Moderate Muslims have a role to play in combatting the West's anti-Islam stance

Iqbal Wahhab
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After that demented man by whatever name he was claiming when he ruinously drove into Parliament, I was relieved not to have been called by newspapers to write pieces or make comments about how most Muslims were law-abiding citizens who quietly went about our days being decent citizens. After the 7/7 atrocity, I wrote a piece for the Evening Standard adopting the anti-Gulf War slogan "not in my name" and am pleased to see it's been used much more widely since.

But it doesn't really get us any closer to establishing routes to radicalisation. Filling Trafalgar Square to express our outrage and solace and filling huge media time tracing the man's steps are understandable knee-jerk reactions. What they don't do is make any safer (indeed, the veteran journalist Simon Jenkins has accused the BBC of playing into the hands of terrorists by giving them so much of the publicity they seek).

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The suggestion that Khalid Masood was radicalised in prison is probably the most important lead we can tangibly work on.

Just under a decade ago I was asked by Business in the Community's Mosaic programme (now part of The Prince's Trust) to lead a "Seeing is Believing" tour of a prison and reform programmes to understand why so many young Muslims were being locked up – the number has doubled in the last ten years. One in 20 of Britons are Muslim but one in seven inmates are. They are mostly gang and drug-related offences – an estimated 1% are on terror charges.

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Conversion rates to Islam in prison are high but hardly ever on religious grounds – they vary from gaining protection from Muslim gangs to access to better quality food from the halal catering. Conversion to extremism is altogether a different matter. Radicalisation recruiters have a compelling narrative: "You don't think Britain and the West is anti-Muslim? Then whey have we got the highest rates of unemployment, why are we living in the worst parts of the country. Any why are so many of us being locked up in this prison?"

Radicalisers have the one thing that counterextremist programmes don't – time. You're together all day, all night. And it's not just in prisons – hospitals, as I discovered during my time as chair of the Quilliam Foundation advisory board, are an easy target too. You're a patient lying in bed all day, bored out of your mind and some nice chap pulls up a chair and starts chatting to you. Schools, colleges and universities are rife for recruitment.

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Security services have an extremely tough time tracking and monitoring. The fact that we haven't witnessed more attacks like we've seen Paris and elsewhere must stand as testimony to the effectiveness of what they do against such a complicated backdrop.

Yet we can't leave it to them. Moderate Muslims can't just say we're mostly not like that because the truth is we are. We largely went to the same schools and colleges, we lived in the same areas. We just chose a better path. And we have a crucial role to play in combatting the narrative that the West is anti-Islam because it doesn't end there; because unchallenged, it leads to calls of action like the one we have just witnessed.

Many successful British Muslims I know share with me a reluctance to define ourselves by the religion we were born into but it's a posture we don't have the luxury of using to put out our palm and say, "Sorry, this isn't about me."

Because in the gangs of the east end of London, Birmingham or Bradford they don't hear about – let alone meet people – who often grew up not far from them but found that if you played by the rules, success could be yours. They don't think that Olympic champions, successful businessmen, members of parliament, cabinet ministers, mayors, celebrity TV chefs, chief executives of banks could be cut from the same cloth as theirs.

And they don't because those of us who fall into one of those categories don't have a narrative to share other than "I worked really hard to get where I am".

So whilst government should do more to act on bias in the workplace that sees Muslims being discriminated against and businesses should be named and shamed for their lack of diversity, successful Muslims have a tool in their hands that we can put to work straight away and it is as simple as this. Rather than encourage people to bite the hand that has fed them admittedly rather badly, let's show what we've done when we've held that hand and then let's squeeze to feed everyone better.

We should take the lead and we should own the problem.

Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab OBE is the chair of Bounce Back and mentors ex-offenders wishing to start up their own businesses.

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