Fiyaz Mughal

The government needs to re-engage with Muslims to make counter-extremism work

It is a mistake to think that structures alone can tackle extremism


Fake Dictionary, Dictionary definition of the word Extremist.

April 04, 2022 15:11

Israel has been rocked by terrorist attacks in the last week, with allegiance to the so-called ‘Islamic State’ one of the motivating factors. Hamas, the Islamist group that imposes its brutal will on the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip has regularly been behind and co-ordinated terrorist attacks in Israel.

Here in the United Kingdom we have lost hundreds of fellow citizens to Islamist extremism and its terrorism that not only attempts to harm as many people as possible, but also seeks to divide and pit communities against one another. The 7/7 bombings, the failed 21/7 bomb plot, the Manchester arena attack and the London Bridge and Westminster attacks that saw the brutal stabbing to death of PC Keith Palmer, all had one motivation: Islamist extremism. We even have an ongoing case in the courts over the murder of Sir David Amess MP, where the prosecution have alleged that the defendant, Harbi Ali, was motivated by Islamic State ideology. Ali denies all charges.

I have spent over 17 years in counter-extremism work because I understand the deadly threat that Islamist extremism poses to us all. I speak as a British Muslim who understands that Islamist extremists also seek to target Muslims who dissent from their world view, or who have liberal, progressive or differing opinions. Indeed, the vast majority of the victims of Islamist terrorists have been Muslims, showing that the extremists care less about Muslimsthan stamping their warped views of Islam on the wider majority of Muslims.

I remember after 7/7 how the then government asked for Muslims to "speak out against extremism". Many of us have been doing so for years, but in the last 3 years we have seen a shift in strategy and engagement, away from British Muslims being willing to engage with the government on refining and fine tuning the Prevent strategy. Engagement has therefore been extremely patchy. Community based projects like the Building Stronger Britain Together programme have been scrapped and the government has become much more centralised and far less open in counter-extremism work. The programme it seems, does not see active engagement with those British Muslims willing to engage constructively or be critical friends, as a priority.

Indeed, such has been the disengagement with the very community that can challenge Islamist extremism - British Muslim communities - that the government today does not even attempt to support any real community leadership in this area. The only recent activity has been a Prevent review, where soundings have indeed been taken from stakeholders. We are still awaiting the results of that.

It feels as though the government has washed its hands of community engagement work in this area and has sought to set up systems and structures in statutory authorities that they think will be the panacea to the problem - whilst ignoring and missing out the very communities that should be integrally involved in every stage of the policy shaping process.

In doing so, the government has ignored the decades of experience of some British Muslims in this area, having dismally failed for many years to actively and robustly challenge those groups who seek to undermine counter-extremism work or those British Muslims engaging in disruptive actions against Prevent.

It is as though some in government believe that the sporadic and bit-part challenge on social media by staff employed on Prevent can push back the falsehoods and mendacious activities of some organised Islamist groups who damage and undermine wider engagement on Prevent by British Muslims. It is foolish to think this has a wider impact, when it is so poorly organised.

Islamist extremism is a real and credible threat to all, but there are direct and deadly impacts on Britain’s Jewish communities. We have seen how the targeting of synagogues, attempted terrorist attacks against Jewish institutions and threats within universities against Jewish students have all impacted on British Jews.

Islamist extremism has been a scourge developing in the United Kingdom for some four decades. Yet without the consistent and active engagement of British Muslims leading in this area of counter-extremism work, the government is losing those willing to put their heads about the parapet to defend a counter-extremism strategy which, whilst not perfect, has certainly saved lives.

It is time that the government woke up to the fact that British Muslims are not peripheral in the development of this work, nor can they be "consulted" occasionally, when departments choose to do so. Britain’s Jews and Muslims know the risk that Islamist extremism poses to both communities, which is why they need to be centrally involved.

Fiyaz Mughal is the Founder and Trustee of Muslims Against Antisemitism

April 04, 2022 15:11

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