diversity in the workplace.

Leading Channel 4's Annual Diversity Lecture in Parliament on Thursday, he said: "In the mind of an IS recruit he is the next James Bond.

"Everybody thinks in their own head they are doing the right thing.

"But where is the counter-narrative to the terrorists, telling these kids they can be heroes here?"

According to Ahmed, preventing extremism is one of the three E phrases central to achieving a culture of fair representation, alongside "economic benefits" and "expanding the idea of who we are as a nation".

But while more television programmes featuring minority groups are a step in the right direction, he said the Government must enforce stronger rules for employers across all industries.

"There is a serious hiring problem and it's only when the Government steps in to set the rules of the game that it really drives people," he said.

"I propose tying public money to proper representation targets so that when unconscious bias creeps into employment decisions, it shows."

Addressing politicians directly, the 34-year-old added: "You won't be handcuffing employers to anything and they will thank you for it in the end."

The broadcaster's chairman, Charles Gurassa outlined an increase in diversity employment, but agreed there is "plenty of room for improvement".

Ahmed, who starred in Chris Morris' 2010 dark comedy Four Lions, said: "The term diversity actually turns me off a little bit, it makes it sound like a luxury, like a bit of spice sprinkled on the top, but we need to understand that it isn't an extra, it is representation.

"Every time you see yourself reflected in the media it's a message that you matter."

To illustrate his point, he told how he still finds himself being pulled aside for second inspections at airports, even when flying to America for a Star Wars premiere.

"It's a funny experience being asked for a selfie by an officer while they are swabbing you for explosives," he joked.

Ahmed's plea was also backed by MP Helen Grant, who sponsored the event.

"Culture change is not easy, but it is crucial," she said.

"As a Government we have to do more and all ministers should be driving this.

"We have done the surveys, we have set the budgets, we know what to do but we need to get on with it."

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