Being Muslim at the moment in Britain isn't easy. In fact at times its isolating, tiring and frustrating.
The Times headline 'Muslims Silent on Terror' refers to the Prevent duty ,the component of the Counter-terrorism Strategy Act designed to reduce radicalisation by identifying individuals at risk and referring those needing intervention to a program of 'rehabilitation' known as Channel. The article states that only 'a tenth of extremism tip-offs were coming directly from the community or faith leaders' and there is 'concern that the police are being denied information that might prevent terrorist attacks'. A 'majority of referrals are made by the police, schools or NHS.'
It is no secret that the Muslim community feel disillusioned by Prevent and some communities such as in Waltham Forest, led by the Waltham Forest Council of Mosques, have announced a boycott of the Prevent program. So instead of a headline which potentially furthers the 'them and us' narrative perhaps the reasons for the 'silence ' and the lack of public confidence in the program needs to be explored and addressed. Is there an actual problem with the Prevent duty itself or is it the interpretation of Prevent by the communities that is flawed?
Many Muslims feel that Prevent is McCarthyite and encourages spying on the Muslim community. It is important to remember Muslims were killed in every terrorist atrocity from 9/11 to Paris. Therefore it is insulting to imply that Muslims would purposefully not report an individual who poses a terror risk. Is a 'discriminatory' piece of legislation really needed to enable them to do this? Perhaps the under reporting by Muslims as reported in the Times article (280 out of 3288 referrals( (8.6%)) to Prevent is because most Muslims would prefer to go to the police with their concerns , who could then refer on-wards as needed. It is important this is taken into account in the figures quoted. Alternatively perhaps the problem has nothing to do with the Muslim community and those who are vulnerable do not mix within the community (because if they did this would be a protective factor) and therefore are not identified and reported? Furthermore some would argue should ordinary untrained members of a community be reporting their friends and families for extremism? Extremism isn't a crime.
Prevent duty claims to tackle all forms of radicalisation including the far right. There were approximately 1,200 (2013/14) and 2200 (2014/15) referrals to Prevent with only around 10% of these referrals needing intervention through the channel program. Approximately 75% of referrals are thought to be around so called 'islamist extremism', and likely to involve Muslims. So is it any surprise it's seen as discriminatory and targeting the Muslim community? The fear of a potential incorrect Prevent referral or the impact of this on an innocent individual cannot be ignored. How does the system prevent abuse by Islamophobes referring innocent individuals? Questions such as why are extremist far right groups such as Britain First or EDL allowed to continue remain unanswered.
Many Muslims are yet to read about anyone who has had successful rehabilitation under the Channel program although I'm certain there are some, yet my social media news feeds are regularly highlighting stories of inappropriate referrals to Prevent, from a 3 year old child referred with his family to a student who was talking about eco-terrorism in class during a discussion about environmental activism but then taken out of class 2 weeks later and asked whether he was affiliated with Islamic state. Erroneous referrals lead to a lack of confidence and trust in the system, and make Muslims feel they are being treated as a suspect community.
This fear affects ordinary Muslim households. Being a British Muslim parent at the moment is very difficult. Not only are there the usual trials and tribulations of homework, getting the uniform right and finding the right snack for the snack box but now as a Muslim parent I face the added challenge of ensuring my children aren't too publicly 'Muslim' because there is a genuine fear a outward sign of faith may be interpreted as a sign of radicalisation resulting in a referral to Prevent . Visible symbols of Muslims faith such as growing a beard, wearing a headscarf etc are being used in Prevent training as signs of radicalisation, likely incorrectly, but this is furthering the stigma the community is feeling. Perhaps most Prevent referrals are frivolous and farcical, not necessarily because public officials are against Muslims, but because the signs being taught are so vague and include a range of normal and mundane actions which have absolutely no connection to terrorism now or in the future.
On a recent holiday as the plane took off my eldest child appeared apprehensive and frightened. I turned to him to reassure him and told him to say one of his prayers he knew in order to calm him. He started loudly reciting a well known Muslim prayer in Arabic on the plane. Panicked I turned to him and asked him to say it silently for fear of any passengers becoming upset or concerned. It was at that moment I realised being a Muslim had changed. I was ashamed that I had corrected my child as if he had done something wrong.
Four weeks ago following the atrocities in Paris the same child came home and asked me who ISIS were. I turned to him and asked him why and what he knew. He explained children in the playground were talking about ISIS and it was a place in Iraq and people from there had killed people in Paris. The shock of hearing the words ISIS from my 8 year old's mouth and fear that a discussion would result in a Prevent referral meant no discussion ensued.
The fear of Prevent is silencing discussion in ordinary households. Is the same happening in households where vulnerable individuals are at risk of radicalisation but have no safe environment to speak? Of those incorrectly referred to prevent how many are now too afraid to speak out at all, what impact has it had on them in the workplace or on their mental health? Do they feel more discriminated and isolated and afraid or angry?
The prevent strategy talks about numerous factors leading to radicalisation vulnerability, influencers, cognitive factors , absence of protectors so why has David Cameron fixated upon one, 'Islamist ideology'. What does that mean? To the average Muslim it sounds like an attack on Islam and the blaming of a peaceful religion , Islamic values and religious behaviours on extremism and this is why Muslims oppose Prevent. If there are numerous factors that lead to radicalisation where is the mention of foreign policy in the Prevent duty and RAP training?
Prevent has been in existence since 2007 but only recently became a statutory duty. However it has failed to engage with the Muslim community and numerous bodies such as the NUS, NUT , and non Muslim figures e.g Peter Fahy have been openly critical of Prevent. If anything the community has become bolder in voicing its concerns and until these are addressed the fight of radicalisation will not be won. No Muslim disagrees with the fact that the use of violence for political ends (terrorism) needs to be tackled , it is clear Muslims are against political violence and are just as frightened and confused as non Muslims. However it is time for Prevent to go back to the drawing board and draw upon the lessons learnt so far to produce a fairer, non discriminatory program which clearly defines radicalisation and extremism and tackles all the factors that lead to radicalisation equally.