The latest data showing referrals to the Government’s counter-radicalisation Prevent programme, demonstrates a rising far-right risk that professionals including myself have been aware of for some time. In the year 2015/2016, one quarter of those supported by the Channel programme were as a result of far-right concerns. Indeed, for those of us who have been working side by side with community organisations for several years, this fact will not have come as much of a surprise. They confirm the concerns that members of our long-established Prevent Advisory Group (a gathering of leading local community organisations and mosques which advises us on the local delivery of Prevent, Britain’s strategy to safeguard individuals at risk of radicalisation) have raised for some time. While the most significant terror threat we face comes from terrorist recruiters inspired by Da’esh, an increasing number of cases supported by Prevent’s early intervention scheme, Channel, are linked to the extreme far-right (XFR).
The murder of Jo Cox, the Finsbury Park attack, the proscription of National Action (and its aliases Scottish Dawn and NS131) and the subsequent string of arrests for suspected membership of this organisation, are all a testament to the very real threat originating from extreme far-right terrorism. For members of our local ethnic minority communities, these concerns are reinforced by experiences of increased hate crime and Islamophobia which have now been evidenced by the latest Home Office figures. Sadly, concerns about retaliatory violence and harassment following each new Da’esh-inspired terrorist atrocity have become well understood. It is well understood that each new attack runs the risk of emboldening the vocal minorities who promote extremism on both the far-right and on behalf of groups like Da’esh. In this context it is hardly surprising, although no less shocking, that we were told that some local Muslim girls were considering removing their headscarves out of fear for their own safety.
The community’s concerns about both Da’esh and the XFR were justified and we are seeing this played out within our increased safeguarding workload. This year, I will have worked in Prevent for 10 years. In that time, the level of Prevent engagement, the intensity of our local delivery, and the number of Prevent safeguarding referrals have multiplied. Locally, we have addressed concerns regarding individuals who declared their support for the use of violence against Muslims because they consider all Muslims to be terrorists; individuals who were promoting Nazism and Holocaust denial; or individuals producing neo-fascist literature. Crucially, the social media revolution we have seen these last ten years has led us to a situation where extremist content is far more easily accessible, where children will readily ask a stranger on a forum for guidance rather than a parent, and where untrustworthy websites are increasingly effective at developing misinformation to promote xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred.
Thankfully, these 10 years have also been deeply formative and have left us in a better position to address these complex and sensitive concerns. The greater support we receive from organisations (notably from the voluntary sector) and communities has been invaluable. Our close working ties with other local safeguarding teams have also been key to our ability to offer tailored support to vulnerable individuals. Our consistent work with community organisations has ensured that we are best placed to hear of new challenges as they arise and respond to them immediately. In schools, the support we offer is ever changing in line with emerging risks. Recently, we have offered lesson plans and staff training regarding critical thinking, conspiracy theories and online safety.
One of the misconceptions about Prevent is that it somehow targets the Muslim community. In my experience, this could not be further from the truth and a recent experience which I have had embodies this point and the importance of Prevent in the current context. While delivering a training session to a local charity, we discussed a case study around the XFR. As part of this discussion, a Muslim woman attending the session explained that a few years ago, when she was living outside of London, she had been insulted and harassed by a man because of her faith. She became quite emotional and opened-up to the group about the fear she had felt following this incident and the impact this had on her life.
What was particularly clear from her account, was how alone she had felt when faced with concerns relating to the XFR. She ended her story by explaining that she felt safer knowing that there are teams such as ours trying to tackle issues relating to radicalisation, adding that she wished she had known about the work we do a long time ago. Her feedback form simply read: “Thank you for the work you do”.
These figures will help to inform the public that extremism can take many forms and it’s important that we remain vigilant to the risk of radicalisation whenever and wherever it emerges.