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Monday, November 20, 2017

Humara Soch - "Our Thoughts" on Terrorism and Mental Illness

Picture Courtesy of Slideshare
Terrorist; Jihadi fighter; suicide bomber; hate preacher; brainwashed radicalised terrorists; these are the terms that often spring associate with South Asian Muslim men. Such terms create a biography of a group who are in fact politically underrepresented, increasingly economically disenfranchised and significantly unaccounted for in discussions surrounding mental health. In order to understand the double standards that exist concerning our understanding of extremism, Islam and mental health, the intersectionality between religion and gender must be unpacked.

It is the war on terror that has re-constructed this notion of the orient and the occident perpetuating a culture of fear mongering and the ‘otherisation’ of an entire religion. This representation of the Muslim man as a relentless evil jihadi fighter has hypermasculinsed the South Asian Muslim man and has homogenised the identity of an entire group leaving little room for debate about the real issue at heart: poor mental health.   

As major global media outlets have subtly alluded to, is the steep rise of terrorist attacks with the so-called incompatibility between western democratic values and Eastern culture. A study conducted by researchers at Georgia State University found that
“the average attack with a Muslim perpetrator is covered in 90.8 articles. Attacks with a Muslim, foreign-born perpetrator are covered in 192.8 articles on average, whilst other attacks received an average of 18.1 articles.US media outlets disproportionately emphasize the smaller number of terrorist attacks by Muslims — leading Americans to have an exaggerated sense of that threat. " The frequency of the reporting of terrorist attacks coupled with the major difference in language that is used to document such attacks makes salient that mental illness is rarely ever brought up when Islamic terrorism is the subject, because Islamic terror is viewed through a narrowed lens ― a lens that points in the direction of pure, unadulterated evil.” The brutal Charleston shooting serves as a testament to the reality that South Asian Muslim men are marred by the term terrorist whereas white terrorists are depicted as mentally ill. This injustice is precisely why alternate media outlets as well as mental health support services are essential to provide an accurate and just understanding of extremism across the globe.

The blatant separation of western and eastern cultures has reinforced the ethno nationalist and ecological politics across the globe. In fact the rise in right wing sentiment across Europe and the Atlantic correlates with the rise in Islamophobia within these states.
This may seem far reaching, yet a recent report Anti-Muslimism Hate Crime and the Far Right by the Centre for Fascists, Anti-Fascists and Post-Fascist Studies noted that “between 2010-2011 24% of hate crime against Muslims was committed by far right groups.” However the perpetrators of hate crime across the UK are increasingly being characterised by their ordinariness; which perfectly highlights the extent of the problem within our societies today.

The representation of this minority group through mainstream media has a significant role to play in development of structural racism within the West. The Tell MAMA Data Set found that the language used mainstream media outlets was replicated in the racial abuse that Muslims faced ”reported incidents of verbal abuse included direct insults and offensive comments either on the streets, in the workplace, in or near mosques, or around people’s neighborhoods. The insults deployed include references to ‘Pakis’; rape; pedophiles; inbreeding; incest; jihad; terrorists; bombs; filth; ‘muzzrats’; and various animals including dogs; pigs; goats and bandbab; and baboons” In order to curb systematic racism we must build a society with institutions that cater to and for the needs of vulnerable South Asian Muslim men. For the culmination of over reporting of them as terrorists and the 47% rise in Islamophobia hate crime is detrimental to the mental health of South Asian Muslim men.

The de-humanisation of the Muslim South Asian man has been achieved through presenting them as a threat, which must be exported back to its origin. It is this Xenophobic mentality that has allowed for Islamophobia to persist in the West negating the issue of poor mental health. This is the key issue at the crux of the radicalisation debate. The problem with many western governments’ approaches is their dehumanisation of the South Asian Muslim man. To publicly isolate and hijack the ethnicity, culture and religious values of an already disenfranchised minority has contributed to the mental health epidemic currently being faced by this community particularly in Britain.

