In the name of honour, marriage …and force

Yesterday the BBC broke a story about thirty three girls who have apparently disappeared from schools in Bradford – authorities suspect that the girls have been taken abroad to be forcefully married. The story is not new to the Asian community, particularly to those living in the North of England, but it is one that is slowly being acknowledged and responded to by the community, and to some extent, the current government. There are two problems, firstly the issue of force – be that implicit, or explicit; and secondly, the use of violence to protect honour.

Late last year the BBC aired a programme about honour killings and forced marriages – the content was shocking, and included a number of interviews with prominent Asian community leaders and Muslim figures; highlighting the degree of importance now given to this issue and engaging in discussions which until now have been silenced. The programme alone prompted around thirty referrals in Wales, which usually only gets around two per year, and the message was clear – We recognise this as a problem in our community, and we are willing to face up to it.

The most shocking part however was that it was not only the traditional mindset of first generation immigrants, but one that has infiltrated into second generation British Asian and Muslims – citizens who have been born and brought up in this country. Crimes against young men and women who refused to marry out of force, or worse, against those who ‘fall in love’ with someone outside their own caste, sect, or family – people who are then likely to be ostracised by their own community for rebellion. Estimates by Reunite are that around 1,000 women are subjected to forced marriages annually in the UK (and these are just the reported cases amongst the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi community and do not include the large proportion of men helped by the Foreign Office’s Forced Marriages Unit.)

A few days after watching the programme I decided to catch up with Nazir Afzal, Director of West London Crown Prosecution Service. Nazir’s work in this area began in 2004 when he held his first conference on honour-based violence; his aim was not merely to raise awareness about this issue, but also to develop strategies to deal with such crimes. The resulting interest was phenomenal, “victims hadn’t heard a man speaking out against this issue, and once I’d done this conference, they wouldn’t let me go”. Being tactically placed, with access to senior police officials and Ministers, Nazir has not only been in a position to prevent these crimes from taking place, but also to help prosecute perpetrators guilty of such acts of violence.

But the question is why do young British Asians and Muslims who have grown up in such a multicultural society agree to partake in acts of violence and forced marriages? Without wanting to justify the motives or actions of those responsible, Nazir claims that the perpetrators are often victims of society themselves who succumb to social, cultural and family pressure. Nazir disagrees that the problem is linked to strict religious ideologies within the Muslim community, “this behaviour by no means makes this a religiously induced problem, the causes range from ignorance to a lack of information” he assures me, “mosques are now beginning to talk about it, but even they feel threatened by the community. Men often suffer from identity politics which is infused into them from an early age.” The concept of ‘man being a piece of gold and women being a piece of silk’ is largely believed by young Asian men – who choose to stick to “tribal values” more so than their parents.

But why then is the problem so apparent within the Muslim community? Is this problem linked to a school of thought which promotes forced marriages and justifies violence for the sake of honour? In order to get a better picture of the problem we must examine the demographics of the Muslim community – Around 74% of Muslims are of Asian origin – predominantly Pakistani at 43% – of this community, the majority are originally from Azad Kashmir (including Mirpur and Kotli), equating to around 50% of the British Pakistani community – these are often groups who have undergone chain-migration, live in silos, and try to emulate a particular lifestyle from the Indian Subcontinent.

Second, there is the issue of low attainment and high unemployment which both contribute to overall social well-being and liveabilty (or quality of life). The Muslim community, makes up around 1.5 Britain’s today and has one of the highest unemployment rates at almost 18%. Together, the Pakistani and Bangladeshi community is estimated at around 1.8 million people, of which around 60% is of working age. Of that the unemployment rate is around 17% amongst Pakistanis and approximately 20% amongst Bangladeshis (the current UK unemployment rate being 4.3%).

Educationally, around 33%, that’s one in three Muslims have no qualifications. Out of this group, Pakistani and Bangladeshi boys have the lowest rate of basic, entry-level qualifications (such as NVQ Level 2, GCSEs or O’Levels) at round 22%. Approximately 48% of Bangladeshi women and 40% of Bangladeshi men have no qualifications, compared to 40% of Pakistani women and 27% of Pakistani men with no formal qualifications. The percentage of those with no qualifications in the UK is around 15%.

