The terrorist attack felt close to home for a number of reasons. I’ve worked around Westminster for almost 20 years and am frequently in and out of the House of Commons. You get to know the police and security staff and they do an incredible job of being hard as nails in terms of procedure but manage to do it with a smile, humour and a pleasant demeanour. You forget that these are people who are on what can be the fatal front line and we owe the security staff in all our parliament and official government buildings across our nations a huge amount of respect and gratitude.
The photographs of the attacker being tended to by NHS staff and the MP Tobias Ellwood trying to save the life of PC Keith Palmer summed up the best and the worst of human nature. Now, the analysis is well underway about who the attacker was, why he did it and of course the big discussion about his recent conversion to religion and whether this was an Islamist attack which also, as happens, brings out the best and worst in people.
As someone from a Muslim background I always slightly dread the inevitable discussions that erupt in the media. Not because they shouldn’t happen. Of course they should and they must. The vile ideology which infects people (I feel the term radicalise is way too positive) must be combatted. We need our police and security services to do what needs to be done and they do a pretty good job especially when they work with communities.
But it’s the predictable crassness of the usual suspects who pop up to make hay while the bodies are not yet cold. I’m not just talking about the alleged statement from IS. I’m talking about the likes of Katie Hopkins and Nigel Farage who like moths to the flame take to the airwaves, normally Fox news, to basically screech that Britain is BROKEN and it’s all because of immigration and refugees and them Muslims and them lefties FACT! The irony that the attacker had much in common with Nigel – 52 years old, British born, angry, deluded man from Kent, seemed to go right over his head. Farage somehow forgot to mention building a wall around Kent... Many have noted that the attacker and the far right find common cause in their hatred of modern British society best summed up by Marina Hyde’s excoriating Guardian piece with the brilliant headline “Abu Hopkins”.
I hope I don’t even need to say the platitude “decent Muslims condemn this kind of thing…” No sh*t Sherlock. Decent Christians, decent Hindus, decent Jews… Any decent human with a heart and a functioning brain hates and mourns what this disgusting, violent, shameful excuse of a man did.
We must do a better job of trying to understand what drives people towards this mindless cult of violence and nihilism and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
One of the things that could really help everyone – from politics to the police to the media – would be to let some new voices into the national conversation. It was hard to spot that many voices who were from a Muslim background. Sadiq Khan the London Mayor and Baroness Warsi, both offered calm and intelligent responses and of course have huge personal and professional experience but it would be good to have more authentic and young modern Muslim voices in these critical debates. We heard from scores of senior, respected, white older blokes about their thoughts on how young Muslim chaps were being “radicalised” – and I’m always grateful for their views – but what about hearing from some people who actually live amongst the culture and who see what’s going on?
Muslim women are also important to the debate and critical to build better stronger communities. Policy makers should talk to them. They are also always the easy target to go for. A young Muslim women wearing a headscarf was photographed at the scene of the attack last Wednesday and was subject to horrific abuse on Twitter for not looking upset enough for anonymous Islamophobia trolls and was forced to issue a statement explaining her face (which by the way was clearly upset).
And we all know every right-winger’s favourite topic – the old “banning the burka” classic – will be back on the scene soon. This future-looking, female, fashion debate will of course mainly be led by middle-aged men from UKIP wearing tweed deer stalking outfits but that’s neither here nor there. Of course, it will be Muslim women who will suffer the consequences of the nasty, menacing fall-out from those “debates”.
One of the best ways to stop young people being brainwashed or radicalised is to show them that society can offer something far better – more hopeful and aspirational. Never underestimate the how powerful it to see Muslims in positions of power, success, influence or authority because it disrupts the lazy right wing narrative that we’re one google search away from a watch list. Role models, success stories and positive political voices matter.
It’s incredibly important that we’re seeing a new generation of smart young Muslim political figures north and south of the Border – Humza Yousaf, Anas Sarwar, Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, Rushnara Ali and Shabana Mahmood amongst others. We need to hear their voices out there more.
And we need a more honest and hopeful narrative about what’s really going on with British Muslims and how they feel. That mindless thug does not represent them. It’s the group of Muslim women who joined hands to form a human chain on Westminster Bridge two days ago to condemn his violence who absolutely do.
We could all learn from the family of Kurt Cochran, one of the victims who was on holiday from Utah, who said they wanted to embody his philosophy which was not to deny that negative things happen but to choose not to live in the negative. Hope trumps hate.