Home office

The saga of the Home Office’s Working Groups, projects and largesse

PET Working Groups

In August 2005, the Home Office invited members of the Muslim community to participate in a working group ‘Working together to prevent extremism’. A number of task/working groups were set up, chaired either by civil servants or Muslim participants – these groups were: Education, Engaging with Women, Imams and the role of mosques, Regional and local initiatives, Security and policing, Tackling Extremism and Radicalisation. The invitees were drawn from a broad cross-section including academics, community activists and community organisation representatives, and members of Parliament (both MPs and peers)

On 10-11th September 2005 the participants together with select civil servants convened in a conference centre near Windsor. The proceedings were organised around seven working groups. Among participants were Dr Tariq Ramadan, who has recently taken up a post at the University of Oxford, and the veteran Dr Salim Al-Hassani. With one important exception, the senior civil servants present did not seek to constrain the discussion and listened and observed. The underlying question was ‘what makes British Muslims tick?’.

Each group submitted its recommendations and were asked to identify the top two or three. Exercising its independence, at least one group tackled the issue of foreign policy: “The working group… after summer-long consultations in the wake of the July 7 bombings, criticises British foreign policy as being a ‘key contributory factor’ to the terrorist threat. It says plans to ban certain Islamic organisations could send them underground and make them “more problematic in the future”, and queries the need for an offence of “acts preparatory to terrorism” and the power to close down mosques”. The Guardian, 10th November 2005

Two participants – Shaukat Warraich and Ifath Nawaz – collated the notes of the week-end discussions and other submissions, and prepared a draft report that was presented to the Home Secretary Charles Clarke on 22nd September. On 10th November, 2005 the Home Office published the 100 page report – click here for Working Groups Report (pdf). Madeliene Bunting observed at the time “worryingly, the whole project bears the hallmark of New Labour government – something had to be seen to be done, and quickly. So the participants were told to come up with concrete proposals that would have an immediate or short-term impact on extremism and radicalisation, and they had just two meetings to do so. Sometimes they had only a day’s notice for meetings or deadlines for draft documents. Very few had a background in policy, even fewer had a research background”. Bunting also noted the chasm between the participants’ concern with the effects of foreign policy, and the Government’s denial that this was an issue: “Strip away the sweet talk and Paul Goggins, the minister on faith and community cohesion, has given British Muslims a nigh-on-impossible task. He tells me that over the summer, in a series of public meetings across the country, he has managed to establish that it is Muslims’ responsibility to deal with extremism. The government will help, but basically it’s down to Muslims to sort themselves out. One can hear the faux-innocent pleading of ‘It’s nothing to do with us, guv’. If that wasn’t a tall enough order in a country whose foreign policy incenses the Muslim community, Goggins says he’d like Muslims to speak with a more ‘united voice’: the internecine factionalism of minority community politics is confusing. The irony of course is that when Muslims do speak with one voice – on British foreign policy – Goggins and his government colleagues refuse to listen.” The Guardian, 10th November 2005

Updates

MINAB – autonomy or acquiescence?

click here for ‘Theology Board’ updates – 18th July 2008

In the aftermath of the 7th July bombings, the Prime Minister of the day, Tony Blair, declared at his No.10 press conference, “Over the past two weeks there have been intensive meetings and discussions across government to set a comprehensive framework for action in dealing with the terrorist threat in Britain, and today I want to give our preliminary assessment of the measures we need urgently to examine” (5th August 2007).

The first of these proposals relating to mosques and imams concerned powers to close down ‘places of worship’. A second emerged from the ‘Preventing Extremism Together’ Working Groups convened by the Home Office in August-October 2005. One of the working groups, chaired by Lord Nazir Ahmed, had as its theme ‘Imam Training and accreditation and the role of mosques as a resource for the whole community’ – specified by the then Director of Race, Cohesion and Faith at the Home Office, Mr Mark Caroll.

Participants in Lord Ahmed’s group noted the zeal with which Home Office civil servants present in their discussions pressed for a recommendation that was inevitably adopted: for setting up “a new national advisory body/council of mosques and imams. This body would be inclusive and representative of the many traditions practices in the UK, independent and lead by the institutions it serves” (Working Groups report, p.63).

A number of participants present in Lord Ahmed’s group, recognising an opportunity for combining consultancy work with community service, established Faith Associates to assist Lord Ahmed in conducting a consultation exercise on the proposal – now recast as MINAB, the Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board – with mosque imams in February-May 2006. A report prepared by the consultancy noted that Lord Ahmed “felt it incumbent upon himself to take the [PET] recommendations forward” and it also thanked members of the Faith Cohesion team at the Home Office, “in particular Mark Caroll” (Mosques & Imams National Advisory Board – Consultation findings & conclusions’, Faith Associates, July 2006).

On 9th March 2006, Faith Associates issued a press notice on behalf of Lord Ahmed, headed “Lord Ahmed and leaders of the Muslim community embark on a nationwide consultation exercise for national Muslim advisory body”. It noted that “the process of consultation has already started with a questionnaire being sent to mosques, Islamic centres and women and youth organisations…to gather as much information as possible on the role that MINAB could play”. The press notice included a quote from a Home Office Minister, “the Government welcomes the launch [sic] of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Body (MINAB). It demonstrates real progress by the Muslim commnity towards delivering one of the key recommendations of the Preventing Extremism Together Working Groups report published in November 2005″.

Two controversies emerged: firstly, a key Government ally for the PET initiative, Khurshid Ahmed of the British Muslim Forum, distanced himself from Lord Nazir’s questionnaire. The Muslim News (10th March 2006) reported that “reservations about the way the initiative has been handled were raised by the Khurshid Ahmed of the British Muslim Forum. [Khurshid] Ahmed boycotted the meeting as he expressed concern about lack of consultation in drafting the questionnaire that was sent to 1,100 mosques by Lord Ahmed. No Muslim organisation, even those who were part of the task force, was consulted about the questionnaire”. Secondly, the use of the word ‘launch’ in the press release was contested by the MCB.

The press release was received with bemusement by most imams, particularly after the MCB indicated that there had not been sufficient consultation on the whole exercise. Oddly, Lord Nazir himself attempted to distance himself from the Questionnaire, observing that he himself had not seen it and that it had been prepared by Faith Associates. However it strains credulity to believe that a consultancy would have sent out a questionnaire without first clearing it with the client. Notwithstanding Khurshid Ahmed’s reservations, the BMF’s affiliates attended the meetings of imams and ulama organised under the leadership of Lord Nazir.

The MCB too conducted a grass-roots survey of services delivered by mosques and on imams’ training and expectations. The findings were presented and discussed at a meeting of imams and ulama it convened in Manchester in May 2006. These indicated awareness for improvement in mosques, while also recognising the important services provided. The MCB’s Secretary General at the time, Iqbal Sacranie, sought approval for a policy based on continued engagement with the MINAB scheme so long as it was community, rather than Government, led.

