I have attended many meetings and events in Portcullis House, the office block for MPs built at a cost of £2 million per office over Westminster underground station, during the last ten years. However, the one I went to yesterday undoubtedly stands out as the most emotionally powerful of all.
The occasion was a performance by the Khayaal Theatre Company of its production “Hearts and Minds“. This was sponsored by Phyllis Starkey MP, who is Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Communities and Local Government that is currently conducting an inquiry into the Government’s Preventing Violent Extremism programme.
The play addresses the issues facing young British Muslims, in terms of identity, citizenship, community cohesion and extremism. It has been performed in numerous schools and colleges around the country and – no doubt because its content has been based on extensive discussion with young British Muslims and inspired by real events – has clearly struck a chord with its audiences.
Comedy alternates with raw emotion. The interactions that young people of all cultures have with their parents, with their teachers and with each other are explored. The conflicting feelings that the young protagonists have as they wrestle with the dilemmas that they face growing up in Britain today are laid bare in all their complexity.
If anyone believes that there are simple answers to how “hearts and minds” can be won over to reject violent extremism, what is needed to embrace a tolerant approach to difference or indeed what comprises “Britishness” and nationality, they should watch this play.
I am pleased that so many school-age young people have been given the opportunity to see this production. The debates that it generates amongst them can only be helpful to sustaining a cohesive society in which difference is not only tolerated but valued.
My only regret was how few Parliamentarians were in the audience (and yes I know there was a lot going on with the PBR and all that) – apart from Phyllis Starkey and myself, I only spotted one other member of either House (a fellow Labour Peer).