Senior Muslim leaders in Britain have decided to take the issue of countering Islamist extremism into their own hands, it emerged on Thursday. Under plans being drafted by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), representing around 500 charities, schools and mosques across the UK, a new counter-radicalisation scheme is expected to be launched by next year.
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“In reflecting the wishes of a cross-section of British Muslim society, our affiliates have directed the MCB to explore a grassroots-led response to the challenge of terrorism. Real challenges exist, as we see with Muslim families broken up as a number of children, mothers and fathers leave to travel to Syria,” the MCB said in a statement to The Guardian.
Under the strategy, mosques will be the key point of contact but people would also be referred directly to the new counter-radicalisation scheme.
Some of those who will try to turn people away from violence may include conservative Islamic scholars who may have extreme views on homosexuality or women’s equality.
This community-led initiative is being seen as a direct challenge to the UK government’s own counter-terrorism ‘Prevent’ strategy, introduced after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York.
It tackles violent and non-violent extremism alike, from Islamist to neo-Nazi schools of thought.
However, it has been criticised for appearing to focus on Muslim communities and a distrust of the scheme has reportedly developed over the years.
The MCB said “Having Muslims pass through subjective and discriminatory counter-extremism litmus tests as a condition of engagement only reinforces the terrorist narrative. The Prevent strategy exacerbates this problem and it is quite clear that it does not currently have the support of many among Muslim communities across the UK, yet the threat of terrorism is real and severe”.
The MCB’s anti-extremism strategy will include panels of community leaders, former police officers and professionals from mental health and other agencies willing to support the scheme.
The UK government, however, defended its Prevent strategy as a useful means to counter extremism.
“People referred under Prevent are absolutely not considered or treated as criminals. The strategy is about spotting early signs that someone is vulnerable and providing support to make them more resilient to grooming by terrorist recruiters,” a spokesperson said.
According to UK security services’ estimates, as many as 3,000 people in Britain may pose a terrorist threat and that more than 850 have travelled to Islamic State (ISIS) -controlled territory in Syria and Iraq, some of whom may want to return to the UK as ISIS suffers military reverses on the ground.