UK anti-militant project stirs Muslim unease

UK anti-militant project stirs Muslim unease
# 20 March 2010 00:02 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. A British anti-radicalization campaign called Prevent is a pressing priority in the European country experts see as the most at risk from al Qaeda attack, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
But to listen to its critics, the project, aimed mainly at Muslim communities, might more accurately be named Provoke.
Security officials are struggling to stem a tide of unease among Muslim communities about the program, which seeks among other things to identify people most vulnerable to recruitment by al Qaeda-aligned groups and wean them away from extremism.
"People fear Prevent. They misinterpret it. They think it’s spying on us," said Owais Rajput, a researcher at Bradford University in West Yorkshire, the home area of three of the four men who killed 52 people in suicide attacks in London in 2005.
Jahan Mahmoud, a community worker and academic in the Midlands city of Birmingham, said there were large segments of the community that felt Prevent, led by the Home Office (interior ministry), was prying into their lives.
"There’s no point trying something as sensitive as Prevent before you’ve improved community cohesion, because the trust won’t be there," he said.
One counter-terrorism police officer said he was told by one Muslim family it was reluctant to work with the authorities for fear of "getting a police boot kicked through our door".
Officials are dismayed by what they see as an unnecessarily defensive response. They are trying to fine-tune the campaign to win the trust of more Muslims and get communities to share with the state their grass-roots understanding of the threats.
The stakes are high. Britain has been a target for Islamist militants since it joined Washington in invading Afghanistan and Iraq after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Many of the plots have had links to Pakistan, whose remote northwest is believed by U.S. intelligence to be a refuge for al Qaeda’s leadership.
An attempt by a Nigerian former student in Britain to down a U.S. airliner on December 25 stirred fears that a new generation of British militants is emerging. The fear is that they could rebuild Britain’s 1990s role as Europe’s Islamist hub, but this time using private networks and campuses rather than mosques.
Criticism of Prevent has come from some unusual quarters.
The National Association of Muslim Police, which represents more than 2,000 officers, complained Prevent had stigmatized Muslims and may have seriously worsened relations between the 1.8 million Muslim minority and the rest of the population.
"The hatred toward Muslims has grown to a level that defies all logic and is an affront to British values," it said.
It said Prevent focused too much on Islamic extremism and not enough on a threat from far right groups, echoing Muslim analysts who say some communities live in a climate of "siege".
Businessman Iqbal Wahhab, a government adviser on racism, said part of the problem was Britain had not made communities feel part of British identity and people lived "parallel lives".
Nevertheless, it was up to Muslims to speak up more against al Qaeda because radicalization was "rising so drastically within Muslim communities", he wrote on his blog.
According to an annual social attitudes survey by the independent National Center for Social Research, 52 percent of Britons fear Britain is deeply divided on religious lines and are particularly worried about Islam compared with other faiths.
Is there truth to the allegation of spying? Prevent is a multi-faceted project that uses many arms of the state including police, local government, teachers and youth workers to help neighborhoods counter al Qaeda’ anti-Western message.
This can involve helping people find education and a job, theological discussion and mentoring and counseling.
But a problem can arise when civil servants trying to boost community relations by, for example, helping an immigrant family apply for English lessons, also use the relationship to discuss a family’s worries about a pro-al Qaeda son, analysts say.
Mixing the two roles inevitably arouses suspicions.
Prevent Director Debbie Gupta told Royal United Services Institute think tank there was "great confusion" about Prevent’s link to wider efforts to strengthen Muslim communities.
Prevent spying was a myth, she said. "Prevent is focused on Muslims because that is where al Qaeda’s focus is. They deploy their distorted version of Islam onto Muslims."
She said one solution might be to reduce the role of the police and boost that of community organizations.
Gupta said that where Prevent was wrongly applied "we feed into a narrative that says Prevent is about provoking Muslims and that just does not help. That is a real challenge for us."