JAN Trust is a multi-award winning charity empowering and providing leadership for women in order to create positive and active citizens of society

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Fighting extremism 11 years on after the London bombings

Tomorrow marks the 11th anniversary of the London bombings, a series of coordinated terrorist suicide bomb attacks in Central London that killed 52 people and injured many more. As we remember those who lost their lives, and those who were injured on that terrible day 11 years ago, we chat with our Director, Sajda Mughal OBE, a survivor of the 7/7 bombings, about that fateful day and how it changed her life.

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.

JAN Trust in Press

Zarina was born in Pakistan and came to the UK 23 years ago to join her husband, who already lived here. He was also her cousin. Zarina says there is a long tradition of marrying within the family.Recently the Evening Standard spoke to a forced marriage perpetrator (Pakistani mother) who has forced her daughter from the UK to Pakistani to marry a man against her will. Her daughter was put through mental and physical abuse. We assisted and supported the victim and changed the mind sets of the mother and father. The mother reflects back on what she did and thoroughly regrets her actions. The article is below and can be read here: CLICK HERE

A mother’s tale of regret: I feel devastated that I forced my daughter to marry for ‘honour’...nobody should do it

Tomorrow London hosts the world’s first Girl Summit, aimed at ending FGM and forced marriage. Rosamund Urwin hears one mother’s tale of regret, and of how she finally put her child first.

In 2006, Zarina* and her husband took their 16-year-old daughter to Pakistan. They told her they were going to visit their extended family; their daughter, who grew up in north London, had never been to her ancestral homeland, nor met her grandparents. But in reality, she was being taken there to marry her cousin, the son of Zarina’s brother.

“We fooled her,” Zarina admits. “We thought she should settle down. In the culture in this country, people inter-marry, and it’s quite open [whom you pick as a partner] — I wanted my daughter to escape that. We were worried that she would have boyfriends. So we decided that she should marry in the family, to keep the honour within the family, and to say that she couldn’t challenge us, that she must do what the elders are telling her.”

Zarina has never spoken about this before, and has asked for her identity to be disguised, because she fears reprisals from her community for speaking up. When we meet, she’s wearing the niqab in a colourful and intricate print. She speaks to me through a translator, as her English is limited, but there’s a word I keep hearing: “izzat”, which means “honour” in Urdu.

Zarina was born in Pakistan and came to the UK 23 years ago to join her husband, who already lived here. He was also her cousin. Zarina says there is a long tradition of marrying within the family.

“It’s been going on for centuries — and we didn’t want to break that,” she says. “Because there was a young boy in the family, we wanted to get her settled [married] with him, and then bring him back here. If she had married someone outside the family, there would have been a complete commotion — it would be like breaking the whole family structure.”

When her daughter discovered what was happening, she was devastated. “My daughter was crying constantly,” Zarina recalls. “She was very obstinate that she didn’t want to marry. She said she was brought up in the west and that she can’t marry a man she hasn’t seen, and even if she had seen him, she is not interested.” Her daughter also felt that their backgrounds were too different. “She felt it was a village culture there.”

Zarina admits she assaulted her daughter in order to force her to marry this man. The future in-laws were also physically abusive. “My daughter said this wasn’t her choice, but as soon as she said that we oppressed her by really hitting her and abusing her. We used violence against her, as well as emotional abuse, pressurising her — ‘You must do it’. Our aim was to get her married, come hell or high water. With all this force, the marriage went ahead.”

Zarina’s younger daughter had also travelled to Pakistan and was very disturbed by what was happening.

After the wedding, the family returned to London to make arrangements with immigration officials for the groom to come here. “When we got back, we told [our daughter] that she couldn’t have any friends. She should be isolated so she couldn’t talk or get support from anyone.”

Instead, Zarina’s daughter contacted the JAN Trust, a charity that has worked with immigrant communities for 25 years and campaigns to end forced marriage. “When she got back, she

was very upset and unhappy. But because she was brought up here, she found out through the internet how to get support.”

