Wembley students discuss the dangers of religious extremism

Ghafffur Hussain, head of outreach and training at the think tank Quilliam, told Copland students that extremists target young, marginalised people

Ghafffur Hussain, head of outreach and training at the anti extremist pressure group, spoke to pupils at Copland Community School of his own experiences as a student toying with ideas of Political Islam, and how he came to reject them.

Drawing on his own experiences as a Muslim growing up in a small town in Staffordshire during the 1980s, where yobs would routinely leave pigs heads outside mosques and label people of Asian descent ‘pakis’, Mr Hussain told students at the school in Cecil Avenue, Wembley, that extremist groups targeted young people who felt unease at their place in their communities.

He said: “I didn’t really connect with my parents culturally, so from very early on I developed two personalities, one for home and one for the outside world.

“I didn’t really feel we belonged anywhere. I didn’t feel we were British but I didn’t feel Pakistani either. Identity was a very confusing issue for me.

“Where I lived here was a gang of kids who would shower our house with stones and try to break down our door. So we formed a group and would throw stones back. This was normal for me.

“So from very early on we felt we had to have the support of being in a gang, and being anti establishment became very normal.”

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Ghaffur said he became radicalized by watching the atrocities carried out during the Bosnian war of 1992-1995, where tens of thousands of Muslims were rounded up and killed.

He said: “That deeply affected me. I started going to talks at the local mosque and I was made to feel really angry about what they were doing in Bosnia.

“Then I realised that these people I was meeting didn’t really care about Bosnia, they were using it to attract people. They began making us take part in activities which had nothing to do with Bosnia. They are very manipulative and what they told us what not what they actually believed.

“With extremist groups, the public face is very different to the private.”

Once Ghaffur began studying psychology at university he began to break free of the hold these radicals had on him, and later joined Quilliam to encourage people, particularly the young, to recognise and speak out against extremists.

“Extremism is on the rise on all sides”, he says. “We are living in a time where it is more important than ever to promote the idea that we can all live together, no matter our backgrounds.”

Around 92 per cent of pupils at Copland are of minority ethnic origin, and more than 50 different languages are spoken. And schools in Brent have not been untouched by terrorism.

In 2006 Dhiren Barot, a former pupil at Kingsbury High School, in Princes Avenue, Kingsbury, was sentenced to life in prison for planning several terrorist attacks in London, including a plot to use a radioactive ‘dirty’ bomb.

Phil Ballman, head of politics at Copland, said that while the school has never had a problem with extremism, it was important for students to learn about the dangers.

He said: “I have heard students from other schools say that the holocaust didn’t happen. That really shocked me. So we brought in Quilliam to talk to our kids about the dangers of lies like this.”

Jasmine Pal, 17, a politic AS Level student, said: “It was really insightful.”