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Being young and Muslim in the UK
illustration Marianne Wilson

Young British Muslims are demanding the government tackles Islamophobia now

In the wake of the recent Christchurch attack, Muslims in the UK are calling for urgent action

Political and faith leaders gathered in solidarity on Monday (March 18) in London’s Regent’s Park mosque to discuss the reality of Islamophobia in the UK. London mayor Sadiq Khan joined the panel with home secretary Sajid Javid, communities secretary James Brokenshire, the archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.  

Following an opening speech about love, unity, and co-existence, the names of victims killed in the mosque massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand were read out aloud. The attacks killed 50 people and injured 50 more in two consecutive mass shootings at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre – the youngest victim was 3-year-old Musa Ibrahim. A minute of silence was conducted in remembrance for the victims.

Arzoo Ahmed, an academic, said action was urgently needed. Pleading to the home secretary, she said: “This is a call to our political leaders, our institutions and our media to search deep within the individual and collective conscience, for what responsibility you may carry for the language that you have used and the framing that you have presented to enable such harmful attitudes.” Looking at the home secretary directly, she asked him to respond to calls for increased spending in protecting mosques and religious institutions.

Javid told the audience: “We have come together again to share our pain. To show that no faith, no race, no community will ever be alone.”

In a statement since, Javid has announced the government is doubling the budget of next year’s places of worship fund to provide physical protection and security at places like UK mosques. “The horrific events in New Zealand are a direct attack on the values of tolerance and freedom of worship that unite us all. Nobody should ever fear persecution of their faith and it’s vital we stand together to reject those who seek to spread hatred and divide us. I know many Muslim communities are feeling vulnerable and anxious. But they should seek comfort from knowing we are doing everything to tackle hate and extremism. That’s why we are doubling next year’s places of worship fund - providing physical protection as well as peace of mind.” The additional £5 million will go towards security training.

Responding to Arzoo’s comments on increased spending and what can be done, Reverend Justin Welby made the commitment to discuss with other bishops “how we can be more effective in our education, to be one people”.

The mayor said: “There’s no doubt in recent years we have seen an increase in nasty, divisive, anti-immigrant rhetoric in our national discourse from mainstream politicians, amplified by the media.” He urged people to call out those who spread hate and putting pressure on tech companies to do more to fight extremism.

A roundtable discussion took place shortly after addressing the audience, consisting of the religious and political leaders.

Aina J Khan, 27 spoke positively of the roundtable discussion, as a great way to “pose difficult questions to those in power”. Aina asked the home secretary whether he finds it problematic to conflate race with crime, referring to a tweet he made last year about the Huddersfield grooming gang where he stated: “These sick Asian paedophiles are finally facing justice”. Aina explained to Dazed that New Zealand attacker’s gun had ‘for Rotherham’ written on it. “How is it that a man 10,000 miles away was able to conflate race with a crime, whether it’s terrorism or sex abuse, and the answer to that is media coverage of the comments that our home secretary has made.”

“How is it that a man 10,000 miles away was able to conflate race with a crime... the answer to that is media coverage of the comments that our home secretary has made” – Aina, 27

She was not happy with his answer. “He didn’t answer,” she said. “Just a bit of political dodging, as always. He promised a meeting, but there was no kind of substantial answer given, and all he said was that ‘I have to call these things out, because I don’t want extremism to brew within my own community’. I said to him that I’m not suggesting that this isn’t an issue in our community, nor is it exceptional, and that’s what needs to be pointed out.”

Aina stresses the importance of action in moving forward. “Action is needed – how do we cultivate understanding between communities that might not agree with one another? I’ve realised that money needs to be allocated to mosques to bolster security. We don’t want to securitise mosques but it has come to that point. Synagogues have funding allocated because of anti-semitism, which is a big issue, and we’d like that too.”

Tiana, 25, doesn’t normally wear the hijab, but decided to on the way to Monday’s event here this afternoon, out of respect. She was afraid to put it on when commuting on the Tube in light of recent events, and so decided to wear it once inside the mosque.

She recalls her initial thoughts when she heard about the terror attack in New Zealand. “I was disappointed but not surprised,” she tells Dazed. “There’s been an increase in the number of attacks against people of colour Muslims and black people in particular by the far-right. There’s been an increase in far-right extremism in the UK as well, so it wasn’t surprising if I’m honest”. Tiana cites Donald Trump and controversial Australian senator Fraser Anning as emboldening Islamophobia and the discourse around it. She wants to see politicians take action and urges the improvement of education, particularly in working class communities.

“It’s not good enough that we only engage with people in positions of power when incidents like these happen” – Mahmouda, 21

Adel Chowdhury 21, works in the private sector and is involved in grassroots community projects. “It was heartwarming to see that incidents like these are treated seriously and that we have such high level of representation,” Adel tells Dazed. He is passionate about a continuous dialogue in light of the mosque massacre and hopes the conversation doesn’t end, because of the effect it has on the lived experiences of his friends and family. Adel says the highlight of the roundtable discussion was the questions put to the home secretary and mayor. He said: “It was representative of what most of us were feeling like the responsibility of language and how the statements made by the home secretary with regards to ‘Asian grooming gangs’ or ‘sick Asian paedophiles’ can feed into the extremist narrative, who may use that ammunition to attack me or my friends.”

Communities secretary James Brokenshire was also present at the panel. He told those present: “An attack on one group is an attack on us all”.  Brokenshire highlighted the growing fear among the Muslim communities following deadly incidents in Finsbury Park in 2017 and Cricklewood last year. He stressed the £5 million funding boost which will be allocated to provide extra security for places of worship and promised a commitment to police patrols around mosques stepping up. The British government also plans to release expectations for how tech companies and social networks should safeguard users, following disturbing live-streams of the attacks across social media which millions of people were able to view.

Mahmouda, 21, is a recent graduate and runs a blog on politics and faith issues. She doesn’t think the security budget is enough, and says that “the issue is that we don’t take right-wing extremism as seriously as we should, so it’s that commitment that we need and more engagement. It’s not good enough that we only engage with people in positions of power when incidents like these happen.” She hopes that Muslims have access to senior figures in conveying their worries and concerns.

Young people have expressed their frustration at being ignored and their issues sidelined in the first place, but from those Dazed spoke to on the day, many are hopeful that changes will be instigated. There’s no doubt that more needs to be done to tackle Islamophobia in the UK, but tackling wider far-right extremism is just as important. Journalists, commentators, and the general public will be watching the progress of politicians closely in the coming weeks and months in fighting Islamophobia, and providing safety at mosques.