Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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8.3.2 Anti-radicalisation: youth work and the government agenda 2001–8

Shamim Miah has more than a decade’s experience working with young Muslim people in Oldham, Greater Manchester, and has more recently become and advisor to local government on the implementation of ‘anti-radicalisation’ policies. In the following transcript from an audio interview, Miah assesses the impact of these policies on young Muslim people.

Please click ‘Reveal comment’ to read the interview.

Activity 35 Interview with Shamim Miah

Read the interview with Shamim Miah.

Comment

David Herbert
After disturbances across several Northern cities in the summer of 2001 the Government commissioned the Department of Communities and Local Government with promoting a community cohesion agenda to address tensions thought to underlie the disturbances. After 7/7 the same department was charged with promoting a new Preventing Violent Extremism agenda, with more direct emphasis on policing and preventing crime and disorder, coupled with new and controversial legislation designed to prevent terrorism, such as increasing the period of detention without trial and increasing police stop and search powers. Shamim Miah, for many years a youth worker and local government policy advisor in Oldham, Greater Manchester, began by explaining his role in relation to local government, and how he had seen government policy changing:
Shamim Miah
I’ve been working for the local government sector for a good part of eight years and that’s basically within social policy, policy advice and also I work at the equality issues following on from 2001. So when I started work within the policy field the equality strand was very much the key agenda, especially in the backdrop of the 2001 riots. But obviously after 2005 that particular agenda started to change from more community cohesion debates around community cohesion to more of an issue of dealing with radicalisation. So I’ve been increasingly actually taking that role on. It’s an interesting initiative really because initially it started off within the framework of community cohesion, so it was a case of you’ve got incidents happening within the community, you’ve got vulnerable individuals and also you’ve got people who are just getting on with their lives. So the best approach was to actually tackle it through the framework of community cohesion. So basically what you do you go out and do community development, community empowerment, community engagement with a view of dealing with those issues of radicalism and what motivates people. But I can see the agenda slightly shifting from the community cohesion debate to more of a crime and disorder one and that obviously has some merits, but also has a lot of kind of negative aspects as well. And that negative aspect primarily revolves around the idea of policing the community, and policing the community I don’t think is actually an agenda that Muslim community wants to embrace.
DH
So I asked Shamim to explain what difficulties Muslims were experiencing as a result of recent changes:
SM
Speaking to young people and also the general community, I think there’s a kind of genuine fear of Muslims being stopped and also genuinely fear that depending upon which internet site that they go on, whether it be for their own personal research or whether it be for a university dissertation, there might be, MI5 kind of tagging them. And also I mean I know quite committed individuals that work within the community regeneration field and community empowerment etc. quite fear of that knock on the door in the early hours of the morning by the secret service. So I think those aspects of it are quite live. Some people that are not in part of the Muslim community, I think that might be quite difficult for people to actually understand and comprehend. But those, those fears are quite realistic and that’s not just within the domestic fear, but also the fear of travelling if you’ve got a long beard, or if you’re a Muslim woman wearing a Hijab going from one country to the other. And those fears are actually kind of then passed on to those particular kind of social spheres that you’re actually entering. So I think that’s had actually had a huge impact, er, both in terms of psychological mindset and also in terms of the kind of sociological understanding of social factors.
DH
Finally, I asked Shamim where he thinks government policy is going wrong, and what could be done to improve the situation. His view is that the government needs to engage with Muslim concerns about foreign policy and to recognise the diversity of Muslim opinion. He then goes on to argue that the positive side of young Muslims critical engagement with British foreign policy is that it shows them to be engaged in the kind of critical debate that should characterise democratic citizenship, and argues for a more constructive harnessing of these energies. Notably, he argues that young British Muslims critical engagement with the media is a key aspect of their performance of democratic citizenship.
SM
Most of our consultation has actually allowed us to understand that this problem is a multi faceted problem to say that yes the community needs to take some ownership of the blame, but also the government also needs to be taking some of the ownership as well. But the line from the government seems to be that okay the ownership is all on the Muslim communities, it’s your problem, you deal with it. So I think that’s not necessarily a very helpful approach and the key area that consultation seems to kind of reach a stumbling block is the aspect of foreign policy.
So I think those, it’s quite clear that one of the core reasons why people are actually getting involved in these particular activities is because of their frustration of American foreign policy and also kind of UK foreign policy as well. So I think that is one aspect of government policy that I think that needs to kind of just ‘open up the doors’ –at least allow those particular debates and discussions to actually take place, not necessarily saying that the policy in Palestine or Chechnya or whatever the case may be, it needs to kind of stop today. But I think that there just needs to be a recognition and also a debate needs to be had between the community and also the government around the role of foreign policy in creating or motivating people to become radicals. So that’s one core component and I think the other core component I think I would say is perhaps to actually understand the, the discourses that’s actually currently taking place within the Muslim community, actually understand and appreciate the Muslim community for what it is. There are various strands within the Muslim community from the continuum of conservatism to liberalism. There’s a whole raft of interpretation of Islam and that actually makes up what the community is.
What’s really surprises me is that you speak to a twelve year old or a thirteen year old and you ask them to sit down and have a chat about the role of Afghanistan or Iraq and you’ll be quite surprised in their detail of knowledge, of facts and how they actually see those particular kind of events. And I think that is quite unprecedented for young people generally because I think that the Muslim community is highly a political literate community and I think in part the reason for that is because their access to information isn’t the normal media channels such as the BBC. They’ve got various other kind of global channels through cable television, Al-Jazeera is one classical example and also the internet has actually allowed young people’s horizons to be kind of broadened. And so their information – the diversity of information is more richer than the one that you actually get from either reading sadly to say even the broadsheets within the UK or the news channels.
Young Muslims have a very much a critical reading of news, also kind of government policies. I think it’s quite good in the one sense because that demonstrates what an active citizen should be. I mean when we’re talking about citizenship and Britishness, and I think this is the ideal kind of aspect of what Britishness should be, the element of discern, the element of critical reading and I think that’s quite important. And even if I do a workshop with them, you know for young people, I’m quite really taken aback about their challenging comments and also some of their kind of the, the scrutiny that some of your comments or the concept that you introduce that they will kind of put that kind of under. So I think it’s on the one hand I’m quite optimistic and providing that particular kind of energy and that zeal is actually channelled in a positive way.
 

Activity 36 Question related to the interview

How has government policy on community development changed since 2001, and what problems have these changes produced?

Comment

Miah outlines a shift from community development (oriented to address the issues thought to be underlying the disturbances in several northern English cities in the summer of 2001) towards anti-radicalisation and more of an emphasis on crime prevention post 7/7. Miah identifies several problems for Muslims with this switch of emphasis. First, a fear of new police powers in a range of areas being misused. These include fear of being accused of terrorist activity if radical internet sites are accessed out of curiosity or for research purposes; extended stop and search powers; and detention without charge for extended periods. Secondly, those wearing visible Muslim symbols such as the hijab or a long beard fear possible abuse from members of the public. Finally, Miah identifies a lack of government engagement with Muslim grievances about aspects of foreign policy, especially in Iraq. He argues that the government underestimates the level of young people’s understanding of foreign policy.

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