A “generation of lost young people” are falling prey to an extremist ideology which goes against everything Islam stands for, Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood has warned.
Mr Mahmood, who became the first Muslim MP in an English constituency when he entered the Commons in 2001, spoke passionately about his fear that Britain isn’t doing enough to combat extremism as MPs debated new anti-terror legislation.
He also spoke of the opposition he encountered when he investigated claims that hardline “religious” views were being promoted in Birmingham schools.
Mr Mahmood told MPs: “I had to deal with the ‘Trojan horse’ schools in Birmingham, and found myself in a very lonely place.”
But he insisted that the ideology promoted in some city schools – which included telling children it was a crime to have photographs of family members at home, and making girls sit at the back of the classroom – could indeed lead children into extremism when they were older.
He was speaking as MPs debated the Government’s Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, which among other things will allow police and border officials to confiscate temporarily the passport of suspected terrorists coming into the UK, and place schools and universities under a legal obligation to challenge extremist views.
Mr Mahmood (Lab Perry Barr) said: “Today and over the past ten days or so, the vast majority of people in the Muslim community in the United Kingdom, which numbers between 2.5 million and three million people, will have been apprehensive about what the Bill holds for them, how they will come to look at it and in what way they must play a part in delivering this policy and moving it forward.
“There will, of course, be those who will try to capitalise on that. They will say, ‘This Bill is about putting you down. It is about doing things to you because you are not regarded as full UK citizens or as belonging to society in the UK.’ Those are the people we have to look at and deal with.
“I stand before the House as a member of the Muslim community who believes that those people do not speak for me.”
He continued: “I refuse to call it a Muslim or Islamic ideology, because in no way does it encompass the beliefs that I have. To me, Islam translates as submission; it is not about torturing people and it is not about killing people of different faiths.”
Mr Mahmood told MPs: “I welcome the measures placed on schools, colleges, universities, prisons and young offenders institutions.
“Those measures will go some way. I had to deal with the ‘Trojan horse’ schools in Birmingham, and found myself in a very lonely place. Everybody criticised me. Colleagues on the Opposition Benches were not happy with what I said.
“I had known for some time that there were issues that had to be dealt with. The difficulty for me was that they were not in my constituency, but in the end I got involved because I thought enough was enough. Somebody had to get involved and deal with them.
“There were clear signs of what was happening in the classroom. I had taken an interest in such matters before. I spoke to head teachers of those schools, former head teachers who had been excluded from those schools, deputy head teachers, senior teachers who had been excluded from those schools, parents and governors who had been pushed out of those schools.
“I even spoke to students in those schools. Practices that went on were, for example, boys and girls not being allowed to sit together, and the girls being pushed to the back of the classroom so that they would know their place.
“I spoke to one of the parents, who said everything was fine and none of that happened. I asked whether any of her children went to the school in question. She said that both her son and her daughter went there.
“I asked her to ask one of them. She asked her son. He said, ‘Yeah, Mum, that happens normally.’ The mother asked, ‘Why don’t I see it?’ Her son said, ‘When you come to school, there’s a different arrangement from what we normally do in class.’
“On parents evening, the parents were shown the school acting normally, but when they were not present the girls were made to sit at the back and the boys in front.
“The schools had a specific interpretation of music and art and photographs of the human form or living form. The children were even told that if they had photographs of their parents or grandparents at home, or photographs of other family members, perhaps deceased, that was not right and was a crime under Islam. That is what was happening.
“Many people might see it as non-extremist radicalisation, but if a school has a child for eight years and passes on such teaching, what happens when the child leaves and goes to college with that ideology fixed in their mind? We need to think about how we deal with these issues and move forward.”
He added: “We should recognise that we have a generation of lost young people – a small minority... but still far too many.”
Mr Mahmood condemned Islamaphobia in the media, saying: “That is difficult to deal with and we need a far wiser press to do that. Trying to further excite the issue of Islamophobia affects the wider community, and we must look at that.”