Today marks the 11th anniversary of the London bombings. How does it make you feel thinking about that day 11 years on? Are you still affected by it, and if so, how?
It’s been 11 years but I am still haunted by what happened to me on that day. It’s a day I will never ever forget. It changed my life forever. Tragedy struck that day in the form of an indiscriminate attack which resulted in innocent lives being lost. Every year, around the anniversary of 7/7, I suffer flashbacks and on a day-to-day basis I try to avoid travelling on the tube because I still find it very difficult. It brings back memories of my tragic journey to work that morning. Had my OCD of wanting to sit on the first carriage got the better of me I wouldn’t be alive today. Germaine Lindsay detonated his bomb 10 seconds after the train departed Kings Cross, killing innocent people and injuring many more. I am fortunate to be alive today and to be able to make a difference by trying to prevent such an attack from happening again.
You have spoken in the media countless times about what happened to you that day and how it changed your life. Can you tell us a bit about how exactly it changed your life and motivated you to do the work you have been doing for the last 11 years?
The London bombings changed my life completely. Before that day I was working in the corporate sector working my way up the career ladder and earning a good salary. I was in a good job but what I experienced set me on a new path.
I was left bewildered after the attack. I just couldn’t comprehend why someone would choose do such an awful thing. I wanted to find out who the suicide bombers were. When I read about them, and discovered that they called themselves Muslim my first thought was how can they call themselves Muslim because this was not the Islam I knew. I then thought about their families, particularly their mothers, and what they must be thinking. My mother is so important to me and I couldn’t imagine the pain and anguish she would feel if one of her children were to do such a thing.
In 2008, I joined JAN Trust, a multi-award winning charity working at the grassroots with women and young people from Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee (BAMER) communities. The charity already had well-established links with mothers from communities affected by the issue of radicalisation and extremism. I wanted to work with these mothers because I saw them as the key to tackling radicalisation and extremism. In Islam a huge amount of respect is conferred upon mothers. We believe that heaven lies at the feet of your mother, and so I felt that working with Muslim mothers was the right way to go if we wanted to really address the issue of radicalisation and extremism. We conducted research and consultations over a number of years on Internet Extremism which we then used to design and develop our highly acclaimed Web Guardians© programme. We have been and continue to be at the forefront of working with women and mothers to tackle radicalisation.
There are organisations that are now realising, years later, that it is by engaging with families that we can address this issue, but JAN Trust has been doing this for the last 10 years with a genuine passion, commitment and dedication to making a difference. It’s what we’ve been saying all along and our experience of working with mothers who have challenged extremism from within the home has guided our work on de-radicalisation. We have campaigned that mothers are central to the fight against radicalisation and extremism. If they are provided with the right support, in terms of knowledge and skills from an organisation such as ours, with the knowledge, expertise and genuine interest and concern, they can be empowered to challenge extremism.
One of the main issues you work on with women and young people is preventing radicalisation and extremism. Do you see any relationship between hate groups and Far-right ideological violence?
Yes, as well as working with women and mothers to address the issue of radicalisation and extremism we also work with schools with students, parents, teachers and governors on safeguarding against extremism. I think that the rise in Far-right violence is proof that there is a relationship between hate groups and Far-right ideological violence and there have been warnings from groups such as ourselves and Hope Not Hate about this.
A few weeks ago, we saw the tragic and brutal death of Labour MP Jo Cox who was killed by a man that was inspired by Far-right ideology. There are other examples such as Anders Brevik who sympathised with the views of Tommy Robinson, former leader of the English Defence League (EDL), and Pavlo Lapshyn who murdered Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham.
We have continuously highlighted the threat that Far-right poses in our work with women and schools. We need to address the threat of Far-right extremism and ensure all forms of extremism are taken seriously not just extremist acts by people who claim to be Muslim.
What do you think needs to be done to tackle extremism? What is the way forward?
As I’ve just mentioned I think that all forms of extremism should be taken seriously – this is the first thing because extremism is not specific to a faith, race or ethnicity and it affects everybody as we’ve seen with terrorist acts being committed all over the world. By addressing one form of extremism, you alienate people, you make them feel marginalised which exacerbates the problem and you prevent yourself from being able to engage with communities because they don’t trust you.
I’m an advocate of the bottom-up approach. I believe it’s important to engage with communities, to understand what they are thinking and feeling in order to identify the root causes of the problem and then work with them to design the appropriate solutions. Our Web Guardians© programme has shown that this is the most effective way to tackle radicalisation and extremism. The feedback from professionals and women and mothers who have attended the programme confirm this. On lady told us“When I first came to the course I didn’t know that much about the internet or radicalisation and extremism but now I’ve learnt a lot. I can teach my children, and my grandchildren. I can show them the way because this issue affects everyone in the family and someone who is thinking of going to Syria must know this.’
We were told at the end of one session by a lady working for a local council “Thank you for today’s session. It was great. One of the mothers has her son in the Channel programme. This was hard hitting for her and will help.”
I would also say that another reason we have been effective is because the women and young people we work with are able to identify with us coming from the same religious and a similar cultural background. We understand the challenges they face. This immediately creates an atmosphere where honest debate and discussion about a highly sensitive and highly contentious issue can take place.