Preventing Violent Extremism - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

3  Risk factors for radicalisation

55. The CONTEST strategy defines radicalisation as follows:

Radicalisation—the process by which people come to support violent extremism and, in some cases, join terrorist groups. Radicalisation has a range of causes (including perceptions of our foreign policy), varying from one country and one organisation to another.[85]

Whilst acknowledging that there is no single cause which puts an individual on the pathway to radicalisation and violent extremism, CONTEST provides the following summary of the factors which may contribute:

Grievances do not always or often lead to radicalisation and to violent extremism. But they can make people more open to the ideology associated with Al Qa'ida, support for which may then lead to acts of terrorism. It appears to be the intensity of political and economic grievances that often motivates and characterises members of terrorist networks; people who believe that the aim of western foreign policies is to weaken and divide the Islamic world are more likely to approve of terrorist attacks against civilians. In some fragile and failing states or areas and for some terrorist organisations, the experience of poverty and exclusion can create specific grievances which may then lead to radicalisation. In the FATA,[86] recent research suggests that poverty and illiteracy as well as the conflict in Afghanistan are key factors leading to religious extremism.[87]

[...] A range of social and psychological factors are also important. Radicalisation seems to be related directly to a crisis in identity and, specifically, to a feeling of not being accepted or not belonging. This is itself the result of a range of factors, which may include the experience of discrimination and inequalities, racism, recent migration and more generally a lack of affinity with and disconnect from family, community and state.[88]

56. In recent guidance to local authorities and their partners, the Government also makes clear that its views on the process of radicalisation

are continually being updated by new research, although it is evident that there is no single pathway to radicalisation, just as there is no single profile of a person who is vulnerable to radicalisation. New insights will be circulated to local partners.[89]

57.However, many of our witnesses felt that the Government has ignored much academic research on the subject. The LGA stated:

Think Tanks have produced a huge range of research on the issue of Prevent, for example the NLGN report on broadening the focus or the Policy Research Centre's recent report on the views of young British Muslims. We would like to see Government taking a more active role in reviewing and debating the findings of these reports, rather than generally dismissing them.[90]

Moreover, we sensed frustration from the Convenors and Deputy Convenors of the Preventing Extremism Together Working Groups who felt that many of the findings of their 2005 report were dismissed. ACPO makes a similar point, recommending

The need for greater coordination of research relating to Prevent […] The need for a process to ensure that research routinely assists in the development of policy […] The need for a central depository for Prevent learning and emerging practice.[91]

58. It is impossible to define a single pathway to radicalisation or to predict which specific individuals will progress to overt extremist violence. We are encouraged that the Government has committed to keeping its analyses of risk factors up-to-date. However, our evidence suggests that the Government has taken insufficient account of recent research and intelligence on this subject. We therefore recommend that the Government update CONTEST, and the guidance which accompanies it, in the light of analysis of the most recent research on risk factors for radicalisation, and commit itself to regular future updating in the light of further such research.

Risk factors for radicalisation

59. We heard much debate from our witnesses about what are the 'drivers for radicalisation'. The majority agreed that the full range of these 'drivers' were not being addressed by Prevent. ISCRI summed up the majority view:

The causal link between recruitment and underlying socio-economic conditions leading to vulnerability seem to have been included but not emphasised adequately by government in its approach, preferring to focus on security and religion. Problems of discrimination, hate crime, deprivation, identity and the impact of an unpopular foreign policy need greater emphasis. All these factors make the vulnerable more susceptible to ideologies of violence and add to feelings of disconnection from the state and a government failing to meet needs.[92]

Consideration of the full range of arguments about the risk factors for radicalisation is not possible within this report. But there are several themes arising from the evidence which merit a specific focus.


