The Man Fighting IS on the Home Front; an Award-Winning Activist Believes Community Groups Can Tackle Rising Extremism by Engaging Young People through Sport and Education. He Tells David Cohen How Peer Mentors Can Help Build Pride in an Area, the City and the Country

The Evening Standard (London, England), March 4, 2016 | Go to article overview

The Man Fighting IS on the Home Front; an Award-Winning Activist Believes Community Groups Can Tackle Rising Extremism by Engaging Young People through Sport and Education. He Tells David Cohen How Peer Mentors Can Help Build Pride in an Area, the City and the Country


Byline: David Cohen

COMMUNITY activist Sab Bham was driving through a notorious estate in Waltham Forest when he suddenly stopped and pointed to a nondescript flat. "That is the home of the mother who took her four young children to join Islamic State last year and sparked an international manhunt before she was intercepted and arrested," he said.

He looked around the low-rise estate that enveloped us and added ruefully: "The Government's counter-terrorism Prevent Strategy is a miserable failure. Millions have been ploughed into it since its launch in 2008, yet far more British youth are becoming extremists today than they were then."

The problem, argues Mr Bham, 41, is threefold: Government strategy fails to grasp how communities operate, it is top-down, and it intervenes too late. "Prevent asks people to tell on their neighbours and then that person gets investigated by the police, tagged and put on a scheme to de-radicalise them. But it's like trying to teach a child to cross the road after they've already been hit by a truck.

"We can't do much to change hearts and minds when the bag of explosives is strapped to their back or they're on their way to Syria to join IS. You have to get in sooner."

The married father of four believes that the best way to tackle the rising tide of extremism is by early community engagement from the bottom-up. "You have to reach people through peer mentors when they are young, build their pride in their local area -- which hopefully then extends to their city and country," he said.

His group, Salaam Peace, uses sport and education to engage young people on socially deprived estates and then builds them into an outreach team of "community champions". The initiative won Mr Bham a BBC Sports Personality Unsung Hero award in 2012 and a Points of Light Award from the Prime Minister last year.

Now Salaam Peace has secured an PS18,515 grant from the Evening Stand-ard Dispossessed Fund to extend its work as part of our award-winning campaign The Estate We're In. It is one of 96 inspirational groups operating on more than 125 estates across London that we are backing with the PS1.2 million raised from Citi banking group, Linklaters law firm, Mount Anvil property developers and the Cabinet Office. The Salaam Peace grant will be used to run job skills courses and put on community events to prevent terrorism, extremism and gang-related activity. It will focus on young people living on the Boundary Road estate and the Wrens Park estate on the tip of the once infamous "Murder Mile" in Hackney, where Mr Bham grew up above the spice shop run by his mother.

The first event funded by the grant, "East London unites against terrorism", is scheduled for April 30 and is a brave statement of intent.

HALIME KAMBER, 17, a Salaam Peace community champion, said the rally idea was born out of community consultations. "We did research with 70 high school pupils and what came up strongly was that both Muslim and non-Muslim pupils associate Islam with terrorism. This was upsetting to us as Muslims, so we decided to tackle it head on by holding a public meeting."

Mr Bham, a university graduate who worked as a community development manager for Leyton Orient football club, recalled how he had set up Salaam Peace as a response to the London bombings of 2005.

"I was invited to a 10 Downing Street reception for charity workers a week after the 7/7 attacks, but as I got onto the Tube carrying my bag, people started trembling and breaking into sweat and some even physically moved away from me.

"I could see fear in their faces. I was dressed smartly in a blazer, collar shirt and trousers, yet they looked at me like I was a potential terrorist purely because I am Muslim. …

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