Let’s take a fair look at Britain First

 

“Every single mosque that is built in this country will affect every single one of us, because where there is a mosque there are Muslims and where there are Muslims there is radicalisation” – Jayda Fransen, Deputy Leader of Britain First

Just who are Britain First and why are they causing controversy?

Why schools need to think hard about what they tell their kids after terror attacks

 

School teaches you all kinds of things besides how to spell photosynthesis. The recent terror attacks in Turkey and Belgium instantly became a global event. As kids across the globe return to their classrooms, teachers are no doubt biting their nails thinking of the difficult conversations that are bound to come up.

 

#1 Teachers are in a position of power.

Contrary to popular belief, kids do listen to their teachers. OK we can’t back that up, but the point is that many kids will have questions about why all their parents suddenly got very quiet on Friday night, what they’re supposed to be thinking during this minute of silence, and why terror attacks happen.

This will weigh heavily on a lot of teachers, some of whom spend more time with students than their parents do, and who know that the way they handle this situation may have have a lasting impact. Judith A. Myers-Walls, professor emerita at Purdue University USA who has studied the impact of political violence on children, told the Independent: “The quality of the response depends a lot on the person who is responding. A teacher can do this very sensitively or very insensitively and some pretend it’s not happening at all.” What the kid actually takes away from a classroom conversation on terror attacks all depends on how the teacher handles it, no pressure.

 

#2 There is no easy explanation for terror attacks.

You’d have to be both a wizard and a scholar to really understand what led to the recent terror attacks and what they mean for the future. The situation is hard enough for adults to understand, let alone children.

Source: The Sun. Terror Attacks. Mourners lay candles at sites of attacks in Paris

Source: The Sun

It’s important to get the facts right, and there are lots of good resources for this: like this response to questions about whether Islam is to blame for the violence of a group like ISIS, or a back to basics explainer on what ISIS is. One middle school teacher in the US got in an expert to give a lesson to teachers on ISIS and the Middle East. What not to say: “Our religion Christianity teaches love, their religion teaches hate”. Don’t say that. This is what our friend’s cousin’s headmaster told the school assembly.

It’s also important to know how to communicate ideas to children of any age. Helpfully, there is a whole bunch of advice on this, like talking about bad actions as opposed to bad people, and ensuring kids have the space to talk through what they know and how they’re feeling before the adults jump in. You could see it as a problem that these methods aren’t rolled out across the whole country.

 

#3 Some kids already have the answers, sort of…

Classrooms are filled with kids with all sorts of views about the world. This is very often picked up at home or from other friends, and is normally what makes going to school so valuable. It can also lead to upset, and sometimes painful and lasting upset if students feel directly targeted for who they are by what other kids have to say.  

Kids need to feel safe and heard in school. This pamphlet from National Union of Teachers gives some pointers on how to teach controversial issues like terror attacks in an inclusive way:

– organise classroom discussion in ways which enable every pupil to participate in that discussion;

– ensure that the views of everyone in the class are properly heard;

– moderate negative opinions and strong emotions;

– focus on evidence and valid information;

– represent the different points of view as accurately and fairly as possible;

– where possible, use a variety of outside and community sources; and

– demonstrate respect for different opinions.

All we’ll say is it’s a damned fine skill to have.

 

#4 Discrimination is totally wrong, and also illegal.

It is illegal for an educational body to discriminate against children on grounds of their race or religion (or disability, sexuality, nationality, gender… just don’t). Things get a little more blurred when it comes to faith schools, and the fact that according to the Citizens’ Advice for England “In a community or foundation school, acts of collective worship, such as assemblies, must be of a general Christian nature.” For the most part, however, UK schools are attended by people of varied or no faith.

Islamophobic and anti-Semitic hate crime has increased in the last year, meaning teaching around this topic can be particularly important. The National Association of Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education has a resource dedicated to teaching Islam following Islamist extremist terror attacks.

 

#5 Feeling marginalised can have serious long term consequences.

Recent research from Connect Justice suggests that feeling discriminated against at a young age can play a big role in encouraging people to join groups advocating violent political goals and terror attacks, whether these are far-right groups or Islamist extremist groups. Being told your religion teaches hate might be the very thing that makes you feel disaffected. The majority of people would probably agree that discrimination on grounds of race or religion is a bad thing in itself, but it turns out that there might be a very practical argument against it.

However, some would argue that this sits uncomfortably alongside the UK government’s current policy of tackling homegrown extremism. As of 2015, places of education from nurseries to universities are bound by law to actively counter extremism and radicalisation, though the Home Office have had a tough job explaining what exactly they mean by these words.

