Post-7/7 Counter-terrorism measures, including the latest Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (CTSA) 2015, are perceived by many to be contributing to a social environment where Muslims are being treated as a ‘suspect community’. Many feel that this is adding to an increased hostility towards Muslims, creating a climate of fear and suspicion in the process. ISIS-inspired terrorism is vile whilst its slick propaganda is having a devastating effect on a few Muslim families with their boys and girls running away to Syria.
But seeing the Muslim glass as half empty – particularly by the political and media establishment – is unhelpful; it is alienating Muslims and has a negative impact on community relations.
Sadly, the contributory factor for alienating Muslims has been the way the community is being seen through a prism of security. The post-7/7 Blair government’s Prevent agenda, under the wider CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy, conflated community cohesion with security and that put Muslims under pressure in spite of numerous polls showing them to be more loyal to Britain than others. Prevent was found to be counter-productive in a parliamentary review in the latter days of the Brown government. But the Tory-led Coalition revived it after coming to power in 2010, with new criteria such as ‘non-violent extremism’ at its heart; very few socially active Muslims can escape its broad definition.
Such is the reach of the Prevent strategy that even pre-school children can now be deemed to be at risk of radicalisation! A society that has prided itself on radical ideas over centuries appears to be ostracising a whole community for the radical views of some, or extreme views of a tiny minority, in its midst.
The CTSA 2015 is now putting a stronger emphasis on its multi-agency Channel Programme; its guideline on the duty of local authorities and partners of local panels is focused on providing support for people who are vulnerable to being drawn into extremism or terrorism. The expectation would be for local authorities, nurseries, schools, universities, social services, healthcare services, the criminal justice system and the police – more or less anyone involved in the care and development of young people – to monitor people for signs of extremism and refer them to the relevant panels. For a diverse Muslim community the impact of the Channel Programme, since it was rolled out in 2006-07, has been disproportionately high.
This has already been creating a sticky situation in the education sector. One east London school was said to have used ‘anti-radicalisation software’ in the last summer to monitor pupils and offered workshops for parents on spotting signs of radicalisation amongst small children. In another case, five primary schools with large numbers of Muslim pupils in a London Borough asked pupils to complete surveys designed to provide clues as to who is most susceptible to possible radicalisation. Many, including some head teachers, expressed concern at this bizarre methodology.
As a parent and ex-teacher, I would imagine that parents of four year olds would be most concerned about their children’s overall growth through playing and learning activities – to communicate, socialise and enjoy their childhood – or about their children’s safety and potential harms such as bullying etc.
Most teachers are amazing professionals who come to teaching to share their talents and help prepare future generations of innovators and entrepreneurs from our schools. The question is how well-equipped teachers are, and how much time they have, to deal with the extra burden of monitoring early radicalisation of the pre-adolescent or even teenage children who have begun to explorie their life at school? This is the task of the established education welfare service and, on more serious matters, the police. Diverting a teacher’s time and energy on something that they are not particularly trained for can drain resources, especially at a time when school budgets are facing significant cuts.
A school is a place to promote critical thinking and creative expression, as well as harnessing the potentials, of the young ones in their formative period. Schools are also for supporting children from communities or groups that suffer from inequality of opportunity so that each child is given the best chance to lead a successful life.
The growing emphasis on security in the education sector may hamper the huge progress made by some, otherwise deprived, communities – such as the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities – over the last two decades. With improved university intakes from these communities, though not yet reflected in the job market or social ladder, many children from minority communities are showing greater confidence in a pluralist Britain.
Politics behind the new counter-terrorism measures may jeopardise the progress of some of these communities. We talk of safeguarding and wellbeing of our young children. Let us put this in practice by leaving politics outside the school premises.
There is another big contradiction – the Government’s statement in the guidance paper that the protection of freedom of speech is of paramount importance does not match with its policy of ostracising those who appear to possess extremist ideas.
The elephant in the room is how extremism is defined. What causes young people, typically from stable families and backgrounds, to leave everything behind and join a barbaric cult that defies religious principles and basic human rights? What roles do issues such as adolescence in a commercialised society, identity in a plural environment, general grievances, a lack of trust in the political class, some of the Government’s domestic and foreign policies, ideology, social conditions, etc, play in order for some to jump over the other side of the civilised world? We need to understand that there are multiple factors for young people falling prey to nihilistic terrorism.
Our political and media establishments have to appreciate that not all problems related with Muslims are ideological. We need an intellectually sound and evidence-based approach to defeat the vulgarity of Daesh (ISIS)-inspired terrorism. Our political class needs to work with the very communities targeted by the Daesh’s recruitment agents and slick propaganda. We need a robust strategy and meaningful discussion across communities to properly understand why some people, albeit a small number, feel alienated in their land of birth and upbringing. Working with and using communities wisely, rather than selectively with a few and ostracising the majority, works better – as the London Met Police appear to be doing of late.
This article was originally submitted on Huffington Post.