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Empowerment not control“… A range of opinions were expressed about the government’s proposed Mosque and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB). Some felt that the MINAB initiative was too closely associated with the government and hence would be rejected by the Muslim community. Another view expressed strongly by some younger imams was that the MCB Mosque and Community Affairs Committee should take the lead in this area. Others expressed the view in favour of MCB and its affiliates continuing their engagement with MINAB as long as its independence was made clear and ensured. The MCB Secretary General, Iqbal Sacranie alerted the scholars and imams present of attempts to divide the community and sideline its main representative body. He noted, ‘We assure the Muslim community that the MCB will continue to engage with all other Muslim organisations to preserve the total independence of Islamic institutions. While there was much scope for improvement and development in our mosques, there were excellent local examples of good practice that can be emulated more widely. This will lead to an improvement of standards and also increase awareness of the positive role of mosques in society’. The consensus that emerged from the meeting was that a steering group led by community organisations which would include the MCB as well as others, must work together to establish an independent inclusive advisory board to deal with specific issues related to mosques and imams in the UK..”
MCB Press release, 15th May 2006

Ignoring these types of community sentiments, the newly founded Department for Communities & Local Government pressed ahead with its own vision of a ‘launch’. Thus on 27 June 2006, Lord Ahmed chaired a meeting to mark the publication of a ‘Mosques Good Practice Guide’ – published by ‘MINAB’ with the help of Dr Tahir Abbas at the University of Birmingham.

The groundswell from ulama was soon to make Lord Nazir’s position untenable and he withdrew from a lead role in MINAB. The so-called ‘Good Practice Guide’ was also largely unused.

The Home Office then called on the MCB, BMF, Al-Khoie Foundation and the Muslim Association of Britain to constitute a steering committee. There was considerable pressure on individual bodies and individuals to rush through with the work – HMG’s desire to be seen to be doing something ‘to stop mosques becoming centres of extremism’. So a Home Office minister stood up in Parliament in December 2006 to state, “the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) has been established as an independent national body. It launched on 27 June 2006 following a national consultation with Muslim communities led by Lord Ahmed….The members of the steering group have met informally on a number of occasions since the creation of MINAB. The steering group are currently developing proposals on the five main areas that MINAB will focus on, these are as follows: the accreditation of Imams; the development of leadership skills for imams and mosque officials; progress in the inclusion of young people and women; improvement in the governance of mosques; supporting mosques to contribute to community cohesion and to combating extremism (this will include considering the idea of establishing beacon centres).”

HMG’s insistence that MINAB had been ‘launched’ even though the body had yet to agree on its governing instruments was bizarre. Representing different constituencies and schools of thought, the steering committee was able to resist inducements and pressures for a premature launch and worked together in a constructive manner – perhaps to the surprise of the powers that be – and prepare a draft MINAB constitution and draft standards.

To her credit, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears MP, has acknowledged the work done noting in her speech at the ‘Preventing Extremism Together Conference’ held in London on 31st October 2007 – where her officials had hoped to ‘launch’ MINAB yet again – that “…The third area where we need to accelerate what we’re doing is empowering the community to show a lead everywhere. The commitment of Muslim communities to this work is absolutely vital and I welcome the whole range of ways that you have already shown this – from getting involved in pathfinder projects, to talking constructively to government, to taking steps to strengthen institutions like mosques. Take for example the publication last week of the draft constitution of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board. I’m pleased to see real practical progress on this body that could do so much for communities to bring the same high standards we see in some places brought to every area…”.

The draft MINAB governing instruments presented at a public meeting of imams and ulama on 29th November 2007 at the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre envisage a body that will be independent and advisory, staying clear of contentious issues such as imams accreditation as originally envisaged by HMG, or the neo-con agenda of bringing about new religious leadership for a ‘reformation of Islam’.

What has been at stake is a faith community’s right to preserve the autonomy of its religious institutions and practice.

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Extracts from the MINAB Draft ConstitutionARTICLE 1INTENTAs founding members of the MINAB we hereby adopt this Constitution and we pledge to abide by its provisions intending the MINAB to be: a) An independent body b) Non Sectarian in its outlook c) Representing the diversity of Islam d) Broad based with an accountable system of representationARTICLE 2AIMS & OBJECTIVESThe MINAB is an advisory body which will facilitate good practice in the governance of Mosques and improvement in the performance of Imams. Its advisory function will be discharged through provision of guidance. Its facilitatory function will be discharged through consensus on Standards and Good Practice. OBJECTIVESa) Assist in building capacity of Mosques to function as community hubs. b) Assist Mosques in matters of governance. c) Advise on improved access and involvement of women and youth to Mosques. d) Spread best practice through the development of standards. e) Advise relevant bodies on training requirements/needs for Imams. f) Advice on the skills and competencies for appointment of Imams. g) Advise members on legal compliance. h) Provide information to members on access to resources and/ or make better use of resources for achievement of standards. i) Facilitate harmonisation of standards in relation to religious education in Mosques and Madresahs. j) Encourage mosques to become centres of community cohesion, citizenship and dialogue. k) Advise on the suitability of Imams and scholars coming to the UK from abroad. l) Co-operate and engage with other regulatory and non regulatory bodies in the UK and abroad to enable MINAB to achieve its aims and objectives.ARTICLE 3

MEMBERSHIP

a) A Mosque or Islamic Centre which functions as place of worship for persons who believe in no God but Allah and Muhammad (PBUH) as His last Prophet and to whom the Qur’an the true Word of Allah was revealed, is eligible for membership of the MINAB provided it is located in the United Kingdom and it subscribes to the Aims & Objectives and adheres to the provisions set out in the Constitution, or b) An institution or establishment which is engaged or involved in the training – vocational or academic – of persons aspiring to become Imam or Islamic Teacher shall also be eligible for membership of the MINAB provided it is located in the United Kingdom and it subscribes to the Aims & Objectives and adheres to the principles set out in the Constitution, and c) Pays such fees as is set by the Executive Board.

Click here for full text

The notion of a genuinely grass-roots MINAB is already a cause for concern in some neo-Con circles. For example the Policy Exchange document ‘The hijacking of British Islam’ published in October 2007 sounded an ominous note: “Though the instincts behind its creation were laubable, MINAB has, to date, failed to live up to expectations; in the year of its existence there has been insufficient evidence of a determination to take on all forms of extremist ideology and drive these doctrines out of the mosque. It must now be considered whether a fresh approach is required – and whether the Government should involve itself more vigorously in the process of regulating the UK’s mosques” (p.172).

 

The neo-Cons would like to see an acqueiscent Muslim community; Muslims in Britain seek to preserve their religious dignity and autonomy. MINAB will be the arena where these two agendas are contested.

Government seeks to sideline MINAB? The proposed ‘Theological Board’In June 2008, the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith launched the Government’s ‘delivery plan’ for ‘Preventing Violent Extremism’. Amongst the “key activities” to “support mainstream voices” were the following:
  • “Supporting the Radical Middle Way project and similar initiatives to bring together authoritative voices to speak to communities in the UK and around the world”
  • “Supporting the establishment of a board of leading Muslim scholars to help articulate an understanding of Islam in Britain.”

 

While the Radical Middle Way has been subject to some scrutiny, the genesis and rationale of the second idea, of a “board’ of scholars or imams” are less well-known. The Muslim community had assumed that given the MINAB initiative – where mosques and imams themselves are addressing issues of service delivery and communication – the tradition of religious communities managing their own religious affairs would be preserved.

