By Sairah Masud
HOME SECRETARY Amber Rudd was in Tower Hamlets on Tuesday (29) to discuss how community engagement had to be improved through the government’s Prevent strategy in tackling radicalisation.
Meeting with women who are involved in the counter-terrorism policy’s operation in the city, it was advised that a more proactive approach was needed to avoid alienating communities and address misunderstandings that the policy is solely being targeted at Islamic extremism.
Group members expressed how the current ‘Prevent’ label is hindering the policy’s objectives, with rejection from many Muslims who view it as ‘stigmatising’, ‘toxic’ and a ‘taboo’.
At the roundtable discussion, the MP for Hastings and Rye concluded that a ‘rebranding and rethinking of the strategy’ was needed to effectively reach those it is aimed at.
“It is not reaching people because they are unjustifiably frightened of it. The programme is working but more third party voices are needed – people don’t know that the strategy is aimed at far right extremism, not just Islamic. We need to do more in getting across the positive messages of Prevent”.
Imam Qari Muhmmad Asim MBE at Leeds Makkah Mosque has echoed the view that the current strategy has many shortcomings including poor communication, lack of transparency and community engagement but also stated its benefits in preventing radicalisation and saving lives.
“For some, simply the word ‘Prevent’ itself is enough to draw criticism, however, Britain does need a scheme to prevent terror – one which protects vulnerable people from those who would wish them and others harm.”
Among the issues discussed was the need for better training and understanding of the scheme for people working in statutory sectors as well as an open space for young people to voice their opinions without the threat of referral.
Sophie Linington from ParentZone, an organisation that promotes a safe online space for children, said: “Prevent work and education doesn’t mean shutting down debate. Saying we can’t talk about these things isn’t going to help – teachers need to provide a forum to allow pupils to ask difficult questions.”
Tower Hamlets Prevent Coordinator, Simon Smith has addressed safeguarding issues by implementing the policy in all primary and secondary schools in the borough, aimed at providing advice and support.
“We have a dedicated Prevent education officer whose sole role is to ensure that schools are abiding by the Prevent duty and showing due regard in making sure they’re protecting vulnerable children.”
“If children have any concerns they know where to go to seek advice and make appropriate referrals.”
The three schoolgirls from neighbouring Bethnal Green, who fled to Syria two years ago to join the Islamic State, were described as a ‘catalyst’ for more active engagement from schools.
The home secretary added: “Nobody wants their children go to Syria. I think the moral obligation is for the government to help schools to make sure they protect their children from going down the path of radicalisation.”
In 2016/17, 169 community-based projects were delivered, 44% of which were in schools aimed at increasing young people’s resilience to extremist ideologies, yet community members have voiced concerns that more work needs to be done in engaging parents.
Yasmin Omar from Ealing Council, home to the largest Somali community in London, said: “Radicalisation is a problem that is affecting the Somali community. Our approach is to specifically target parents because if they understand how a child can be protected, then it decreases the chances of radicalisation.”
Saleha Jaffer of Families Against Stress and Trauma, said: “There is no exact science to knowing whether someone will be responsible for such disaster, but the vulnerabilities of those involved are universal. Parents need to have frank, honest conversations with their children and as a community we need to support them when doing that.”
The growth of social media and the internet in recent years was identified by the home secretary as a key element in the risk of young people becoming radicalised.
“The amount of illegal information on websites like YouTube and social media means we need to educate parents to give them the confidence in becoming more actively involved in recognising and preventing online radicalisation”.
Since February 2010, 250,000 pieces of illegal terrorist material have been removed from the internet but equally, Omar said that the online forum was the only means to get information on tackling forms of extremism other than Islamic.
“It’s frustrating because there is a lot of reporting on social media about other forms of extremism such as far-right, but not enough is being said in mainstream media that is just as important for people to know and be vigilant about.”
For more information on the Prevent strategy and tackling radicalisation, visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/prevent-strategy-2011.