By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal and Muhammad Mussa
Britain’s Muslims will start a new counter-terrorism initiative under the country’s biggest Muslim umbrella organization, according to a conference in North London on Saturday.
The plans for the new initiative by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) was one of the key issues covered in the first “Our Mosques Our Future” conference.
The new initiative by the council will be based on conversation with Muslim communities across the country and will be launched in the Spring, according to the MCB Secretary General Harun Khan.
Khan told Anadolu Agency their new initiative would be a nationwide listening exercise.
“This year, we’ve launched a project, it’s a national listening exercise and we will be holding in 10 different cities across the U.K.
“We’ll be holding events listening to communities about the impact of the government’s counter-terrorism legislation, including the Prevent…the impact it’s having on our communities, but also taking feedback from them on what is actually working.”
Prevent is a government strategy which lays out additional responsibilities for educators in U.K. schools to report any suspected extremist activities. It says it “aims to stop people [from] becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism”. It has been under constant criticism by British Muslims who claim that it does not work and in most of the cases, people with no extremism links are questioned by authorities.
Khan said they “have a duty as members of the society to keep our country safe as well as the security services; they have to keep us safe, but the way the policies are set out at the moment, it’s not been effective and we’re hearing a lot of that.”
“We’ll be holding these events and by early 2019 we will then launch our report based on those findings. What we are looking for really is a community informed and evidence based strategy where its bottom-up, whereas up until now that’s strategy has been all top-down, and especially the Prevent itself is not evidence based and this has been going on for many years now, so we’ve embarked on this project to really inform the debate from a community perspective on where it should be going.”
Asif Hussain, one of the key members for the MCB in the new initiative, told Anadolu Agency that the new initiative would not be replacing the government’s Prevent strategy “but what we have been calling for is for the government to meaningfully engage with the communities most affected by the policies, what they haven’t done from the beginning is actually do a meaningful consultation with the Muslim community on what is extremism and what is the definition of extremism.
Problems with Prevent strategy
“…because at the moment you have Prevent training where they ask doctors and teachers ‘has the student been growing a beard and going to the mosque?’ and suddenly that is a sign of going onto the path of radicalization, whereas if you talk to any normal Muslim, a man who grows a beard or goes to the mosque he’s just become more religious.”
He said signs detected by Prevent do not necessarily indicate radicalization of an individual.
“That [person] doesn’t necessarily going to become a terrorist, there are other factors that Muslims know are triggers and signs of radicalization.
“So, they [the government] haven’t had that consultation and that’s why they are getting it wrong.
"So, we’re not necessarily going to replace Prevent, but we’re going to come out at the end of this year with the listening exercise, we’re going to go through all the Muslim communities in the country and provide recommendations for how Prevent can be changed and also call for a new review… We do know people independently advising government to look at it again.”
Hussain said the MCB National Listening Exercise will be completed after conversations to be held in 10 biggest cities hosting Muslim communities and a report will be published in early 2019.
Delegates from around 50 mosques have participated in the first “Our Mosque, Our Future” conference where keynote speakers discussed how British mosques could be more engaging in overcoming the challenges British Muslim communities have faced, Islamophobia and misrepresentation of Muslims in media, ways to increase range of services and basic access for women and young people, as well as engaging in more interfaith and outreach work for supporting the poor and the homeless.
The participants also attended workshops in the afternoon session of the conference held at Friends House in Euston, North London, where they contributed to the MCB with their ideas to tackle some of the main issues they have faced.
Next year’s conference is being planned in Midlands or North England in 2019, the council said.
The Muslim Council of Britain describes itself as “a national representative Muslim umbrella body with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organizations, mosques, charities and schools”.