Further revelations on the Government’s bizarre scheme were made by the Sunday Times on 14th July 2008:

“The government is to sponsor a theological board of leading imams and Muslim women in an attempt to refute the ideology of violent extremists. The committee, to be announced this week, will issue pronouncements on areas such as wearing the hijab and the treatment of wives and is part of a government strategy to counter radicalism. It will rule on interpretation of the Koran and promote the moderate strain of Islam practised by most British Muslims. It will also comment on controversial issues affecting Muslims living in Britain, including whether or not they should serve in the armed forces. Its members have been recommended by leading moderates in the Muslim community and will be technically independent, although the government is expected to provide civil service support, a secretariat and members’ expenses. Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, will announce the committee as part of an anti-extremism strategy called Prevent, devised following the 2005 London bombings. It tries to foster close contacts between Muslims and the rest of society to combat the glorification of terrorism.” Marie Woolf, 13th July 2008

The Muslim Council of Britain’s community survey conducted in 2007 established that among the top priorities at the grass-roots level was “ensuring mosque, madrassa and dar ul-uloom independence”. The idea of a board of approved imams will thus serve only to increase scepticism and distrust. The signal from Government is that as far as Muslims are concerned, the agenda is one of control and patronage, not empowerment and independence.

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18th July 2008
“The British government is to fund a board of Islamic theologians in an attempt to sideline violent extremists. The move will see Oxford and Cambridge Universities host a group of scholars who will lead debate on key issues such as women and loyalty to the UK…Under the plans, the two universities will bring together about 20 leading thinkers, yet to be named, to debate critical issues affecting Muslims in the UK. The Department for Communities is responsible for the government’s strategy to combat violent extremism, known as ‘Prevent’… The board’s work will focus on examining issues relating to Islam’s place in Britain and obligations as a citizen. Ministers say the board’s membership will ‘reflect the diversity of Islam and Muslim communities in the UK’ and the work will include seminars around the country.” BBC report, 18th July 2008First responses from the community organisations was to await further details and enquire whether this type of oversight also applies to other faith communities in the land.The Muslim Council of Britain placed on record its “deep reservations”, adding “Initiatives aimed at improving community cohesion are laudable, but coming as it does as a top-down initiative from sections of government who have been seeking to marginalise large segments of the British Muslim community means that the latest project will almost certainly lack the credibility required for it to succeed. We are told that such an initiative comes after a request from the Muslim community; scepticism for such an idea will resonate not only amongst Muslims, but wider British society”. Dr Bari, MCB Secretary General, noted that “In a country where the State is largely neutral on theological matters, and where no other similar arrangement exists for other minority faiths, such an initiative will inevitably be met with scepticism and mistrust. For too long now, British Muslims have been viewed by this government through the narrow prism of security. British Muslims – like all citizens – have every right to peacefully disagree with government policies if they wish and they do not need to be ‘re-programmed’ by a government-approved list of theologians…”Click here for full text, MCB Press release, 18th July 2008The community newspaper ‘The Muslim News’ also reacted with coolness: “If the British government is attempting to interfere in the Muslim community on matters of Islam by funding a board of theologians, it is being wrong-headed as such a panel would have no credibility… Other governments have tried to impose their views to control Islam and have failed. It has been counter-productive and divisive… It will be perceived that the whole strategy of the UK Government on tackling extremism is to target not just extremists but Islam itself… Speaking from the inter-faith conference in Madrid, he [Editor Ahmed Versi] said that there was unanimous agreement among Jewish, Christian and Muslim delegates that religion does not breed extremism but there are a variety of complex issues that is the problem.”It has also not gone unnoticed that the Government announcement follows a day after Communities & Local Government Minister Hazel Blears was a guest speaker at Policy Exchange. Effectively the Minister asks for a silencing of Muslim opinion when it seeks even-handedness in Palestine, criticizes the misadventures of Iraq and Afghanistan or other aspects of our foreign policy:”When my predecessor Ruth Kelly became Secretary of State, she made it clear that the Government would not do business with any groups who weren’t serious about standing up to violence and upholding shared values, and that has been our approach ever since.Take the Islam Expo at the weekend. I was clear that because of the views of some of the organisers, and because of the nature of some of the exhibitors, this was an event that no Minister should attend. Organisers like Anas Altikriti, who believes in boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day. Or speakers like Azzam Tamimi, who has sought to justify suicide bombing. Or exhibitors like the Government of Iran.Not because the vast majority of Muslims at the event were not decent citizens; they were. But because the organisers were trying to influence the audience in certain directions. And by refusing to legitimise the event for these specific reasons, we would hope to isolate and expose the extremists and ensure they were not part of the event next year. Our policy is designed to change behaviour.”A Labour Minister speaking from a right-wing platform is a measure of the policy disarray in the Brown Cabinet – how many of her colleagues subscribe to her diagonosis of the problems and the prescriptions?

 

Road Shows
The Radical Middle Way project was brought to public attention in the New Statesman in July 2006, which at the time judged that “it is too early to judge the success of the scholars roadshow, which began touring Britain in December with events in London, Leeds and Manchester (under the apparently unironic, new Labour-ish banner ‘The Radical Middle Way’). Although the events are branded with the logos of the three ‘grass-roots’ organisations that form Mahabba Unlimited, it is an open secret that the tour is funded by the Foreign Office.”

Shane Brighton noted, “The Radical Middle Way grew from the findings of the PET working group as a means to ‘empower voices of mainstream Islam’…..the reality of ‘Preventing Extremism together’ centres upon integration not simply as an acceptance of the legitimacy of certain British social norms, but also of those upon which current foreign policy is founded and seeks to introduce.” (International Affairs, 2007)

Answering a question in the Commons in November 2007, Minister Kim Howells also indicated that “according to the organisers, the cost for the Radical Middle Way website for 2007-08 is £26,400. The total cost for website development from the Radical Middle Way’s launch in February 2006 to its completion in March 2007 was £35,000″. Further funding to this venture has come from thhe Preventing Violent Extremism Pathfinder Fund 2007/2008: allocations for Radical Middle Way shows in Wycombe (a collaboration of the local district council, and the central goverment departments Communities & Local Government and the FCO) and the London Borouth of Southwark.

The continuing role of the Radical Middle Way roadshows has been affirmed in the Government’s ‘delivery plan’ for ‘Preventing Violent Extremism’:”Supporting the Radical Middle Way project and similar initiatives to bring together authoritative voices to speak to communities in the UK and around the world”. (June 2008)

A separate series of roadshows with the theme ‘Roles and Responsibilities of Muslims in Britain’ was launched by a broad-based independent consortium of bodies drawing on community-based scholars and activists – 6 cities were targeted in May-June 2006. Click here for details

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PVE – Preventing Violent Extremism Programme

PVE Watch

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PVE Time line

On 5th April 2007, Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government announced a “new action plan to step-up work with Muslim communities to isolate, prevent and defeat violent extremism”, in a document entitled ‘Preventing violent extremism – Winning hearts and minds’.

A Home Office fund for community cohesion, in place since the Northern cities disturbances of Summer 2001, was transformed into a PVE ‘Pathfinder fund’. Confusingly, the Communities & Local Government website states that a Preventing Violent Extremism Pathfinder Fund was launched in October 2006 – six months prior to Ruth Kelly’s announcement – “to support priority local authorities in developing programmes of activity to tackle violent extremism at the local level”. A signal of the on-going turf war between two departments.

