A terrorism expert has strongly criticised government plans for teachers to identify and prevent youngsters from becoming radicalised, branding the move as “nonsense”.
Professor Roger Griffin, a specialist in theories of radicalisation and facism at Oxford Brookes University, said the move risked outlawing extreme opinion in Britain.
The Home Office measure, which came into effect on Wednesday (1), means public institutions, including nurseries and prisons, are now legally required to “take steps to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.
The strategy will also cover universities and colleges and is set to be rolled out for these institutions once further guidance on extremist speakers has been published.
“The legislation is a nonsense. There is absolutely no scientific basis for people being able to spot who is liable to become radicalised,” Griffin told Eastern Eye.
“There’s a massive and dangerous confusion in the government between having fervent beliefs on something and being an extremist, and being an extremist and acting on that.
“If you are in the process of being radicalised, you will go underground and not talk about it. You are not going to sit there in a school lesson and start talking about your hatred for the west.
“The possibility that your son or daughter could become radicalised is one of the truths that the Muslim community have to live with. That’s best dealt with at the level of the family and the immediate community. Once you start telling school teachers to be in the front line that will cause a lot of distortions,” he added.
The professor has previously worked with the Home Office to implement a strategy for the Prevent counter-terrorism policy in the university sector.
He said David Cameron’s recent comment that the Muslim community should do more to “prevent Isis’s poison from spreading,” risked isolating followers of the religion in the UK.
“It’s counter productive for politicians to say things like that,” he said.
Griffin added that despite the fact that Muslims may feel marginalised, there was a lot of denial within moderate Islam circles about the existence of radical, hate-filled variants of their religion which needed to be addressed.
“The Muslim community in the West could do a lot more about the fact that there are forms of their faith which call for violence against the West,” he said.
Qari Asim, from the Makkah Mosque in Leeds, said negative rhetoric surrounding Muslims was creating “frustation and anger” among young people who felt that their faith was being used to bring terror to citizens.
“Comments from the government fuel alienation. We need to invest in channelling the energy of these young people through sports centres and activities,” he told EE.
“The fear is that there is going to be a backlash – there are signs of it already with the vandalisation of a Muslim cemetery,” Asim added.
At least 10 graves in the Muslim section of a Nottingham cemetery were vandalised in a hate crime which took place in the wake of the Tunisian terror attack last week.
Asim was awarded an MBE for his efforts to build bridges between communities in Leeds following the London terror attacks in 2005.
The call to action by the UK government follows the beach massacre in Tunisia last Friday which killed 38 people, most of them British.
Cameron promised to mount a “full investigation” into the jihadist attack on a resort near the city of Sousse.
Fiyaz Mughal, the founder of Faith Matters which works to reduce extremism told EE that teachers needed training and support to work with families to “ensure the well-being of children” was maintained.
“This is a very sensitive area. We do not want to push young children into being labelled. This is about safeguarding and diverting any young people, who may be influenced by extremist narratives,” he said.
“Some of the actions of extremism are conducted by lone wolves and it is impossible for the vast majority of the community to know who they are.
“We do not see calls for the larger non-Muslim population to tackle far-right lone wolf extremists when they try and blow up or attack institutions. So we cannot blame and hold responsible the whole Muslim community.”
He added that social media providers also needed to take responsibility to ensure their products were not being used to promote extremism ideologies.