The number of areas in Britain now being supported by the government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy, which aims to stop young Muslims becoming radicalised, has risen by 50 percent since the project was introduced.
As ISIS and other terror groups prove increasingly appealing to young, radicalised British Muslims, the government has been forced to increase funding for the anti-extremism programme and expand the number of areas it covers following a series of reports of Muslims from various towns travelling to join jihad.
The £40 million a year strategy ranges from funding community groups to mentor young people to persuading schools and universities to be on the look-out for signs of radicalisation.
Critics accused it of stigmatising Muslims when it was introduced under the last Labour government, with one case where it funded increased CCTV monitoring of a Muslim area of Birmingham, however the current government has been forced to expand it in the wake of a growing Islamist threat within Britain.
The programme originally targeted 30 areas of the country based on the size the Muslim populations there. However, a list obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act showed that 14 new areas have been added to the list, including seven in just three months.
Areas such as Brighton, Burnley, Calderdale, Coventry, Crawley, Portsmouth and Southwark have been designated “supported areas” due to suspected Islamist activity within them.
One such area, Crawley, has a much smaller Muslim population that others, but it was in the news last year as the home of the first British suicide bomber in the Syrian civil war, and of three men who were jailed for a bomb plot on 2007.
Brighton also hit the headlines after four young friends, the so-called Brighton Boys, travelled to Syria to join the Nusra front. Three of the four friends have now been killed, including brothers Abdullah and Jaffar Deghayes.
Sandwell in Birmingham provided a detailed breakdown of how it spends its Prevent funding. Most of the money is going to the Birmingham Playhouse to fund a production called Tapestry, a production aimed at 13 to 18-year-olds that explores the consequences of extremism.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We fundamentally revised the Prevent strategy in 2011 to ensure it challenges terrorist ideology, supports people who are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism and works with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation. Since then we have seen the terror threat level raised to severe and an increase in police arrests linked to terrorist activity in Syria.”
“That is why, through the counter-terrorism and security bill, this government is seeking to place a duty on specified authorities to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. This duty will establish a higher and a uniform standard for our Prevent work in all parts of the country. The Home Office is also responsible for a new counter-extremism strategy that will aim to build up the public sector and civil society to identify extremism in all its forms, confront it, challenge it and defeat it.”