The Government's anti-radicalisation Prevent Strategy is doomed to fail unless the Muslim community gets fully behind it, a leading anti-extremism chief has warned.
Former Islamic radical turned community worker Hanif Qadir set up the east London based Active Change Foundation in 2006 in a bid to dissuade young Muslims from answering the call of terror groups such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State.
Not In My Name
But now the founder of the Home Office funded charity - who launched a ‘Not In My Name’ anti-IS Twitter hashtag campaign last year - has warned that Muslim communities need to do more to engage with government or risk a repeat of cases such as the three east London schoolgirls who fled the UK to join Islamic State in Syria and Brusthom Ziamani, a 19-year-old convert to Islam jailed last month for planning to behead a British soldier.
Authorities are still battling to bring the three so-called 'jihadi brides' back to the UK, although it is feared they could already have married IS militants. Only this week, three teenagers were arrested on terror charges after being returned to the UK from Turkey, where they were suspected of travelling to Syria.
The ACF chief, who claims he has turned scores of youngsters away from the lure of Islamic extremism, says Whitehall has funding in place ready to fight the problem of radicalisation.
However, the government is struggling to find appropriate individuals to work with in Birmingham, Manchester and extremism hotspots in the capital such as Tower Hamlets, the same London borough where three schoolgirls studied and where Ziamani was apparently radicalised by former members of extremist collective al Muhajiroun, including Anjem Choudary.
Mr Qadir said: ‘We as the Muslim community need to take ownership of this problem. If we just ignore it and say it’s somebody else’s problem, we are pushing the blame away from ourselves.Government is really trying to get people on board with Prevent. They are struggling to find the right kind of people that can create partnerships.
‘Are organisations in Tower Hamlets ready to do that? I don't think so and the same goes for Birmingham, Luton and Manchester. The government is digging away trying to find the right people to work with and they are struggling.’
Problems with Prevent Strategy
Mr Qadir added: ‘In certain instances the Prevent Strategy has a problem.We cannot blame it on conspiracy theories or the media.The projects that are being funded by the Government are being funded well. This kid (Brusthom Ziamani) is a perfect example of how things go wrong and how rapidly they go wrong if a person is exposed to environments they are not familiar with. The authorities picked Ziamani out at just the right time. Is that Prevent failing? I don't know. You could probably argue from either side.I would say the Prevent Strategy didn't work for him (Ziamani) because he is now going to jail but it worked for some poor individual that would have got his head cut off.’
Other voices have also criticised Prevent in recent weeks, with one calling the project a 'toxic brand'.
Dal Babu, who was a chief superintendent with the Metropolitan police before he retired two years ago, said most Muslims were suspicious of the scheme and see it as a tool for spying on them. The former senior police officer claimed the £40 million Prevent programme started off as a good idea but had become less and less trusted.
Aminul Hoque, a lecturer and author on British Islamic identity at the University of London, told the BBC: "Of course it is failing. The irony is that it has become counter-productive. By putting a magnifying glass across the Muslim communities of Britain, that has widened the schism between the “Muslim” us and the British “other”.’
Last month, Birmingham Perry Barr Labour MP Khalid Mahmood claimed the Prevent Strategy was ineffective.
He said: ‘The problem with the Prevent programmes that we've had don't get to the hard to reach people. There are still people out there who are people radicalised and we've got to make every effort to make ensure that doesn't continue.’
Qadir also warned that the government's failure to forge trusted partnerships with Muslim community groups will also lead to more examples of 'jihadi brides' fleeing Britain for Syria.
He said: ‘People are burying their heads in their hands saying there is not a problem. There has been a huge call from IS for Muslims from around the world to come and fight on the battle front.’
Qadir said that the recruitment landscape had changed since the days of Osama Bin Laden, with most recruitment now done in an online environment.
He warned: ‘No one was prepared for this. The social media networks are so powerful. They have taken the battle to that space and we now have to step up to that.’