To add to these factors, Asian and Muslim communities tend to group together and often reside in shared accommodation – this continues after marriage to maintain the traditional “joint family system”, though around 32% of Muslim households experience overcrowding, with Hindu and Sikh households experiencing around 22% and 19%* respectively.

These are all are interlinked causal factors and contribute towards general social status, acceptance, awareness, honour and cohesion – not being fully integrating into British society or accepting the “system” because they are not a part of it. In terms of marriage, Asian communities tend to group together, to maintain social and religious cohesion and a sense of identity. – this ultimately leads to less integration, and the preservation of one’s “natural identity” – they are often seen by the younger Asian generation as an obligation towards an ageing, yet very alive elder generation who they are still somewhat indebted to or bound by cultural ties. Women are more often than not seen as the “honour” of the family and are encouraged to nurture a sense of cultural identity – and so if they do decide to lead a life independent of cultural restrictions and limitations, they are seen as a disgrace and their actions are a crime.

These are all factors which undoubtedly add to slow-progression and ago-old feudal mentality amongst some within these communities. Until these social causal factors are addressed, little can be done to change the perceptions amogst young Asians – but we must acknowledge that this problem is not one that is linked to religious ideology with its roots in Islam or any other established religion.

Later this year, the government will bring into force the Forced Marriages Act 2007 – a rather ‘delicate’ piece of legislation which aims to protect “individuals against being forced to enter into marriage without their free and full consent and for protecting individuals who have been forced to enter into marriage without such consent” – the Act does not limit itself to force through means of violence, but also through coercive methods which include psychological pressure – a problem faced by a large proportion of young British Asian adults, the majority of whom are bound by perpetual indebtedness and ‘honour’ in the UK today.

Although welcomed by many enforcement bodies and community leaders, the Act is essentially looking to reduce the number of immigrant-marriages by force, a strategy which seems more in line with current immigration limitation plans, than to reduce forced marriages. It will not abolish the long-standing tradition of emotional pressure, nor will it, in my opinion, prohibit or deter crimes committed in the name of honour.

If you fear you may be forced into an arranged marriage, are suffering, or know someone who may be, you can contact:

FCO Forced Marriages Unit: 020 7008 0151
Southall Black Sisters: 020 8571 9595
International Campaign Against Honour Killings: http://www.stophonourkillings.com/

*Data has been sourced from National Statistics Online.

Scaremongering about Shariah Law

It has happened again – someone says something about Islam, Muslims, law, Shariah, UK, etc, etc, etc, the media starts it’s god-forsaken scaremongering, the ignorant public jump to their own ill-informed conclusions and go into a frenzied panic. Actually, Muslims should have been anticipating this for a while now, the media did seem a little thin on the Muslim-bashing side recently (oh, aside from the “bugs-under-Mr Sadiq Khan’s-table” of course).

This morning I woke up to news that the Archbishop of Cantebury called for measures to incorporate parts of Shariah law* into the British legal system. His comments have been faced with harsh criticism from politicians and media moguls alike. Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips reacted with the following statement: “implication that British courts should treat people differently based on their faith is divisive and dangerous“. Has the man finally lost his mind?

Then you have No.10 officials who apparently claim the Prime Minister “believes that British laws should be based on British values” – How on earth does this statement mean the Prime Minister is opposed to aspects of Shariah law being incorporated into the current legal system? The PM himself has been the Keynote speaker at virtually every Islamic banking conference since 2003 as the then Chancellor. If anything, he very much welcomes Shariah compliant law and has gone so far as promoting it as an alternative method for British Muslims. The simple truth is that people just aren’t aware of the facts.

