Parents of British Muslims must avoid teaching them religious hostility, and need to emphasise the positive aspects of life in Britain and our shared humanity.
Posted 29 May 2017
I always get annoyed when I hear the phrase "Somebody should do something." Those who say it are disclaiming their ability to effect change, and their responsibility for doing what they can, whether that is large or small.
My philosophy is that whatever the problem, all of us can do something, even if it is very little and if others are capable of doing more.
Few issues are more important than how we raise our children. While sometimes the best parents are genuinely unlucky in having children who turn out very badly, in general the way children turn out tends to be aligned with the way their parents brought them up.
When the Sunday Guardian newspaper of India asked me to write a short piece about the Manchester Arena terrorist attack, I chose to focus on this point. It was published on the Sunday Guardian website on 27 May 2017.
You can also read it below.
The 7 July 2005 London bombings showed that Muslims who were born and grew up in Britain could absorb beliefs that would lead them to want to kill large numbers of their fellow citizens. Their ringleader, Mohammad Sidique Khan, made it clear in his suicide video that he saw himself as a virtuous warrior on behalf of Islam, even if we rightly see him as an evil mass murderer.
Since then, the British security services have foiled many other plots. Sadly, on Monday, 22 May, a young British-born Muslim of Libyan heritage managed to kill 22 innocent people, including many children, in a suicide bombing in Manchester.
While detecting potential bombers is vital, the most fundamental question is how Britain and other countries such as India can stop Muslims growing up to become terrorists.
Furthermore, as free countries, these countries operate under constraints that never applied to totalitarian dictatorships such as the USSR or Eastern Germany, which could censor all the material such as books, newspapers and television available to their citizens. Free societies rightly regard it as vital to maintain freedom of the press, which includes freedom to publish material which may promote loathsome views, including loathsome versions of Islam.
To preserve our status as free societies, the threshold for prohibiting material needs to remain as it presently is in the UK, namely only material which actively promotes terrorism is banned.
In my opinion, the most important responsibility rests with the Muslim citizens of these countries, particularly those Muslims who are parents. Statistically, most terrorists tend to be young, because young people are more easily led astray since they know less, and are less skilled in thinking about the complexities of the real world. That enables them to be easily seduced by someone offering them “the real Islam” and a guaranteed way to paradise.
Raising their children to be law-abiding good citizens, who do not become terrorists, is the responsibility of every citizen, including every Muslim citizen.
If a child grows up to become a violent (or even non-violent) Islamist extremist, then his or her parents have failed.
However, telling a child “don’t become a terrorist” is about as effective as telling them “don’t think of a pink elephant”. What matters are the specific things people teach their children as they are growing up.
For example, Muslim parents can choose to feed their children the narrative that:
If Muslim parents bring their children up with such beliefs, and sadly some do, they should not be surprised if their child is seduced by an online recruiter for ISIS or another terrorist organisation.
Conversely Muslim parents can teach their children that:
As well as what they say, parents need to give consistent messages to their children through their actions.
This includes actively associating with fellow citizens from other religious faiths, joining organisations that include members from all religions rather than joining only with organisations whose members are 100% Muslim, and voting along political lines, rather than along religious lines.
Parents need to behave as good citizens who also believe in Islam, rather than promoting a purely religious Muslim identity to the exclusion of their national identity as Britons or Indians.
By following the above advice, parents can immunise their children against the siren call of ISIS.
While parents have the main responsibility, governments also have a vital role to play.
National political leaders need to emphasise that they celebrate the role of Islam as an important religion in their country. That is why the British Prime Minister regularly sends out video greetings for the main Muslim religious festivals such as Eid and Ramadan.
It is vital to avoid measures that prevent devout Muslims practising their faith as they understand it.
For example, the French government has caused incalculable damage, making the job of terrorist recruiters much easier, by its foolish ban on the public wearing of niqab and burqa. Personally, I do not believe Islam requires women to wear niqab or burqa, but I absolutely defend the right of women who think differently to wear these garments.
Mohammed Amin is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum (affiliated to the British Conservative Party) and Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester. He is writing in his personal capacity.