Nearly three dozen people gathered in London on November 22, 2011 for a Project Mosaic roundtable discussion on how to protect young people in the UK from extremist movements.
The guest speaker, Munir Zamir, described his association years ago with extremist Islamist organisations, when he was a teenager and young adult. Since 2008 he has run Fida Management (Fida means "sacrifice" in Arabic), which helps young people by providing alternatives to the al-Qaeda narrative.
"We need to teach young people to think, to question, to reason -- and to be tolerant of others," said Munir. In his talk on "Breaking the Spell for Britain's Young Jihadis", he described how he and many other young Britons in the 1980s and 1990s joined Mujahedeen organisations in order to help oppressed Muslims in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kashmir and elsewhere -- but the desire to help eventually turned into a desire to hate, with violence being offered as the only solution.
Munir said young people from underserved immigrant communities (his Indian-born parents arrived in the UK from Pakistan in the 1960s) faced a special challenge in forging a sense of identity, belonging and purpose if they felt isolated from mainstream British society.
He said parents, teachers and others needed to help children and young adults by encouraging good education and by providing moral leadership. "I tell young people that it is my responsibility first to strive to understand myself before I can consider judging someone else," he said.
Fida Management provides constructive pathways for young Muslims to address grievances that can place them at risk. The organisation works across the UK to help make individuals and communities more aware of the dangers of anger, hate and intolerance.
The roundtable discussion on November 22 was part of the Project Mosaic Lecture Series, which addresses topics including engaged citizenship, ethnic diversity, tolerance, integration of immigrant communities, prejudice, extremism and conflict resolution.