One newspaper (commonly read by most London commuters) ended their coverage on this topic with a rather disturbing statement “the Islamic legal system can dictate the dress-code” – what? This is absurd and totally inaccurate. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs and comments, the Muslim dress-code is not defined by Islamic jurisprudence and is instead a “suggested” approach, which many Muslim men and women choose to adopt through their own free will. It is precisely this kind of incompetent and irresponsible journalism that prompts turmoil within communities which usually live in perfect harmony for the most part of their lives.

Speaking to a couple of non-Muslim colleagues this morning (who approached me about the issue) I found that they felt the same – “what is all the fuss about? Shariah courts already exist right?” was what they asked – and they were right. Shariah laws are already practised amongst British Muslim families today – the issue here is whether civil law should be flexed to adopt to Islamic law for Muslims living in this country and not whether the Islamic penal code should be adopted – which is what is frightening everyone. I think I can safely say that the majority of Muslims do not want to see a change in the penal code in the UK – they merely want a more adaptable system which permits and recognises Islamic legal rulings on things like marriage, divorce, banking, and so forth.

The mere fact that a non-Muslim has brought up this issue should be enough of an indication that British Muslims are not looking to take over the world. This debate should be welcomed and thrashed out in a reasonable and sensible manner through knowledge and common sense, not through poorly informed scaremongers.

*Shariah law = Often translated as the “Islamic way”, based on Muslim principles of jurisprudence.

Is Islam Good for London?

While the government harps on about social inclusion and community cohesion, the media continues to muddy the debate with biased sample surveys focusing on whether or not Islam can contribute to British society – the most recent one being carried out by the Evening Standard. The YouGovStone survey on Islam published earlier this week looked at the opinions of “700 influential’s”.

The mere fact that this question is being asked is worrying – why is the religion of Islam being scrutinised here? Why are we asking whether or not a particular religion can or cannot contribute to British society? Is religion not a personal thing? Being devil’s advocate for a moment if the prevailing view is that Muslims (the people and not the religion) are to blame for terrorism, then why is the question about Muslims not being asked? Should we not be scrutinising the motivation of a (I am about to stereotype here so bear with me) 23 year old Muslim economist to go and blow himself up? What are the key factors that push him over the edge? Surely there must be more to it than just religion. What about identity? What about foreign policy? What about citizenship? Are these not factors to include in the debate?

There are over 1.5 million Muslims living in Britain today, most of whom live in harmony and with utter respect toward their British compatriots. In my opnion the religion of Islam has nothing whatsoever to do with the debate. By raising the question of religion the media continues to choose the easy answer – blame Islam and everything will be okay. By doing so we yet again marginalise an already alienated group, so is it any wonder there is so much resentment within the Muslim community? This obsession with pointless sample surveys must stop; data is relative, and it can be manipulated to serve whatever purpose one chooses. Out of the 700 opinions taken, not one was mine – and it certainly isn’t the consensus of the British population.

Citizens of the country please wake up; reclaim your indviduality, and with it – your voice.

‘Sour’ism

In my relative short stay in the UK, I have been able to attend many interesting and informative lectures and events. A recent one turned out to be a tad different- the first sign was the queues outside the venue. Who queues to listen to a lecture, I thought. But this was a high profile lecture that had attracted the level of attention it seems it intended to attract.   

The speaker was a Maajid Nawaz, an ex-Hizb ut-Tahrir, senior member. To my knowledge, the group does not have a very visible presence in South Africa, so I was interested in the inside scoop from this ex-member. I guess I was misinformed; because an inquest into the faults and flounders of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) was not forthcoming. Maajid is a brilliant public speaker, perhaps a trait that served well in HT, which I came to understand, is a political movement. A political movement with an Islamic ideology. To be honest, I was not sure what HT was about before the lecture, and I am still not sure.

But this is what I took away from the lecture.  Maajid explained his colourful history with HT, and some of the interesting experiences he had with them- from establishing HT as the power on his college, to spending time in a jail in Egypt. I was loving this guy and savouring every word he so eloquently delivered.  But as he went on, I found it difficult following his logic.

