No to war

Young Muslims tell Anita Pati why Bush and Blair are wrong to go
to war over Iraq.

The common lament is that young people just don’t care
about what happens in the world. That only two out of five 18 to 24
year olds voted in the last General Election is cited as proof of

But in the UK the picture that is emerging is of a government
that doesn’t listen to its youth. Brit Awards winner Ms
Dynamite recently said that the young are far from apathetic. On
the contrary, she said, they care deeply about health, about crime,
about the state of the world. It is mainstream politics that
alienates them because they cannot relate to government ministers.
And last month’s spontaneous protests by school children
against the war on Iraq support the view that young people are far
from apathetic.

At a youth project in central London, young men show that
grassroots politics are still vital. Fitzrovia Youth in Action grew
around a disused football pitch which local council estate
residents decided to renovate. Young people attending the project,
many of them Muslims, are concerned about the global situation and
Britain’s role in a war. They speak passionately about their
frustration with the government’s apparent failure to listen
to its people.

“I don’t see the reason why Tony Blair has to go to war
against Iraq,” says Faisal, a 16-year-old student. “I mean, I can
see why they need the oil – there’s an oil crisis and they
depend on foreign oil. That’s the only reason they’re
going to war – and regime change. I mean, Saddam Hussein does need
to be removed, but not through war. I don’t think innocent
civilians have to die.”

Azam, 13, says: “I think the war is bollocks. Bush just wants
oil from Iraq and wants to avenge what happened on September 11.
But there’s no point, it’s going to kill millions of
people and Blair doesn’t listen to his people and nor does

The sentiment is echoed by Shehzad, 15: “I feel this war is good
for nothing. It’s not like Tony Blair’s going to get a
gun and start shooting by himself. It’s millions of people,
including British people, who are going to lose their lives in this
war. And if they voted for him to become prime minister, he should
listen to his people. And not only British people – the Iraqis will
die too.”

Some of the young people attended the Stop The War march on 15
February. Marches have given them a focus for unexpressed opinion.
Yet despite enthusiasm for the demonstration, resignation is
apparent. Ali, 18, and unemployed, says: “I don’t think the
march made much difference, to be honest. People like Tony Blair,
they’ve got the power in their hands and if they say they
want a war, it’s not going to make any difference if two
million people are shouting out. I don’t think the public
have much power.

“I really think there is no point in having a war – a lot of
people are getting hurt because of this war. The last time I got
searched was ’cos of this war business – the police
don’t really give a reason. But I think it’s connected
to the situation because they mentioned Muslims at the time.”

“The march should have made a difference,” says Shuaib, 14, “but
I don’t think it will because Tony Blair and George Bush –
they don’t care. I would march again though.”

James, 19, says: “I don’t really understand the point of
demos – a million marched and that’s a whole lot of people
but at the same time Tony Blair is not asking what the British
people think. My personal view is that Tony Blair sucks up to that
Bush guy. I rate Chirac. He’s arguing everyday
‘what’s the need for war’? Germany too. Whatever
Bush says, Tony Blair follows. That’s all I’ve got to
say about the situation.”

Faisal has been on three previous marches. He feels he is
sometimes targeted for being Muslim and mentions a Freedom for
Palestine demonstration he attended several years ago: “I had a
banner with me saying ‘stop the killings in Israel’ and
for that, because there was a bit of wood sticking out of it which
the cardboard was stuck to, the police stopped me. They searched
me, they took my name down, they said the banner was an offensive
weapon – they took my little banner that I made at home!”

He believes financial priorities are skewed: “They need to
control the region to set up the economy. It’s all just
self-interest. Not for the rest of the world…

“We don’t get anything out of a war. There’s no
gain, actually there’s more of a loss. There will be a dip in
the economy, there’s funding that they could put into
schooling – the chancellor has put another £2bn into this war,
come on – £2bn. Look at the NHS right now – there’s a
big crisis – put that £2bn into it and it would be

Faisal is one among many Muslims who feel that others are
treating them differently as a consequence of the destruction of
the World Trade Centre on 11 September. He thinks the media has
demonised Muslims such as Abu Hamza and this has caused problems
for local Muslims he knows. “Around the mosque in Finsbury Park,
people are coming up and saying ‘we’re having problems.
People are spitting in our faces, they’re ripping off our
hijabs [veils].” Others in the group nod in agreement.

“What about the people in Iraq?” he continues. “Look how much
money they’re putting into the war there. Why can’t
they use the money to stabilise the country and to give aid? It
doesn’t matter if you have a dictator and an evil man in
power, you can still give aid to the country – you know,
they’ve put sanctions on the country, making it harder for
the people to earn their own money or to try to get medical help.
It doesn’t make any sense to me why countries like this do
these kind of things.”

The young men make a lively crew, joking, ribbing one another,
laughing. But every so often when the jokes subside, there is
evidence of a grave sense of responsibility among them

“It’s kind of hard ’cos you see pictures on TV of
children dying there every day and you want to do something about
it. I mean, that march was the one opportunity to do something
about it. But it didn’t make any difference.”

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