With the Tory-led coalition government’s dogmatic destruction of the NHS and welfare system, cuts to services that the poorest are dependent on have reinforced a truth we all should have known: we’re not in this together. We never were. There is no big society and instead the people elected a government that has built walls within society instead of bridges.
We are living in a time where people can be in work yet still be living in poverty, where welfare budgets are slashed and living wages are denied. In a time where people have been driven in flocks to food banks and others have starved to death, the most vulnerable have been demonised while the wealthy have been protected. People have questions and look for answers. Often the answers have circulated around a blame game, the targets being public-sector workers, benefit-claimers and immigrants.
Among the groups who have had the finger of blame pointed at them have been Muslims. At times for British Muslims it is like being walled in, as we are given no space to breathe and defend against the unending onslaught of criticisms and exaggerated questions. David Cameron may offer well wishes on Ramadan but under the Tory government, the politics of hatred and hostility has been vicious on Muslims, be it for faith schools or the veils.
The bigotry of the media has filtered onto streets. Muslims are treated as misogynistic, intolerant anti-western villains who threaten the way of life for people. And by only broadcasting the views of Muslim extremists, the media have played their part in entrenching those views. For many young Muslims who lack a voice, suffer conditions of poverty, experience racism from their neighbours and live life without any aspiration due to terrible social environments, this is a depressing reality where they are hated by all.
It is the state that has abandoned them; piled bigotry onto their backs through policies and a media that regularly shames them. Stopping the demonization of Muslims is one way of stopping radicalisation and preventing Muslims from feeling alienated. At the moment Muslims are made to feel like outsiders. The hatred and bigotry from the right-wing only serves to drive young Muslims towards radicalisation and cementing the divide existing currently.
For working-class Muslims, living with the barrage of racism is made worse by the fact that some are weighed down by poverty. This is a society where students will leave with £27,000 worth of debts, no EMAs to help them, the promise of zero-hour contracts and little help from the state. The wages are awful and not enough for many people to escape poverty.
But because young Muslims have no platform their opportunity to have a voice, to have some dialogue and participation in the national conversation over important issues is missing. This is an issue many young Muslims find with Britain today: they are not heard until someone does something bad.
People often accuse Muslim organisations of not doing enough to prevent violent extremism. Whilst this obviously is a ploy to completely absolve any responsibility from those in power, perhaps there is more that can be done? Sure, Western Muslims shouldn’t be bullied into offering condemnations for acts happening thousands of miles away by a group of people that have little to do with them. However what we do see is Muslim organisations rushing to the microphone to have their picture moment in condemning a terrorist atrocity, yet these same organisations continue to bury their heads in the sand in addressing the concerns of their disaffected youth.
Much of the British Muslim youth is afflicted with poverty, burned by racism and are victims of inequality, and it is within such an environment that violent ideologies laced with justifications through warped religious misinterpretations often fester. Muslim organisations need to actively engage the Muslim youth in Britain by listening to their concerns, and empower them to have their voices heard on the issues that affect them the most, thus illustrating to them that there are other legitimate paths to challenging the establishment. Rather than advocating for the older generation of Muslims (most of whom are first generation immigrants to Britain), Muslim Organisations must shift their approach and must become more representative in their work, given that nearly half of all Muslims on Britain today are under the age of 25.
We must remember that advocating for the rights of those suffering injustice has long been ingrained in Islamic teachings and history. So those who fight austerity, the widening gulf of social inequality and campaign on behalf of the weak within society are Muslims who are surely being the best of Muslim activists. They are the people who put the fundamental teachings of Islam into action.
By drawing young Muslims into meaningful political participation, they can be made to feel purposeful and included, not outsiders treated with hostility. Fighting for social justice can create empathy with other persecuted groups; all united by a common sense of struggle and suffering at the hands of the establishment. As young British Muslims, we just need a platform to give us a voice and a means to air our political grievances.