High Wycombe Muslims defend town in face of terror arrests

'Outsiders' blamed for poisoning some young minds

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The Independent Online

“Welcome, come in”, said Ashfaq Ahmad as two uninvited journalists suddenly appear in front of him. “Come downstairs and join us for something to eat.”

Around 100 people are here at the Jamia Rehmania Mosque in Castlefield, High Wycombe to remember Ashfaq’s brother Inam, who died of a spinal tumour in December 2013 when he was just 21 years old. It is the second annual event held in Inam’s memory at the Educational and Cultural Trust where his friends and family have gathered to pray, eat and remember him.

Despite walking into such a personal occasion, and the fact we have arrived to discuss the problem of young men in the area becoming radicalised, Ashfaq, 37, is unhesitating with his request for us to join them.

“This is a great community, but you do have to be careful who you hang around with,” he says. “It’s like anywhere really.”

One local man, in Burnham Close, was arrested on 22 December under the Terrorism Act on charges relating to activities overseas and will appear at the Old Bailey next week.

 

In November, in another case, three terraced homes in the Desborough area, close to the town centre, were raided over an alleged ‘Poppy Day plot’ to kill the Queen at the First World War centenary ceremony at The Cenotaph on Remembrance Day. Nadir Sayed, 21, Yousaf Syed, 19, and Haseeb Hamayoon, 27, have been jointly charged with preparing to commit acts of terrorism and are expected to face trial in September.

A few months earlier 27-year-old Omar Hussain, also from Castlefield who worked as a security guard in the local Morrisons, decided to leave the UK for Syria and joined Isis. He has since threatened to “bomb the UK”. Shortly after Shabazz Suleman, just 18, left the RGS Grammar School, where Inam Ahmad had studied, and also signed up to join the jihadists.

The name of High Wycombe and the Buckinghamshire market town once famous for its furniture making, has more recently become better known for a supposed darker side. The Wycombe Islamic Society (WISE) has repeatedly condemned any attempt to radicalise British Muslims.

“These guys who are radicalised and go abroad – you never see them at any mosque,” said one volunteer youth leader who declined to give his name. “They fly under the radar. One person said to me last week ‘oh that guy arrested lived just near you, you must have known him’. But I didn’t. I’d never even seen him. The problem of radicalisation seems to be happening away from the community behind closed doors and when you hear about it, it’s too late.” 

Asians now make up 20 per cent of the population and around one in three school children do not speak English as a first language.

Zahur Ahmad, 62, blamed ‘outsiders’ for poisoning some young minds. “There are no radicals in Sunni centres,” he said over chicken and spinach curry during the memorial meal. “The young men who are being radicalised are being influenced by the ‘big people’, from the outside, who are training them, getting the funding. The internet is doing a little damage but not as much as the people training them. That’s my opinion, I could be wrong.

“It shouldn’t be happening like this, not in this country. Young men becoming radicalised causes problems for everybody.”

Mr Ahmad represents many here struggling to understand why radicalised young men are going abroad or turning their anger towards the UK, the country where they were born and raised. He said the men’s notion of ‘jihad’, popularly described as a ‘Holy War’ is also wrong.

“Jihad means protecting yourself when someone is attacking you,” Mr Ahmad said. “So what these young men are doing is not jihad. And it is Muslims fighting Muslims. What sort of ‘jihad’ is this?”

Echoing what many in the community feel is the perceived double standards in British foreign policy when atrocities are committed abroad. Several people were disappointed at the British reaction to last year’s latest conflict in Gaza when events following the brutal murder of three young Jewish hikers eventually spiralled into Operation Protective Edge where several weeks of Israeli bombardment and Palestinian rocket attacks resulted in 2,200 deaths – the vast majority of them Palestinian.

A local GP born and raised in High Wycombe praised the work of community leaders whenever radicalised young men from the area hit the headlines again. “High Wycombe, which used to be famous for its chair-making industry, has been put back on the map for the wrong reasons when in fact this is a very good community.

“I wanted to come back and work here [after studying] because it has treated me and my family very well. It still does. It’s unfortunate that some people have given it a bad image.

“When [arrests] happen the mosques are very good, the imams of all the main mosques come together to give guidance. What’s really the cause of radicalisation? That’s the million dollar question. Ultimately, it’s how people interpret what they want to interpret religion to suit them. It’s completely non-Islamic. Islam is the religion of tolerance but people will twist it to manipulate young people’s minds for their own benefit.”