17 July 2014
Radicalised Muslim youth from Cardiff
The evening news on Friday, 20 June, included a chilling report of an online promotional video by the Muslim jihadist group ISIS in which a young person with a British accent talked about his desire to recruit other young Muslims to the cause.
The young person turned out to be a 20-year-old from Cardiff who had planned to study medicine. Also accompanying him in the video was his younger brother and another British Muslim. These were not young people who had grown up in a part of the world ravaged by religious conflict only to arrive in the UK in recent months - these were young people who were born and bred in the UK and who had attended British schools. The story dominated both UK and Welsh news for days. Was Cardiff a hotbed for Islamic radicalism? How had they become radicalised? How many British Muslims had gone to the Middle East to fight jihad?
Young Muslims tracked down by journalists in the ensuing days and weeks on the whole professed no hatred for Britain. A major concern, however is the threat to national security once these same fighters return to the UK, battle-hardened and potentially indoctrinated against the West.
Moderate Muslims in Wales have spoken out against this, primarily through press interviews and a press release signed by mosque leaders, a local MP and other public and faith leaders. A Newport Imam also put his name to an open letter, signed by more than 100 UK Imams and organised by the group Imams Online, urging British Muslims not to travel to Syria and Iraq.
The problem has been compounded by the revelation that much radicalisation has been occurring online, with parents seemingly being unaware of the process that their sons and daughters are going though. Anyone listening to the heartbroken father of the two brothers in Syria being interviewed on the news last month could not help but be moved by his anguish. Yet there is no silver bullet to solve this problem.
There are opportunities for evangelical Christians in Wales to get involved in responding to Islamic extremism, and indeed some already are. These include the UK government's Prevent agenda and the Welsh government's work on community cohesion and 'The Wales we want' initiative, which envisions the Wales we want to leave for future generations.
For other evangelicals, however, space may need to be created to have some honest conversations with people from the Muslim community in order to remove scepticism created by both the media and the experiences of Christians living in Muslim-majority countries. This could ultimately lead to an increase in effective community engagement encompassing Muslim communities on behalf of evangelicals.
Many neither know Muslims personally nor live in areas with large Muslim populations and so may have a dehumanised view of the Muslim community which needs to be overcome as well.
Evangelical commitment to religious freedom includes the right of non-Christian faith communities to practice their faith without fear or intimidation. Stemming from this, religious tolerance - which should be extended towards people of all faiths and none - is a value that must be embedded into the soul of our nation for generations to come.