Theresa May terror attacks

Home Secretary Theresa May

The government’s suggested strategy for tackling extremism is to keep a close eye on anyone who appears to be being radicalised and to promote what are being called “British values.” The problem is, if someone feels unfairly singled out for their beliefs, this might be counterproductive to say the least. This legislation was created to counter violence and terror attacks, but some say it gets tricky as teachers are in a legal bind to fight a poorly-defined concept of extremism, meaning you could end up targeting people’s beliefs rather than their actions. What would be a better way?

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8 times Muslims took action against Islamic Extremism

 

The media shows us terrorists, extremists and murderers, and a constant association with Islam. In reality the majority of Muslims live in peace and many are fighting back against Islamic Extremism. Yet, is it fair to expect Muslims to apologise for extremists?

 

Islam and Islamism; know the difference

Islam is the world’s second largest religion. Muslims believe Allah is the one true God and that the prophet Muhammad communicated his will. Islam promotes messages of peace; the Qur’an (Muslim holy book) states that you should not kill. In Britain there are about 2.7 million Muslims.
Islamism, also called political Islam, is very different. It’s the belief that Islam should be political as well as just personal. It’s often (though not always) linked to violent Islamic extremism, fundamentalist beliefs and terrorist groups.

 

8 times Muslims stood up to Islamist Extremism:

 

1) When French Muslims condemned the Paris attacks

To Paris, From Pakistan Please share it as much as you can so it reaches the people in Europe!#PrayForParis #PrayForTheWorld House of Lolz

Posted by Pakistani Comedians on Sunday, November 15, 2015

On Friday 13th November 2015, Paris was decimated by a series of terror attacks. At least 129 people are dead and around 99 are seriously injured. Shootings and suicide bomb attacks were carried out across multiple locations. Extremist group the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attacks.

In the wake of the attacks a series a videos of Pakistani Muslims denouncing the attacks went viral. It begins by saying “we’d like you to know that we’re just a shocked and horrified as everyone else around the world.” It then goes on to say that they would not be apologising for the actions of Islamic State. “We can’t possibly be held responsible for the actions of a few deranged individuals who somehow claim to be like us… that’s like blaming all Germans for the actions of Hitler.”

The hashtag “nous sommes unis” which means “we are united” in French also started trending on twitter.

 

2) When the local Muslim hotel staff in Tunisia formed a human shield to protect tourists

Picture from the Tunisia Attack, where Islamic Extremism was committed by Seifeddine Rezgui

Easily Misunderstood; though it looks like they are watching the hotel workers were chasing the killer Seifeddine Rezgui

Earlier in 2015 killer Seifeddine Rezgui murdered 38 people in Tunisia. Islamist group Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

When Sky News released this image some people commented that it looked as though the Muslims on the beach were just standing by.

Later, a video would show locals and hotel workers chasing the killer, picking up bottles as weapons and shouting at him “Why?”

Other witness accounts confirmed the bravery of the Tunisians. They placed their own lives in danger protecting the guests.

 

3) The 7/7 bombing survivor who now prevents children from being radicalised

Survivor is Islamic Extremism in the 7/7 bombings Sadja Mughal is now a charity worker

Survivor: Sajda Mughal

Sajda Mughal was the only Muslim in the underground carriage targeted in the 7/7 bombings in 2005.

After the attack she quit her job in the city and now works for a charity attempting to stop young people becoming radicalised.

“Islam teaches you to respect life, not even to harm an ant – how could you harm a human being in the name of Islam?” – Sajda Mughal in an interview with the Mirror.

 

4) When the Imams recorded this video

Imams are leaders of the Mosque. They lead the prayers, teach the religion and help out in the community. In the past people have worried that Mosques were places where extremist views could be preached in secret. A group of Imams from around the UK decided to make this video, setting themselves against the actions of Islamic State.

http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Bd0Y6qWmlA

 

5) When young Muslims decided to wage a “jihad” of their own against the Islamic Extremism

More and more reports describe young Muslims who are radicalised by extremist messages. Many are travelling to areas like Syria and Iraq to join Jihad (“holy war”). It’s worth noting that Jihad isn’t actually a violent concept; it has been misappropriated by extremists.

The Muslim Youth League decided to do something about this. They launched a campaign urging politicians and leaders from the Muslim faith to condemn violence and extremism.

 

6) The Muslim women who formed the anti-extremist group “Make A Stand”

#MakingAStand against Islamic Extremism in The Sun

Will you make a stand?

