Muslim MP warns UK government must not backtrack on promise to establish new counter-extremism body
British counter-extremism efforts facing resistance
British government efforts to establish a powerful new body to oversee counter-extremism policies are facing stiff resistance from entrenched interests despite the problems that fester in the Muslim community.
A leading Muslim MP has warned Theresa May’s government that she must not backtrack on her promise to establish an new statutory body, the Commission on Counter-Extremism, which was first proposed after the Manchester bomb attack in May but has not yet taken shape.
Khalid Mahmood, a Labour member for the city of Birmingham, told The National, that the Commission was desperately needed to exercise its influence widely across institutions affected by extremist ideologies and hidden agendas. Fears of a potential delay in rolling out a new body was, he said, indicative of the scale of the challenges yet to be addressed.
“We need a body that is able to provide support for current departments and institutions and one with a broad-based remit against extremism that is leading our young people astray,” he said. “We need to bring all the tools to show the government as a whole is tackling these issues and not just managing day-to-day.
“A substantive outcome is very important but there are a lot of people who are against it. I hope that reaction won’t be listened to,” he said.
As a statutory body established by legislation, the Commission would tackle the spread of any form of extremism, including that of the far-right and English nationalist hate groups. The British Home Office minister Baroness Williams met with Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the UAE minister of state for tolerance, in July as work on establishing the new commission was getting underway. She reportedly expressed interest in the UAE’s Pillar of Tolerance framework for the national programme.
As a MP since 2001, Mr Mahmood has seen plenty of his own constituents affected by Islamist radicalisation. A survey last year co-authored by Mr Mahmood published by the Policy Exchange think tank found that more Muslims (38 per cent) thought the community itself should take primary responsibility for deterring radicalisation than the British government (29 per cent).
“Radicalisation is the most significant issue for the Commission to look after: How to prevent young people in the community becoming vulnerable to these people.
“Take for example the issue of the madrassas for religious teaching. The only law these are subject to at the moment is the Highway Code, which says they must not cause congestion. But what about the interpretation of religion that these provide to young people? There is nothing. We should have a body that ensures there is a right line and that the people involved are not grooming the young people.”
It is an idea that enjoys broad support, despite British newspaper reports that focus on warnings of thought control and meddling in areas of such as religion that should remain a matter of private conscience. Mr Mahmood believes the commission could also set new rules on religious teachers' competence in English as well as making background checks mandatory.
“There must be checks on how those people relate to the young in the English language, not just a teach by rote culture,” he said.
A majority of 63 per cent of respondents in Mr Mahmood’s co-authored survey said all tutors should be trained by a government body while 66 per cent backed a curriculum for the madrassas.
More broadly when it came to all forms of education, the survey found that when British Muslims were asked the ‘future of their children’, the matter ranked as the second most important priority for families. At a time when the Education department’s inspectorate, Ofsted, has struggled to address issues of Trojan horse activity by organisations linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, there was also overwhelming support for a common national curriculum across all schools.
Mr Mahmood believes the Commission could also transform Britain’s controversial Prevent programme. In part this would mean reducing opposition from teachers' groups and others that wrongly believe it is a snoopers charter. “It could be more effective in explaining Prevent and challenging opposition to it,” he said. “Teachers for example have a duty of care to their students to see they are not turning radical. It’s a matter of vigilance and, once the alarm has been raised, of support.”
With less than 4 per cent support from British Muslims for bodies like the Muslim Council of Britain, which has long been the gatekeeper for liaison by the state on community issues, Mr Mahmood counsels there is scope for the UK government to act more decisively.