“Islamist” Muslim groups and community leaders hinder the fight against terror and are interested only in presenting Muslims “as victims” Britain’s most prominent Muslim lawyer has said.
In an interview with the Times, Nazir Afzal warned that British Muslim organisations are “undermining” attempts to counter terrorism in the UK by spreading misinformation to discredit Prevent, the government’s anti-radicalisation programme.
Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 201 compels teachers and some healthcare workers “to take due regard to preventing people being drawn into terrorism”, yet Prevent has been repeatedly slammed by Labour MPs and large parts of the left – including major unions – for its “disproportionate” focus on Muslims.
But Afzal, a deradicalisation expert and former chief crown prosecutor who has successfully prosecuted Islamists, credits Prevent with having “stopped at least 150 people from going to Syria”.
Afzal warned that its “phenomenally good work” was being undermined by what he called an “industry” of Muslim groups, some of which have Islamist leanings, pushing “myths” about the programme.
He also took aim at “self-appointed” community leaders whose sole agenda was to present Muslims “as victims and not as those who are potentially becoming radicals,” singling out Britain’s largest Muslim umbrella group — the Islamist dominated Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) as an example.
The 54 year old, who resigned last week as chief executive of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said he was shocked that the agenda at the group’s annual general meeting last year contained “nothing about radicalisation and nothing about the threat of people going to Syria”.
Among groups Afzal accused of lying about Prevent to discredit the counter-radicalisation programme are Islamist support group Cage, which has been described as a “terrorism advocacy group” by veteran journalist Andrew Gilligan, and Prevent Watch, a “community-based initiative” that supports “communities impacted by Prevent”.
Cage’s outreach director Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who signed a confession admitting to having been an al-Qaeda recruiter, likened Islamic extremists to the Suffragettes at a 2015 event opposing the Prevent programme.
“Sadly, there’s an industry which is trying to undermine Prevent. Some of them don’t like anything that’s state-sponsored and some of them are Islamists”, Afzal said.
“Prevent is simply safeguarding. When we’re asking people to identify victims of child sexual abuse by looking for signs, it’s the same thing for radicalisation. Look for the signs. If you’re concerned, share those concerns with somebody and then if they come to fruition we can provide some support. It’s not about criminalising.”