For the sake of brevity, and to convey my understanding, I will merely explain the picture he painted in my head. ‘HT wants to establish an Islamic state. This is a fallacy that cannot exist in the world as we know it.’ (I could not agree more.)  But then he somehow came to the conclusion that, ‘Islam is not meant to interfere with politics. Islam is about your spirituality and personal life- for your political life you need to rely on pragmatism and logic only.’ 

Based on my base knowledge of HT, this thought of his seemed like the direct opposite, and most definitely not the balanced view. And when challenged by some of the audience members, apparent HT members and not, Maajid shamefully either evaded most of the challenging questions, or merely failed to respond in an intelligent manner.  

I knew little of HT before this lecture, and I still don’t know much. I must admit that this has encouraged me to look into them at some point and see for myself what they are about. However, for what I have benefited from this lecture, I am thankful. 

I remember not the challenging questions from the eloquent sister on Maajids view on ‘Islamism’, or the elderly gentleman’s caution against using ‘loaded’ terminology or the young mans implied accusation that this was a publicity stunt.  What I do remember is that Maajid mentioned his blog too many times. I could almost imagine him saying, ‘And if you visit my blog today, you will get an opportunity to be a member of my political campaign!’

Because that is the impression that soured my thoughts- was this guy just here on a PR campaign to build his reputation as a politician? Why was he saying the ‘right’ things, quoting the ‘right’ people and making it known of his association with the ‘right’ people?  The advert to the lecture asked these questions- What should Muslim politics really look like? How do we disentangle Islamism from Islam? Should our political attention not be more focused on developing our communities, contributing to wider society, and using all the democratic means at our disposal to inform, campaign and lobby on the greater issues affecting the Muslim world? Sadly, I don’t see how this came even close to answering any of them.  

The City Circle brother at the end made it clear that City Circle is an open platform for discussion and debate. I remember thinking to myself, this is brilliant. This is exactly what Muslims need- a platform where different thoughts, opinions and views can be expressed. Because from this, we can only grow and improve these thoughts, opinions and views and hence become better Muslims and better people.

But sadly, this brother messed it all up by resorting to juvenile insults of HT. And I didn’t need to be a member of HT to then leave with a sour taste in my mouth!

Britz – Part II (Nasima’s Story)

Yesterday there was a tidal wave of blogs and articles written in response to the first part of Brtiz, with a divided opinion amongst most Muslim writers about the content of the film; some were hailing the docu-drama as a positive step towards raising awareness, and the other (not so convinced) half dismissing it as another ploy to make British Muslims feel even more paranoid about the current UK law and enforcement system than we already are. I must say that after watching the second part, I am beginning to see sense in the “propoganda” argument – but I’m not completely won over. Why? Because last night’s programme was riddled with so many flaws that it made it difficult to believe that any reasonable-minded person with so much as a percent of understanding about Muslim British women would take the story of Nasima at face value. Some scenes depicted were so unrealistic and absurd that I couldn’t restrain myself from shaking my head in utter disappointment, and I doubt I was alone. I am sure a kazillion Muslim women must have been out there ranting; shouting “that is not how we are!” I know I was.

Initially Nasima is shown as a free-spirited young woman in her early twenties. She is not exactly the ideal role model as a Muslim woman, and in any typical Asian community Nasima and her brother Sohail would have been termed as the local vagabonds – the one’s who you’re supposed to stay away from because they are so corrupt. Yet somehow, Nasima’s parents remain oblivious to her dual-personality in scenes where she is arrested under ASBO laws, and then when she finally does turn up at the hospital her mother is totally calm. A true depiction of that scene (in Bradford of all places) would have been the mother yelling curses at her daughter even if she was lying on her deathbed for bringing “shame to the family” by spending a night in a cell. Nasima then goes off (again) to spend the night with her boyfriend and the family / cultural angle of this is never shown.

