Anti-Terrorism Summer Camp Held In Britain
Photo: VOA Photo - H. Ridgwell
Muslim men attending Al-Hidayah 2010 in Britain, which is being billed as an anti-terrorism summer camp.
What is being called the Western world's first anti-terror camp for young Muslims is being held in Britain, with thousands of people attending from across Europe and North America. 'Al-Hidayah 2010' - as it is called - is being staged by the Pakistani Muslim scholar Muhammed ul-Qadri, who is giving workshops and lectures on how to recognize and counter extremism.
At first, it looks like any other summer camp; young people are arriving with bulging suitcases, discovering their new surroundings, chatting awkwardly and making new friends.
But al-Hidayah 2010 is a summer camp with a difference.
About 1,300 young people from across Britain, Europe and even North America have gathered at the University of Warwick in central England to learn how to combat extremism and terrorism.
After an opening ceremony in the vast concert hall, with verses sung from the Koran, comes a speech from the person they have all come to see: Muslim scholar and event organizer Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri. "What we are doing to combat terrorism through this camp - the first anti-terrorist camp in the Western world - we are fighting on the ideological, philosophical, theological and academic fronts. We are trying to educate young people. We are trying to present a true moderate vision of Islam," he said.
Muhammad ul-Qadri made headlines in Britain earlier this year, when he issued a 600-page "fatwa" against terrorism. It was an effort to counter the views of radical Muslim preachers and clerics, who have been blamed for encouraging so-called 'homegrown' terrorists in Britain. The term refers to natives of a country who become radicalized and identify with foreign terror groups.
Last month, London marked the 5th anniversary of the '7/7' bombings, as they are called. On July 7, 2005 four British Muslim suicide bombers struck the city's transport system. Just days later, three British Muslims were convicted of plotting to blow up transatlantic airliners using liquid bombs.
Ul-Qadri says integration into society is the key to stopping such homegrown terrorists, and he told his audience they should recognize the benefits of living in the West
"All these Western countries - Britain, Europe, North America, wherever you are living - since you are enjoying all rights, all freedoms according to the constitution as other non-Muslim communities are enjoying, there is no difference. And I would have no hesitation in saying you are enjoying the rights and freedoms much better than in many other Muslim and Arab countries," he said.
The audience sits in silence earnestly taking notes from the speech - the first of many lectures and workshops across the three-day event. Afterwards there is plenty of time to debate the issues over a coffee. For the participants, the time spent and the distances traveled seem well worthwhile.
One man said, "There are about 80 of us who have come here from Denmark. I was very delighted to hear the topics and the briefing that Dr Muhammed ul-Qadri gave, especially on the aspect of de-radicalization of the youth."
"This is a very good opportunity for Muslims to get some benefit from this kind of person," said another man.
Outside the hall, the organizers show off their latest weapon in the fight against extremism - a mobile library carrying books and DVDs about terrorism and how to tackle it. It will travel to Muslim communities across Britain. Many more are planned.
The participants here may represent only a small fraction of the Muslim populations in Britain and the other countries represented. But more Al-Hidayah camps like this one are planned both here and in Europe. The hope is that the participants will learn how to recognize and tackle extremism and spread the anti-terror message among their communities back home.