In February 2007, CLG announced “The Government is making available £5m in 2007-8 to support priority local authorities in their work to tackle violent extremism in their communities. This guidance explains the objectives of the fund and how it will be rolled out. It also offers practical guidance on working with communities to develop community-based and community-led initiatives to tackle radicalisation.”

Details of some of the funded projects were placed in the public domain in April 2007, which included: Tottenham Hotspur Youth Forum; Barking & Dagenham Islamic Awareness; Black Country Imams; Kirklees Webspace & Radio activity; Birmingham City Council’s projects to “support the development of a series of community-led study circles to help young people to deliver a better understanding of Islam” and also to support Young Muslim Leadership Programmes “to hold workshops on issues such as civic engagement and how to respond to signs of radicalisation amongst young people”; Calderdale Authority to work with the local education authority on “developing citizenship education resources”; outreach work with the Hounslow Asian and African Youth Group; support for the Southwark Parents Forum. CLG also listed over a hundred local authority districts deemed to be priority areas – broadly reflecting the geographical distribution of the Muslim population.

In June 2008, the Home Office (again, confusingly, not the CLG!) announced the availability of new funding to “local authorities, schools, community groups and police tackle violent extremism. The funds will be targeted at institutions working to counter terrorism, and at those most vulnerable to radicalisation. Part of the government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy, the funds are designed to prevent the spread of extremism. New guidelines released with the funding offer advice on how agencies and organisations can work to prevent the spread of radicalisation, support mainstream voices and help communities resist violent extremists.” The document ‘Preventing Violent Extremism – A strategy for Delivery’ noted “over the last year we have funded over 200 projects in 70 local authority areas as part of the Preventing Violent Extremism Pathfinder Fund. We have doubled this investment for 2008-09…”. The report also provides some specific project details, for example “supporting the Radical Middle Way project and similar initiatives to bring together authoritative voices to speak in the UK and around the world”.

Paul Goodman MP, Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, raised some pertinent concerns in the Commons in June 2008: “Some non-Muslims, and in my experience particularly some black church groups, say for that reason that the scheme is unfair. At the same time, some Muslims, particularly many young Muslims, say that the branding of the scheme is offensive. Why, they argue, are they uniquely singled out? Furthermore, there is no evidence as yet that the programme as a whole is preventing violent extremism, despite the admirable schemes to which I referred in my introductory remarks. In our view, Ministers should allow local councils more discretion in the use of the fund for other community cohesion purposes. Since the targeting of taxpayers’ money at one religious group is always problematic, should not Ministers be looking more closely at utilising the energy, flair and dynamism of the private, independent and voluntary sectors?”

Vernon Coaker MP, responding for the Government noted, “I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need to support communities. The Government have, as he knows, committed £45 million over next three years through the Preventing Violent Extremism programme, the money being given through the DCLG. However, let us be clear that this is difficult territory. If we are to win the battle for hearts and minds, there will have to be robust debate and engagement. Of course, we have to ensure that we do not inadvertently support or fund the wrong people, individuals or groups.”

With these level of monies sloshing around in the system, there have been no shortage of opportunistic takers and the emergence of companies and registered charities with remarkable expertise in spotting and curing radicals! The critiques of PVE funding have been mounting, in terms of the use being made of tax payers money, methodology and fears of social engineering. A particular bone of contention has been the Government’s use of a quantitative measure of ‘resilience’ to so-called violent extremism – termed IN35! Some local authorities have resented to this reporting requirement, because it makes them an arm of the police or of the security services (e.g. refuse collection workers checking bins for incriminating material). One local authority – High Wycombe – Paul Goodman’s consitutency – which has been allocated more than £400,000 to run anti-terrorism projects is having to confront concerns of local Muslims: Zahid Jawed, for the Wycombe Islamic Society, warned of a plan to target five-year-olds as part of the anti-extremism drive!

Another devastating critique has come from Councillor Salma Yaqoob in Birmingham. The Birmingham City Council was awarded £500,000 as part of PVE Pathfinder, and has now been given an additional £2.4 million for the next three years! At a Council meeting she raised the issue of “many projects have taken place in wards without the consultation and participation of ward members and without accountability to the local communities through the ward structures…How will the existing structures which bring transparency and accountability … be utilised in any planning for this programme?”. As a response, one City official threatened that he would “report her”!

She objected to an event being organised by one ‘Waterhouse’ management consultancy that planned to invite ‘The Islamist’ author Ed Hussain, observing “He is somebody who doesn’t want dialogue, he wants to close down dialogue”. British politics needs more courageous whistle-blowers like this councillor – who does not fear being ‘reported’.

Local government heavyweight – leader of Bradford Council and leader of the Conservative Group Kris Hopkins- too raised his disquiet with the PVE campaign when responding to questions from Channel 4 reporter Darsha Soni (10th September 2008).

DS lead in: Bradford in West Yorkshire, identified as Number 2 in the Security ‘Heat Map’ – Councillors here were worried that the Government’s approach risked alienating Muslim communities…

KH: What they said was that if we were willing to go out and monitor the Muslim community and use the resources of the local council to do that they would release an amount of money to us. The local council should be there to promote education, caring for elderly people, making sure they are in a safe place and not become a wing of the security services.

DS voice over: All 70 Authorities were told that they would have to sign up to targets – performance indicators called NI35 – that would assess and measure how well they were tackling extremism. But we understand that two-thirds of the Councils refused to sign.

DS: What was the response when you said to Government you were not prepared to sign up to NI35?

KH: We have had an enormous amount of pressure, both officers and politicians. A whole procession of people have come to Bradford to tell us that we are wrong and I think to try to suggest tht we are soft on terroism, which is completely wrong.

Links

DCLG Report, ‘Preventing violent extremism – Winning hearts and minds’
DCLG, October 2006 fund launch detail
Home Office Community Cohesion Pathfinder programme, 2003
CLG, Feb 2007 fund details
CLG, April 2007 case studies
June 2008 new funding announcement
‘Preventing Violent Extremism – A strategy for Delivery’
Paul Goodman MP’s contribution to counter-terrorism debate, June 2008
Wycombe Muslims’ fears
Salma Yaqoob’s disquiet

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“the Prevent programme has been used to establish one of the most elaborate systems of surveillance ever seen in Britain.”

“…there are strong reasons for thinking that the Prevent progamme, in effect, constructs the Muslim population as a ‘suspect community’, fosters social divisions among Muslims themselves and between Muslims and others, encourages tokenism, facilitates violations of privacy and professional norms of confidentiality, discourages local democracy and is counter-productive in reducing the risk of political violence.

The result of a six-month research project funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, the report draws on existing policy and academic work, freedom of information requests, a roundtable discussion and thirty-two interviews with Prevent programme workers and managers in local authorities, members of local Prevent boards, voluntary sector workers engaged in Prevent work and community workers familiar with local Prevent work.

The government describes its Preventing Violent Extremism programme (known simply as ‘Prevent’) as ‘a community-led approach to tackling violent extremism’. It believes that by selectively directing resources at ‘moderate’ Muslim organisations to carry out community development and ‘anti-radicalisation’ work, it can empower them to unite around ‘shared British values’ to isolate the ‘extremists’. With hundreds of millions of pounds of funding, the Prevent programme has come to redefine the relationship between government and around two million British citizens who are Muslim.