The group used an image of a Muslim woman using a Union Jack flag as a headscarf. Visiting cities up and down the country, they educated many against the dangers of radicalisation.

The campaign was created by Sara Khan who also co-founded the Inspire group; which was created to empower Muslim women and work towards gender equality.

You can view some of the women making a stand on the MAS wall as part of the Inspire website.

 

7) When Muslims around the world told ISIS “Not In My Name”

Screengrab from the #NotInMyName campaign which combated Islamic Extremism online

#NotInMyName combated Islamic Extremism online

Activists and ordinary people uploaded images to social media with #NotInMyName.

Groups like ISIS have used social media to spread their message and many fear they are winning the online battle.

‘After finding out that James Foley had been beheaded and David Haines was next, we decided enough was enough and that we must take action and take a stand to show the world they do not represent us Muslims. They will not kill in the name of Islam.’ – Zahra Qadir from Active Change, the charity behind the campaign.

 

8) And when local Mosques opened their doors and invited in members of the community

This year, to mark the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 bombings, Mosques around the country opened their doors. They invited non-Muslims to attend a peaceful “iftar”; the meal eaten after sunset by fasting Muslims. Imams are also encouraged to mention 7/7 in their sermons.

 

Should Muslims even have to apologize for extremists?

Ben Affleck takes on the myth of Islamic Extremism

Tell it how it is Ben Affleck

That list only gives 8 examples. It doesn’t mention the other times Muslim leaders around the world denounced ISIS, or Muslims in the security services who protect our country from terrorists.

We should also mention the countless times Muslims have explained that terrorist groups misinterpret the teachings of Islam, which is a peaceful religion.

Is it enough to win over the public opinion? More importantly, why should Muslims have to apologise for the misinterpretation of their religion?

More than a quarter of British 18-24s don’t trust Muslims. Around 15% of Muslims are Islamists according to historian Daniel Pipes, though many would disagree with that statistic. Yet some people think that just because the figure is low it doesn’t mean we can’t debate the big issues. When confronted with this statistic American journalist Brigitte Gabriel gave this passionate response;

Is she right? The percentage of Muslims who are extremists is extremely low; does this mean we shouldn’t link Islamic Extremism to Islam? It’s unlikely a definite answer is coming any time soon. With David Cameron and Teresa May pressing the Muslim community to do more to combat extremists, this issue will be on the agenda for a long time to come.

However some might argue that it is unfair to expect Muslims to apologise for, and condemn acts of Islamic extremism. This Daily Show clip outlines the issue perfectly. It’s arguable that we wouldn’t expect a Christian to condemn all the bad things the Church has done in the past. Nor would we ask a white person to condemn all the acts of violence committed by white people. So why do we demand this from Muslims?

 

What we learned; there are good people and bad people, religion is often used as a justification.

Do we need to do more to ensure Muslims aren’t misrepresented? Can the Muslim community do more to condemn acts of violence and should we expect this? Are people too scared to speak out for fear of being seen as racist or Islamophobic?

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ISIS Explained: What is ISIS?

 

Part of the ISIS Explained series.

Part 1: What is ISIS?  //  Part 2: What does ISIS want?  //  Part 3: What makes ISIS powerful?

Part 4: 7 Suggested Ways to Fight ISIS  //  Part 5: ISIS Frequently Asked Questions Explained

——

 

ISIS have taken responsibility for several attacks across Paris, Baghdad and Beirut that occurred within a few days of each other. This is the first in a series of explainers on ISIS, this lays the foundations of what those four letters mean.

 

What even is ISIS?

According to Wikipedia, ISIS/ISIL/ Daesh is a Wahhabi/Salafi jihadist extremist militant group and self-proclaimed Islamic State and caliphate. What’s not to understand?

One word at a time.

 

Militant

ISIS are an armed group, they use violent and coercive methods to achieve their goals.

 

Jihadist

This word is often translated as “holy war”, but is more accurately translated as “struggle in the way of God/Allah.” It is a religious duty to defend Islam and to seek self improvement as a Muslim. The word has become associated with the violent tactics of a minority of Muslim groups like ISIS, but many Muslims want to reclaim the word and take it back to its nicer origins.

