How to deal with extremists…


Invite them in for a cup of tea of course.

There are scary things happening at the moment- in the wake of the brutal murder of a young man on the streets of Woolwich  in broad daylight, something is being unleashed.

In many ways it feels like the time is right for scapegoats. They are always a useful release or distraction at times of economic trouble. The 1926 great depression led to the great purges in Europe of the Jews. In more recent times Thatcher had a series of social groups to blame- the miners, New Age Travelers, benefits scroungers,

Currently there is a real danger that the next scapegoats will be Muslim.

Politicians start to talk about dealing with radical preachers. Fear is stoked. ‘The other’ is cartoonised and selectively described. The nuances, the complexity of it all is stripped away- there are the good guys (us) and them; the evil, half human terrorists who want to kill us all whilst shouting Allahu Akbar.

How do you deal with extremism? Surely the first thing we have to do is to set aside the dehumanising stereotype and talk. Meet real people and hear stories. Listen to each others world view and seek understanding.

I read a great example of exactly that today; The English Defence League  organised one of their protests outside a Mosque in York. The EDL is a scary far right organisation, with roots in the old British National Party and football hooliganism.  These are not people who like to talk- they would rather throw insults and broken bottles. The people in the Mosque had every reason to feel afraid. However, according to the Guardian, this is what happened;

York mosque dealt with a potentially volatile situation after reports that it was going to be the focus of a demonstration organised by a far-right street protest movement – by inviting those taking part in the protest in for tea and biscuits.

Around half a dozen people arrived for the protest, promoted online by supporters of the EDL. A St George’s flag was nailed to the wooden fence in front of the mosque.

However, after members of the group accepted an invitation into the mosque, tensions were rapidly defused over tea and plates of custard creams, followed by an impromptu game of football.

A young member of York mosque displays his message.

A young member of York mosque displays his message. Photograph: Anne Czernik

Leanne Staven, who had come for the protest, said that she had not come to the mosque to cause trouble but because “We need a voice”. “I think white British who have any concerns feel we can’t speak freely,” she said.

“Change has been coming for a long time and in light of what happened to that soldier in Woolwich there have to be restrictions on people learning extremist behaviour and it has to stop.”

Mohammed el-Gomati, a lecturer at the University of York, said: “There is the possibility of having dialogue. Even the EDL who were having a shouting match started talking and we found out that we share and are prepared to agree that violent extremism is wrong.

“We have to start there. Who knows, perhaps the EDL will invite us to an event and the Muslim community will be generous in accepting that invitation?”

Ismail Miah, president of York mosque, added: “Under the banner of Islamthere are very different politics: democratic politics, the far right, left, central, all over. You can’t target a whole community for what one or two people have done.

“What they’ve done in London is for their own reasons but there’s no reasoning behind it from an Islamic point of view.”