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How young will help us defeat radicalisation of their peers

By Sabbiyah Pervez

Published 07/07/2015

Lest we forget: 7/7 memorial
Lest we forget: 7/7 memorial

A decade has passed since four men travelled to London and blew themselves up, killing 52 people. I was 16 and I remember it well; I remember the confusion, the anger and the shock.

When the attacks occurred in 2005 I was already conscious of my Pakistani heritage.

I was attending a private school where the student population was predominately white.

Following the attacks my religious identity took centre stage. The term 'British Muslim' was coined, which posed an identity crisis. Could I be British and Muslim? These questions encouraged me to look at Islam in-depth.

I hadn't done before, but I hadn't needed to. Nobody had asked me about my headscarf, or asked questions like: "Why does Allah tell you lot to go around killing us?" I found I was comfortable with my identity - and I knew that terror had no place in Islam, a religion of mercy, compassion and peace.

But, in some ways, I was also young and naive; I did not expect that the generation below me could be groomed to join a movement such as Isis.

Over the past month I have spent a lot of time speaking to people who know those who have left for Syria. A significant push factor is identity; you see many of my generation recognise that their heritage is Pakistani, Somali, Arab or Bangladeshi.

Many of us are second or third-generation children of immigrants with strong ties to our parents' birth countries. When we visit the "motherland" we do not belong because we speak the language differently, or we look and act in unfamiliar ways. Yet in the country we are born and raised we are sometimes seen as a threat.

Community workers up and down the country are doing brilliant work mentoring young people and trying to prevent radicalisation and we have to acknowledge and appreciate their work. A lot of the time that work goes by unnoticed. But there is so much more to be done by all of us.

Two days ago a relative came to my house to break his fast with me and my husband. He is a very good friend of a family member of one of the victims who died in the Tunisia attack, and mentioned casually in conversation that at first he was worried to go over to the house and offer his condolences. He asked us if it was too soon. "I worry if they will now see me as a Muslim," he said.

In that bleak moment it felt like the world had come round in a circle. I remembered the stories my parents used to tell me of enduring racism on the streets when they first arrived in the UK. I worry about what the future holds for my children, and their own identities.

I used to think my generation would never have those problems, but over the past couple of weeks I have heard of the backlash Muslims, and those that look like Muslims, have faced. It appears the focus on racial prejudice has shifted to religious prejudice.

Yet, a couple of days ago, I travelled with a group of young people from different faiths on a peace journey to London from Leeds. They took the same journey the bombers from Leeds had 10 years ago, but they were replacing it with peace.

It was a mixed group of different races and faiths and we travelled together. They paid respects at the 7/7 memorial and they heard from survivors of the attack.

Before I left for my journey home - after what was an emotionally and physically exhausting day - one young person turned to me and said: "It's all about unity. If we stand together as humans, we can defeat terror."

I walked away feeling hopeful and inspired.

Belfast Telegraph

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