Yorkshire Post

Muslims in 'money not words' message

By Tom Smithard Political Correspondent

A Government Minister was told yesterday to stop talking and start funding as he addressed a group of young Yorkshire Muslims battling to prevent members of their community becoming extremists.

Community Cohesion Minister Parmjit Dhanda was told that young Muslims were still annoyed about the war in Iraq and tensions in the Middle East.

And, in what he described as a "robust debate", he was told by members of the Leeds Muslim Youth Forum (LMYF) that they were fed up of having meetings with Ministers that appeared positive at the time but never resulted in the funding they were after.

Mr Dhanda visited the Hamara centre in Beeston, Leeds, yesterday to learn about grassroot schemes developed there to engage young people.

Representatives told him of the positive work to build links with other Leeds communities, including organising football tournaments and multi-faith visits to mosques, churches and synagogues.

They said they were about to organise a community cohesion awards night, featuring prizes for local role models, and had also recently run a cultural awareness week to help stop the feeling of alienation.

But, while tensions in Beeston had eased since the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings, carried out by members of the community, the representatives said there were still many problems that needed addressing.

Mohammed Kamran said: "We need to get young Muslims to understand the big picture. Young Muslims are p***** off with our foreign policy and the community gets all irate about politicians not engaging at a local level. We're trying to get people to engage at a local level themselves, because that's the only way it will change things."

Speaking afterwards, 20-year-old Fahad Khan said that it was vital for the LMYF to engage at the grassroots, through mosques and youth clubs, to reach young people before they became alienated and turned to extremism.

He said: "There is no escaping the fact that there is a lot of tension in this community, the Muslim youth is disenfranchised. They are being pulled three ways, the religious culture at home, the secular culture at school, and in-between the tension of the streets.

"Parents don't understand, many do not speak English, yet there's no translators available at parent-teacher evenings at schools. Young people also have grievances with other faiths, they focus too much on the differences rather than looking at the similarities.

"We also have 'consultation fatigue', with Ministers coming to see us but never getting anything done. We had a meeting with a Treasury Minister earlier in the summer, it was a positive meeting, but when we applied for funding afterwards it was rejected.

"We don't want to sound money hungry but we need it to progress as an organisation, to allow us to get our voices heard within the community. The problem at the moment is Ministers listen to what we say, but never act upon it."

Mr Dhanda, a Sikh, told the Yorkshire Post: "We have invested £6m of money nationally in our Preventing Violent Extremism programme, with £17m over three years behind that.

"We had a good, frank discussion today. It's really important that we listen to what active young people in the Leeds Muslim community have to say because the projects they've been involved in locally have made a real difference.

"It's not a case of what goes wrong that we need to spend all our time focusing on. We need to find examples of what can be done to improve things. Where we have projects of real energy and vitality we need to utilise that and support that."

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