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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 2 March 2021

Overhaul of Prevent must tackle 'self-appointed gatekeepers' fighting counter-extremism policies

Nusrat Ghani warns that extremists pose an always evolving set of threats

Britain's forthcoming review of the country's counter-extremism strategy and the flagship Prevent programme must reduce the influence of self-appointed 'gatekeepers' to the Muslim community, a campaigning Conservative MP has told The National.

Boris Johnson's government named the ex-chairman of the Charity Commission William Shawcross to oversee a review process for the Prevent programme earlier this year. It is the first full-scale look at the functioning of counter-extremism policies since 2011.

Nusrat Ghani MP has welcomed the appointment, not least as a signal that the government will not give in to critics that call it anti-Muslim and want it scrapped.

She cited a recent survey that shows most British Muslims lacked awareness of the programme and were not demanding its demise.

Sharpening the focus of counter-extremism should be on the agenda, Ms Ghani said, in particular making a clear stand on hostile ideologies and those habouring extremism.

"What I'm calling for, as review of Prevent takes place, is that we really focus on ideologies, looking at far right ideology, which is rampant, but also of Islamist ideologies, so we can fully understand how these ideologies can take root.

"We need to be able to have a full understanding of the tipping points at which people can be radicalised into becoming violent extremists.

"Vested interests have consistently been negative about the Prevent strategy and the issue there is do those 'gatekeepers' really represent the community - those who are most vulnerable to having their children radicalised.

"Do we continue to deal with the gatekeepers who tell us one story but when we research the views of the community there is a very different story altogether?"

Ms Ghani was the first Muslim woman government minister to appear in the House of Commons and has since spearheaded a series of high-profile political campaigns. An expert on extremism she is a fellow of the Policy Exchange think tank.

A wide-ranging update of the programme should not only focus its work on Islamist extremism but also the growing right-wing threat in Britain and take account of the new circumstances created during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

"Violent extremists are predators, their job is to hook you in and narrow your world view. You can never stand still on an issue like this as violent extremists are nimble at changing their strategies and messages, so you can never stand still ever. And we must never make that mistake."

There isn’t one simple way of preventing radicalisation, there's always going to be multifaceted approaches

Nusrat Ghani MP

The uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic and the fact that people are increasingly online necessitate a review of how online content is influencing people.

"There isn’t one simple way of preventing radicalisation, there's always going to be multifaceted approaches and we have to constantly review our policies, especially as threats evolved," she said. "Communities change and what's interesting with COVID is that so many people are locked down at home and are going to be online."

It also imperative that government officials have clearly marked rules of who they should engage with and what tests are set down to determine and check the influence of extremists.

"We have to make sure the public sector, especially the police, understand the impact of the rules of engagement," she added. "From my own experience in the community that I grew up, certain individuals who are involved in harbouring these ideologies end up making a Faustian pact with the police to get access or protection to the state.

"We can't in any way legitimise any of the violent players, when it comes to dealing with extremists."

Improving welfare of the sea's 'key workers'

Talking as she waged a battle against her own government on inserting genocide provisions in a forthcoming trade bill, Ms Ghani spoke of her own work to secure intervention on behalf of those facing persecution or disadvantage.

The amendment she pushes has been raised to address the situation in Xinjiang with trade-related sanctions.

As a former maritime minister, Ms Ghani has been a strong voice for international seafarers, seeking to ensure they are not left stranded on the high seas.

The pandemic shutdown has seen the situation for stranded seafarers worsen, but there has been a lack of a 'joint' international response to help resolve the issues they face.

"Seafarers are key workers. Full stop. Period," she said. "Everything we have comes from seafarers working -- medicines, medical equipment or vaccines for example."

Ms Ghani wants governments and international bodies to adopt a single, comprehensive strategy for the improved welfare of sailors and has the support of bodies such as the International Chamber of Shipping for her work.

Seafarers in the chain of employment are not seen and not heard and we need to change that

Nusrat Ghani MP

She says without a common approach hundreds of thousands of sailors will face basic challenges to get off the ships, access vaccines and healthcare. Going further, she sees the issue in terms of companies' 'Corporate Social Responsibilities' commitments. "Firms go above and beyond to promote their ability to get their freight to you but provide no insights into their care of their teams or the staff onboard the ship.

"Seafarers in the chain of employment are not seen and not heard and we have to change that."

By bringing back control of a whole gamut of international law powers, including the right to make trade deals, Ms Ghani believes that Britain can play a stronger global role.

Such a post-Brexit role can play out this year as London leads the G7 countries and hosts the climate conference, Cop26. It also includes greater focus on some bodies such as the International Maritime Organisation to push for a stronger role in regulating abuses.

"We've done something unique and fabulous in Brexit," she said. "We have a fantastic opportunity to promote our best values. We need to ensure we are promoting those values and standards when there are so many contradictory pressures on a global scale."

Updated: February 11, 2021 04:00 PM

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