John Reid is crafting a "script of British values" to fight a propaganda war with al-Qa'ida for the hearts and minds of a "lost generation" of Muslims.
The head of MI5 revealed last week that at least 1,600 young Britons are under surveillance for plotting terrorist violence. Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller said that she was alarmed at the scale and speed of the radicalisation of Muslim youths, some still at school. But while al-Qa'ida and similar organisation make sophisticated use of the internet, DVDs and even board games to recruit terrorists, the Government is still struggling to find the language it should use in response.
The Home Secretary is overseeing an urgent re-think of how ministers should engage the Muslim community. He has already accepted that Iraq and Afghanistan is helping to fuel extremism in Britain.
Mr Reid told his cabinet colleagues last month that it was vital they speak to young British Muslims with one voice.
The move came as Britain's highest-ranking police officer yesterday called for the 28-day limit for holding terror suspects to be reviewed. Sir Ian Blair, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, also called for a shake-up of the way courts deal with terror trials, warning the system was "creaking under the impact".
He is currently overseeing a review of all language used by ministers to ensure a "disciplined message", according to a senior Whitehall official.
It will lead to a "a core script" to be used by all ministers and government departments. A current draft defines British values as "respect for the law", "freedom of speech", "equality of opportunity" and "taking responsibility for others".
Privately, ministers admit the 7 July attacks in London failed to trigger any effective disruption of the grooming of new bombers. "We lost at least a year," said one.
One Whitehall official said: "There are some that believe that we've lost a generation. Now we've got to make sure we don't lose the next one."
Chief constables are looking at bringing in social workers and teachers to target young people at risk of turning to terror similar to teams already used to target anti-social youths.
But Rob Beckley, assistant chief constable of Hertfordshire Police and a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "We don't want to end up like East Germany's Stasi and there is a real risk of that."
Evidence of the new language was heard yesterday when Tony Blair warned of a "long and deep struggle" ahead against "poisonous propaganda".
He said: "We have... to take the fight to those people who want to entice young people into something wicked and violent and utterly futile."Reuse content