LONDON (Reuters) - The government’s policy of trying to stop the radicalisation of mainly young Muslims, a central plank of its counter-terrorism strategy, is alienating those it is supposed to be winning over, a committee of MPs said on Tuesday.
“Prevent”, which aims to cut support for violent extremism and discourage people from becoming terrorists, was backfiring as many Muslims felt it was being used to spy on them, parliament’s Communities and Local Government Committee said.
“The misuse of terms such as ‘intelligence gathering’ amongst Prevent partners has clearly discredited the programme and fed distrust,” said Phyllis Starkey, the committee’s chairman.
Prevent is one of the four main strands of the government’s policy, along with Pursue, Protect and Prepare, set up to deal with the threat from al Qaeda and its related groups.
Brought in two years after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, Prevent became particularly significant after the London suicide bombings in July 2005 carried out by four British Islamists.
It seeks to use police, local government, teachers and youth workers to help communities counter the message of al Qaeda.
But community workers told Reuters this month that the policy had tainted positive projects and it was instead creating unease among many of the government’s 1.8 million Muslims.
The National Association of Muslim Police even said it had stigmatised Muslims and worsened relations.
In its report, the Communities Committee called for a new approach, saying it was wrong that a department working for community cohesion should be part of a counter-terrorism agenda.
It said there should be an independent investigation into accusations by witnesses giving evidence to the committee who said the strategy was being used by police and spies for intelligence gathering.
The committee accused ministers of trying to “engineer a ‘moderate’ form of Islam, promoting and funding only those groups which conform to this model”.
“In our view, a persistent pre-occupation with the theological basis of radicalisation is misplaced because the evidence suggests that foreign policy, deprivation and alienation are also important factors,” Starkey said.
The government said it was disappointed the report had not taken into account changes made to Prevent in the last year to address criticisms.
“All Prevent activities are designed to support all communities, and particularly Muslim communities in resisting those who target their young people,” a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said.
“There has been no substantiated evidence that Prevent programmes are keeping Muslim communities under surveillance.”