BRADFORD: Zahoor Ahmed shakes his head in disbelief as he surveys the back of a terraced house belonging to the family of the three Dawood sisters, believed to have travelled to Syria to join the self-styled Islamic State (IS) militants and brought their nine children with them.
“Why would you go to Syria? I don’t understand it,” said Ahmed, 52, wearing traditional Muslim attire as he surveyed the unremarkable street in the northern English city of Bradford, where he said he had never encountered extremism.
He is far from the only person in Bradford bewildered by the apparent decision of Sugra, Zohra and Khadija Dawood to journey to Syria with their children, the youngest aged just three, and leave their husbands behind.
The case came to light just two days after reports that Talha Asmal, a 17-year-old from Dewsbury just a few miles from Bradford, had carried out an Islamic State attack in Iraq, becoming what is believed to be Britain’s youngest suicide bomber.
Both incidents have provoked soul searching among British Muslims at a time when the government is proposing new laws to give the authorities greater powers to fight radicalisation and potentially shut down mosques linked to extremists.
The authorities say more than 700 Britons —men and women, some teenagers, some well-educated— have been lured to fight in Syria and Iraq, most to join the group Islamic State.
Those who make the journey are putting not only their lives at risk but contributing to “one of the biggest threats our world has faced,” Prime Minister David Cameron said in a speech on Friday to a security conference in Slovakia.
Cameron’s emphasis is on persuading Britain’s 2.8 million Muslims to do more to fight radicalism within their own community. Too many people are expressing the same “evil” ideology as Islamic State, even if they do not advocate violence, he said.
“This paves the way for young people to turn simmering prejudice into murderous intent; to go from listening to firebrand preachers online to boarding a plane to Istanbul and travelling onward to join the jihadis.” He plans new laws to ramp up powers to ban “extremist” groups, close mosques where radicals thrive and censor media to restrict broadcasts that encourage extremism.
But some British Muslims say such measures are counter-productive, increasing the feeling of isolation that fuels radicalism. The state needs to work with Muslims, not demonise them, said Bana Gora, founding member of Bradford’s Muslim Women’s Council.
“This onslaught of counter terrorism legislation that’s coming through is not going to help matters,” she said.
If the government takes on “powers to shut down mosques at their pleasure, how is that going to help build relationships between the Muslim community and the state?” she said.