Eventually things change for the worst in Nasima’s life when her best friend ‘Sab’ is bizarrely arrested under Anti-Terror laws for the possession of four packets of chilli powder. Sab is put under a form of house arrest, falls deep into a state of depression, and finally commits suicide. Disillusioned with the system after the death of her friend, Nasima becomes politically active but is intrinsically weak and confused. She decides to learn more about political Islam; a version of Islam that is born out of the injustice faced by many in war-torn Muslim countries. At first she tries to advocate the need for democratic resistance and protest through peaceful means, but when she realises that this is a lost cause, she becomes frustrated and eventually ends up with more radicalised Muslims at university (all the while still with her boyfriend.)

One day Nasima takes up the challenge of wearing the hijab for the day, and begins to relate to the alienation felt by many scarf-wearing sisters, but she does not at any point take out time to learn why they wear it or for that matter, what her religion teaches – her perception of Islam is so basic that it almost renders null and void. This to me is a vital point. If the purpose of this tele-film was to show why ordinary British Muslims generally turn to terrorism then they could have at least shown a more realistic stereotype. I don’t know how many, if any, would have been able to relate or understand Nasima’s story.

Nasima’s motivation behind joining the camp is unclear; throughout the journey to Pakistan and even whilst in training we are under the impression that Nasima is grieving over the death of her friend Sab, even at the end when her co-jihadist tells her that she will land a place by God she replies “that’s not why I’m doing this” – so then why was she doing it? Nasima didn’t seem too bothered about UK foreign policy, because there was not one scene where she mentions this, and is instead angered and fuelled by Sab’s suicide. This is what makes the whole thing so absurd and unrealistic – because it was a revenge crime and not a terrorist one. She was protesting against the death of her friend, not in response to the crimes against humanity; and surely not in the name of Islam. 

In a way I should be pleased that Nasima was not shown as another radicalised hijab wearing, niqab clad Muslimah who cannot see beyond her husband’s or father’s beard to make up her own mind about Islam, but instead shown as a juvenile and misinformed girl with pathetic motivations. I feel no sympathy or connection with Nasima because she was so unreal and unlike any other Muslim women I have ever known, and in comparison to Sohail’s character, Nasima failed to convince me in her role.

But the one message that I do hear loud and clear, and one that I also echo, is that Muslims like me and you (if you’re reading this) have to speak up – there are no other means of tackling this issue without getting to the heart of it, debating the complexities of the problem, and creating dialogue with those in power – those who we are told “matter”, through our democratic rights. This is my country, my home, and I refuse to live in a state of paranoia or in a community that surrounds itself with conspiracy. If those who are fighting this war say it is not against Islam, then it is the duty of every citizen to question the motives behind this war and protest against injustice without depending on a narrow interpretation of a version of religion that suits their particular needs. I know many people will disagree with me on this, but I honestly believe that if one voice can change two minds, and two minds can change four, then eventually the world will change – slowly but surely. But until then, I am fearful of the growing number of young Nasimas and Sohails whose motivation is not based on religion but something far deeper, something far destructive – revenge. Those Muslims who choose to ignore this reality are in my opinion living in a state of denial and temporary foolish sanity.

Britz – Part I (Sohail’s Story)

Never before has there been so much press coverage about a TV docu-drama. Britz, the work of the renowned Director Peter Kosminsky, was aired for the first time on Channel 4 last night. The highly controversial and much debated telly-film is a fictitious drama about two young Muslim British siblings in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings and the impact that anti-terror legislation has on their lives. In today’s blog, the FreeWriters Team discuss views on the first part of the programme.

Zareen

Last night I decided to suspend all judgement; I took the view that no matter what was shown, you can’t make fiction without generalising to a certain extent, so I had already prepared myself for the inevitable Muslim-stereotypes and backward minded Bradford-stanis. I was glad I did, because for the most part I think that “Sohail’s story” was a fairly accurate one.

