A Muslim leader in Bristol has backed a move to scrap a scheme which places teachers and social workers on the lookout for potential terrorists and defectors to ISIS.
Abdul Malik, chairman of Bristol’s biggest mosque, said the Liberal Democrats were right to call for the end of the Home Office’s Prevent strategy, which some Muslims said treated them as a “suspect community”.
Part of Prevent is the Channel programme, a scheme which sees those in front line jobs – such as teachers, nurses and youth workers – taught how to spot people who might be vulnerable to being groomed for terrorism.
The Lib Dem call to bin the Prevent strategy came on the same day that hate preacher Anjem Choudary (pictured below) was convicted of terror offences, having pledged his allegiance to ISIS/Daesh in Syria.
Mr Malik, chairman of Easton’s Jamia Mosque, said Channel was “not wanted” by the Muslim community in Bristol and nor had the government done enough to include Islamic leaders in identifying vulnerable people.
“The Prevent project is totally wrong and it is the wrong direction for our country and we will pay a huge price if we are not careful,” said the former Lib Dem councillor.
“How many Anjem Choudarys are operating underground? We don’t know and that scares me.
“When you think of a terrorist, you think of a Muslim and that is a wound that needs to be rectified,” said Mr Malik.
“And the only way we can do that is if we do that in the mosques and not through a central government programme that targets people.”
The leading businessman said he wanted to see the centralised system replaced by area boards, whereby referrals are dealt with by community figures – such as mosque leaders, school governors and GPs – who could assess the situation “before panic sets in”.
Mosques also need to become more open in linking the “peaceful” teachings of the Qu’ran with a sense of British identity, he added.
Labour MP for Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy, said she knew the move – introduced by the Conservatives – to use front-line workers to prevent terrorism had upset the city’s Muslim community.
“The focus seems to have shifted from preventing radicalisation – with the community very keen to support such efforts – to detecting alleged signs of it, with the risk of people being unfairly accused simply for being devout Muslims,” said Ms McCarthy.
South West children referred to the Channel programme
- 208 children in the region were referred, between 2014 and 2016, after being identified as ‘vulnerable’ to radicalisation
- 155 were male, while 37 were female*
- 131 were referred by their teachers
- Of those who recorded their ethnicity, 67 per cent were White, and 15 per cent were Asian*
- Of those who recorded their religion, 62 per cent were Muslim, while 12 per cent were Christian*
*Demographic details are not mandatory meaning data is not available for every child.
Channel was first piloted in 2007 and rolled out throughout England and Wales in 2012. Around a fifth of those enrolled have to attend “de-radicalisation sessions”.
According to the latest figures from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), between March 2014 and March 2016, 440 people in the South West were identified as in danger of being radicalised, with 208 of those under the age of 18.
Out of the 208 young people referred, more than 60 per cent had been put forward by their school or place of learning.
The NPPC refused the Post’s request for figures detailing the amount of people within Bristol City Council’s boundaries who had been referred to Channel since its inception.
It said such a disclosure could “hinder national security” as the numbers were small enough to identify the willful participants.
“Releasing the requested information for the Bristol local authority could undermine national security and hinder law enforcement by discouraging individuals from volunteering information and cooperating with (the support) agencies,” said the NPPC spokeswoman.
“This information, whether by intent or otherwise, has the potential to make vulnerable groups of people to feel marginalised and therefore less likely to participate in the project.
“It is recognised that there is a general public interest in knowing the nature and extent of the threat, and the public interest favours disclosure of the requested information as it allows the public to be informed about exactly how young members of the local community may need support from the Channel process.
“However, the public interest favours non-disclosure of the requested information in Bristol if it places vulnerable members of the community at risk (even if a person and family members are actually misidentified by the data),” she added.