 

Wahhabi/Salafi

Mandatory Credit: Photo by REX USA (2642870a)  Hayat Boumeddiene, far right  Hayat Boumeddiene 'appears in Islamic State film' - 06 Feb 2015  The latest video released by French-speaking Islamic state (ISIS), fighters may be Hayat Boumeddiene, who is beli

Credit: Photo by REX USA

Salafi and Wahhabi are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing. Wahhabism is an interpretation of Islam that ISIS has been strongly influenced by. Wahhabi Islam started with the founder Mohammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab in the 1700s who thought that, rather than listening to what religious leaders of the day thought about Islam, we should live more closely in line with the original religious texts. This approach to Islam now has a very bad rep these days, as being a version of the faith that is used to justify the very graphic forms of execution and control of women used by ISIS (and also Saudi Arabia). People have very strong and varying views on its relation to the broader faith and whether the way ISIS practise it is representative of the Muslim faith. While Sharia law, an Islamic version of law, does allow the death penalty under very specific circumstances, it should be emphasised that many feel ISIS distorts what the Islamic texts say to the point that they are no longer practising a kind of Islam that most Muslims would recognise as their faith. “Wahhabi” is considered by some who practise this form of Islam to be insulting, preferring “Salafi” instead. “Wahhabi” emphasises the name of the guy who started the movement, whereas “Salafi” emphasises the earlier Muslims and their practices whom the Salafist movement aims to emulate.  

It’s important to mention that ISIS should not simply be described as Wahhabi/Salafi but as Wahhabi/Salafi jihadists.  This refers to a specific movement from within Wahhabi/Salafis which emerged in the 1990s in the context of Afghanistan’s US-backed war with the Soviet Union. In a nutshell, some members of the Salafist movement came to feel that violence was a necessary means to achieve their political goals. These political goals essentially included leading a return to a society based on a “purer” form of Islam, which did not include democracy and which rejected the Shia political rule that had dominated parts of the region. So not all Wahhabi/Salafists are violent Wahhabi/Salafi jihadists. Early Salafi jihadist groups include Al Qaeda.

 

Extremist

What should be understood by the word “extremism” really depends on your point of view. When this word is used in conjunction with Islam, people might be talking about a strict and conservative approach to interpreting religious texts and practising religion. However, people using the word “extremist” might be talking about people who think grisly violence is a reasonable way to get what they want, in which case they actually mean militant. Words are tricky things, so it’s best to be sure we know what we mean.

 

Islamic State and caliphate

ISIS want to set up an Islamic State: a country run according to laws drawn directly from the Islamic faith. A caliphate is an Islamic state. It’s led by a caliph, a person considered to be a political religious successor to the Islamic prophet Mohammed. The laws of Western countries draw heavily on Christian morality, and Israel was set up as a Jewish state. ISIS control large areas of Syria and Iraq, and claim to have already set up an Islamic State there, and are running it according to a very controversial interpretation of Islam. Plus, the aim doesn’t stop at turning the current occupied territories into a full on Islamic State. To say that ISIS want world domination sounds like fear mongering, but they did say in their Dabiq magazine that they want to “expand” until their “blessed flag…covers all eastern and western extents of the Earth.”

 

ISIS or ISIL or Daesh

ISIS combatants with flag

Credit: muslimmatters.org

All these names refer to the same organisation and they’re all based on the same thing. However, ISIS has had even more different names in the past. The group used to be a chummy affiliate with Al Qaeda, and so were known to us as Al Qaeda in Iraq. The group became known as ISIS after they split off from Al Qaeda. They had aggressively taken over large areas of Iraq and had stopped being a team player. Al Qaeda cut ties with them, fearing they were giving them a bad name. Declaring itself a country of its own in northern Iraq around 2006, the organization began calling itself Islamic State in Iraq. Then they took a bunch of territory in Syria in 2013. This is when they became ISIS – which stands for Islamic State in Iraq and al-Shām.

Some people translate al-Shām to mean “the Levant”, which is a loose term for a large region in the Middle East . This gets you the name ISIL. Others go for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which gets you ISIS. Daesh is another name for ISIL used by a bunch of state leaders and media outlets, but ISIS have banned the use of this name. It comes from taking the first letters of the full Arabic name for ISIS: al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq we al-Sham, which gives you DAIISH. ISIS take this acronym as an insult, because it sounds a lot like the Arabic word “dahes”, which can be translated to mean “one who sows discord”.

“So-called Islamic State” is how the BBC choose to refer to the group. This is a way to sass them on the regular by refusing to recognise Islamic State as a legitimate country.

 

ISIS Explained: Islamic State in Iraq and al-Shām are an armed group who use violence to achieve the goals they have set themselves based on their controversial interpretations of the Muslim faith and the religious duty to defend the faith.

 

NEXT – WHAT DOES ISIS WANT?

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