Ignorning young British Muslim voices damages the radicalisation debate

This Tuesday marks the 10th anniversary of the London bombings done by four men who professed to be Muslims, and carried out this attack in the name of Islam. Yet, the words of George Gordon Bryon could never have been truer: “History, with all her volumes vast, hath but one page.” The notion that history all too often repeats itself is both sad and shameful.

Looking back a decade later, it is hard to indulge the fact that although our efforts may have increased, the violent ideology that caused the death of 52 people, has evolved and spread. Where there was just Al Qaida and the Taliban, we now have a so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and many other smaller death cults. The sad truth is that a decade on from the July 7 bombings, we are none the wiser as to what attracts Muslims, in particular young people, to travel abroad, and engage in some of the most brutal acts of violence under the guise of worthwhile deeds.

In countering violent extremism, we have heard academics, security experts, political commentators, politicians and community activists take vastly different views on what are the drivers of this certain type of terrorism. These debates have loomed large, from foreign policy and the role of security services to a complete counter narrative of ideology being the leading factor for radicalisation.

We have even had the Prime Minister, David Cameron go from suggesting British Muslims embody the values of ‘One Nation’, to a few days later suggesting British Muslims are silently condoning an extremist ideology. Bizarrely, some people even believe that to defeat ISIS requires engaging with Al Qaeda and people like Abu Qatada.

For far too long, the radicalisation debate has included everyone except those it has affected the most. With security experts predicting approximately 700 Britons have travelled to join ISIS most of which are young people, it is safe to say young people have a role to play within this.

Taking a look at notable case studies and you can clearly see the link with young people and radicalisation. The four British 7/7 bombers were all young Britons with two still in their teens. Then we have Mohammed Emwazi (‘Jihadi John’), Talha Asmal (the UK’s youngest suicide bomber) and the three young girls who left Tower Hamlets to join ISIS.

Others include the Halane twins from Manchester, and one can continue to list those that have travelled, those that have been stopped at borders or even those that have been investigated and you will find an ‘overwhelming’ link between young people and those being groomed and radicalised also being young people.

As mentioned before, it is mostly young people who are joining groups like Daesh (ISIS). However, young people are nowhere to be seen in this discussion and discourse. Instead of including young people, the space if filled by middle-aged men from politics, academia and think tanks, etc.

The truth is that young British Muslims at a grassroots level just do not relate to these people. This is where a breakdown happens. It is these ‘forgotten voices’ which we need to reach out to in order to tackle this phenomenon.

However, it isn’t just young British Muslims that are forgotten in society – the same is true of most young people in Britain. Allowing 16/17 year olds to vote in the upcoming EU referendum – which will decide the fate of their futures seems a long shot – let alone allowing them to vote in a General Election. Some people believe that young people are not ready for democracy or that they do not care about issues.

Student protests in opposition to the tuition fee increase and the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance, along with the ‘Stand Up Be Counted’ platform run by Sky News (which I was a part of), shows this view to be out of touch. By failing to give young people adequate representation, it potentially allows dangerous groups to profit from our neglect.

It is against this backdrop that on July 7, the tenth anniversary of the London terrorist attacks, my organisation British Muslim Youth, in collaboration with Faith Matters, is launching a national youth consultation. We aim to review and assess the drivers that lead young British Muslims joining terrorist groups. The sole purpose of this consultation is to understand from young people, what are the aspects that lead young people to join groups such as Daesh? What is the appeal? What makes young Britons really leave their home, their families, and their childhood, for a life of tyranny?

During our year-long consultation, which will be led by youth commissioners, we will travel to cities up and down the UK to speak to ordinary young people about their views on the drivers of radicalisation, whilst assessing the accessibility and impact of online material available to ordinary young British Muslims. If groups like Daesh are targeting ordinary young people at a grassroots level and via the social media, than why are we forgetting them?

In the end, ten years have simply passed. This cannot carry on. We have seen far too much bloodshed, tears and families torn apart through acts of mindless terrorism and violence. Now is the time, to include the ‘forgotten voices’ in this debate and we must have young voices front and centre undermining these monstrous ideologies. If a 17-year-old from Dewsbury can travel to Iraq and blow himself up along with others for a cause he believed in passionately (albeit one that was misguided, perverse and dreadful), than there are enough young Muslims in Britain who hold the key to getting us out of this quagmire we are currently in. I know there are such people because I am one of them, but you may not have heard of them, because they are the forgotten voices.

Muhbeen Hussain is the Founding member and Chief Executive of the British Muslim Youth. He has uniquely proven with his abilities that young people can make positive, lasting impacts within society. His success has come through his engagement both with people on the grass routes, whilst also being a regular contributor and leading voice on many media platforms. Muhbeen writes in a personal capacity.