Reimagining British Muslims
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Thursday 30th June 2022

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

British Values and Prevent, the two words I struggled with. Working in a further education college and having to teach this topic to around 400 teenage students a week is not the easiest thing.

My manager is aware of my opinions on the Prevent Agenda and to be honest she too is none too keen on it either. With Ofsted coming into the college and it being a government requirement, I had no choice but to teach it. It doesn’t matter that I think the whole agenda was Islamophobic, that Muslims were looked upon as suspects or that it further isolated Muslim communities; I still had to do it. I also had to spend a painfully boring half a day training on it too.

Fortunately, as long as we hit all the official government tick boxes, I could discuss it how I liked. I didn’t know what kind of response to expect from the students. They’re at that critical age where they begin to form opinions and ideas about the world around them, but I also knew it’s a great age to challenge them and have an impact on their thinking.

Prevent, was surprisingly the most thought-provoking discussion and session I have had with the students. Initially I was conscious of the fact that me being a Muslim they would not be completely honest with me, so I began the session with an icebreaker of different images of people to get conversations going. The images were of a bearded Muslim man in a thobe [Arab long shirt], a suited white man and pair of young students.  I first asked the class  “who wouldn’t you trust?” I could see some of them were reluctant to answer the question, so I began to play the devil’s advocate and threw in stereotypes. Bearing in mind that my students are 90% white British, I saw the class get quite uncomfortable with me openly suggesting that a bearded brown Muslim guy must definitely be a terrorist. They began to challenge me. They told me it was wrong to have prejudices  because Hitler and Stalin were white men. I then changed the question to “so who would the MEDIA suggest that you should or shouldn’t trust”.  Considering this happened not too long after the Paris attacks, the results were somewhat surprising. They all pointed at the bearded Muslim but many of them also suggested that the suited white man may have something to do with a Government and so for that reason they wouldn’t trust him, either. This showed me two things, firstly, the youth are a lot more intelligent than we give them credit for and secondly, the amount of mistrust that young people have in their Government. According to the Prevent agenda, I should be weary of students who hold very  passionate opinions like that.  Prevent is becoming very suffocating for students expressing themselves freely and openly. I found that the students, just like me, didn’t understand the need for the Prevent agenda or British Values lessons.

In the end the bearded Muslim was actually an advisor to the Ministry of Defence, the suited white man was responsible for 20 sectarian killings and the students were Animal Rights extremists.  As I expected, many students chose the picture of the two students as who they would trust. I was hoping they would.  I wanted to show them how two people that looked just like them could easily get involved in extremist activities. A few weeks prior to teaching this session, I ran sessions on child exploitation and grooming. I related the process of being radicalised  very similar to that of grooming. I humanised for them the school girls who ran away to join ISIS and made them understand that they are in fact victims of exploitation. Having worked for a youth charity a few years ago in East London and having spent some time in the schools the girls ran away from, I was able to explain to them the kind of underprivileged and sheltered lives a lot of them came from and why the life that ISIS was offering may had appealed to them.

Although I fully agree with having open and honest discussions with young people about such important issues, I don’t feel that the Prevent agenda and teaching British Values is the best way to go about this.   Teaching them how to look for signs in what the government considers extremist behaviour was troubling because to some extent I too could be considered to have ‘extremist-like tendencies’ but to those who know me, they know I’m quite the polar opposite. Your typical student does not find Islam as a threat to ‘British Values’ – as the media and politicians would have you believe – but rather I found they were more concerned with  groups such as UKIP and the EDL. Whilst discussing ‘British Values’ I heard a lot of angry voices. The rise in tuition fees, no university maintenance allowance, NHS cuts and a rise in poverty and as one student put it ‘David ‘take from the poor give to  the rich’ Cameron as Prime Minister- there is no surprise they’re not interested in anything the government wants to promote.

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Zakiyah is a Performance Coach for a further education college. She has previously worked on development projects both internationally and...
read more about Zakiyah Khan