Adeeba Malik: Extremists want to divide us, but we can’t let them

Members of the British Muslim Forum and religious leaders from Christian and Jewish faiths pay their respects at St Ann's square in Manchester, following last month's bombing. (AP).
Members of the British Muslim Forum and religious leaders from Christian and Jewish faiths pay their respects at St Ann's square in Manchester, following last month's bombing. (AP).
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When I woke up after the news broke about the London attacks, I was inundated with messages from Muslim friends, saying ‘not again’. They were upset because of the loss of life, the damage done, the impact on families, but also the inevitable fallout – the image of the Muslim faith, and of the community.

We know how the word ‘Muslim’ is now seen. Yet, every right-thinking person knows that the act of a handful of sick lunatics are in no way representative of 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. We all feel sadness, anger, fear, frustration. There has rightly been widespread condemnation issued from local, regional and national Muslim groups in response to the latest jihad terrorist attack.

Muslims are constantly denouncing atrocities committed in the name of Islam. The vast majority of Muslims have nothing to do with extremism. During Ramadan, a month dedicated to peace and fasting, they would also have been focused on charity. According to figures by the Charity Commission, British Muslims gave approximately £100 million to charity during Ramadan in 2016, though this is not reported widely.

Theresa May’s response to the London attack was that there is ‘far too much tolerance of extremism in our country’. This narrative is worrying. Let’s be clear. The vast majority of the population, regardless of religious beliefs, do not tolerate extremism. Poison and divisiveness is quick to spread as people react in anger. It made me think of the words of Jo Cox’s husband, Brendan. His response to the violent hatred of one white supremacist who murdered his wife, was his desire to make sure community tension doesn’t escalate; that anger is channelled against extremist ideology, rather than against communities.

It is important in all the emotion that ignorance does not let us colour this important distinction. The victims of ideological extremism are from all backgrounds; we all know IS kills more Muslims than anyone else, as the recent attack in Kabul showed. We need to recognise that this sick brainwashed minority driving this narrative to divide us are just that. We must resist polarities. Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson’s responses were to use the London strike to call on a Muslim travel ban in the States, and a crackdown on Muslim migration in Australia.

As the country gears up to vote, the terrorist attacks are being used for political agendas and fuelling divisiveness. Extremists – on all sides – are driven by hatred; to separate societies. What is at stake is our democratic values.

As we vote, we vote for issues that will shape our country – our NHS, our social care, our education system. If we use the actions of these handful of extremists to derail the election, or if politicians use them to tap into ignorance, racism or fear to fuel an agenda, then those extremists will have won.

Extremism is a global issue. Trends of isolation will not favour any nation or people, and those in power must realise that this world does not allow nations to build walls around them. We all have to co-exist, to work together and trust each other to find solutions. Regressive ideologies must be countered. Hate-filled rhetoric and acts will exploit communities already weakened by economic and cultural insecurity.

I do not see these terrorists as part of a group, or part of a faith. I see them as sick. Just as nobody in their right minds would condemn all Christians for the actions of the KKK, do not mix up extremist ideology with the entire Muslim community.

How we react is the important question. We need to do the opposite of what the extremist terrorists want us to do, and that’s a choice we make in our communities. I went to an open day at a mosque in York last week and was amazed at the people who turned up – from all walks of life, invited in over tea and biscuits. Although it’s a global issue, it’s at a very local level where we make change.

It was saddening to hear of the racial abuse the Muslim medic, Naveed Yasin, faced after operating on bomb victims at Salford Royal Hospital. A van driver yelled obscenities: “You brown, p*** b******. Go back to your country, you terrorist.” The surgeon, who was born and brought up in Keighley, refused to take away that hatred.

After the Manchester attack, I took my elderly mum shopping in Bradford. The white sales assistant took her arm, and helped her into the car. That small gesture touched my heart. I am a humanitarian. I believe the majority of us are. We need to face down the risks of being polarised, of fuelling division and racism in the wake of the actions of the lunatic few who don’t represent me or you. We need to talk to each other, to integrate and understand each other. That’s where I really believe we can bring about change at a local level. To not give the terrorists what they want: to divide us.

Adeeba Malik CBE is Deputy CEO of Bradford-based QED Foundation which is working to improve the social and economic position of disadvantaged communities.