Exclusive: We share blame for creating 'jihad generation', says Muslim strategist

Young followers of Islam in British inner cities have been left disenfranchised by society, a former senior Army officer says

political editor

British society, its political class and community leaders must share the blame for the "jihad generation" of young men and women joining the Islamic State terrorist organisation, a former senior Muslim Army officer says today.

Afzal Amin, who was chairman of the Armed Forces Muslim Association, a conflict strategist and a military adviser on winning "hearts and minds" in Afghanistan, says young Muslims in inner-city Britain have been left disenfranchised by politics and let down by imams and other community leaders.

Mr Amin, 39, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Dudley North, also calls for troops on the ground in Iraq to combat the escalating threat from Islamic State (IS), arguing that the British Army, with years of experience in counter-insurgency in the Middle East, has the capability to defeat them.

While his call does not chime with the Government's current strategy of offering non-military assistance in the Kurdistan region to repel IS forces, other figures in Westminster and the Armed Forces are advocating a tougher stance in Iraq. Mr Amin said he agreed with Defence Secretary Philip Hammond that Britain should not ally with President Assad despite British IS militants kidnapping and beheading US journalist James Foley inside Syria.

James Foley in Syria, 2012 Mr Amin backed David Cameron and said: "When the time comes to deploy, I am sure he will not hesitate." He said he agreed with the Prime Minister that the threat from IS was real and British people should fear for their safety.

Mr Amin served for 11 years and completed three tours of Afghanistan: in Helmand, Kabul and Kandahar. On his last tour, in 2012, he was a captain and strategist advising US generals on conflict termination strategy through civil society engagement and empowerment. In the 1990s, before joining the Army, he was a youth worker in inner-city Birmingham.

Mr Amin called for a task force to be set up to bring together a team of experts from the Government, religious communities, civil society and young Muslims themselves, to serve for a minimum of five years and in addition to the Government's much-derided Prevent strategy, to "defeat the coherent message of international terrorists who've hijacked religion for their own ends".

He said: "This counter-narrative work must also address and deal with injustices whether they are real or merely perceived. It should be able to undertake nationwide and international activity in co-ordination with senior religious and political leaders but also with young people who are representative of the "jihad generation" of inner-city Muslim teenagers.

"That so many of them feel so disenfranchised with us and then turn to this gang of brigands cloaked with a false version of Islam is not their fault. It is our fault: we who are the society in which they were born, went to school, were raised and became young, independently minded adults. We have failed them, and any successful prognosis must be based on an accurate diagnosis.

"They have rebelled against everything that is familiar to them, but instead of mohicans or facial piercings, they have opted for the YouTube glory of becoming an internationally wanted terrorist at war with the superpower that is the US."

Establishing the counter-narrative should not be left to "self-appointed Muslim community leaders" who have "failed and are failing in every aspect of the evolution of the British Muslim communities from foreign-born and raised immigrants to becoming native Brits". The former army captain added: "Almost all the mosques I know and know of have foreign imams who cannot even communicate with young people, let alone convince them of anything. Mosques almost everywhere are seen as out of touch and failing in their duty to guide young people.

"We must not be afraid to ask the difficult questions and to thoroughly cleanse our ghettoised communities from feeling so distant from the ideals of what it means to live in a free society where you can choose to practise faith or not to, where you can live alongside every faith and none, where your rights are protected under law and you are an equal citizen. These are noble values, yet in Muslim communities I have almost never heard these being discussed with young people in inner-city areas."

Mr Amin questioned why, despite being the single largest employer of imams in the UK, the prison system does not rehabilitate extremists sufficiently.

It was claimed last week that more British Muslims are joining the jihadi fight in Iraq and Syria than are joining the Armed Forces, although these numbers were based on an unverified figure of 1,500 going to the Middle East from the Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, a number which is disputed

 

Mr Amin said: "Jihadist narrative answers the questions that these young people ask, the same questions which imams address with prescriptions of more religiosity. IS provides an opportunity to do something real, exciting and spiritually nourishing." The failure to make British Muslims feel as if they belong to British society is echoed by the failure to include Sunnis in the Iraqi government and wider state structure, he said.

"Both the UK and Iraq need more democratic engagement with minority groups. Sunnis and Muslims for Iraq and the UK respectively need to feel they are part of the ruling authority, that they belong and that the state is there to protect them and to serve their needs. Enfranchisement requires both the state and the citizen to engage in this symbiotic relationship. The alternative is tyranny or anarchy."

While the Prime Minister has repeatedly said there will be no "boots on the ground" in Iraq to fight IS, Mr Amin said the British Army was capable of going in and fighting them. He urged Nato to send a military force, under invitation of the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities, to defeat IS.

He added: "The tragedy of the IS situation is that were we to plan a fully resourced brigade-level exercise to test a British Army brigade, we would design something that eerily resembles IS's disposition in terms of nature of enemy, weapons systems, terrain, spread of forces, numbers of civilians, etc.

"Taking on IS and defeating them is exactly the sort of operation which British Army brigades now excel at. The British Army now has hundreds of Arabic speakers, a decade of experience on the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan and systems which are built for counter-insurgency rather than traditional state-on-state warfare."

Mr Amin said the British people were right to be weary of engagement because of Iraq and Afghanistan, but nevertheless the West should still take part in full military action.

"I believe that Nato has lost its nerve. One of the principles of war is to break the will and cohesion of the enemy. It seems that in some measure, this is what the Taliban and Iraqi insurgents have done to us. The loss of life for us and for them has been high but nowhere near the scale of previous conflicts for the Soviets in Afghanistan, the US and Vietcong in Vietnam, the two world wars.

"As an Arabic-speaking former army officer, I would readily volunteer to deploy again for this fight against terrorism. The values we hold and country to which we belong are worth too much to not step forward now."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Ecommerce Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity is available to ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leading specialist i...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Support Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This role's responsibility also include operat...

Recruitment Genius: Field Engineer - Northern Home Counties

£27000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Their revenue and profit have g...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy