My Hometown Fanatics - Stacey Dooley Investigates
Making a documentary about my hometown was always going to be the most difficult topic I had ever covered! No question. I have made documentaries about sex trafficking in Cambodia and child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but making a programme about Luton was different - it was personal.
I was born in Luton, I grew up in Luton and all my family and friends are still there. Luton is home for me.
It's been given a rough old time in the press. It is rumoured to have a fanatical few who are determined to use Islam as an excuse to justify some of their extreme beliefs and views.
This tiny minority used to be known locally to us as The Al-Muhajiroun, or the AMs. They were banned in 2010 under the UK Terrorism Act. My personal opinion is that these people do not represent what I understand Islam to be - at all.
I never really had an opinion about the Al Muhajiroun, I didn't really know enough about them. The only time I took real notice of them was when the troops were marching through the town and everyone had gathered to welcome them home.
The AMs showed up with banners, stating that the soldiers were 'baby rapists' and 'murderers'. They spat on some of the soldiers. Lots of Lutonians saw red, believing this was a step too far, and that day it all really kicked off. Police were everywhere. It wasn't a great day to be from Luton.
As a result, the EDL, (The English Defence League) formed.
I knew that extremism in Luton was a really important issue to try and cover, even though it could be very awkward for me at times! I've had people stopping me in the Arndale, telling me I've put Luton in the media again for negative reasons. I've had people from the EDL asking me where my head scarf is and people from the AMs asking me why I don't go find a boyfriend from the EDL - but I stand by the reasons why I decided to make the documentary, and I'm pleased I did.
I've learnt that whether we like to admit it or not, there are real issues that need addressing; there are people who aren't willing to see the other side, who believe their fanatical views are the only way forward. But it's also true that there are so, so, so many Lutonians - white, Asian, Muslim, Non-Muslim - who want to live peacefully. Together.
My Hometown Fanatics: Stacey Dooley Investigates is on Monday 20th February at 9pm