The report’s key findings are that:

  • Prevent-funded voluntary sector organisations and workers in local authorities are becoming increasingly wary of the expectations on them to provide the police with information on young Muslims and their religious and political opinions.
  • The atmosphere promoted by Prevent is one in which to make radical criticisms of the government is to risk losing funding and facing isolation as an ‘extremist’, while those organisations which support the government are rewarded.
  • Local authorities have been pressured to accept Prevent funding in direct proportion to the numbers of Muslims in their area – in effect, constructing the Muslim population as a ‘suspect community’.
  • Prevent decision-making lacks transparency and local accountability.
  • Prevent has undermined progressive elements within the earlier community cohesion agenda and absorbed from it those parts which are most problematic.
  • The current emphasis of Prevent on depoliticising young people and restricting radical dissent is actually counter-productive because it strengthens the hands of those who say democracy is pointless.Author of the report, Arun Kundnani, says that: ‘The stated aim of the government’s counter-terrorist strategy is to enable people to “go about their lives freely and with confidence”. The question we pose in this report is whether freedom and confidence for the majority can be enabled by imposing a lack of freedom and confidence on a minority – in this case, the Muslim population of Britain.’ Click here for IPR report – ‘Spooked, how not to prevent extremism’

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“The Prevent strategy has had real successes…but….” – Denham vs Sir Humphreys!

In August 2009 the newly appointed Secretary of State responsible for CLG (Communities & Local Government), John Denham, co-signed a letter with Home Secretary Alan Johnson which opened possibilities of dialogue in sensitive policy areas. It was a welcome change from their predecessors’ inclination of engagement by diktat.

The Government’s Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) programme has sown mistrust by ramming down an anti-terrorism agenda into every aspect of community work, from hospital chaplaincy to the teaching of children with learning disabilities. It now needs to be swept away if this trust is to be rebuilt. The criticisms from civil society can no longer be ignored, but it is probably easier to change direction of a cargo-laden tanker than expect a redirection within a government department! Clearly the ‘Yes, Minister’ types are pointing out to Mr Denham that ‘it might be best to avoid giving the impression that a redirection of overall Prevent policy is needed’. Thus the Johnson/Denham letter contains classic examples of Sir Humphreys Whitehall-speak cloaking the policy problems:

  • Our Prevent work is vital, but the Government is very much aware that we do not want terrorism to define, or be perceived as defining, the relationship between Government and Muslim communities. We need constantly to reflect and make clear in our public statements that the vast majority in our Muslim communities are against violent extremism. We otherwise create difficulties for ourselves in our work with local communities and community organisations
  • … it is clear that the label ‘Preventing Violent Extremism’ attached to the local Prevent funding stream has on occasion been a barrier to promoting good, community-based work
  • Although the most significant terrorist threat comes from al-Qaida groups or AQ inspired ideology, there is a perception that government is only interested in violent extremism of one kind. This is not true. Government is working to address all forms of extremism, including violent far right groups

PREVENT will not survive with mere re-labelling; the whole premise of conflating anti-terrorism and community development needs to be jettisoned.

An important and constructive point made in the letter is about ‘shared values’ – “We also want to promote cohesion and shared values more clearly and strongly right across society. We want to see a wider public debate about the values that communities share and the role values – including the value of understanding and respecting difference – can play in creating the safe, fair and empowered communities in which we all want to live.” The recognition that shared values need to emerge through dialogue – and not by top-down diktat – offers a basis for improved community relations under John Denham’s watch. If “respecting difference” is code-speak for bringing ‘multiculturalism’ back on track as progressive Labour policy – then even more excellent news! Sir Humphreys, know your place. Click here for text of letter

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The TaxPayers’ Alliance’s (TPA) findings on Prevent

“Aimed at stopping people from becoming terrorists, the Government has given Local Authorities money to fund projects administered by community groups, as well as giving out grants themselves directly. However, there have been ongoing concerns about the groups receiving funding and it has not been clear how taxpayers’ money has been spent…

  • Over £12 million has so far been given out by local authorities to fund community groups through Prevent projects.
  • There has been insufficient monitoring of how Prevent money is spent, with the Government unsure of what groups Councils have disbursed money to.
  • This paper managed to get more detailed information on local authorities’ Preventing Violent Extremism grants than that obtained by Paul Goodman MP through parliamentary questions.
  • The TPA has been able to ascertain how much each organisation received, rather than the total amount each local authority received – an itemised account of PVE expenditure. “

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Parliamentary question on Radical Middle Way funding – Minister Shahid Malik responds, July 2009

“From October 2007 to June 2008 the RMW held a total of 34 road show events and a number of other formal and informal meetings with domestic and international scholars and speakers in the following locations:
London; Luton; Leicester; Birmingham; Liverpool; Bradford; Peterborough; Milton Keynes; Woking; and Manchester.

CLG and FCO provided funding of £250,000 to the project in 2007-08 to support the programme of events including support for the RMW website (£12,000) and external evaluation.

From June 2008 to May 2009 the RMW held a total of 48 road show events and a number of formal and informal meetings with domestic and international scholars and speakers in the following locations:
Blackburn; Bradford; Cambridge; London; Birmingham; Peterborough; Hounslow; High Wycombe; Leicester; Manchester; Milton Keynes; Slough; Derby; Bristol; Rochdale.

CLG has provided funding of £350,000 to the project to support the programme of events. This also included support for the RMW website and an external evaluation.

RMW held their first international road show to Sudan in April 2009, reaching an estimated 25,000 people through six large public events. The FCO provided £70,000 to support this road show and the RMW are planning further pilot road shows in Sudan, Indonesia and Pakistan by end October. The pilot phase of the international project will be evaluated by an independent company.

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JUST West Yorkshire’s response to Inquiry on Prevent

“JUST has long been campaigning against the government’s Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) agenda which is part of The UK’s ‘CONTEST 2′ strategy for Combating International Terrorism.

JUST’s objections to the Prevent programme are based on the following grounds:

  • It has led to the disproportionate criminalisation of BME and particularly Muslim communities
  • It locates the burden for fighting terrorism on the Muslim community despite the fact that the majority are peace-loving citizens of the UK.
  • The current usage of the terminology of violent extremism is discriminatory as it ignores the very real threats from far-right and other forms of extremism.
  • It has drawn statutory bodies into the ‘securitisation’ agenda thereby dismantling the traditional relationships of trust and confidence between public bodies and service users.
  • It has led to the abandonment of funding for traditional community development, capacity building and empowerment work with BME communities, replacing it instead with community cohesion, anti-extremism and anti-terrorism approaches which have put Muslim communities under the intense spotlight of the far right and the press and media.
  • It reinforces negative stereotypes and associations of Islam with terrorism and views the British Muslim community through the single issue of terrorism….”

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Report of the Reading Muslim PVE Crisis Group

“… it would appear that out of 20 Mosques and Muslim organisations there is now only one Muslim organisation that is ‘on board’ with the PVE agenda- June 2009

“Contrary to media reports regarding the state of PVE in Reading, it would appear that out of 20 Mosques and Muslim organisations there is now only one Muslim organisation that is ‘on board’ with the PVE agenda. However there is no evidence that this organisation has consulted the community it claims to represent before it joined the PVE steering group.