Thinking back, university life really was like that (for me at least), you had the hijab-wearing, beard-clad, “lecture attending” Muslims, and then you had my crowd – the one’s who were somewhat oblivious to why religion (pre-9/11) meant anything at university. During my student years, religion was a personal belief that meant praying five times a day and fasting as much as you could during the month of Ramadan. It meant having one identity at home, with the family, and another with your mates (both Muslim and non-Muslim) – and that wasn’t because you didn’t know who you were, but it was because somehow you were brought up to be fluid enough to recognise your culture / belief and have the flexibility to live life as a normal British person. Whether or not Imams actually do go on campus (and that too post 9/11 or 7/7) and advocate the case for / against jihad and people actually get sucked into that is a totally different matter, but it wouldn’t surprise me as I have often taken the view that many radicals do target the young and impressionable; the “keen learner” – and where else to find these susceptible, questioning student minds than at colleges and universities.

The not so startling scenes were those of the relationship between (questionable, are they dating, aren’t they?) Sohail and Shazia – one that I must say is not uncommon amongst many young men and women from my generation. Shazia was a girl who seemed to balance both tradition and modernity but at the same time wanted to learn more about the complexities of what she believed was her religion. Sohail on the other hand seemed intent on giving her liberties she felt she already had, to quote Sohail “I’m, surprised you’re not wearing the f*ing headscarf” – what’s wrong with the headscarf? These small differences amongst men and women in the Muslim community often grow into larger issues of belief and liberty and in my opinion create more disharmony amongst an already divided community than anything else. But the fact that they drew attention to it was a commendable move.

Sohail’s disillusioned state brought about by the deprived community he lived in was not an uncommon story I have heard and seen many times before. Originally from Bradford, Sohail is shown as an enthusiastic British Muslim who is struggling to come to terms with the radicalisation of many of his compatriots and friends “back home” (in this context, Bradford) and decides to get into the system to fight terrorism – he is proud of being a British Muslim and sees his role as “paying back a debt” owed to his parents when they first came to this country. To some extent this may be true and Sohail’s mentality is resonant of many Asian British Muslims living in England who still genuinely believe in a notion of indebtedness – that somehow immigrants should feel indebted. Without delving too much into the history of colonisation, I do not feel that I owe my country, Great Britain anything – For me, if that indebtedness did exist, the buck stopped with my parents. I do not feel that I owe this country anything more than my white middle-class, wage-earning English neighbour. I was born here, there is nowhere else I call home – and in my book, if you call this your home, you shouldn’t feel the need to repay any debts. I am however a loyal citizen – but loyalty and indebtedness are two very separate things.

Sohail’s experience at MI5 however really took me back, the gruelling cross-examination and slightly sardonic work environment was a convincing portrayal of UK intelligence, which not surprisingly led to Sohail’s own internal battle about whether he was recruited to be an informer. In my opinion Sohail’s character dealt with the complexities with nerve and didn’t just accept it; he questioned MI5’s motives. I would too. At times, I also found myself proud of Sohail for fighting the Muslim corner – for admitting that the war against terror seemed more like one against Islam and that in fact, the UK’s foreign policy was one of the main factor provoking many British Muslims towards radicalisation – an argument which has been fervently denied by our former PM at Breakfast with Muslim Leaders ay Downing Street in the aftermath of 7/7.

But the part that I found a little disturbing was when Sohail and his blonde sidekick (whose name leaves me) went to visit an old friend of Sohail’s who’d been captured by British authorities; lying bruised and battered on an operating table, Sohail, unaffected, did not even flinch. When questioned about “who” he saw, Sohail replied “I just saw an informer” – It seems shocking that any person who sees someone they are in someway affliated with could feel nothing. Without targetting any one group in my example, if a white non-Muslim got abducted in Palestine, would people in the west not be emotionally affected? It was total nonsense if you ask me – if anything he would have been shocked for the sake of humanity.

Although I strongly believe that it is worthwhile broadcasting programmes such as these, to increase awareness about British Muslims and the motives behind their allegiance with one of their many identities, I am conscious that it does generalise (and not propogate) far beyond reason. Showing that Muslims can work for the government and be good citizens who love their country is indeed a positive message, but the stereotype given, that to fit that bill you somehow have to abandon your own traditions and cultures, and surrender to drinking alcohol and having one-night-stands (another stereotype which, I didn’t think showed Western women in the most positive light either) is a dangerous move.

