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We cannot be hard-headed in fighting homegrown extremism

Let us welcome and aid the government in their counter-extremism strategy, because it is for our benefit too

Y.M. Yassin

Published: Updated:

We cannot deny that there is a homegrown extremism problem in Britain. Latest figures estimate that around 700 Britons have joined ISIS. Although this is a small number considering the 2.7 million British Muslims, it is enough to make the government set out plans to fight this problem.

I am from a town where non-Muslims are the minority. Two boys that I grew up and played football with joined ISIS last year (they didn’t know each other). I was never close friends with them, but if we did pass each other by, we would shake hands and engage in small-talk. I don’t know how or what radicalized them and I have no interest in asking their family or friends about such a sensitive topic, but I know that their families are in a lot of pain right now. I want to give my recommendations – as a young British Muslim who probably knows extremism better than armchair commentators – on how prevent this problem. Part 1 of this article is for the Muslims and part 2 is for the Left and Right wing.

Let us welcome and aid the government in their counter-extremism strategy, because it is for our benefit too

Y.M. Yassin

Homegrown extremism will not end unless there is compromise. Muslims, the right and the Left cannot keep pointing fingers at each other. Every side must accept part of the blame so we can deal with this issue. Can we just put our pride aside and think of the poor families who have lost their children?

Message to Muslims

Do not be suspicious of this government’s counter-extremism strategy. Measures such as PREVENT are not Islamophobic and they do not criminalize ordinary Muslims. The government only wants to fight extremists, radical Islamism.

Let us welcome and aid the government in their counter-extremism strategy, because it is for our benefit too. Firstly, those who commit terrorism in the name of Islam do not care if they harm Muslims also. Four out of the 52 killed in the 7/7 bombings were Muslim, which was bound to happen if a suicide bomb goes off in a city with a huge Muslim population like London. Secondly, if extremism is eradicated, there will be no need for the Muslim community to be constantly scrutinized and have to go on the defensive like we always have to. Are we not sick of constantly having to apologize for these extremists even though they do not represent us?

Let us also understand what is meant by non-violent extremism. This doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to raise concerns for the plight of the ummah (Muslim world), nor take the government’s stance on foreign policy. No government would be stupid enough to expect Muslims to stop sympathizing with the plight of Palestinians. Non-violent extremism in the political sense, is to believe in the conspiracy theory that Islam is globally persecuted by the kuffar (non-believers). This grievance narrative creates a ‘them vs. us’ mentality between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is the belief that the believers and disbelievers will always be in a state of warfare, hence any western presence in Muslim lands is unacceptable.

Although the grievance narrative is sometimes justifiable, because many Muslims in the world are suffering, we have to be balanced. Let us remember the times when the West actually did good things for the believers. Wasn’t it NATO that saved our Kosovan brothers and sisters from Serbian nationalists?

Muslims opposed to western involvement in our lands view it suspiciously. Many of us ultimately view these interventions, not as altruistic, but based on selfish business interests. As a result, some of us resent countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE for having western countries as allies. This is also a form of non-violent extremism and we need to shake it off.

Let us view countries as humans. After all, they are run by humans. All humans are naturally selfish and want the best for themselves. Which human would willingly enter a friendship that is not mutually beneficial? For example, I am currently looking to get married. Can I just demand any random female’s wali’s (male guardian) number and begin negotiating mahr (dowry)? Of course not. I have to find to a woman that is nice, intelligent and whatever else appeals to my interests. Likewise, I would have to match what appeals to my potential spouse’s interests. The same applies to Muslim-Western relations. The west may only be there for our natural resources, but our countries are benefitting from their trade to help advance our economies and even protection to guarantee our security.

Just look at the plight of my parent’s country Sudan. Years of diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions from the West mean that Bashir’s government doesn’t even have the funds to filter sewage from drinking water. Before we view any relationship with disbelievers suspiciously, let us also not forget that (by mainstream accounts) it was a non-Muslim (Abu Talib) who protected our prophet (pbuh) from Quraysh.

The problem with non-violent extremism isn’t the opinions themselves. The most extremist person I’ve had the misfortune of knowing, holds all these opinions about how the kuffar (non-believers) will always persecute Muslims just because of our deen (religion) and how Muslims shouldn’t integrate (neither domestically nor internationally). He is even violently capable. But he is also anti-ISIS and deems them transgressors. Nonetheless, I still fear how his words could indoctrinate the impressionable youth who adore him, into acts of violent extremism.

Nobody just wakes up one day and decides “I want to go to Syria now.” Radicalization builds up slowly but steadily, via non-violent extremism. The families of the people who join ISIS are also part of the ummah. Let us think of them, and prevent other families from the suffering of having to lose their loved ones in such a way – by getting rid of this ‘them vs. us’ mentality, once and for all.

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Yassin M. Yassin is a Muslim, 20 year old born and bred Londoner. As a freelance writer, researcher, translator and amateur film-maker, his list of clientele include; The New Statesman, Dazed and Confused and the Guardian. His specialist topics are British and Arab politics and youth culture. Having interned at Al-Hayat's Riyadh office in 2014, he is currently studying for an International Relations degree at University of London, SOAS. A full portfolio of his work can be found on his blog; www.bookofyas.tumblr.com. He can be found on twitter at: @yassoon2015

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.