Hundreds of British teenagers are at risk of radicalisation as they see Islamic State as ‘pop idols’ like Justin Bieber and One Direction, the country’s top Muslim prosecutor has said.
Nazir Afzal warned that ‘another 7/7’ could happen unless Britain radically changes how it deals with extremism as more teenagers fall under the spell of ‘Jihadimania’.
Speaking to the Guardian, Afzal said: “The boys want to be like them and the girls want to be with them. That’s what they used to say about the Beatles and more recently One Direction and Justin Bieber. The propaganda the terrorists put out is akin to marketing, and too many of our teenagers are falling for the image.
“They see their own lives as poor by comparison, and don’t realise they are being used. The extremists treat them in a similar way to sexual groomers – they manipulate them, distance them from their friends and families, and then take them.”
Afzal called for a community-led approach to deal with teenagers who have been indoctrinated by extremists, saying that police and security services are limited in what they can do.
“It is stale and repetitive and goes only to the usual suspects and the usual charities in our communities,” he said.
“I know from experience that the police are often reduced to holding endless meetings with so-called community leaders who represent no one but themselves. This is a new dawn in terrorism and so we need a new dawn in the ways we tackle it.”
He also said that the government should recruit young Muslim “role models” to inspire and mentor young Muslims, turning them away from extremism.
“We need to engage with the sorts of young people who can stop radicalisation at source. It’s a bit like drug addiction. Telling them ‘It’s bad for you’ or calling the police on them is not going to solve the problem, unless it is too serious to wait. The message would have much more power if it came from recovering ‘addicts’ and other youths from their own communities that they can see as role models.
“Thousands of young people and professionals can be encouraged to show these potential radicals what their lives could be. They don’t want to hear from men with long beards, they don’t want to hear from faith leaders. They want to hear from women and from young professionals who can show them there is hope if they stay in education and make a contribution locally.”
The British government estimates that some 600 young Muslims have travelled from the country to join jihadists in Syria and Iraq, with around half of them having already returned home.