SHAFAQNA – British Muslims are planning to set up their own programme to stop people becoming terrorists in a direct challenge to the government’s controversial Prevent scheme, the Guardian has learned.
The plans are being masterminded by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), representing 500 charities, schools and mosques, which plans to start the Muslim-run counter-radicalisation scheme next year.
“In reflecting the wishes of a cross-section of British Muslim society, our affiliates have directed the MCB to explore a grassroots-led response to the challenge of terrorism. Real challenges exists, as we see with Muslim families broken up as a number of children, mothers and fathers leave to travel to Syria,” the MCB said in a statement.
The Home Office’s Prevent scheme is run by the police and security officials. The new initiative, run by a network of community groups across Britain, could cause concern as it could take people away from the official programme. The number of referrals to Prevent reached a record 8,000 in the year to April 2016.
Critics, many of whom are in the Muslim community, say Prevent has at its heart an ideological purity test meaning western foreign policy can not be criticised, and the government is only prepared to work with those who do not challenge it.
Instead of trying to liberalise British Islam, the new scheme will focus solely on a message that violence can never be used. A source familiar with the plans said: “If we can get these voices more heard, they are anti-government and therefore more credible in saying do not turn to violence.”
Mosques will be the key point of contact, being at the heart of Muslim communities across Britain. People can also be referred directly to the new counter-radicalisation scheme.
Some of those who will try to turn people away from violence may include conservative Islamic scholars who are considered by government to be extremists. These are people who may have illiberal views on homosexuality or women’s equality.
MI5 estimates that 3,000 people in Britain may pose a terrorist threat and that more than 850 have travelled to Isis-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq, some of whom may want to return to the UK as Isis suffers military reverses on the ground. Isis has replaced al-Qaida as the Islamist brand that attracts most people to violent jihad, counter-terrorism officials believe.
The source involved in setting up the new scheme said its launch, probably next year, was a matter of “when not if” and added: “The approach of the government is wrong and ineffective and not engaging with local communities, and does not have community support.” The aim is to “tackle the … issue of Daesh [Isis] within our communities, which splits up families,” and to be more transparent.
The MCB version of Prevent will include panels of community leaders, former police officers and professionals from mental health and other agencies willing to support the scheme.
It will face a dilemma about whether it would ever report people to police if, for instance, their behaviour broke terrorism laws. The official Prevent scheme aims to detect people before their actions turn criminal.
Former Met police chief superintendent Dal Babu said disquiet about Prevent has spread among Muslim communities and also to wider society. He said Prevent was a “toxic brand” and said: “It’s not rocket science: go back to how we defeated the IRA. Just like when we were dealing with the IRA, we needed the confidence of Catholic communities.”