At a recent meeting in the Town Hall it was confirmed that the Local Authority in Reading are not distancing themselves from the national PVE agenda, this despite the huge concerns that have been caused by the Governments revised CONTEST2 strategy within which PVE sits.

The Reading Muslim PVE Crisis Group was a short term initiative aimed to communicate the change in position of the Muslim community in Reading from the initial RFAE pathfinder work in 2007. It was felt that the discussions in numerous community meetings and community workshops concluded that the overwhelming majority of the 7 PVE objectives were ‘unworkable’. Consultations with the Local Authority were being ignored and the PVE agenda was spiralling dangerously out of control.”

Salaam comment: The new Minister responsible for Communities & Local Government CLG, John Denham MP, would do well to take on board such comments and abandon the ill-conceived and ill-advised policies of his predecessors that have conflated community development and regeneration with the security agenda, and moreover, deliberately sought out to fragment Muslim civil society (e.g. See the Redbridge report below).

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A report prepared by Redbridge Faith Forum for Redbridge Safer Communities Partnership, based on interviews conducted in February – March 2009 notes:

  • PVE is widely seen as a problem of the Muslim community, not least in the government’s own policy documents and it was hoped that RFF might be able to offer a sympathetic but not uncritical accompaniment with the Muslim community around this Project from which useful lessons could be learnt
  • The Gaza War also meant that a situation, which was thought to be ‘in hand’ prior to the war, suddenly became inflamed. Experienced Muslim PVE workers reported difficulty in keeping down the sheer frustration being experienced by the Muslim community.
  • “We don’t like the involvement of outside bodies. We want to drive our own agenda. Through PVE, there is a danger that we get seen to be funded to do other’s ‘dirty work’. (Dirty = becoming an agent informer?) The Muslim community can be seen to be agents for the police . We need to be very careful about the way we are perceived”.
  • “Are needs being addressed by PVE? Not 100% to be honest. Some aspects of PVE are seen as ‘cosmetic’, others as ‘political’. There is a feeling of discrimination penetrating PVE, in the way the funds are being dispersed. Organisations close to the government get the benefit [of funding]- These are the high fliers with their glossy reports; the grass roots don’t benefit”
  • “There is about 50% trust in the PVE project. But there is a lack of trust in the police presence, because it is very sensitive giving this personal information. I think it is too personal what they are asking – ‘Requests for data bases with contacts’ –all their names, addresses and telephone numbers. People are not willing to give it…The general feeling of the Muslim community is that PVE is treated with suspicion. The vast majority of people denounced 7/7 but there is real scepticism about the intelligence led nature of PVE. Also PVE gives Muslims a negative viewpoint….. “Other faith communities will say ‘They get money because they are trouble-makers…. As Muslims, we want money for our communities to come through the mainstream, not through PVE. I am a voluntary sector type person. We do things through the mainstream, without the negative connotations…”
  • “About PVE, some Muslims are uncritically for the government; others are more distant from the mainstream. But there is big scepticism towards the Quilliam Foundation, with its staff on £80,000 salaries.”
  • The above negative view towards the Quilliam Foundation was held almost universally by all participants and corroborated by attending meetings including Understanding Redbridge Communities (URC) meeting….Criticism of the Quilliam Foundation was felt quite unanimously in the interviews held as shown above.
  • “Representative grass roots organisations should be at the forefront of all this (consultative work with the government).

The MCB (Muslim Council of Britain) were isolated by the government and the Sufi Council was promoted in their place. But people don’t accept the Sufi Council. The MCB should be representing Muslims nationally. We accept MCB at our Mosque. MCB say Holocaust Day should be for everybody and renamed the International Genocide Day and was disliked for saying this. The MCB does not go against the grain of the community. We work to consensus”

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Parliamentary Question on PVE funding Baroness Andrews responds – April 2009

The list of all projects that received funding through the Preventing Violent Extremism Community Leadership Fund (CLF) in 2007-08 has been placed in the House Library. Funding allocations for each project in 07-08 have been provided in the answer to a previous Parliamentary Question (DCLG Ref: 1446 08/09).

The full list of projects receiving CLF funding between 2008-09 and 2010-11 is set out below. This includes all projects that were awarded funding in 2008. Funding will also be subject to organisations providing sufficient evidence that projects are making satisfactory progress and organisations are complying with grant terms and conditions. [click link for funding details of British Muslim Forum, Mosaic Muslim Media Network, GW Theatre Company, Khayaal Theatre Company, Muslim Youth Helpline, Association of Muslim Chaplains in Education (AMCED), Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB), Ashram Housing Limited, Dervish Arts, Faith Matters, Henna Foundation, Islamic Society of Britain, Muslim Women’s Network UK, Sufi Muslim Council, The Somali Messenger, Ulfah Arts]

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‘Government gives £1m to anti-extremist think-tank Quilliam Foundation’ by Richard Kerbaj, 20th January 2009:

“Almost £1 million of public money is being given to a think-tank run by two former Islamic extremists, despite reservations being expressed by members of the Government and the Opposition. The funding is for the Quilliam Foundation — a counter-extremism think-tank set up nine months ago by Ed Husain, a bestselling author, and Maajid Nawaz, a former political prisoner in Egypt — as part of the Government’s strategy to combat the radicalisation of British Muslims. The scale of the funding has aroused concerns that the Government is relying too heavily on a relatively unknown organisation in its desperation to counter extremism. The Times understands that the foundation, which has 18 full-time staff, is paying about £110,000 a year to rent offices at one of Central London’s most prestigious addresses, which, for security reasons, have no name plate or sign outside. Inside, the offices are expensively furnished with state-of-the-art computers and plasma screen televisions. ”

Quilliam Foundation own up to Government funding “In reality, we have received £514,000 for this and …. ” 12 January 2009

‘Government gives £1m to anti-extremist think-tank Quilliam Foundation’ by Richard Kerbaj, 20th January 2009: “For months, our detractors have accused us of receiving tens of millions of taxpayers’ money. In reality, we have received £514,000 for this and last year from the Home Office; and £139,000 from the Foreign Office for the work we do in countering extremism in Muslim-majority countries. Much of this is used to support 18 full-time staff across three continents to tackle radicalisation. To put this firmly in perspective, central government has allocated a total £79.3m so far for the Prevent agenda. ”

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Home Secretary’s speech, 10th December 2008: I am delighted to announce we have just granted a further £5.8 million to Prevent

“…There are extremists out there who suggest that these [Mumbai] attacks can somehow be justified by some twisted interpretation of Islam. They cannot. Indeed, many of the victims of these attacks were themselves Muslim…..

The Police have recognised that the community needs to be at the heart of their strategy in tackling this threat. They have prioritised a partnership approach that includes working closely with schools, colleges, universities, and across communities.

This marks real progress and to support these activities even further, we are funding more than 300 new Prevent police posts over three years.

£16 million will be spent this year creating new posts across 24 priority forces, as well as funding several other initiatives such as the Channel programme, which is currently up and running in 6 forces.

I’ll just say a little bit about Channel since it is an excellent example of partnership in practice. This scheme identifies individuals that may be vulnerable to getting swept up in violent extremism and refers them toward multi-agency support.

