A terrorist tried kill to me but I do not want the death penalty for extremists
7 July 2005 was the day I nearly died. It was also the day that was set to irreversibly change my life forever.
If I had managed to get a seat in my usual Piccadilly line carriage that morning, instead of one further along, I would not be here today. I would have been one of the dozens of people who lost their lives when Germaine Lindsay detonated his bomb.
When the bomb went off, the moments that followed were utter chaos: thick black smoke filled the carriage, the lights went out, people were injured and screaming. I thought I was going to die.
At the time I was unaware that I had been involved in a terrorist attack – I thought that the train had derailed. The time between the explosion and being rescued felt like an eternity, and at just 22, I realised how much I wanted to do with my life.
It was not until after I had walked home alone, unable to contact my family for hours, that I discovered it had in fact been a bombing – and one carried out in the name of my religion. To me this was incomprehensible. This was not Islam.
I had many unanswered questions. Who radicalised these men? What could have been done to prevent it? What about their families – their mothers who would not have wanted to see their children take their own lives and the lives of others, especially in the name of their religion?
My questions were not being answered. I knew something had to be done, so I decided to channel my energy towards preventing extremism and online radicalisation within my own community.
That’s why I was appalled when I read that home secretary Sajid Javid was willing to waive the UK’s longstanding resistance to the death penalty in the case of Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, two of the jihadists who had been part of the ‘The Beatles’.
While the acts of heinous violence committed by this group are no doubt monstrous, a reduction of our values is not the way forward. Sentencing these men to death is counterproductive – there is little chance it will have any impact deterring others, for whom ‘shaheed’ (martyrdom) is in fact appealing.
Young men and women that are susceptible to being radicalised are often characterised by their need to source an identity. The root causes of radicalisation will not be solved by sentencing these men to death. Instead of betraying British values and the UK’s commitment to human rights, government efforts should be focused on creating a society that does not nurture radicalisation.
Over the past decade, I have seen the impact first-hand that preventative work can have in drawing young people off the path to radicalisation. The success of this approach lies in working at a grassroots level at the heart of communities.
The Home Office, for now, has had to suspend its cooperation with the US after Elsheikhs’ mother launched a legal challenge against the home secretary’s decision. But the government should stand by its own counter-terror strategy, which states that ‘the cornerstone of Prevent is our local work with communities and civil society organisations’.
Mr Javid’s actions regarding this case, and recent withdrawal of funding to programmes such as our Web Guardians, which empowered Muslim women to tackle online extremism, suggest there is little regard for grassroots community initiatives.
Such misguided and ill-informed actions are a risk to public safety, making more people susceptible to being radicalised online.
To successfully tackle radicalisation the government must invest in grassroots organisations which have decades of experience and traction with communities.
My work enables parents and relatives to develop vital skills and counter-narratives to effectively safeguard their children from the risk of online radicalisation.
With my experience in the community and those at risk of radicalisation, I know that the death penalty for Kotey and Elsheikh would do very little to prevent radicalisation of other vulnerable young people. The major opposition to the death penalty in the UK is something we must stand by because, as the saying goes, an eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.