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Today, the BBC released footage of what life is like under Islamic State (IS) rule in Mosul. The control of what women wear from head to toe; the persecution of religious minorities; the explosion of Shia and Sunni mosques and the indoctrination of young children through an education based on propaganda, not too dissimilar to the content the Nazis introduced in their education.
With this in mind, one must ask the question, why have fifteen hundred young British Muslims gone to join IS?
As a young person, I feel I can offer a unique perspective. What does it mean to be a young person? There are characteristics that hold across this demographic. Young people like adventure, a sense of the unknown and to really thrive upon an air of mystery and unpredictability. Young people also, on the whole, feel invincible. As life expectancies increase and as public health improves, young people go out with knowledge in confidence. And finally, it is becoming increasingly difficult for young people as opportunities become fewer, with graduate unemployment and youth unemployment still significantly high, and with fiscally conservative measures meaning youth centres begin to close.
For most, what does this mean? A turn to crime, mental health difficulties or a dependency on benefits are common characteristics.
But what can this mean for some young Muslims? For some young Muslims who resonate with some of the characteristics I highlight above, the narrative that is made by extremist organisations becomes quite attractive. And IS successfully manage into this. Their narrative firstly revolves around identity politics and creates this idea that it is impossible to be both Muslim and British. IS highlights the wars that Britain has waged in Iraq and Afghanistan and plays on the feeling of injustice. With a lack of opportunities for young people in the UK, this injustice appears to be more profound and IS’ rhetoric gives off the illusion that there are great opportunities within Iraq and Syria.
Coupled with this, if there is a significant lack of opportunity for young Muslims, then this appeal for adventure is further intensified. The dream of a new start, a new life, where one’s services are desired and where one can feel attached to become tempting. Again, added to the lack of opportunity, young Muslims who have been brought up through strict socially conservative households, are more vulnerable, as the desire to rebel is more profound.
Yet all the evidence of life under IS points to injustice, brutal, barbarity and totalitarianism. Despite this, they have created this narrative and is largely gone unchallenged, and that is a damning indictment upon our government, and us within civil society.
The need to create strong and effective counter-narratives have never been so desired. And we should be setting our case, the case for a quality life outside IS’ brutish authoritarianism.
Firstly, we must set out a counter-narrative under the realm of identity politics. We need to be making the case that is in indeed possible to be both British and Muslim. Which of course it is. Islamic values are compatible with Western values. We need to be setting out the narrative of a quality of life within a multicultural society, where different races and people of different nationalities exchange a hand of friendship to one another. This is significantly more attractive than IS’ divisive ideology of fascism and nihilism.
Secondly, we need to create a counter-narrative to this idea that the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan were Western wars against Islam. It of course was not. These were ill-fought wars battled on the false notion that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which were later proved to be untrue, and in retaliation to the 9/11 attacks within Afghanistan. This made the majority of both wars as one against jihadist organisations, not Islam.
And finally, in our schools and within our families, we need to foster an attitude of aspiration, where kids can dream of being the next Neil Armstrong, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein or John Lennon, regardless of faith group.
If we do all these things, the amount of young Britons travelling to do jihad will decrease sharply. But that means, we have to go out and do it.
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