(Reuters) – Mizanur Rahman laughs when he recalls the de-radicalisation programme he was sent on in 2008 after he was released from a British jail where he had served two years for inciting violence against British and American troops.
“I’d go there, I’d sign my name, play pool with some other radicals that I was in prison with, and I’d go home,” said Rahman, arrested again last month on suspicion of terrorism offences. He denies wrongdoing and has not been charged.
The 31-year-old Londoner denounces his fortnightly de-radicalisation sessions over a six-month period as a gimmick. It is a conclusion shared by many British politicians. For more than a decade, Britain has tried and failed to prevent young Muslims becoming drawn to militant groups.
Interviews with several people with direct knowledge of these efforts highlight flaws including misdirection of funds, poor communication and difficulties in identifying those most likely to turn to violence. At the forefront of Western countries’ efforts to prevent their citizens becoming radicalised, Britain may have lessons for others.
After the shock of 9/11, Britain adopted a two-pronged approach to tackling radicalisation. The first was to get tough with “preachers of hate” who whip up extremism. The second was to help Muslim leaders counter extremism among Britain’s 2.7 million Muslims. But in 2010, the new Conservative government declared the second part of the programme, known as “Prevent”, a failure. Money was going to groups that were sometimes sympathetic to the extremist messages they were supposed to be countering, the government said, and other groups were neither effective nor value for money. Many Muslims, meanwhile, saw Prevent as a police-led spying exercise.
The emphasis has shifted to tough action – promises to strip British jihadis of their passports and stop radical preachers from speaking in public or using social media.