The Big Question: Are efforts to tackle home-grown Muslim extremism backfiring?

Why are we asking this now?

A cross-party committee of MPs have just finished a six-month investigation into Prevent, the government's anti-radicalisation programme, and have decided that it is doing exactly the opposite of what it was meant to do. Prevent is supposed to help British Muslims stand up to the small number of extremists in their midst and encourage those who might be tempted by terrorism to turn their backs on it. But a report published this week by the MPs found that it was, in fact, doing more harm than good.

What is Prevent?

Prevent is one of the four Ps that make up the government's overall counter-terrorist strategy, known as Contest. The other Ps – Pursue, Protect and Prepare – concentrate on keeping Britain ready to deal with terrorist attacks as well as our overall strategy to hunt down and capture those who mean us harm. Prevent has a much more complicated goal – to stop people becoming radicalised in the first place.

Who is responsible for the strategy?

The Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism at the Home Office heads up policing aspects, such as finding ways to foil attacks and extremist cells. The Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG), meanwhile, is tasked with building bridges and funding initiatives within the Muslim community to dampen the allure of violent extremists. There is also a particularly controversial police-led initiative known as Channel which attempts to pinpoint young Muslims who may be on their way towards violent radicalism and turn them away.

How much money is involved?

A lot. In the financial year 2008-2009 Prevent spent £140m across its departments. Funding local groups eats up just some of that cash. In the last three years £53m has been handed out to local authorities to fund groups that they think are best placed to combat al-Qa'ida-inspired violent extremism. A further £24m has been earmarked over the next year for 94 local authorities. Since 2007, more than 1,000 projects across the country have received some sort of funding from Prevent – that could be anything from financing anti-terrorism lectures in a mosque, to providing equipment for a boxing club in a Muslim neighbourhood to putting on pop concerts.

Is the strategy working?

Even before the MPs' report, it was very difficult to tell. Since 7 July 2005 we haven't had any more successful terrorist attacks on British soil but we have had numerous attempts and foiled plots, most of which have continued to involve a home-grown element or protagonists. Successful policing and better intelligence has played a major role in stopping those attacks taking place – with many of the plots infiltrated by our security services at very early stages.

One of the aims of Prevent, however, is to enable the Muslim community to partly police itself by reporting suspicious activity to the local authorities. So far there have been very few concrete examples of such community-led policing actually happening. One of the few positive incidents the government can point to is Andrew Ibrahim, a wannabe suicide bomber, who police were alerted to after mosque leaders in Bristol became concerned about his radical views.

What about the Channel programme?

To libertarians Channel is the most controversial aspect of Prevent because it involves targeting young people who haven't even committed crimes yet. The government and police say it is a key part of pre-empting terrorist attacks and say similar tactics are used to keep young people away from gangs with little complaints from the public. Last year The Independent revealed that as many as 200 schoolchildren, some as young as 13, had been identified as being "vulnerable" to extremism in the first 18 months of Channel's existence.

What does the MPs' report say?

The 81-page report, which was compiled by MPs from the three main parties, was enormously critical of virtually every aspect of the Prevent strategy. The biggest problem the committee found was that most Muslims regarded Prevent-funded schemes as a back-door way of secretly policing the Islamic community.

The very people that the government needs to get onside are, according to the report, feeling "alienated and stigmatised" and therefore far less likely to co-operate. Many positive community cohesion projects which are doing good work in combating extremism, meanwhile, are also feeling "tainted" by their association with the Prevent scheme.

Why do so many Muslims feel wary of Prevent?

"The government – especially under the former CLG Secretary Hazel Blears – regarded the Prevent strategy as a kind of social engineering project to 'medically treat' UK Muslims," explains Inayat Bunglawala, former spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, who has set up his own counter-extremist group, Muslims4UK. "They also funded and promoted new and more compliant voices despite the fact they had no grassroots support in Muslim communities. This meant that the entire Prevent programme – which should be an essential part of any sensible counter-terror strategy – came to be viewed with suspicion and disdain."

What other problems were encountered?

In understanding why people turn to terrorism, the report claimed that the government still places far too much emphasis on trying to "engineer" a moderate form of Islam at the expense of looking into other motivating factors for why people become extremist such as "foreign policy, deprivation and alienation".

The committee also heard evidence from other minority faith groups that Prevent made it look like the Government was favouring Muslims simply because they had produced anti-British terrorists. Dr Indarjit Singh of the Network of Sikh Organisations described Islam as having "a sort of favoured status as a result of radicalisation".

What about the spying allegations?

Last year there were allegations that Prevent was being used by the police and local authorities to secretly spy on the Muslim community, including people who were not even suspected of any crimes. One example, published by the Institute of Race Relations, revealed how a youth centre in northern England had been advised to include IT facilities because it was "good for monitoring which websites people were visiting". Home Secretary Alan Johnson denounced the allegations as "wilfully misleading."

The MPs, however, disagree with the government's argument that there is no case to answer. Their report states that enough evidence has been produced to warrant some sort of inter-governmental investigation. "If the government wants to improve confidence in the Prevent programme," the report concludes, "it should commission an independent investigation into the allegations made".

Is 'Prevent' proving counter-productive?


* Prevent is too expensive and confused, and suffers from a bad case of mission creep

* Trying to 'engineer' a moderate Islam will only bolster extremists and help them tarnish genuine believers

* The very people that the government wants to win over are turning away in droves


* Countering terrorism involves a variety of approaches and Prevent plays a key role

* British Muslims need help in confronting extremists, and the government is best placed to lend a hand

* The Channel programme has helped numerous teenagers steer clear of extremism

On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

Matt Smith is set to join cast of Jane Austen classic - with a twist

A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PPA Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

PPA Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Pr...

Senior IT Support Engineer - Education Sector - Shepherd's Bush

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior IT Support Engineer - Educati...

KS2 Teacher required

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 teacher required ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week