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6 August 2001
National Conference Listens to Young People
Following the recent racial disturbances in the North East
of England The Muslim Council of Britain held a National Conference which
brought together a broad coalition of interested parties including young
people, community leaders, politicians, the police and representatives from the
public and voluntary sectors. The aim of the Conference was to examine the underlying
causes of the disturbances, promote good practice and discuss practical
measures that government and the community could undertake in order to prevent
The one-day Conference, themed Building Communities, Building Bridges held on Saturday 4th
August at Manchester Town Hall gave young people centre stage. A number of
young men and women from Oldham, Burnley, Bradford, Manchester, Sunderland and
London spoke frankly and powerfully about their experiences of living and/or
working in the affected communities. “Nobody is listening to the youth” was an
oft-repeated comment representing a wide-spread feeling of disenfranchisement.
There was sharp criticism of local politicians who as one participant put it
“would not even give us the time of day." A participant from Bradford
expressed his concern that regeneration funds granted for the purpose of
helping young people never actually reached them and were squandered instead on
plush offices and bureaucracy. The police came in for heavy criticism from many
of the delegates both for their handling of the riots and their perceived
hostile attitude towards Asian Muslim youth generally. A local leader from
Burnley, Nazer Elyas, spoke of his personal experiences of wrongful arrest and
police harassment. Community leaders and national politicians were also seen as
out of touch.
Suggestions for improvement included youth councils, greater
consultation and greater accountability for bureaucrats responsible for
regeneration budgets. Good practice examples were provided by Abul Khayar Ali from
NAFAS, an innovative drugs rehabilitation/prevention programme in Tower Hamlets
in London, and Shaykh Ebrahim Mogra, a young Imam from Leicester who spoke
eloquently about the need for mosques to do more than just provide prayer
facilities and the importance of connecting with young people. The determined
mood was summed up by a young woman from Sunderland: “young people should not
be underestimated – they will take action to protect their interests”.
Richard Leese, leader of Manchester Council opened the
conference. Yousuf Bhailok, Secretary
General of the MCB, welcoming the guests stressed the need to hear from the
grass root communities of their concern.
The keynote address was given by Rashida Butt Chair of Regen 2000 in
Bradford. Other speakers and representatives included Tony Lloyd MP (Manchester
central); Sally Keeble MP Minister at DTLR, Martin Pagel, Deputy Leader of
Manchester Council; Councillor Azhar Ali,
leader, Pendle Council; Shahid Malik, CRE Commissioner; Asst. Chief Constable
Alan Bridges, Greater Manchester Police, Superintendent Keith Bentley, Sub-Divisional
Commander at Oldham, Brian Pearce, Inter Faith Network. Other representatives included Duncan
Edward of the GMB who emphasised the importance of tackling poverty and
unemployment and Maqsood Ahmed, the Muslim Prison Advisor about support
services for Muslim prisoners.
Commenting on the event, the MCB Deputy Secretary-General Mr
Mahmud Al-Rashid stated “I’m glad the conference has been a success in
attracting a wide variety of key people – especially the young. But this is
only the first stage. The challenge for us and for the government now must be
to tackle the root causes of the disturbances, regenerate our towns and cities
and restore trust and co-operation between different communities in Britain”.
The conference concluded with three messages. The first of
these was to the political leadership and ‘opinion formers’ – that Muslims must
be seen as an integral part of British society, and that the recent
disturbances were not just an Asian or Muslim problem. The second message was a reminder by the
Muslim community to itself – that Islam was not about narrow self-interest, but
that it stood for seeking the common good for every member of society. Moreover, the mosques up and down the
country need to be more than just places of worship, but provide recreational,
social welfare and educational facilities for men and women, the young and old. The third message was to the youth – that
they should aspire and direct their huge energy towards excellence, finding
their inspiration in the role models from Muslim history of all ages.
- The conference follows
a number of initiatives launched by the MCB in order to help the situation
in the North West, some of which pre-date the disturbances.
- In July 2001 a
fact-finding team from MCB visited the region in order to gain first hand
reports and views, which were presented to the Home Office Minister Angela
Click here to read the fact finding report.
- In large part the conference
reflects an unprecedented number of calls, emails and faxes to the MCB
from individuals and organisations expressing concern at the disturbances
and associated expressions of Islamophobia.
- The conference
proceedings will form part of a wider report on the disturbances and
practical suggestions, and will be published in the near future by the
for the text of the opening speech ‘ Setting the Scene’ by Ms Rashidah Butt,
Chair of Regen 2000 Bradford.
For further information please contact the MCB:
The Muslim Council of Britain
PO Box 52
Tel: 020 8903 9650
Fax: 020 8903 9026
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