Young People and the Pulls of Syria

I facilitated a discussion today on the pulls of Syria on young people and the passion and energy in the room really was moving. The room was made up of a large number of young Muslims who clearly were passionate about doing something to help the refugees and the lives of innocent Syrians caught up in the bitter conflict. The questions were sharp and incisive and we simply do a grave injustice when we think that young people are not really aware of the world around them. Many were very well read and the common sense arguments that they put across were sometimes hard to go against.

Yet, what was clear was that Syria has thrown up real challenges for police forces, local authorities and the Home Office. Figures talk about about 700 young men having travelled to Syria through Turkey and the Lebanon and that 200 have already returned to the UK and it is clear that it is those returning that are causing a dilemma for the Government. It is also interesting to note that police forces have reflected long and hard about how to work with young people returning from the conflict zone. Clearly, all returnees will be questioned when back in the UK though there is a realisation within many police forces that criminalizing all young men returning from Syria is not a solution and may push them more in the direction of taking extreme positions. Police forces, local authorities and support agencies are therefore looking at a more holistic form of support that re-integrates young people back into their local communities. This should be widely welcome.

It was also important to reflect on the messages from the Metropolitan Police Service that were promoted today. The MET acknowledged the passion that many young people had to help in Syria and they suggested that this positive energy should be focussed on working with registered charities in the UK who have the skills, infrastructure and expertise to help people in the ground in Syria. The MET also has laid out the dangers of travelling to Syria and the real risk of death if young people got involved in the fighting.

Finally, I was impressed and taken aback by the responsibility, care, respect and openess that the young people showed at this session which was held by Faith Matters. We should not under-estimate nor assume anything in working with and engaging with young people. You may just be surprised as to how much they really absorb and are aware of. Overall, a truly inspiring evening.

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The Power of the Human Spirit

A little while ago I was confronted with an event that positively challenged some of the ignorance that I have around the plight of transgender individuals. For most of my life I have campaigned on issues of faith, race and sexuality and have written on such issues such as Muslims and LGBT communities working together. Yet, recently, I had to re-appraise my own understanding about the pain happiness, stress and loneliness that some people in our communities and societies go through simply because they want to live their lives as another gender.

I have also written before about the fact that my childhood in Africa and the brutal way in which people considered to be ‘the other,’ were treated. Gay men and women, albinos, people with disabilities and mental health problems were heavily stigmatised and in some circumstances, were killed. These experiences changed me heavily and led me to empathise and feel with people who were unique in their own way and life also taught me that ‘normality’ does not take away from the uniqueness and the beauty that we all have within us. Indeed, I have always connected strongly with those who were different, some of this party shaped by me being racially and religiously different to the dominant population in both Africa and the UK. Part of this has also been shaped by my personal experiences and when at times of despair, it has been the hand of ‘the other’ who has given me comfort, hope and the strength to stand on my own two feet.

What I saw briefly in the transgender transformation of my friend was a human spirit yearning to break free from the shackles of what life had put around her. This human butterfly desperately tried to break away from the cuckoon around her and from the identity that did not reflect her. What I experienced  was nothing compared to the long and tortuous procedure that I saw this friend go through. Interviews, getting used to slow physical changes, a change of name, things that many of us cannot consider were changes that this young man had to go through to be who she was. For in that journey, not only did my admiration for this young woman grow, my admiration for the human spirit grew.

You see, we take the human spirit so much for granted, yet whether you believe in God or not, the greatest gift of life is the human spirit to change, to grow, to survive and through all adversity, to want to go on. So, next time you see someone from the transgender community, spare a thought about all that they have gone through. Remember their journey and their desire to be who they want to be that has led them to this point. As you do so, you cannot help but smile since it should inspire your own spirit.

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The Trojan Horse Affair & Subsequent Investigations

Much has been written about the recent OFSTED investigations into the ‘Trojan Horse’ incidents in Birmingham schools and I am not going to repeat the whole chain of events that have been widely reported on. What I want to comment on was the fact that statements on this wholly bizarre and depressing set of events have been doing the rounds which do not add to anything of interest. In fact they have simply blurred what may be the truth.

Whether or not there was a strategic plan to promote what the papers have got ‘the Islamicization’ of schools will not be known until the investigation by OFSTED is completed. Furthermore, any report must be made public so that the public can read and reflect on the findings. If the findings show that changes need to be made to ensure quality education based on equal rights and equal access to education, then they should be implemented and fast. No young child should be made to feel a second class citizen in any educational establishment and one of the basic human rights that all young people deserve is access to education based and equal treatment within those educational establishments.

What is also of concern is the impact on cohesion in the City. I hope that the issues are resolved sooner rather than later since the longer this issues drags out, the greater the cracks and fissures may open up regarding cohesion in the City. Thankfully, we are a long way off any major incidents and this is testament to the enormous work done in this area in the Birmingham over the last decade. One last thought on the matter. Who is Achilles in this Trojan Horse affair – the Education Secretary, Michael Gove?

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