After the July 2005 London bombings, families, friends and neighbours of the men who carried it out were shocked. They were incredulous that such an atrocity could have been perpetrated by people they had known for years without ever suspecting them of having a bad bone in their body.
They were described as “friendly” boys who played football with local kids, helped out with community work and got on well with everyone. Siddique Khan, who masterminded the attack, mentored children with learning difficulties at a primary school and was said to be "well thought of and liked by children, parents and staff".
More than a decade later, we continue to hear the same narrative after every terror incident. Distraught parents appear on television saying, “We’re gutted… we had no idea what was going on....he seemed so normal."
Such claims are often greeted with scepticism. My own reaction, sometimes, has been one of slight disbelief: “How is it possible that they had no clue…they’re clearly fibbing.’’
Yet, studies have revealed an extraordinary level of ignorance in the Muslim community on the issue with parents, invariably, the last to find out what their seemingly happy-clappy, fun-loving children have been up to. Ahmad Muthana, whose two sons—Nasser and Aseel—suddenly disappeared one day, first got to know about their whereabouts when they were shown an Islamic State recruitment video featuring Nasser.
Recalling the moment when the police landed at his home with the video, Muthana said: “They asked me if I had a computer and then showed it to me on the screen. I was shaking and in tears; my wife fainted and has still not recovered from what she saw.’’
Kamal Hanif, an award-winning British head-teacher who is running a radicalisation awareness programme, was surprised to discover how wide the communication gap between parents and their children was.
"For extremists that ignorance is a weapon. If you're not speaking to your child and being very open with them, they've got no-one to go to," he says.
Hanif’s findings will resonate in India where the Muslim community is even more blissfully complacent about the extent of extremism in its ranks. In the past one year, a number of Muslim youth — starting with the so-called 'Gang of Four' from a Mumbai suburb — have secretly travelled to West Asia to join jihadi groups.
“Notwithstanding the Muslim denial and secular political correctness associated with the issue of terror in India…the global jihad has been seeping into Indian society for several years, but its symptoms are beginning to emerge only now,” wrote Tufail Ahmed, a counter-terror researcher and former BBC correspondent in Open magazine.
Over the summer, Hanif has run a series of seminars for Muslim parents and teachers in various British cities, especially those with large Muslim communities such as Birmingham—his own native town—in an attempt to educate them about how extremist groups are using social networking media sites and slick online operations to brainwash vulnerable young minds.
He found that many parents had not even heard of popular sites such as Facebook. And had no idea what their children did once they shut themselves up in their bedrooms with their computers.
Hanif’s initiative is part of a wider campaign involving government and voluntary agencies to sensitize the Muslim community to the threat from Islamist extremism. The idea, he says, is to create a greater understanding around the issues of radicalisation and extremism”.
“Young people spend a lot of their time on the web and social media and they can easily get drawn into extremist ideas without access to a counter-narrative. These seminars will help schools and, in turn, parents, who often have no idea that their children are accessing this sort of information, to pick up the signs, and use the appropriate channels in dealing with these concerns. They will help to equip heads with the counter-narratives to some of the false claims put out by extremists.”
His efforts have been commended by the government which is now seeking his help to engage with the community. But the success of initiatives such as Hanif’s depends on the Muslim community’s full-throated support.
Mark Chishty, Scotland Yard’s most senior Muslim officer, is concerned that it is not happening. He believes the threat can be contained if parents intervene at an early stage by watching out for “subtle, unexplained changes” in their children—such as “sudden negative attitudes towards alcohol, social occasions and Western clothing”. Parents must not only keep a closer eye on their children but also robustly “challenge” their behaviour if they find it suspicious.
Experts say they do have some sympathy for parents because, in recent years, the jehadi recruitment operation has become more subtle and covert. It has moved from mosques and other public places where it could be more easily policed to Internet chat rooms and secret conclaves which many adults (and not just Muslim adults) don’t even know they exist.
But the good news is that finally there are signs of the community waking up, albeit slowly. In an unprecedented move, more than 100 British imams drawn from across the Islamic theological divide issued an emotional appeal to Muslims not to be misled and brainwashed by Islamist propaganda. A similar appeal came from the Muslim Council of Britain, which has been rightly accused in the past of not doing enough to condemn and check extremism.
There is still a sense, though, that the liberal Muslim response has been rather muted, given the scale of the atrocities being committed in the name of Islam.
“Why is there no Muslim Peace Movement campaigning for an end to violence in Muslim countries, where the victims are Muslims and the perpetrators are Muslims?’’ asked The Times columnist David Aaronovitch.
It is a good question to ask of not only British liberal Muslims, but of India’s rather tongue-tied liberal Muslims.
So, where do we from here?
For starters, Muslims must get out of the denial mode and acknowledge the scale of the threat. Granted they are not in a happy position caught up, as they are, between their own fanatics on the one hand, and right-wing looneys on the other. But ultimately it is in their own interest to rise to the challenge. Hanif’s is a good example to emulate. How about it?
Updated Date: Oct 08, 2015 07:24:51 IST