Brent on Home Office ‘Muslim extremism and radicalisation’ watch list

Shahrar Ali, deputy leader of the Green Party, with Bill Bolloten, Institute of Race Relations and C

Shahrar Ali, deputy leader of the Green Party, with Bill Bolloten, Institute of Race Relations and Cllr Harbi Farah at a Prevent programme meeting in Salusbury Road - Credit: Archant

Brent is on a list of local authorities being watched by the Home Office for signs of growth in extremism and radicalisation amongst its Muslim community.

The borough is one of 43 Home Office “Prevent Priority Areas” in the country which has been highlighted as a concern by the government.

The revelation was revealed at a meeting held yesterday in Queen’s Park to discuss the government’s new Prevent programme which could see children as young as three identified as potential extremists.

Hamera Khan chaired the meeting that was organised by Martin Francis, chair of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and Green Party, together with An-Nisa, Stop the War and Brent Anti Racist Campaign.

Ms Khan, who is a representative of An Nisa which works for the welfare of Muslim families, said: “This is not a Muslim issue, but it is the Muslim community which is at the forefront of it. It’s important to develop a dialogue and discussion, not feel we can’t say things.”

The programme has been established as part of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act which places authorities including councils, schools, colleges and health providers under a duty to report anyone who displays signs of radicalisation.

People at the meeting, which included a high-proportion of non-Muslims, heard claims that the programme was a ‘recipe for disaster’, had ‘huge potential for mistakes’, ‘fuelled prejudice and negative stereotyping’ and ‘pernicious’.

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They expressed a desire that Brent Council be open, transparent and accountable to local people by telling them what they planned to do with the programme.

Bill Bolloten, from the Institute of Race Relations, a think tank that focuses on racial injustices, said that education watchdog Ofsted will now assess schools on their approach to keeping pupils safe from radicalisation.

He said: “Ofsted inspectors want to see evidence of the training teachers receive but there is no transparency.”

He added that Prevent creates a climate of self censorship with young Muslim pupils stopped from thinking critically. He said: “Schools should be a safe space to develop critical thinking and explore their ideas.”

Rob Ferguson, from the National Union of Teachers, called it a “pernicious agenda”.

He said: “When you attack education, a school, a local authority for education, it’s a bridge to attack our whole community. By attacking the students, you draw in the families, you draw in the community.”

He added: “There’s been an increase of hate crime in the country up by more than 300 per cent. Both Newham and Brent are in the top 10 of Islamaphobic hate crimes.”

He gave the example of university student Mohammed Farooq who was wrongly accused of being a terrorist.

He was questioned after being spotted reading a terrorism textbook in his college library while studying a masters degree in counter-terrorism.

Rizwan Hussain, from grassroots campaign group Jawaab, told the group about a young boy Abdul, whose father left leaving him to support his family. He was stopped and searched outside his mosque, “his safe space”.

He added: “He’s scared, scared for his mothers and sisters because they wear a hijab. Talking to him, all his spaces are being violated and polluted by Islamaphobia. Schools should be safe places and honest places for discussion.”

Cllr Harbi Farah, Labour councillor for Welsh Harp, said: “In Brent all the schools are academies. The council has little governance over how they govern themselves.”

He added that the council needed to invite the community to form a dialogue about the many issues around the Prevent programme.