Since it started in April 2007, the two pilot sites in London and the North West have received over 100 referrals. We are going to expand this further and the aim is that by the end of the financial year, we will bring the total number of sites up to approximately 25 operating across 12 police forces.

Prevent is still a relatively new strategic programme and I think the successes we’ve seen to date show that it is effective. But as always, there is more to do.

I am determined to make sure that we continue to support your efforts and, to that end, I am delighted to announce we have just granted a further £5.8 million to Prevent. This funding comes in addition to the £12.5 million we announced in June this year and the extra money will be used at local level to fund a wide range of projects to disrupt radicalisers, strengthen institutions and support vulnerable individuals.

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Future projects

One project we have in mind is a scheme to develop a Pan-London Somali Youth forum that will operate across 16 boroughs and work with Somali youths who may be vulnerable to radicalisation.

Another programme we’ve identified involves boosting the Prevent capacity and capability in universities.

We are not stopping there though. A further £5 million will be made available this financial year for local authorities, government offices and the police in support of our work in schools and colleges. Focusing on younger age groups is important and these funds will help local schools and colleges put into practice the advice in the DCSF toolkit that Ed Balls published in October.”

Kris Hopkins on Channel 4, 10th September 2008

Birmingham City Council manager – more royalist than the king?

“In his eagerness to defend 10 council projects to prevent terrorism, including spending £63,000 on lessons in ‘spiritual well-being’ for Muslims, Dr Ally rather over-egged the pudding.
He certainly has some front. Having roundly condemned the media for ‘stereotyping’ the Muslim community with misleading and sensational headlines, Dr Ally went on to fall into exactly the same trap.
In the space of a few minutes he claimed that:
a) Some 95 per cent of Muslim women in Birmingham don’t have a clue about what is going on in Muslim society or wider society.
b) That cannabis-smoking Muslims are coming under pressure from radical groups who make them feel guilty about their lifestyle and ‘seduce’ them into taking part in extremist activities.”
Birmingham Post’s blogger John Dale, 12 November 2008

Zubeida Malik’s investigation – BBC Radio 4 ‘Today Programme’, 24th October 2008: Councillor’s ‘Gravy Train’ remark – 24th October 2008

“PVE monies, says the Government, should be used by the local authorities to tackle violent extremism…there is disquiet in the city on some of the projects that have been funded…

Interview with anonymous PVE funding recipient ‘Shaheen’: I did feel at the time the amount of money I was being offered was rather large for the kind of work I was involved with. It made me concerned as to who is deciding who gets the money and how much money they were going to get – who was deciding how these monies are effectively used by ourselves as community organisations. It was either ‘take the money or refuse it’. I made the decision to take the money as I could use it in a useful way….I am aware that there were large sums given to a number of organisations. Whether or not the tax payers or community organisations got their value for money is hard to say. Naturally the whole concept for me is problematic. There seems to be a blurring between community development and preventing extremism. I think there is a general need to rething where money is going and whether it is effective. And if it is for general community development then it should be going to everyone.”

Interview with Birmingham Respect Councillor Salma Yaqoob, who has asked the Council’s Audit Office to look into how PVE monies have been spent:“No councillors in Birmingham for example were consulted about how this money should be spent. Even getting a list of projects that were funded has proven very difficult. What is clear to me is that private consultants who have close links with New Labour have been receiving money without a tendering process. It seems the PVE agenda is being viewed very much as a gravy train where money is to be made by those willing to echo the Government line regardless of any real effectiveness on the ground…”

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“Community leadership Fund aimed at supporting Muslim communities to unlock the potential of local people to take a lead on tackling violent extremism…”

On 7th October 2008, the Government department ‘Communities & Local Government’ [Secretary of State Hazel Blears MP] announced the allocation of a £1.3 million tranche of funding bestowed on select organisations for what are increasingly being viewed as social engineering projects within Muslim communities and the fragmentation of Muslim civil society by the patronage of ‘King’s Parties’. The recipients in the latest funding round include:

  • the British Muslim Forum – “BMF will develop their own capacity and sustainability by recruiting to four posts. This will enable them to work with local Muslim organisations across the country to develop their own working arrangements and governance structures. £75,000 (08/09) £50,000 (09/10)”
  • Karimia Institute, Nottingham – “Develop the work of the Muslim Youth Development Partnership, funded by CLG in 07/08 to train and support 150 volunteer Muslim Youth Leaders over three years. £67,180 (08/09) £50,000 (09/10) £50,000 (10/11)”
  • OneVoice Europe – “Engagement of young Muslim and Jewish students in a youth leadership development training course to build and promote a consensus for a peaceful resolution to conflicts in the Middle East. £35,000 (08/09)”
  • Changemakers Foundation – “Continuation of 2007-08 CLG funded project to deliver a youth leadership programme to develop young leaders to become ‘Changemakers’ and develop and deliver projects in their own communities. £80,000 (08/09)”
  • Faith Matters (i) – “UK tour of Muslim women role models from the US. Women will be drawn from careers such as T.V presenters, researchers, civil servants, business entrepreneurs, civil society organisational heads. £29,775 (08/09) £29,775 (09/10)”
  • Faith Matters (ii) – “The purpose of this project is to compile a directory of the 100 leading mosques that provide the best access to women. Each mosque will be awarded a rating out of five stars based on criteria developed through womens focus groups. The ultimate aim is to incentivise mosques to improve their engagement with and inclusion of women in all aspects of their work through greater access to recognition and resources from the public sector. £75,350 (08/09)”
  • Luqman Institute – “Extension of the pilot Imam training programme funded in 2007-08 to develop training materials and deliver courses to 20 senior imams over an 8 month period £80,006 (08/09)
  • Psychology and Religion Research Group, University of Cambridge – ” Imam Training Course to equip young, newly qualified Imams to engage with British culture and humanitarian values, and to find parallel values within the Qur’an. £60,000 from CLG (08/09) £60,000 from DIUS (08/09)”
  • Demos – “Futures thinking workshops for Muslim young people and Imams to explore the ‘future’ of their interaction in the mosque. The workshops will be delivered in partnership with MINAB. £65,624 (08/09)”
    Links CLG Announcement, Strengthening community leadership, 7th October 2008

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“I Am the West’ – February 2009

Based on a proposal “to the Foreign Office”, Deen International, an organisation set up specifically for the project and headed by Khurshid Ahmed, former chair of the British Muslim Forum [BMF] has embarked on a venture called ‘I Am the West’, consisting of “television commercials and high-profile events in regions such as Peshawar and Mirpur. It is being funded by the Foreign Office which is paying up to £400,000 for a pilot project. Starring in the first three adverts are Sadiq Khan, the communities minister, English cricketer Moeen Ali and the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Chaudry Abdul Rashid”, reports Riazut Butt in The Guardian (10th Feb 2009). However, given the lead role of Mr Khurshid Ahmed it is more likely that the largesse owes considerably to the Department for Communities & Local Government and its top minister, Hazel Blears – for example see its allocations to BMF reported above.

