The Glossy Way to Stop the Bombers; Sarah Joseph Edits Britain's Only Muslim Lifestyle Magazine, and Says It Can Help Show There Is More to Islam Than Prayer and Politics

The Evening Standard (London, England), July 20, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Glossy Way to Stop the Bombers; Sarah Joseph Edits Britain's Only Muslim Lifestyle Magazine, and Says It Can Help Show There Is More to Islam Than Prayer and Politics


Byline: DAVID ROWAN

IT WAS a busy morning yesterday for Sarah Joseph: tea with Tony Blair, a quick interview for Newsnight, followed by a series of requests from the likes of Five Live.

As the editor of a glossy "lifestyle magazine" for British Muslims, Joseph suddenly finds herself in demand to answer that cruellest of questions to emerge in the last fortnight: what might defuse the anger that prompts young Muslims to bomb their fellow countrymen?

Joseph, a busy mother of three, was rather overwhelmed by all the distractions when the Evening Standard caught up with her. She had to dash back to her magazine's east London office before returning to Portcullis House for a meeting, and a snatched sandwich did not figure in her schedule.

But then Joseph, 34, is something of a dynamo: already an OBE (for services to "interfaith dialogue"), she lectures across Britain, home educates her nine-, six- and threeyearolds, and is in discussions to organise mainstream distribution for her magazine, Emel.

The Catholic daughter of an accountant and a models' agent - she recalls chasing after Naomi Campbell at 14 with her mother's business card - Joseph "embraced" Islam at 16. Two years after setting up Emel with her husband, a barrister, and [pounds sterling]20,000 in funding, she is still to see a profit.

Still, what matters to her is having the platform to remind Anglo-Muslims that, as she says in her latest editorial, "We are the West! ... We need to see ourselves and our faith as part of the solution."

She has no wish to excuse, let alone condone, the violence of 7 July. But the resentment that prompted it must, she says, be understood, however uncomfortable that may be for those in power.

"You ignore the anger that's on the streets at your peril," she warns.

"Unless we give people a means to voice it, we're in danger of failing to take the pressure out of this intense situation."

Partly it is a question of airing "perceived grievances" through the mainstream media, she suggests, such as concerns over Britain's engagement in Iraq. But there is also an urgent need for the wider Islamic community to address disaffected British Muslims directly, she says, reminding Muslims that they "don't have a monopoly on pain, on being treated unjustly".

Rather than encourage the faithful to distance themselves from the wider community, they must be brought back into the mainstream.

"My identity as a Muslim is strong," she says, "but having a strong religious identity is not contrary to being able to live in a plural, tolerant society."

BUT how far should Anglo-Muslim families be responsible for ensuring that their sons are not being radicalised by extremists?

"If your son is voicing extremist views, you have to deal with that," Joseph insists. "You need to get them under a better influence. The community has to start demanding more from its leaders, its mosques.

We have got to say, 'Right, enough is enough; I don't want this person teaching our young people any more'. It's about making the voices of sanity, of inclusiveness and tolerance, be heard. The increased involvement of women within our mosques is important, too."

The mainstream media can also play a constructive role. She is concerned that excessive prominence is given to extremists such as Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, who yesterday suggested that voters who re-elected Tony Blair were to blame for the London bombings.

"He's a pumped-up windbag who should be denied the oxygen of publicity," she says. "Far too much airtime is given to nutcases like him. …

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