The Muslim boycott of the government’s anti-radicalisation programme Prevent is being masterminded by Islamists who see any counter-radicalisation programme as an attack on Islam itself, a Muslim organisation that works to de-radicalise young Muslims has said.
The Prevent program, which aims to divert those deemed to be at risk of radicalisation into support programmes, relies on referrals from the community to identify those at risk. But figures from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) show that of 3,288 referrals in the first half of 2015, only 280 (8.6 per cent) were from local communities.
Earlier this month the Waltham Forest Council of Mosques, which represents as many as 70,000 London Muslims announced it was boycotting the program, while imams from the east London borough of Newham said the program amounted to “spying on our young people”.
Their comments echo those of Dal Babu, a former senior police officer who helped found the National Association of Muslim Police. He said earlier this year: “Prevent has become a toxic brand and most Muslims are suspicious of what Prevent is doing.”
However, very little attention has been paid to why Prevent has become toxic within Muslim communities. The assumption is that it is down to a few cases in which Muslims have been unfairly treated with suspicion.
For example, The Times, in its reporting of the low level of community engagement yesterday, ran with this narrative, highlighting the case of one Muslim teenager who was asked whether he was affiliated with Islamic State two weeks after referring to eco-terrorism within a French language class discussion on environmental activism.
“The case is one of a number in which the desire to deal with extremism has had the opposite effect,” The Times said.
But in November, the Home Affairs Select Committee heard a very different, and so far little reported, explanation for the failure of the Prevent program within Muslim communities.
The Committee were told by Sara Khan, co-founder of Inspire, that the program was being deliberately sabotaged by Islamists who were determined to equate counter-radicalisation with an attack on Islam itself as a means to further their Islamist aims.
“You say that Dal Babu has argued that Prevent is a toxic brand,” Khan told the Committee. “I would argue that what is not often discussed in the media is, “How has it become toxic?” We know through the work that we have done that there are many examples of Muslim groups who have made it their mission to make Prevent toxic.
“We have lots of examples of groups that have gone into Muslim communities—” she began, before being interrupted by Keith Vaz, chairman of the Committee, who asked “Why are they doing that? Why are they going out of their way to attack this particular programme?”
Khan replied: “I think that is a very interesting question. The people who we have seen attacking it are Islamists, hate preachers—people who fundamentally believe that Islamist extremist ideology is a form of Islam.”
“[I]t is almost as if they feel that Prevent is about the criminalisation of Islam.”
Her evidence is borne out by the opponents of Prevent themselves, who have couched their criticism of Prevent in terms which make it clear that they believe the programme to be an attack on Islam.
In July, the Independent published a letter signed by 280 people, calling on the government to abandon Prevent. The signatories argued that, because Prevent is “fixated” on religion, “growing a beard, wearing a hijab or mixing with those who believe Islam has a comprehensive political philosophy are key markers used to identify ‘potential’ terrorism.”
They claimed that religious views were secondary to social circumstances in determining whether someone would be radicalised, writing: “The way Prevent conceptualises ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’ is based on the unsubstantiated view that religious ideology is the primary driving factor for terrorism. Academic research suggests that social, economic and political factors, as well as social exclusion, play a more central role in driving political violence than ideology.”
The letters signatories included Haitham Al Haddad, a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Sharia Council of Britain who believes apostates should be killed and supports FGM; Asim Quresi of CAGE, who called Jihadi John “a beautiful man;” and Shakeel Begg, a hardline Imam from a mosque where the killers of Lee Rigby worshipped.
But the argument made in that letter is the polar opposite of that made by Khan’s organisation Inspire, which has spent the last seven years working to de-radicalise young Muslims. They do this by working with Muslim women and giving them the theological tools to counter radical Islam.
Khan’s colleague Kalsoom Bashir, during the same evidence session, told the Home Affairs Committee: “You have hardening interpretations of religion and very literal interpretations of religion, and you also have views out there very openly saying, “This is a police state. The Government want to eliminate Islam. Basically, they want to stop us from practising our religion as well,” and that even living here is a temporary measure—that living among non-Muslims or the kafir, which is a very derogatory term for non-Muslims, is not the ideal.
“So, if you have to choose between being British and being Muslim, as well as all the other vulnerabilities that you have within your home—whether it is domestic violence or all the other issues that teenagers have—and you then have somebody saying, “We can offer you something much, much better,” it is very attractive.”
Khan named CAGE as an organisation which has been fear-mongering over Prevent in the Muslim Community. “Asim Qureshi from CAGE claimed the Government would consider taking children away as young as seven if those children attended demonstrations by the Stop the War group,” she said.
“It [CAGE} also argued, for example, that if you do not consent as parents to deradicalisation programmes, the state will take your children away. Even Nazir Afzal, the former chief crown prosecutor for the north-west, argued that this is just fearmongering of the very worst kind.
“Again, this is what brings me back to the idea of when we talk about Prevent being toxic—how has it been made toxic? There are people out there deliberately giving wrong information and scaring Muslim communities about what Prevent is about.”