Riazat Butt herself has a word or two to say about the project: “I was asked to star in one of the nine 30-second TV adverts, to be shown on three major Pakistani channels. Famous for 30 seconds! I could have been a star, heck I could have found a husband. I would have acquired the status of a bona fide Muslim, instead of being viewed as a feckless journalist with a wayward wardrobe and a loose tongue. I could have had my own chat show. I knew I couldn’t do the advert. So I turned it down, on the not-entirely serious grounds that I have a strong jawline and look a bit chunky right now. I wonder what defines Britishness, success and integration and whether these qualities are enough persuade young Pakistanis not to engage in extremist activity. The government’s £86m PREVENT programme continues, distributing funds to groups and organisations around the UK, in an attempt to build resilience against radical and extremist ideology. It is too soon to say whether this initiative, or the one in Pakistan, will work. Besides, in the case of preventing violent extremism, how do you measure success? Fewer explosions?”

So credit to Ms Butt – and any other Pakistani origin Britons who may have been approached and took the honourable course by not demeaning themselves. Were Irish role models in Britain ever called on to promote Britain in Ireland with the message – ‘please don’t hate us’. Was Van Morrison ever featured on Irish TV? Was the venerable Eamonn Andrews aired on Dublin Radio? Hardly.

It seems that funding from DCLG is becoming a matter of ‘who you know’ rather than value for money – see Zubeida Malik’s reports on this theme. All that seems to be needed is a project brief with choice words “…challenging an ideology of Islamism….building resilience…confronting violent extremism….”, a track record of loyalty and presto, the cheques are signed. It is believed that the proposal ‘I am the West, Western life, Muslim values’ was put to the Secretary of State in May 2008, and approved in an incredibly short time period. Don’t project proposals have to go through some sort of evaluation and cost-benefit analysis? Let us await for the first request for disclosure of the decision-making process under the Freedom of Information Act!

And what next – given the Somali origins of the 21/7 fantasists, is Rageh Omar soon to appear on Mogadishu bill boards? Audiences in Pakistan seeing Sadiq Khan MP or others are worldy-wise enough to know a PR and marketing campaign when they see one. What is of equal interest are issues such as the Paki-bashing on first cousin marriages (ref Minister Phil Woolas), of Islamophobia in the British media fears over the stop and search regime (Section 44), justifications of the so-called ‘just war’ in Afghanistan, and allegations of collusion in torture.

And who is the brains behind ‘I am the West’ and so keen to beat the drum? Khurshid Ahmed has worked up the ranks in the ‘race relations industry’, serving as Head of Race Relations & Equal Opportunities at Birmingham City Counciland later as a commissioner at the CRE. He received an honorory doctorate from the University of Aston in July 2007 “in recognition of his services to community relations in the West Midlands” and the CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in June 2008. He is regarded with bemusement within British Pakistani circles: for example in June 2008, prior to receipt of the CBE, he came out in favour of 42 day detention – and faced a grilling at Sparkbrook Mosque as a result; in December 2006, there was further scratching of the heads when “a BMF caseworker” offered the view that Muslim soldiers killed in action while fighting in a Muslim country could be regarded as relgious martyr – ‘shaheed’(report by Abul Taher, in the Sunday Times,10th December 2006); and in July 2006 he appeared on the 30 Minutes TV programme by Martin Bright contending something along the lines that the Muslim Council of Britain spoke for a minority view within the community because “80% of Muslims are sufi and were not represented”. The gentleman is not to be confused with the distinguished Professor Khurshid Ahmed of the Islamic Foundation, Leicester.

The ‘I am the West’ proposal hints at other quixotic ventures, “this relatively short ‘media blitz’ is designed to provoke debate and lead onto discussions with a broad range of organisations, students, religious and youth leaders, women’s groups and grass-roots organisations. These discussions will be formalised within a wider PR strategy, where the focus will be on engagement and interaction with these key audiences. This long-term ambition isthe bedrock of this proposal; crystallised by the establishment of a Centre for East-West collaboration and co-operation that will sustain and further develop the positive outcomes achieved by the project”.

So there are now ‘bad’ Muslims, ‘Good’ Muslim and ‘West Muslims’.

Links:
Please don’t hate us: UK ad campaign to target extremism, 10th February 2009

Famous for 30 seconds, 10th February 2009

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Flavour of the month – Azeem Ibrahim, PVE advice shrouded in gobbledy goop – 2nd November 2008″

According to the Sunday Times, 32-year old businessman Tariq Azeem has “caused quite a stir” by his speech at the ‘Leaders’ Summit on Security and Cohesion’ at Portcullis House, Westminster, London, on ‘how to deal with Muslim radicalisation’. Reading between the lines there are various veiled criticisms of the PVE programme – but is there a hint of sour grapes? Azeem leads an initiative of the Waterhouse Consulting Group. He observes, enigmatically:

Policymakers must ensure that the generation of leaders which gets the ‘Preventing Violent Extremism’ (PVE) funding are equipped to understand the generation they want to reach….In Britain, there should be some independent oversight of the effect of “Preventing Violent Extremism” funding to ensure that it does not exacerbate communal divisions or cause other perverse incentives….In Britain, government must be sensitive about when to make its involvement with the recipients of PVE funding high-profile, so they do not compromise the perceived authenticity of the moderate Muslim leadership they seek to support.

Translations of this gobbledy goop are invited!

Links:
Reducing Terrorism over the Long Term Policy Memo, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard, October 27, 2008
More about Azeem Ibrahim, The Sunday Times, 2nd November 2008

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Report: ‘Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) & PREVENT – a response from the Muslim community’- March 2009

The An-Nisa Society report provides a critique of PVE, written with an insider’s knowledge. The group itself was recipient of some funding, for a project on self-development work with Muslim boys in the London Borough of Brent. Its first-hand interaction with young Muslim boys led it to conclude that “the government needs to take on board that it is not possible to deliver ‘security led’ initiatives through Muslim community groups as (a) it damages trust and credibility in frontline grassroots work and (b) it does not address the wider issues that have created the problems in the first place. Security needs to be addressed separately by experts in this field” (project report ‘British Muslim or Wot?’, March 2008).

Links: An-Nisa Society Report

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Declaration: Northampton Muslims Reject Funding to Link Islam with Terrorism - April 2009

“Northampton Borough Council has called on the diverse Muslim communities in the town to talk about ways to “prevent terrorist extremism”. This was instigated as a result of the authority being awarded £315,000 by the Government.

As Muslims in the town, we strongly protest against anyone associating Islam with terrorism. We equally deplore anyone who harms people in the name of Islam. We are fortunate that different communities co-exist peacefully in Northampton due to the tireless work of many individuals and agencies.

The awarding of this money assumes that “there is a problem in the town” when it doesn’t exist.

Muslims in the town are part and parcel of everything that goes on here. They are concerned about all the issues that affect the wider community. Concerns around education, health, housing, youth provision etc. are mainstream issues that need to be addressed by statutory agencies.

That said, Muslims do tend to come from communities that are identified as hard to reach and experiencing barriers to key services. However, these inequalities have to be addressed in the mainstream, not by the use of one-off money, with a specific agenda that could be divisive and a cause for resentment at a time when the country is going through a financial crisis.

We therefore urge the authorities to use the money for the benefit of the whole town. We would be happy to sit with other people as part of the Northampton community to look at worthy projects that would bring long term benefits.”

Links: Signed letter from Northampton Muslims

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