Sunday, 28 February 2010

MPowering Youth Through Education and Experience

I spent a hugely constructive couple of hours yesterday (Saturday) afternoon at the Hounslow Community Centre as a guest at a workshop for young people organised by the MPower Hounslow Youth Project.

About fifteen youngsters - boys and girls mostly from a Muslim background - discussed a host of topics relating to political and social extremism, not just on the fringes of Muslim society but also street gangs and football hooliganism.


I was invited to the meeting in time to give my own presentation about my experiences as a National Front organiser in the 1970s and 1980s, but I arrived early enough to hear some of the earlier presentations and was amazed by the quality of the information that was being imparted. It occurred to me instantly that this project was deadly earnest about trying to keep potentially vulnerable young people who might otherwise find themselves receptive to extremist ideas on the straight and narrow.

When it was my turn to speak I simply gave it from the heart. Many of the people there were so young they had never even heard of the National Front, but most had heard of the BNP and I circulated some photos and written material demonstrating the extent to which I had been involved, including a fading snippet from a local newspaper showing myself and Nick Griffin, now leader of the BNP, addressing a rally in Isleworth and a letter I once received whilst in prison from an outspoken Ulster loyalist friend (writing from another prison) literally a few months before he was shot dead by members of a fringe Irish republican group.

I spoke of the way in which one becomes "ghettoised" when joining up with an extremist group, rightly shunned by normal society but with the result that one finishes up only speaking to and listening to others who share one's own prejudices, and sliding deeper and deeper thereby into an extremist mindset and way of life.

I think it fair to say that most of these very young people were ever so slightly taken aback to suddenly find themselves being lectured by this middle-aged, greying and nondescript old scruffpot and hearing about a way of life in which guns and bombs, whilst not perhaps a feature of everyday life, certainly existed as a feature of the political dialectic at the time.


I think I have said before on this blog that this is the kind of work, more than anything else, that I really want to be doing. I deeply regret my past as a right-wing extremist, but accept that it happened and believe that I am uniquely placed to offer warnings, advice and guidance to young people who may in the wrong circumstances found themselves being led along the same destructive and dangerous path.

MPower is a superb resource for vulnerable young people and I have already expressed to the organisers my willingness, indeed my eagerness to assist them in their future work should they wish me to do so. My respect for those who dedicated themselves to working with and helping young people in this way really does know no bounds.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Phil, you might think it a distraction but I'm surprised you don't mention the lengths some of your opponents have gone to over the last 15 years to ensure that you are denied the opportunity to use your experiences to promote your anti-fascist message.

It is nothing short of an absolute scandal that what was the Labour establishment, and you know as well as I do they are still there in the officer ranks especially in education, have prevented a potent anti-BNP message from being heard just because they want you to be thought of in a certain way.

These people's priorities and their nauseating insincerity on this subject should be exposed because they are still active in local politics and in different times could soon be in power once more.

Councillor Phil Andrews said...

Anon

The things you say are absolutely correct and I hope it goes without saying that I haven't forgotten the unprincipled antics of which you speak.

Neither have I forgotten the fact that these people come into my community every four years and try to stoke up tension by frightening vulnerable people into thinking the BNP is active in the community in the guise of the ICG.

Neither, for that matter, have I forgotten the election leafltet circulated by Ann Keen on the eve of last year's European elections trying to persuade anti-BNP voters who might have been inclined to vote Lib Dem, Green or UKIP to stay at home, thus making the prospect of a backdoor BNP victory more likely.

These people have demonstrated time and again that locally wherever is a conflict between their anti-fascism and their organisational commitment to New Labour their anti-fascist principles come a very poor second.

But you are right, I didn't mention this in the article because I didn't think it was pertinent to the subject.

The post was about MPower, which in my view is a wonderful project that is trying to keep potentially impressional young Muslims on the path of democratic and peaceful engagement. I don't want this to become a political plaything, and bear in mind these are people who actually grasped the nettle and broke the mould by inviting me along to speak against the far-right.

You will recall the amount of effort that was put in to try to prevent me from speaking at the Windows on Extremism conference at the Civic Centre in 2007. I and my colleagues have long memories, but that is a different fight and for a different occasion.

Phil said...
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