I look forward to part two with gritted teeth…

Zahir

I echo Zareen’s need to grit her teeth – I found the drama on the whole to be tense, informative, and challenged various stereotypes. It was also the first glimpses we had inside a world which affects us yet most of us aren’t privy to know much about – the world of secret intelligence. The closest thing I have watched to this is the ever popular 24 on US TV, working in the counter terrorist unit in the US, and my comparison will be with that. 

My main issue with the show was the idea that just because one is proud to be British, that they should be ok with giving up civil liberties. Especially that torture is ok. Sohails his character seems to take this in his stride, whereas just about every non-Muslim I know would’ve been sick at the sight of the brutal beating the Muslim had taken. That’s despite their having no loyalties to Islam at all. But for some reason he was unaffected.  

Sohails character did make me fume, as it will have done most moderate Muslims who have ever been troubled by common perceptions of Islam. Yes he believes violence is wrong, and yes he is proud to be British. But that doesn’t mean that one must abandon their culture or religion or any notion of human rights. I agree with everything he felt. Yes I have been around people who say violence in the name of Islam is ok, and yes it does make me sick. But I challenge these people, and look to scholars like Tariq Ramadan, also proud to be European, for inspiration. The program fed a common misunderstanding, that Islam is just no compatible with the west. When he went to the lecture and heard an extremist speaker, why didn’t he challenge him? And is this the true face of Islam? To the common viewer that’s precisely what they’ll think, and its wrong. Sohail’s character fails to understand that there are 2 ways to challenge those who undertake violence in the name of Islam; Join MI5 as he did, or recognise that these people are deviants, and help Islam find its true voice. 

For this, I disagree in that I didn’t find the central characters to be realistic at all. I found the sister to be the more realistic of the 2, but even then, I can’t reconcile how her extreme views towards Islam reconcile with her having a black boyfriend. To start with, she wouldn’t even be accepted into radical sisters or Islamic circles for that alone. It also questions her motives, and then says her radicalisation wasn’t really to do with Islam, but something about justice, and having her friend commit suicide. That is a believable story. Moderate Muslim, has a black boyfriend, starts hating anti-terror legislation and the loss of human rights. But then this person wouldn’t blow up civilians. I personally just don’t find it credible where she makes that next step to becoming a bomber – Whets clear is she doesn’t do it in the name of Islam. 

On the whole, I found it entertaining. But that’s all. Was it an accurate depiction of anything that happens in the world? I didn’t think so (notice how it was the UK that undertook torture – again there’s no evidence of the UK being complicit in the US policy on secret rendition). I don’t think the sister accurately reflects what radicalises a Muslim, and I don’t think there are many people like Sohail. I should know. I share many of his views. More seriously, the program has profited from and fed a certain stereotype of Islam, which is inaccurate, that its fundamentally incompatible with the west. When will Muslims be consulted, or able to share what really happens, rather than having people who know little about these issues writing / filming in their name?

And so they begin…

7.15am. My journey to work begins. I walk into the tube station, grab a Metro and head for the escalators. A mob of sullen-faced, seat-hungry city-workers rush behind me and I find myself in a bitter feud with stilettos and laptop-cases; mini flasks and gym bags. Their glum faces do nothing for me on this miserable Monday morning. I ram my way through and finally manage to cram a space between two heavy-loaded rucksacks and what seems to be an ipod under a hood. As comfortably positioned as I can be, I look down at my crumpled Met and sigh. But it is too early in the morning to moan, so I fidget around, open the front page and perform my first ritual of the day.

I am a Londoner.

8.00am – bang on time. I exit the station and head towards the office. The security guard flashes a smile at me as I walk through the barriers, and then to the escalator that eventually takes me to my office, towering over the river. I walk onto my open-plan prison, decaff latte in tow, wave to my one random colleague and switch on my PC. I log on and wait to start my first non-official task for the day – skim-read every news site I can in search of a story; a story that will in someway concern me; a story that will somehow affect me.

I am a British Muslim.

Welcome FreeWriters.

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