After the girl approached JAN, Sajda Mughal, the charity’s project director, contacted Zarina. Initially, Zarina was very angry: “We didn’t want anyone to know that this [forced marriage] took place. We were very unhappy about what she had done.”

But Zarina, who also came to the JAN centre, near Alexandra Palace, was eventually won round. The JAN Trust also enlisted the help of an imam, who talked to Zarina and her husband; it is rare for women to get the chance to have a one-on-one discussion with an imam. He explained that forced marriage had nothing to do with Islam, that Zarina and her husband were mistaking tradition for religion.

The discussions — with Zarina and her husband — lasted for more than eight months. Zarina recalls the imam telling her that “forced marriages ruin lives and generations — all on the basis of izzat” and that Mohammed had never said that parents should force their children into marriages: “I have now learned that the children come first, that their happiness comes first, rather than our own aims.” The imam also reinforced the charity’s message that their daughter needed to get a divorce — a “hulla” — and advised them on the steps that had to be taken.

Zarina says she was facing intense pressure from her family in Pakistan: “They said, ‘You have to take our son, he must go and live with you.’ It was a dishonour for them, because it’s a tight-knit community there. When you marry, everyone knows; when there’s a divorce, everyone knows. Everyone was asking them, ‘What happened? What happened?’ They thought it was a disgrace for them. It was all: honour, honour, honour.”

The marriage was eventually made void but, Zarina’s family have been cut off from the rest of their relatives: “The whole circle of the family — uncles, aunts, everybody — has discarded us. They won’t speak to us at all.”

However, their smaller family unit is content again. Zarina’s daughter is now 24 and has just finished studying law: “She’s not talking about marriage at the moment. She’s out of this world happy now.” Her younger sister is also studying, and is relieved that the same fate will not befall her.

Zarina is full of remorse for what happened. “I look back on this time, and I feel devastated that I did this for ‘honour’. I feel very guilty. Nobody should do it. The best thing we did was break  away from this forced marriage — everything else was wrong. Seeing my daughter happy is so wonderful.”

Her husband shares her feelings. “He has changed completely and he really regrets what he did too,” adds Zarina. “He feels like there is nobody above our children when he sees them happy. He says our children come first — before family and before honour.”

She admits, however, that they cannot tell people in their community what happened. “It would be very dangerous if the story got out. People would say, ‘She is divorced’. Our daughter could suffer more — perhaps our family could suffer honour-based violence from the community.”

She is full of praise for the “intense” support of the JAN Trust in combating forced marriage. “Laws have been passed but people are still doing it. We need organ-isations such as the JAN Trust to talk to younger generations and their parents to change mindsets. The way to resolve it is for parents to be educated, and for the younger generation to know their rights. JAN saved my daughter’s life.”

The charity opposed the crim-inalisation of forced marriage because its research suggested it would drive the problem further underground, with victims unwilling to see family members jailed. Does Zarina believe these women and girls would come forward, and risk seeing their parents prosecuted? “No, they would never come forward. No one will say, ‘I am going to be taken,’ because they won’t want their parents in prison.”

The JAN Trust is the only charity in the UK that works with perpetrators. Although men are also forced into marriage, the vast majority (around 90 per cent) of those who contact the JAN Trust are women.

Mughal says: “The only way of getting rid of this practice is to change those mindsets, otherwise we will be chasing our tail. We’d be supporting victims and looking after them, but continually having more victims — year on year, day by day. Why do these victims exist? Because of mindsets that need changing. It’s not going to happen overnight but it’s a drip, drip effect. Eventually we’ll get there.”

Zarina agrees: “The majority of people who carry out these practices are not educated about it. And they are very community-based — they don’t want to open the doors to anyone else. They don’t want to come out of that [way of thinking] — but we did.”

* Zarina’s name has been changed.

For more information about the JAN Trust’s work, go to jantrust.org

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