UK Prevent programme 'must reach big mosques to stop radicalisation of youngsters'

A Muslim MP has called on the government to take bolder steps to deter young people from adopting extremist views

Men praying at a mosque in East London. Getty
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British Home Secretary Suella Braverman has been urged to bring mosques into greater focus in her review of the government’s flagship counter-terrorism programme in order to to reach more people who may be at risk of radicalisation.

Labour MP Khalid Mahmood said a strategy of outreach to smaller faith groups over larger ones means officials have a limited reach in their efforts to educate parents whose teenagers have been groomed online by extremists.

In an interview with The National, the opposition politician said a shake-up of the Prevent programme is long overdue, particularly to address the scourge of young Muslims across the UK who are being “alienated” from their families.

Officials in the Home Office are in the process of reviewing the framework of counter-extremism. The flagship Prevent programme aims to safeguard and support people vulnerable to radicalisation. It forms one of four elements of Contest, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy which has foiled more than 30 terror plots in the past five years.

An official report by William Shawcross recently concluded that in its existing form Prevent is protecting the malign activities of some potential terrorists rather than shielding the British public from violence.

'Young people are told to question their parents'

Mr Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, said that having spoken to Muslim parents, he believes there is a huge demand for information from officials on what signs to look out for in youngsters falling prey to the clutches of extremist individuals or entities.

“There’s a big issue with young people disconnecting from their parents,” he said. “There’s an element of people who are doing it who have extremist views, [although] most of it’s maybe non-violent extremism.

“[Prevent] has got to be much more oriented towards the mainstream Muslim community. The more we deal with smaller organisations the more difficult and isolated it becomes. Smaller organisations may do some very good work but they don’t have the spread.

“We also need to get schools to engage with local mosques.”

The UK government has been urged to reach out to large mosques and Muslim faith groups to reach more people in its efforts to prevent young people from becoming radicalised. AFP

Mr Shawcross, who previously headed the Charity Commission, found that the programme was focused on “protecting those referred into Prevent from harm” instead of “protecting the public”.

In her update of the strategy, Ms Braverman will take into account the second volume of the Manchester Arena Inquiry, set to be published next week. Twenty-three people were killed in the May 2017 attack carried out by an Islamist extremist suicide bomber.

“The government will now review the recommendations in their entirety and publish the Independent Reviewer's report and the government’s response in due course,” a Home Office spokesman told The National.

“Prevent will remain a vital tool for safeguarding against radicalisation. It has already changed and saved the lives of individuals from all walks of life, with more than 3,000 people supported through the Channel programme, and will continue to build on this success going forwards.

Alongside the Home Office review, the government is also poised to shelve a plan to establish an official definition of Islamophobia. Having announced the launch of a process to establish a working definition of Islamophobia in May 2019, campaigners have expressed dismay at the lack of action three years later.

Yet many in government argue that previous attempts by different bodies to define Muslim hatred have lacked a widespread consensus.

'Severe lack of effort to eradicate Islamophobia'

The All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims defines Islamophobia as being “rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

But the government has not recognised this, or any other, definition of hatred towards Muslims.

“We remain committed to stamping out anti-Muslim hatred and all forms of religious prejudice and we will outline our next steps in due course,” a representative of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said.

Mr Mahmood said a clear definition should be adopted that would strengthen efforts to tackle hatred of Muslims.

He cited Boris Johnson’s 2018 article in the Telegraph in which he compared Muslim women wearing the niqab to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers” as an example of how people are given free rein to express questionable views towards the Islamic community with impunity.

In the three weeks after his comments were published instances of Islamophobia soared by 375 per cent, according to Tell Mama. The group which supports victims of anti-Muslim hatred said 42 per cent of offline Islamophobic incident reported in the three weeks after the article was published “directly referenced Boris Johnson and/or the language used in his column”.

“I think there should be a clear term of Muslim hatred and that term should be based on purely if somebody who’s Muslim is disadvantaged in terms of services, in terms of employment or directly experiences discrimination. That should be dealt with by the law,” Mr Mahmood said.

“There is no definition for the police to go in and prosecute somebody so what’s the point in having a definition that you can’t do anything with?”

“What we do in [Parliament] is we make laws every day. So what’s the point in having a definition which doesn’t define law?

Updated: November 01, 2022, 6:00 AM