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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Generation M Muslims are flourishing

What is most successful about their approach is that they take pride and inspiration from their faith.

Commercial and creative momentum among Generation M Muslims is far outdoing a rather stagnant national security agenda.
Commercial and creative momentum among Generation M Muslims is far outdoing a rather stagnant national security agenda.

I remember thinking when the July 7, 2005 bombings happened in London, that they were Britain’s 9/11. The ripples of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center's twin towers had been felt all around the world, including in the UK. After all, George W Bush’s war on terror was global, and under prime minister Tony Blair’s leadership Britain stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the US.

The aftermath of July 7 certainly threw suspicion on Muslims. Scarves and beards were seen as signs of terrorism, and many of the latent prejudices against Muslims began to manifest themselves more openly. My elderly father was jostled in the street. My friend was violently assaulted on the train.

But there was – and still is – a certain resilience to London. I remember that day and those that followed it. There was a determination to continue. The shell-shock at the scale and spread of the attacks left us in a daze. It was the first major attack in the UK since the terrors of the IRA bombings had subsided. But despite the entanglement on the war on terror, there was at least the appearance of leaders making an effort to set a positive tone. But overshadowing this was the construction of a framework that saw anything to do with Muslims as a security and extremism issue. Integration? Extremism! Women’s rights? Extremism! Speaking English? Extremism!

Many Muslims feel that the only time Muslims are talked about is to do with terrorism. As a British Muslim I feel a strong connection between the atmosphere today and that horrible day in July 12 years ago.

Much has changed over the intervening decade. We have endured the global financial crisis. Austerity has hit and economies have slowed down. Economic and political power has shifted eastward. The Arab Spring awoke the Middle East and then its hopes have cooled into the Arab winter. Occupy Wall Street followed Tahrir Square. The "one per cent" and "ninety-nine per cent" entered our vocabulary. The burgeoning internet exploded into the all-pervasive social media. To think, we didn’t even know what a selfie was.

More recently we have faced the rise of Putin, Trump and Modi, a return to strongman politics. There has been an alarming rise of the far right. Anti Muslim hatred has become acceptable. Liberal elites are reviled by all sides, by "left-behinds" who see the elites as in it for themselves and by oppressed minorities who see them as colluding with middle-class bigots in their belief that Islam is the problem, and hence Muslims are inherently violent and problematic.

Yet the incredible shift is in people. The rise of the Millennial generation gives hope that their ethical-centricity and globalised outlook can act as a bulwark to growing hatred. And in particular, while the government focus in on security and terrorism, the rise of the young Generation M Muslim audience – who believe in faith and modernity – is giving rise to a positive, hopeful and economically vibrant segment. The commercial and creative space is far outstripping the toxic and stagnant pace of the security agenda.

The anti-extremism agenda, which has its roots in July 7, has borne little fruit and in fact alienated Muslim communities, as well as leaving their social and economic needs unaddressed. It has also allowed far-right hatred to flourish. The extraordinary spike in anti-Muslim hate attacks, including acid attacks in just the last few weeks, is terrifying and shows it hasn’t work.

If our memory of July 7 does anything, it should be to prompt a re-think of our strategy towards terrorism, and also the relationship between the state and its Muslim communities.

The young Generation M Muslims are already articulating alternative visions, based on participation, civic engagement, creativity and engagement. What is most successful about their approach is that they take pride and inspiration from their faith. They see Islam as a force for good, not something that needs reform or obliteration. One anti-Muslim campaigner recently claimed that "less Islam is good". That’s bigotry talking. What the evidence shows – and for some people it’s controversial to say this – is that when it comes to social relationships, community cohesion and integration, as well as tackling terrorism, it is in fact more Islam that these young Muslims need.

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