Imams from the east London borough of Newham have claimed the government’s anti-radicalisation programmes are “divisive” and lead to a “breakdown in trust” with young Muslims.
In a statement published by the activist group “Stand Up To Racism”, the religious leaders — supported by local teachers, community organisations and student unions — have said the anti-radicalisation Prevent scheme and the Counter-Terrorism Act amount to “spying on our young people”. The signatories say the results of the measures taken against non-violent extremism are “increasing division” and “a breakdown of trust in schools and colleges.”
The statement points to a recent survey showing: “61% of Britons now believe Islam is incompatible with British culture and 45% of Britons think there are too many Muslims in the UK.” The blame for the poll findings is laid squarely on “leading politicians” and “an incessant stream of negative press reporting.”
The statement is not limited to Newham, where a third of the population describe themselves as Muslim, but looks at other Boroughs and parts of Britain too:
In neighbouring Waltham Forest, pupils were recently asked to complete surveys designed to provide clues to possible radicalisation. Despite claims to the contrary, these surveys were clearly aimed at Muslim children. In south Yorkshire, schools singled out black and ethnic minority pupils for monitoring for signs of ‘radicalisation’– while suggesting white children were not at risk. There are increasing instances of families subjected to distress due to arbitrary monitoring despite there being no suggestion of violent intent.
According to the imams “there is no need for this kind of monitoring.” They do concede that some young people are “subject to risk” but say “existing safeguarding procedures in every local authority and public service” are designed to address that.
The statement gives examples of where it believes the strategy has led to overreach, asserting that “such incidents are on the rise.” For example a free school closed its prayer room forcing Muslim pupils into local parks to pray on Friday, and another banned the wearing of the jilbab by Muslim girls, although it reversed the policy following appeals from parents.
Speaking to The Guardian, imam Khalil Laher (a signatory of the statement) said: “My biggest problem is that these are normal religious values and for many Muslims are considered obligations of the faith. We have not been consulted about the implementation of Prevent. We have not met any police officers. There’s been nothing on the ground.”
Another bugbear for the activists is the person the council appointed as its Prevent officer in December last year. Ghaffar Hussain is a former director of the counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation.
Quilliam is a controversial organisation in certain Muslim circles. The Bradford Council of Mosques recently asked to reschedule its hearing with MPs sitting on the Home Affairs Select Committee because it did not want to share a platform with anyone from the group, describing it as a “self styled set up which has serious reservations within the mainstream Islamic community regarding its integrity and legitimacy on the issue of counter extremism.”