MEET THE DERADICALISERS DERADICALISERS
Following the recent conviction of Birmingham woman Tareena Shakil on terrorism charges, Grazia reports on the people doing everything in their power to stop those young British Muslims who are travelling to Syria to join IS
WHEN TAMARA* TOLD HER MUM she only wanted to live among Muslims, it naturally came as a shock. The teenager, who had previously been a One Direction fan and loved having her friends over to listen to music, was always on social media. Now, the 15-year-old said she believed in a global caliphate and didn’t think it possible to be British and Muslim at the same time. Gradually, she had been pulled into radical Islam through Twitter, to the point where she was considering leaving her suburban, London terrace, where she lived with her mum, dad and siblings, and going to Syria.
Astounded and appalled, Tamara’s mother was at a loss to know what to do. So, on the advice of a friend, she turned to Sajda Mughal OBE, a 7/7 survivor who set up a programme called Web Guardians to help parents whose children are at risk of being radicalised. Sajda started visiting Tamara several times a week over coffee.
‘Initially, Tamara was hesitant to cooperate and tried to hide her views. But slowly, over a 10-month period, she opened up,’ Sajda says. ‘She’d say things like, “I don’t want to live in a society that’s not right.” I called in a faith leader and youth services – providing her with a friendship network. It struck me that Tamara lacked role models she could identify with and felt segregated. She was searching for a way to belong.’
Tamara is one of hundreds of young
Britons who have been radicalised. Thanks to her family’s – and Sajda’s – intervention, Tamara never did travel to Syria. Other parents, however, have not been so lucky.
When Grace Dare’s parents named their little girl, they picked a name that means kindness and goodwill in the Bible. They never dreamed the pop-loving teen, who enjoyed fifilm studies and football, would grow up to become a Jihadi bride. But when the 24-year-old Muslim convert flfled to Syria with her toddler son, Isa, she became the latest young Briton to join IS’S (also known as Daesh) fifight for a caliphate. Last month, Isa, now four, made headlines after appearing in an IS propaganda video after his mother said she wanted to be the fifirst British woman in IS to kill a Western hostage. Then, just last week, he appeared in a new video, apparently blowing up a car with three hostages trapped inside.
But why, when we hear stories of beheadings and hostages being burned alive, are young British Muslims still being persuaded to join this death cult?
Adam Deen, a former member of banned Jihadi extremist organisation al-muhajiroun, told Grazia, ‘The people who are doing these barbaric things and the people who travel to Syria to join them think they’re actually serving God. It’s brainwashing. IS say they will give Muslims a chance to live a pure Islam. They’re tapping into the minds of insecure, young Muslims’ crude understanding of the world.’
Last month, the Department of Education launched the Educate Against Hate website and the Government also proposed new laws that would give even nursery staff a duty to report children at risk of becoming terrorists. Communities are wringing their hands trying to work out how to stop young people from becoming radicalised online, and families of those who flflee often have no idea that their child had terrorist tendencies.
Adam was a member of al-muhajiroun for 10 years before rejecting the group’s views and joining counter-extremism think tank The Quilliam Foundation. During this time, his family were unaware he was burning American flflags outside Downing Street or that he was developing a close relationship with the organisation’s notorious founder, Anjem Choudary.
‘I was a normal teenager,’ Adam explains. ‘I did the whole girls, clubbing, drinking thing. But I started fifinding it boring and thought there must be more to life. When I was 18 I developed an interest in Islam, but found that I couldn’t relate to the elders at my mosque. One day, a young guy was handing out leaflflets and talking about Islam in a way I could actually relate to. Because he was around my age, he captivated me.’
There are 2.71 million Muslims living in the UK. Since 2011, some 800 are thought to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join IS. Like Grace, they include women and families. ‘Social media has allowed IS to achieve what no other extremist organisation has been able to,’ adds Adam. ‘They’re social media-savvy and produce 1,200 pieces of new material every month. Today, extremists are able to reach and indoctrinate people on a mass scale.’
Rashad Ali, a consultant for the Offifice for Security and Counter-terrorism, speaks to girls whose sisters have run away and boys whose uncles have left the UK, and helps them understand that they aren’t duty-bound to follow. ‘Some are being told by their families to join them, so they feel torn. Emotionally, they feel they should and, religiously, they feel obliged to join the cause.’
Rashad, who specialises in deradicalisation and is also a senior fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, says young British Muslim women who are being radicalised online are being told that Western society has no respect for them. Although the West grants women more rights than countries like Syria and Iraq, they’re being radicalised to think it’s exploitative. Boys who go to Syria or Iraq are more attracted to the fifighting, whereas girls are going to support the ‘new state’.
‘Everyone is surprised that young girls who are doing well in their GCSES are disappearing. But they’ve been captured emotionally and intellectually,’ Rashad adds. ‘There’s a concerted effort to target younger people. It’s similar to grooming.’
The Home Offifice is working closely with councils, the police and communities to offer advice on recognising signs of extremism. Part of their strategy is to prevent terrorism through their work with mosques, faith groups and schools. These methods are being adopted in the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, where some residents generated headlines after being radicalised. Debbie Jones, interim director of children’s services at Tower Hamlets, says the Prevent programme is about making sure children have the skills to recognise the messages others might try to push on them.
Eventually, Tamara realised the ideology being peddled to her was wrong. Sajda says, ‘Now, if I mention that period, she’s embarrassed and ashamed. She’s studying for her A-levels and wants to do medicine at university. I shudder to think how differently things could have turned out.’
However, this wasn’t the case for little Isa, who should be in his second term of primary school. Instead, he’s in a war zone, being used as a pawn by those whose message to the world is unfathomably sinister: ‘We will kill non-believers.’
Left: Muslim protestors at Downing Street in 2011. Below: British IS convert Tareena Shakil (with her son Zaheem) – now jailed. Bottom: radical preacher Anjem Choudary awaits trial