On 15th June 2016 Deeyah Khan will be screening her Bafta nominated documentary Jihad at a special Lawyers Life event held with 42 Bedford Row, barristers chambers.
Deeyah is simply a force of nature, an Emmy and Peabody award winning film maker, music artist and activist, she travels the world speaking on issues concerning women, Muslims, human rights, and freedom of expression. Her latest project is sister-hood, a digital magazine and a series of live events spotlighting the voices of women of Muslim heritage.
As a taster to what promises to be a fascinating evening on the 15th here are some thoughts Deeyah shared with Lawyers Life about the huge and, to many, incomprehensible topic of Islamism.
1. Previous generations of immigrants faced open hostility, racism and discrimination yet did not turn to violence, why do you think that young people, born and raised here who have every opportunity in the UK are drawn to this violent ideology?
It’s not as simple as a response to people facing difficulties in their lives. Many people experience problems and very few turn to extremist ideologies. For one thing, the ideology has to be available. We’ve lived through a period where extremely hard-line interpretations of Islam, mainly inspired by the wahhabi hard-line brand have had enormous sway and resources for several decades now. We’re also seeing radical Islam as a site of intergenerational conflict –
a way for young people to express their differences from their parents ‘cultural’ Islam, to strike a blow against the patriarchal order of many South Asian and Middle Eastern families.
- In your research were you able to discover what the attraction of jihadi life is for women who, again, are offered many freedoms in the UKbut reject them?
There are reasons why the freedoms of the West might not appeal to young women. Some have experienced abuse, some have been taught that these freedoms are dangerous by their families. In a way, the attraction of jihadi life is finding a sense of purpose and freedom from their families which doesn’t fit into the Western model. And women, just as much as men, can become intoxicated by the sense of building a new, supposedly better, society, and seek status within their networks through their piety.
- Against a continuing backdrop of local, regional and proxy wars what might make jihadism less attractive?
We need to be honest about this violent jihadi movement. We need to be clear that it has never, ever made anyone’s lives better, except perhaps the parasites at the top of the organisations, who send young men to their death, and yet their own children to Western universities.
- Are there patterns of vulnerability / factors eg background, personality, external influences you have identified?
While psychologists have not found consistent patterns, I feel that there are always vulnerabilities to exploit. People who are happy with their lives do not run away to warzones. I think that although the patterns aren’t clear, there will always be some kind of dissatisfaction with the world which can be preyed upon. The other aspect is that violent jihadi organisations are built around strong social bonds – the kind of intense relationships that make people outside the group almost irrelevant. This is, I believe, how jihadis can commit such brutalities – they do not truly recognise the humanity of people outside their tight, almost cultish network.
- With a potential President of the United Statesseeing Muslims as a potential threat what can we do to reduce religious intolerance (on all sides not just towards Muslims but from Muslims towards others) ?
A Trump presidency would be disastrous, and I really hope it doesn’t come to that. But whether Trump wins or not, we need to work against religious intolerance. To me, this means more than building links between communities, it means ensuring that treatment of people is clearly equitable. We need to recognise that this is a diverse society that we are living in, that exclusive communities are harmful, whether they are by race or faith. We need to become one country, not a mass of different communities in parallel with each other. This starts by recognising that although people may live within particular communities, and have particular identities, they are all individuals with rights at that level. We need to challenge the institutionalisation of group identities and remember that our society is ultimately made up of a wonderful variety of human beings which are not necessarily represented by so-called community leaders.
- Your views on preventive and reparative work (if any) ?
We need to work on building a sense of inclusion and challenging the groupthink of us and them. This means we need to start thinking interculturally. We need to be careful not to play into the hands of those who want to increase tension, fear and division between communities. They want to see a clash of civilisations. That is the absolute last thing we should give them. For long term success, we need to be building bridges between communities, and helping damaged people to find a sense of purpose outside Islamism.