SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)-Widely condemned by UK Muslims, the death of American journalist James Foley has shifted British government’s attention to the important role played by Muslim imams in different mosques across the kingdom to dissuade Muslim youth from falling victims to radicalization.
“There are some mosques that are of particular interest to us,” Peter Fahy, chief constable of the Greater Manchester Police, who leads the government’s strategy to prevent people from embracing extremism, told New York Times on Monday, August 25.
“But a lot of these people are not stupid,” he said, referring to radical preachers, “and are pretty careful in terms of the way they stay just on the right side of the line.”
Foley’s death appeared in a YouTube video titled “A Message to America” in which his death was linked to the recent US attacks on Islamic State targets in Iraq.
The heinous crime has sparked angry condemnations from Muslims around the world as a barbaric act that goes against the true teachings of Islam.
Britain has been monitoring its citizens on social media sites to track any possible trials to radicalize young youth.
After the killing of Foley, UK found that using anti-extremist imams to prevent British Muslims from adopting radical views and to persuade those who have returned from the battlefields to moderate their beliefs was a much successful strategy.
One of the British Muslim imams, Qari Asim, the imam of the Makkah mosque in Leeds, urged Muslims “to work with the intelligence services and the government to make sure that this poison doesn’t reach our borders.”
The imam asserted that the risk of British Muslims joining the extremist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was increasing because of Britain’s involvement in Iraq.
Similar calls were voiced by British Muslims who vowed to work with police and security services to root out extremists for betraying Islam teachings.
Voicing their anger at the Islamic State’s ideology, a galaxy of leading British imams and scholars have released a video to condemn their atrocities.
The film, posted on YouTube, aims to “tackle the ISIS ideology of barbarism, persecuting minorities, brutal murder and enslavement of women.”
The Muslim Council of Britain has also condemned the barbarity of ISIL.
Though the majority of imams challenge extremist narratives, most imams avoid preaching on divisive political and social issues.
“They can’t spend quality time every day with every young angry man,” Timothy Winter, dean of Cambridge Muslim College, which trains about 100 imams a year, told NY Times.
The role of the government is limited, he said, because it lacks “the competence of the traditional scholars,” and not all who take part in de-radicalization efforts are linked to the government.
“You could compare it to exit counseling in cults,” said Winter.
“It can take weeks. It works, but it’s extraordinarily labor-intensive.”
However, imam Muhammad Manwar Ali, who runs a charitable education center in Ipswich, managed to reach out to youth by helping them understand the complexity of politics and the Middle Eastern conflicts, without insulting the idea of jihad.
“It’s chivalrous, you want to sacrifice your life for a noble ideal,” he said.
“But I say it has to be done in a responsible way. And God is not what you conceive him to be: an angry, vengeful god.”
Ali, who spent 20 years in recruiting and training fighters, and even fighting, himself, in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, the Philippines and Sri Lanka before quitting in 2000, found it easy to impress young Muslim men.
“Certain things impact you,” Ali, who lost 20 friends in combat, said.
“You begin to ignore things less, you dare to listen, dare to open up.”
Men in their 30s and 40s resist persuasion, but his work with younger Muslims often pays off.
He added that many youth who return, scarred from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, are “already fed up and want to settle back into normal life.”