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30 March, 2011

Report by Sevérine Chavanne and Peter Riddell

(l-r) Andrew Stunell MP, Minister for Community Cohesion, Imam Ajmal Masroor, Tom Brake MP, Vanessa Lucas, Idil Ahmed, Salim Kassam and Farah Mirza (Photo: Howard Grace)
(l-r) Andrew Stunell MP, Minister for Community Cohesion, Imam Ajmal Masroor, Tom Brake MP, Vanessa Lucas, Idil Ahmed, Salim Kassam and Farah Mirza (Photo: Howard Grace)
Young British Muslims offered a contribution to the review of the Preventing Violent Extremism policy, with the launch of a ‘Learning to be a Peacemaker’ programme in Parliament on Tuesday 22 March before an audience including Members of both Houses of Parliament.

In his opening comments, the host of the event, Tom Brake MP, LibDem spokesman for Home Affairs, Justice and Equalities, underlined the importance of establishing stronger links between different communities. He praised Initiatives of Change for supporting the programme, and said, “We should capitalize on our shared moral and spiritual values and take every opportunity to remind people of them.”

In introducing the presentation, Ajmal Masroor, imam, broadcaster and designer of the programme, said, “Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) instructed Muslims to spread peace. The idea of spreading peace should become part of the thinking of all young Muslims. The aim of this programme is to contribute to a society where people work together to create a safe and comfortable society for all.”

The programme gives young European Muslims space for internal debate on what it means to be a Muslim in Europe today, to help them become more secure in their identity, and to equip them to become citizens who are fully engaged in civil society. Over 300 from five European countries have been trained to be peacemakers, including 40 from Britain. It has been successfully piloted in two British prisons, in three London boroughs, in Sweden, and in Switzerland in partnership with Initiatives of Change at its centre in Caux in 2009, where 65 students and young professionals took part. (You can download a report in PDF here)

(Photo: Dominic Weakley)
(Photo: Dominic Weakley)
A panel of four alumni all agreed that the programme had been a life-changing experience. Farah Mirza (photo, far right), an International Relations graduate, said that as a result she had become much more community-minded and was training as a volunteer with the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group. The main lesson Salim Kassam (photo, 2nd from right), a Classical Studies undergraduate, had retained, was that “You can’t spread peace unless you carry it within yourself”.

Idil Ahmed (photo, 2nd from left), a graduate research scientist, had realised that what we do as individuals does have an impact and had started volunteering as a tutor to help young people pass their exams. Vanessa Lucas (photo, far left), a student of Philosophy and French, and one of the few non-Muslims on the programme, felt that shared values like citizenship, respect and love, could unite Muslims and people of other beliefs. She had noticed the segregation between Muslims and non-Muslims in her university, and concluded that highlighting it was one way of combatting the isolation of the Muslim community.

Members of the audience (Photo: Howard Grace)
Members of the audience (Photo: Howard Grace)
Andrew Stunell MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Community Cohesion, and Lord Nazir Ahmed responded. Mr Stunell, who is responsible for reviewing the Preventing Violent Extremism policy, praised the initiative as “very valuable in building unity within the Muslim community itself”. Though the development of the new policy is still in its early stages, he said that integration should not be about the Muslim community alone. The approach would be one not so much of tackling problems as of creating opportunities for all sectors of society. “We need to build a strong social structure in which everybody can contribute as full citizens”.

Tom Brake MP concluded by saying “I am impressed by the potential this programme has. The challenge is how to keep its effect alive in the participants’ minds.”


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