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Last Updated: Monday, 21 August 2006, 02:05 GMT 03:05 UK
UK foreign policy under spotlight
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News, Manchester

Sajid Iqbal, editor of Revival magazine
Revival: Sajid Iqbal focusing on youth
Thousands of young Muslims have been gathering in Manchester at an international conference discussing issues of faith and community.

So what did they think of the UK's foreign policy?

Handing out magazines by the dozen, Sajid Iqbal is a man on a mission - a mission from Oldham.

He edits The Revival, a jaunty social, political magazine distributed bi-monthly to 15,000 young Muslims. It wants to keep them on the straight path, rather than slide into disillusionment and dislocation.

And so Mr Iqbal and his colleague Mohammad Ayoub spoke to passers-by at Expoislamia in Manchester's MEN Arena.

"Muslim youth don't have any role models," says Sajid. "In Islam, our role model is the holy prophet Mohammad. But we need role models for everyday life - these should be the scholars, the imams.

An anti-Guantanamo Bay t-shirt
Guantanamo: Political memorabilia on sale
"But at the moment it might be anyone else. It might be a drug dealer, it might be Osama Bin Laden. Our job is to make sure that the role model is someone worth looking up to."

Expoislamia brought together more than 5,000 young Muslims to talk politics, society and life in general. The event also raised money for a major new mosque and social centre in Oldham.

Beyond the fund-raising, stand-up comics and the devotional "nasheed" music (pop for the religiously observant), the talk was very much of current events.

Home Secretary John Reid attacked Muslim leaders for warning recently that foreign policy was playing a role in fomenting extremism.

But it should be a message that ministers are used to. Revival's editors were among those who last year met the then Home Office minister Hazel Blears as ministers took the political temperature after the London bombings.

At that meeting, they asked to talk about foreign policy but were told it was not going to be on the agenda.

MEETING MINISTERS
The concerns that we have with regards to policies such as stop-and-search, the non-acknowledgement of international foreign policy and the new labelling of Muslims as moderate and extreme, she did not really answer those questions in a way that I consider to be an appropriate fashion
Zahid Maqbool, Oldham, 2005

Mr Iqbal was frustrated - when he was at university, he was in awe of Islamist groups who taught that the West had it wrong and that radical action was the only solution.

He says that like many young men he entered adulthood "fed up" of elders in mosques offering him no vision of his place in society, no constructive engagement with the things that worry or affect Muslim kids. And now they see government making the same mistakes, he said.

Both he and Mohammad Ayoub warn the UK's stance on the Middle East, linked to poverty and generational conflict, remain fertile ground for extremism.

"Foreign policy is a real issue in alienation," says Mr Ayoub. "Some of that perception is justified, some isn't. Young people say that nobody represents them, not their MPs, not their councillors, no-one.

"So when they see things happening to Muslims, it goes like this: to happen once is an accident, to happen twice is a coincidence and to happen three times feels like a conspiracy."

War on Islam?

One of the star turns at Manchester was Dr Azzam Tamimi of the Muslim Association of Britain. Dr Tamimi is a Palestinian who says that suicide bombings can be justified against Israel.

Ray Faruk pouring cash into a collection bin
By the bucket: Cash handed in to Muslim Aid for Lebanon appeal
In an emotive speech, he accused George W Bush and Tony Blair of turning "a war against terror into a war on Islam" - but that Muslims were standing up to be counted.

The crowd applauded enthusiastically when he said: "The Israelis have been humiliated by Hezbollah and Hamas. They are the defenders of truth. Hezbollah and Hamas are defending the Ummah [global brotherhood], making sacrifices for you."

This sense of global Muslim suffering, coupled with a call to unity, could be seen throughout the show - from political DVDs on Palestinian causes and books on Islamic political thought - through to the anti-Guantanamo T-shirts and charity appeals.

Volunteers for Muslim Aid were collecting buckets of cash for Lebanon - not just coppers but 10 and 20 notes.

"I wouldn't be here if I had not seen the pictures of the children being killed," said Londoner Ray Faruk who was manning one of the bins.

Zarina Javed (front) with daughter Anumm and daughter-in-law Rabia
Zarina Javed (front): 'No finesse to government policy'
As we talked, a trio of teenage girls asked him how they could volunteer. A few minutes later a man arrived with a plastic bag and shed a kilogram of loose change into the collection bin. The freelance collector was offered an official bib to go out and get more.

"Five years ago I felt honoured and proud," said Mr Faruk. "Now, my father who has a long beard is afraid to leave the house. What's that all about? It's about how we are being portrayed in the world. It's not right, it's got to change."

Ruqayyah is a volunteer for Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK, a small but motivated political organisation.

"I got involved in politics because I took part in the anti-war march in 2003," she said. "I saw the prime minister take us to war even though nobody wanted it.

"Muslim youth are disaffected by foreign policy. Take the current situation. The call for a ceasefire in Lebanon came far too late in the day.

"They need to listen to Muslims and see that we are part of the system too - and that means that Muslims need to hold their MPs to account."

Zarina Javed of Huddersfield needed no encouragement to vote. Formerly a Labour supporter, she said she had switched to the Liberal Democrats and Greens since Iraq.

If anything should change, she said, it was that the UK had to start doing what was right for Britain, not what was right for the US.

"Most government policy seems to be based on a knee-jerk reaction," she said. "There's no finesse, it's clumsy. They try and put it right afterwards but then they don't know how to do it.

"It is not just Muslims who end up getting bombed or killed. Foreign policy just seems to be lacking a humanitarian dimension."




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