Over the last thirty years we have worked hard to support marginalised communities against the threats that they face. Our method of encouraging, educating and empowering has helped to improve lives, including our work to tackle online radicalisation and extremism with young people in schools. Read about why these sessions are so important and what we have achieved so far.
This month JAN Trust turns 30 years old. It has been a long and rewarding journey from when we first opened our doors in 1989. What started as a small charity helping marginalised women learn English and access practical support for jobs and housing, has become a leading NGO in radicalisation prevention. The services we provide have continuously expanded and adapted in line with the new challenges marginalised communities in the UK face, one of them being radicalisation of young people online.
Online radicalisation is something very close to our heart here at JAN Trust. Our CEO Sajda Mughal OBE is a survivor of the London 7/7 bombings and has witnessed firsthand the destructive power of extremist ideology.
Not only did Sajda face such a terrifying ordeal, but as the only known Muslim to survive the attack, she then had to face the fallout. Seeing her religion being manipulated to murder and terrorise people, and then experiencing the hostile Islamophobia that spread as a consequence greatly affected her. She saw that radicalisation and extremism was a serious issue, not only for mainstream society, but for the Muslim community too. The communities of women that JAN Trust was set up to help were losing their children, their friends and relatives to radicalisation and they were unfairly facing the consequences of society’s mistrust and prejudice. Sajda and JAN Trust understood the severity of radicalisation and knew more had to be done to help these communities, not vilify them. Over the last 10 years and more we have worked with Muslim women to empower them to protect their own children through our revolutionary Web Guardians™ programme, which successfully reached thousands of people across the UK. Parents are worried about the effect radicalisation can have on their children and feel lost at the lack of support and help, which is why Web Guardians™ is essential.
One parent explained to us that:–
“There is a huge lack of education, that’s why work like this is so important.”
“The training was particularly helpful because it will help me to identify changes in my children.”
Unfortunately, our funding for the Web Guardians™ programme was unceremoniously withdrawn by the Home Office so our local community has been left at risk because of a lack of support from the government. We continue to educate young people on the threats of extremism through our school sessions.
Knowing that empowerment and education are the best ways to tackle this problem we began hosting sessions in schools in 2014 before the Prevent duty 2015. The sessions aimed at raising awareness in young people themselves to spot, question and fight online extremism both Islamic and Far-right, and strengthen resilience to radicalisation. We saw the integral role social media plays in promoting messages of hate and violence online. In our modern society it is impossible, and unhelpful, to keep young people off of social media. This is why it is so important that we as a society endeavour to make these spaces as safe as possible, and make young people as aware of the dangers as we can. Sheltering people from harm does not equip them with the strength and skill needed to protect themselves. We saw that our thirty year old ethos of educate, empower, encourage could be utilised to effectively teach young people to fight radicalisation themselves. One head teacher highlights how our thirty years of expertise positions us to teach these children,
“We selected JAN Trust to deliver our training because we know their expertise is rooted in real experience in real communities.”
For the past few years we have been at the forefront of work to fight all kinds of extremism. Our unique position has allowed us to see clearly that extremism comes in many guises, some more easily hidden and insidious than others. For years we have been educating these children to resist extremism from every corner, especially the rapidly multiplying Far-Right. We have seen firsthand how little these young people are taught about this increasingly deadly form of online radicalisation. Our sessions are not just appreciated by teachers and parents, but by the students as well:
“I like that you spoke in depth about how extremism can affect anyone and explained that extremism doesn’t just occur in the Muslim community.”
Our sessions have been vital in expanding their definition of ‘extremism’ and in helping to tackle the Islamophobia that feeds and is produced by Far-Right online propaganda. The recent terror attacks in Christchurch show how serious a problem Far-Right radicalisation has become, and how important it is to raise awareness and drive action against it. Our insight and ability to adapt to social change is what has helped JAN Trust to thrive for thirty years. Further recognising the gendering of radicalisation conversations, we have recently began a new project, the ‘Another Way Forward: Empowering Young Women Against Extremism’ programme, which focuses on teaching young women about radicalisation. In the wake of the Shamima Begum case, more young women need to be engaged in conversations about extremism and what threats they face specifically.
In the last 5 years we have delivered over 500 sessions and reached 40,000 young people across London and the UK, spreading the message to young people that they do not need to become victims of hatred and propaganda, that they should question what they see online and become resilient enough to protect themselves and their families from the destructive power of online extremism. Through our school sessions we have met so many insightful and critically minded young people. Our sessions equip them with the knowledge and understanding of online radicalisation so that they can recognise and resist it. We teach them to encourage each other and support each other in fighting radicalisation,
“After this training I would know what to do if someone I know is following the path of extremism.”
It is testimonies like these that keep us working hard year after year. Only through empowerment of those most at risk can radicalisation truly be defeated.
Our work and our charity has come a long way, but there is still a long way to go before our children are safe from radicalisation online. Our schools sessions are very important to us, because we recognise that empowerment is the only true way to protect the communities we serve and society at large. If you want to know more about our school sessions or our other services click here or contact us to arrange a visit.