This calls for a radical change in the strategy currently being adopted by many western governments’, which is predominately to: outsource South Asian Muslim men, imprison or kill those who they perceive as jihadists. In the UK counter terrorism legislation The Prevent Act 2015 is testament to this notion. Since coming into effect, the legislation has been criticised widely for the violation of human rights. The Justice Initiative report concluded that “these violations include, most obviously, violations of the right against discrimination, as well the right to freedom of expression, among other rights. Prevent is a serious problem, not only because it creates a systemic risk of human rights violations, but also because it is counterproductive.” Thus the answer lies not in aggressive counter-terrorism security measures, instead we must take a look into the real issue at hand, poor mental health.

Radicalisation in the west is undeniably a major threat to national security. None the less so is poor mental health amongst vulnerable young Muslim men. In 2016 a police study found that 44% of individuals involved in radicalization have mental health or psychological difficulties.  UK chief constable Simon Cole remarked: “Is there an opportunity for people who want to prey on vulnerable people to find them in a way they could not in the past? Absolutely yes, there is.” This is exactly why we need to have a platform, which protects vulnerable young Muslim men who are feeling isolated, who are disenfranchised from their communities and need to have a place where they can connect with faith leaders and their peers to develop healthy relationships. Thus, the solution lies not within harsh counter terrorism strategies but rather with tackling issues such as mental health, which in turn could help to tackle the wider issue of extremism in the UK and perhaps elsewhere in Europe.

Three Faiths Forum, a UK based NGO are one of the many interfaith groups within the UK who are leading the revolution to provide a platform where faith leaders can share their resources to tackle extremism. The organisation regularly encourages young people across all faiths to work together to key social issues within their respective communities. Recently through the  3FF and Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London's Council on Faith awarded myself (Nadia Khan) and Nikhwat Marawat the Faith and Marginalisation award to set up our own foundation. The programme Humara Soch (Hindi) which translates to "Our Thoughts" is a newly founded NGO which seeks to tackle the mental health epidemic amongst young South Asian Muslim men. The core aim of the programme is to train faith leaders from multiple beliefs and religions to work together to provide a safe space within their respective communities to openly speak about mental health issues.

Humara Soch is working with The Healthy London Partnership, Thrive London and Head On Shabbat and mental health charity Time for Change, to provide professional training to faith leaders on how they can help their communities to identify, understand, and help those suffering from mental health illnesses. Faith leaders are often depicted as the core perpetrators of radicalisation and Islamic extremism. Yet successive interfaith programmes through Three Faiths Forum have consistently shown that collaboration between leaders is the key to achieve social cohesion and combat extremism. The establishment of the Interfaith Centre of New York has served as an inspiration for Humara Soch.
At a time where fiscal austerity measures threaten the right to adequate mental health care within the UK, interfaith can provide the perfect solution to both social isolation and the lack of mental health care available to those at the margins of society most susceptible to radicalisation.

Humara Soch has already received support from Tower Hamlets based NGO Citizens UK to facilitate community leadership workshops to motivate economically disenfranchised South Asian Muslim men to become the future leaders of tomorrow. The programme is unique in the sense that the leadership structure replicates the demographic that Humara Soch seeks to serve, to create an inclusive respectful environment. The focus of the programme is to also tackle the stigma and shame often associated with mental health within the South Asian community.

The programme has been supported by BBC Asian Network, Mental Movement Magazine and Bangla TV. The pilot is currently within its initiation phase currently consulting with key stake holders to develop a documentary highlighting the complexities with having a mental health issue within the South Asian community. Humara Soch, will launch their first workshop in early February bringing together faith leaders from across the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Sikh faiths to provide their first training sessions. The hope is to bring to life the late Jo Cox’s key message: “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” 


Guest Post by Nadia Khan (Nadia is the co-founder of Humara Soch which translates "Our thoughts", an NGO that seeks to tackle mental health issues amongst the South Asian community in the UK. She is currently based in  Vienna at the Master of Arts in Human Rights, at the University of Vienna.  She is also currently working with UK based NGO Three Faiths Forum on the Stronger Voices Campaign headed by the Media Trust to give Muslim women greater representation in mainstream media.  Her research interests falls on issues of the intersectionality between race and gender in world politics)

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