Citizens Unite, a campaigning group, held a meeting recently to address the issue of young people especially young women from Tower Hamlets who have recently gone to join ISIS in Syria/Iraq. The meeting was held on Wednesday 8th April in Tarling East Community Centre and was presided by Farhana Zaman, Chairperson of the organisation. The well attended meeting brought together community activists, anti-racist campaigners, youth leaders, trade unionists, metropolitan police, mainstream parties and local and international press.
At the outset Farhana Zaman outlined the objectives of the meeting as the need to engage with the form of radicalisation that appears attractive to our youngsters. This can be effectively done by moving away from blame games, facile generalisation and general hysteria. She emphasised the need to develop and formulate, on a short, medium and long term basis, practical and effective responses. Her opening remarks were followed by a presentation by Ben Warner and Allison Hawington on Cyber bullying, issue of extreme right propaganda and general Islamophobia as well as religious fundamentalism and how best to deal with various digital sites.
This was followed by a Q & A and discussion. A young local activist Khadija Khatun summarised the types of digital entrapment that confront young people on the issue of faith tinged with seductive images. According to her the message is packaged attractively to appeal to the idealism of the youth. She further elaborated on the need to develop a counter narrative that exposes the intellectual vacuum at the heart of the “radical” message.
The Chief Guest Rushanara Ali MP alerted all to the seriousness of the issue and how it is important that we don’t sensationalise it or react purely on an emotional level. She urged all to come together and begin the difficult task of rationally considering all aspects of the phenomenon. She pointed out the need to balance issues of security, citizen’s rights, transparency and accountability. Above all it was important to take a multi-agency approach that imbibed an attitude to learn lessons and move forward in an effective manner.
Nasir Uddin, a veteran anti-racist campaigner spoke of the need to educate our young community on what exactly is happening at a political level. The propaganda of ISIS hides the fact that they have nothing to do with Islam or resisting the West. We also need to show the limitation of intervention of foreign powers to resolve problems of faraway countries. He also emphasised the need to learn the lessons of previous campaigns and commended Citizen’s Unite on their initiative. Councillor Rachael Saunders, Leader of the Labour Group in Tower Hamlets Council, spoke of the vital need to co-ordinate our efforts at a local, regional and national level.