60. The first of these is the issue of 'identity'. Several witnesses, including the Quilliam Foundation, attribute radicalisation to a failure to "address the complex identity issues stemming from a failure to access a shared British identity, a failure which leaves some people vulnerable to radicalisation".[93] Quilliam adds:

In the video he recorded before carrying out the 7/7 suicide bomb attacks, Leeds-born Mohammad Sidique Khan addressed the British public saying: "Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight." The fact that Sidique Khan felt no loyalty or connection to other British citizens, identifying only with Muslims, was crucial in allowing him to murder innocents.[94]

61. As background to this discussion, it is interesting to note the results of the Home Office Citizenship Survey (April—June 2007) which showed that feelings of belonging to the UK (answering 'very strongly' and 'fairly strongly') were high across ethnic minorities, suggesting that the vast majority of members of these communities do identify themselves as British:

  • Bangladeshi (91%)
  • Indian (89%)
  • Pakistani (87%)
  • Black Caribbean (85%)
  • Black African (84%)
  • White (84%)
  • Chinese / other (72%)

62. Evidence from the Institute for Policy Research and Development shows that the perceptions of non-Muslim British people are at odds with the reality felt by Muslims themselves:

Trends are less heartening regarding non-Muslim perspectives of Muslims in Britain, which are increasingly negative. A YouGov survey found that the number of non-Muslim Britons who believe that "a large proportion of British Muslims feel no sense of loyalty to this country and are prepared to condone or even carry out acts of terrorism" had nearly doubled from 10 per cent after 7/7 cent to 18 per cent a year later. The number of non-Muslims who believe that "practically all British Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding citizens who deplore terrorist acts as much as anyone else" fell from 23 per cent to 16 per cent in the same period. Further, 53 per cent of non-Muslims said they felt threatened by Islam (as distinct from fundamentalist Islamism)—up from 32 per cent in 2001. Overall, only 36 per cent of the general population believes that Muslims are loyal to Britain.[95]

These findings were echoed by Suleman Nagdi of the Federation of Muslim Organisations in Leicestershire, who told us:

At what stage do we feel that we are British? At what stage do others look at you as being British? […] I have sat as a magistrate, serving on the Leicester bench for many years; three members of my immediate family are police officers serving within the county; and I still ask the question: how much more do I have to go before I am accepted? As work is being done in telling the Muslim population, "You need to better integrate yourself" I think the indigenous population also has to be told that it is slightly unfair.[96]

63. We believe that support for individuals in helping them reconcile 'multiple identities' is key. Dr Indarjit Singh of the Network of Sikh Organisations remarked

Obviously anyone belonging to [a] particular community, when they see that fellow members of their community in another part of the world are in their view suffering, being ill treated or badly treated, [they] will feel an impact.[97]

Only if such concerns are not addressed properly, or ignored, will they develop into a sense of alienation from British society. As Massoud Shadjareh of the Islamic Human Rights Commission explained to us, it is perfectly legitimate and normal to have grievances:

People in the real world do have grievances. Even if the grievances are not appropriate, still they have the right of having those grievances. What we could ask as a society is to make sure that those grievances are going to be addressed within the means of civil society and democracy rather than anything else.[98]

64. Suleman Nagdi of the Federation of Muslim Organisations gave us a clear example of how grievances can be tackled objectively through peaceful means, without ignoring the reality of the problems Muslims face globally:

I have travelled to the Holy Land and spent over a week and seen some of the refugee camps with 65,000 refugees with one tap for 20 families, open sewers, et cetera. It affected me as an adult. I came back—how did I react to it? I reacted by joining with a human rights agency, writing articles, doing talks at universities. This is my way of clearing my conscience of working with the situation. The question I pose is what happens to the young mind, the 14/15/18-year old who sees these graphic images on the TV and sees his fellow Muslims.[99]

And Dr Indarjit Singh concluded that, if there is no opportunity for grievances to be addressed through peaceful social and democratic means, as the previous two examples demonstrate, then "It is the extremists within the community who will manipulate that sense of concern to more extremist activity".[100] We raised this issue with Charles Farr of OSCT, who agreed that alienation was a key factor to be addressed in Prevent work:

Definitely alienation. [...] I think that Prevent projects which deal with exclusion and alienation, which can happen after all for reasons other than socioeconomics, are very, very important.[101]


65. Closely linked to the question of identity is that of the impact of the UK's foreign policy. Recent examples of British foreign policy (for example the Government's perceived hesitation in responding to the most recent Israeli bombardment of Gaza) are cited by many witnesses as a reason for some Muslims rejecting a 'British' identity, and a potential catalyst for radicalisation. Quilliam believes that this argument is flawed:

