This article first appeared on the Huffington Post here
David Cameron seems stumped. He just hasn’t got a clue of how to rid us of this pesky radicalisation problem, has he? The problem seems to be that we don’t know what the problem is. Is the problem a violent interpretation of Islam? Or is it disaffected Muslim youth? Is the problem short-sighted foreign policy? Or do all our radicalisation woes simply stem from ISIS’s deft wielding of the twin weapons of Armageddon: kittens and Nutella? Perhaps the answer is all of the above, but that still leaves us short of a real solution.
Step in Mr. Cameron, recently delivering a brand new strategy to combat extremism. It involved giving a platform to the “moderate Muslim” voices in the media, combatting extremist ideologies, both vocal and silent, (“You’re an extremist!”… “But I didn’t say anything!”… “Exactly!”), as well as doing more to integrate minorities into a British identity.
But the problem is that we’ve been trying these solutions for years. The real question should be, how do we finally realise these objectives?
That brings me nicely onto Velcro. Yes, Velcro. Velcro is a remarkable material that has forever transformed the lives of children who run late for school. No more fiddling with shoelaces – just whack it on and run for that bus. And as unlikely as it may sound, if the world took notice of how Velcro was discovered, its service to the fight against extremism may even outstrip its service to school registrations.
In 1941 a Swiss inventor by the name of George Mestral noticed the burdock burrs clinging to his dog after a routine walk. Inquisitive, he took a peek at these burrs under the microscope and found that the secret of their success lay in sheets of tiny hooks. Thus was Velcro born.
What George Mestral and Velcro have taught me is this: we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. If we want to know how to prevent radicalisation, just find an example where Muslim youth are immune to it, and see what they’re doing right.
Fortunately, Mr. Cameron doesn’t have to look far – just down the District Line in fact. For in unlikely Southfields lives the spiritual leadership of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, a community that stands out for all the qualities Mr. Cameron is seeking to foster. Despite its membership of tens of millions of Muslims, spread in over 200 countries, the community has not a single extremist action against its name. How is this possible? What are they doing that works so well?
On the 21st August 2015, I’m going to find out. That weekend will host the annual gathering of the community, as 30,000 Ahmadi Muslims descend on Hampshire where a farm will be turned into a mini-city for the three day convention. The purpose of the spiritual gathering, known as Jalsa Salana, will be for the attendees to listen to the words of their caliph. Unlike any other Muslim community, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community has had caliphate for a long time: 107 years to be precise, with the current caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, based in Southfields, London. Didn’t you know caliphate had come to the UK?
Fear not – Ahmad is not a caliph of war, but the caliph of peace. He embodies the community’s motto: Love for All, Hatred for None. And he is well placed to fight extremism, having once been imprisoned for his peaceful beliefs in his native Pakistan before his appointment, and being exiled from his homeland thereafter. You can see why extremists oppose him: he advocates the separation of mosque and state, champions the Islamic teaching that there is no compulsion in religion (Qur’an 2:257) and teaches Muslims to be loyal citizens wherever they live, citing the words of the Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, that love for one’s country is part of faith.
The caliph, I suspect, is the key to the community’s success. Speak to any of his young followers and they will tell you that he shields them from extremism by promoting them to join the true Islamic jihad of our time – improving individual spirituality, and serving the communities in which they live. “The spiritual leadership of the Caliph makes us immune from exploitative clerics,” says Damir Rafi, a young volunteer at the annual convention. “From him we get a solid understanding of our faith and through the community’s outreach and charity programs we have a positive outlet for our religious impulses.” The results of the caliphate speak for themselves, and serve as a model to other Muslim communities the world over.
I would suggest to Mr. Cameron that instead of listening to aides and advisors who might visit a mosque once a year in Ramadan, go and listen to the caliph. The media that love to plaster “radicalisation!” over every shop-front should also attend. Together, they might learn something of value, instead of being content with delivering hand-wringing platitudes about problems we already know.
Perhaps this time they’ll find a solution that sticks.