Can Muslim Women Curb Terror?

First Muslim woman in British peerage says women are key to fighting terror.

July 2, 2007 — -- The Baroness Pola Manzila Uddin, a member of the British House of Lords, told ABC News that she is convinced that many Muslim women can, and should, help prevent terrorist attacks, because women are every family's early warning radar.

"We do have a fantastic array of [Muslim] women out there who are not known to the government. But they are not able to break through because there are a handful of [Muslim] men out there who have dominated the political agenda and dominated the media," she told ABC News.

Baroness Uddin, who was born a Muslim in Bangladesh, grew up in the London borough of Newham, worked extensively on women's and human rights issues, and was elevated to the peerage by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1998, becoming the first Muslim woman to enter the House of Lords.

She told ABC News that the government needs to sometimes go over the heads of the Muslim men who dominate her community socially and politically, and appoint more women to key national and local government posts. She wants more women serving as role models, in order to head off increasing recruitment of young Muslims by extremist plotters.

British security officials have repeatedly said that there are about two dozen active terror plots against targets inside the United Kingdom that they know of, and that that there are at least 2,000 young Muslims whose politics are so extreme , they are considered potential terrorists. But that leaves well over 99.99 percent of Muslims as nonviolent people. They may feel oppressed, and angry, and some may even have some sympathy with suicide bombers. But, as Osama Saeed, Scottish spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, said, "Muslims were just as likely to be victims of terrorist attacks as anyone else. These terrorist don't care who they kill." He added, "We are seething with anger about this."

As for the most recent incidents in Scotland and London, information so far is that the plotters appear to be foreigners. Even so, there is increasing concern in this country over the fact that in several recent terror incidents, the plotters were British. And that is what Baroness Uddin says she wants to prevent -- homegrown terror.

"I promise you that in all those critical areas of unemployment and bad housing, women have a significant contribution to make. I do believe emphatically that [if more Muslim women were given a chance to be leaders] there would be slow but significant differences," the baroness told ABC News. Women leaders, she added, would make sure that Muslim boys and young men would be better educated and feel more part of Western society.

"Muslim women are being held back on a number of fronts, and we have got to make sure that women have real emancipation, economic and educational emancipation," Baroness Uddin said. She said that government and other institutions are not the only ones at fault, that Muslim men need to take more responsibility toward supporting women and the greater emancipation she speaks of. "I think it is absolutely vital that it starts at home," she said. But even if they gain that support at home, public institutions need to be more proactive to educate and train Muslim women. "They will pull others along, and those women will break down the barriers, because they will feel empowered to challenge [Islamic] radicalization," she said.