The argument that radicalisation is driven by grievances, in particular about foreign policy and the idea of a "War on Islam", is a popular one but one that is undermined by a comparison between Britain and America. If British foreign policy feeds into a narrative of a "War on Islam" then America's foreign policy must also equally or more so. Yet, despite American Muslims sharing British Muslims' concerns about a "War on Islam", America has seen nothing like the home-grown 7/7 attacks.[102]

This comment is undermined, however, by the shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, on 5 November 2009. Nidal Malik Hasan, an American-born Muslim serving in the United States' army, killed thirteen people and injured thirty others on the Fort Hood military base. There is no clear evidence to prove that the shootings were related to US foreign policy, but the incident represents a "home-grown" attack nonetheless.

66. Our specialist adviser Dilwar Hussain has suggested in a recent publication that the issue of foreign policy grievances is more complex and that civil society could take a stronger leadership role in helping Muslims—particularly younger Muslims—deal with seeming conflicts between a British identity and Muslim religion:

Much could be said about Britain's foreign policy mistakes in stoking injustice, leading to anger and frustration. But to blame only such foreign affairs for terrorism is not nearly enough. Muslims did not challenge strongly enough the preachers of hate and the peddlers of simplistic, yet nihilistic, solutions that were able to tap into that anger and frustration. Nor did they create adequate religious institutions or leadership that could connect with young people and educate them in an idiom they would understand.[103]

This view was supported in evidence from Mr Brij-Mohan Gupta of the Hindu Council UK, who—addressing a different issue of concern to Muslim and other communities in Britain, that of relations between India and Pakistan—told us that

They say that whenever it snows back home we start sneezing here. Whatever happens politically between India and Pakistan, we here are affected by those happenings but as my colleagues have very rightly said, because of the interfaith dialogue, because we have the sorts of facilities whereby we can sit down and sort it out, things have been avoided. Now you can see not a single untoward incident has happened in that part of London. Whatever happens between India and Pakistan, we are not affected. We are living here and we have to solve our problems in this country. Let them solve their own problems.[104]

67. We are therefore pleased to note positive acknowledgement of the work being undertaken by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office under the Prevent banner:

Government has shown a willingness to shift policy in response to dialogue with local delivery partners. The FCO's decision to explicitly acknowledge the impact of foreign policy and international events on local grievance was a good example. Supporting this with visits to local communities was also appreciated.[105]

68. Tackling 'alienation'—whatever its causes—is an important defence against the insidious approaches of radicalisers. Alienation can stem from a sense of unreconciled identity, or from a range of grievances, including those relating to UK foreign policy. Whilst we are persuaded that foreign policy in itself is unlikely to be the primary driver for an individual turning to violent extremism, we recognise it as a contributory factor to a sense of 'alienation' which may then make someone more vulnerable to extremist narratives. It is therefore critical that opportunities are provided for grievances to be aired, along with greater empowerment of individuals to utilise democratic mechanisms for peaceful debate and protest, without it being taken as a lack of loyalty to Britain. The Government should ensure that such opportunities are widely available. There is also a role for non-Muslim communities in acknowledging that the vast majority of Muslims feel loyal to this country. It is therefore important that greater opportunities to improve understanding between people of different cultures and religious groupings are created. We return to this point later in our report.

69. We recommend that the Government make available a proportion of the funding currently available to communities through Prevent specifically to projects aimed at encouraging participation in democratic means of debate. We further recommend that the Government more explicitly acknowledge, in the CONTEST strategy, in guidance to local authorities, and in project funding criteria, the contribution to counter-terrorism objectives of work to improve understanding between people of different cultures and religious groupings.


