South of the River – (What’s so funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?

Compass-SouthComment logo 2This week’s column may be a little different from normal. The South Leeds Life committee have tasked me with writing an editorial statement commenting on the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings. So here goes …

I had better start by saying what shouldn’t need saying as it’s so blindingly obvious. The bombings that took 52 lives, injured many more and affected victims’ families and emergency workers, was an appalling atrocity.

As a political action terrorism is a dead end. It kills innocent people and it undermines your grievance. The story becomes terror, rather than what drove you to it.

When it emerged that three of the bombers were connected to the Beeston area, the world’s media turned its attention to our community. They asked how members of our community could carry out such acts, what was wrong with Beeston? It was the wrong question then and it’s still the wrong question now.

Why do some people get radicalised? I’m sure there are many reasons, but let’s try and look at the world through the eyes of a young Muslim British Asian man born and bred in Beeston.

Even if you don’t get overt racist abuse, you are probably fed up being asked ‘where do you come from?’ just because you have a brown skin. You will have faced an even tougher time than the rest of us when you’ve been trying to get a job. You might even have resorted to anglicising your name to get through the first hurdle onto the shortlist. You are bi-lingual, but because your second language isn’t European it isn’t valued by the education system, or by employers.

The message you get is that you don’t fit in and aren’t really valued or wanted in your own country.

Add to that your government joins what was probably an illegal war, despite a million people demonstrating in London against it. The war leads to thousands of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan and the destabilisation of the Middle East.

Now someone gets in touch and says you have more in common with your fellow Muslims around the world than you do with your own country. They paint not just your government, but your whole country as your enemy. And they say you can fight back and you are guaranteed a place in heaven.

The so-called Jihadis’ message is twisted and is not how 99% of Muslims understand their religion. But it rings bells with you because you are disenchanted, frustrated and angry.

Is that what happened to the three young men from Beeston that committed the atrocity on 7/7? I don’t know, but I’m sure it was at least part of their story.

I am not making excuses. There are no excuses. It is about understanding …. And answering the question the media is asking this week – could it happen again today?

The sad truth is that it could happen again. It is happening in similar communities up and down the country as individuals and families are heading to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS.

So what is to be done? The government calls on Muslims to denounce ISIS, but this isn’t a Muslim problem. It’s a problem for all of us. We have an obligation to come together as a community and show each other solidarity. Let’s make sure all our organisations are inclusive, whether it’s a football team or a mosque. We can undercut the siren calls of ISIS, but we play into their hands if we shun or avoid the Muslim members of our community.

It’s not difficult to do and many of us already do it everyday. But we can all do more and make sure that the engagement goes deeper.

Beeston’s response in the immediate aftermath of 7/7 was magnificent. There was a huge vigil in Tempest Road, seven days after the bombings; there was a peace march into the city centre; and a visit to the temporary memorial at Kings Cross. These and other actions were backed by all sections of the Beeston community, black, white, men, women, old, young, Chritian, Muslim and those of no faith joined together in common cause.

We are under the spotlight again and I would urge all our readers to support the Berakah Players’ peace concert in Cross Flatts Park on Tuesday.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.

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