70. Although foreign policy and identity were discussed at length in our evidence, the majority of our witnesses felt that socio-economic factors and deprivation were currently the factors most overlooked by Government. The Institute for Community Cohesion argued:

[Government needs to do more] to tackle the underlying causes of hatred and intolerance and that means doing more to tackle the poverty and deprivation within Muslim and other disadvantaged communities to ensure that they have better educational outcomes and employment opportunities and that they can more fully integrate and engage in a wider range of social and economic activities.[106]

71. Muslims feature heavily amongst some of the more deprived communities in the UK, as Iqbal Wahhab[107] pointed out to us:

From my experience with the DWP, we can clearly see that British Muslims are amongst the most significant economically disenfranchised communities in the UK. Muslims are three times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of society, two thirds of Muslim children in Tower Hamlets live in poverty. These are undoubtedly contributing factors in the alarming statistic that 11% of all inmates in British prisons are of declared Muslim faith.[108]

It is interesting to note, therefore, that the US government has emphasised the need to address socio-economic factors in its revised approach to combating violent extremism:

Recent announcements from the United States government (e.g. Assistant to President Obama for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism) point also to a revised policy for combating violent extremism which emphasises the importance of addressing socio-economic issues: "addressing…upstream factors [economic, social, political] is ultimately not a military operation but a political, economic and social campaign to meet basic needs and legitimate grievances of ordinary people".[109]

72. We asked the Secretary of State and Charles Farr of OSCT why a more pronounced focus on tackling socio-economic factors and deprivation had not been included in CONTEST. Charles Farr told us that

The direct correlation between people in prison for [Terrorism Act] offences in this country [...] and deprivation is not strong. [...] However, I think the situation is a little bit more complicated than that. Deprivation can be a driver for radicalisation amongst those who are not themselves deprived. In other words, people do tend to look around the world and can get motivated towards radicalisation by a perception of the treatment that Muslim communities are receiving. It is a rather more complex nuanced interpretation of socioeconomics as a driver.[110]

73. As we were reminded by Ed Husain of Quilliam, Osama Bin Laden did not come from a deprived background. Nevertheless, socio-economic deprivation can be a concern for "upwardly mobile groups, such as university students, who retain a consciousness of Muslim socio-economic disenfranchisement in Britain which is buttressed by perceptions and experiences of a discriminatory system which they feel prevents the realization of their full potential".[111] Again, this takes us back to issues of 'identity', whereby even the most privileged may identify—perhaps culturally or religiously—with the more deprived, and empathise with their plight.

74. Tackling socio-economic deprivation is important in its own right to achieve a more equal and cohesive society but it also has a key role in diluting the impact of the call to violence on vulnerable individuals. Tackling socio-economic factors will not necessarily directly reduce the incidence of violent extremism, but we recommend the Government continue to prioritise investment in this area in recognition of the positive contribution it makes to achieving the aims of the Prevent agenda.

75. We were concerned, therefore, by evidence suggesting that insufficient work was being undertaken on university campuses within the Prevent programme. Not only universities, but also prisons, are settings where individuals are very vulnerable to radicalisation. The Network of Sikh Organisations stated that

The evidence to date is that little has been done on university campuses to combat increasing radicalisation and extremism and, despite a vast increase in funding, it is the view of the Prison Chaplaincy, including the Muslim Adviser, the situation in prisons has become worse.[112]

76. This is further evidence that Prevent has not been targeted at areas of greatest risk, and gives greater weight to our call for Prevent interventions to be targeted where need is greatest. We recommend that Government take urgent steps to ensure that work in universities and prisons is better co-ordinated with the overall Prevent programme. We also recommend that, where appropriate, universities and prisons are included within local risk assessments.


77. Many of our witnesses believed that the Government has overplayed the role of religion in CONTEST and Prevent and that much greater precedence should be given to those other factors discussed so far in this chapter. However, Quilliam—amongst others—told us that "the government should recognise that violent extremism is always preceded by political and religious extremism"[113] and that all Prevent work should be targeted accordingly. The Board of Deputies of British Jews sets religious factors within the context of other influences:

Radicalisation is promoted by a whole range of things [...] Certainly a distorted view of religion is one of them, but there are many other things. It may be that there have been some traumatic episodes in a person's life that have turned them away from society. It may be a reaction to things going on in society. Religion really is only one thing, but what happens of course is that people who are the radicalisers use their distorted view of religion to radicalise people.[114]

78. The Network of Sikh Organisations also gives weight to consideration of religious factors as a risk to radicalisation and suggests that religious leaders need to take more responsibility for countering radical religious narratives:

To combat radicalisation, one needs to look at the causes of radicalisation. […] It does not have to be religion, but most religious texts have ambiguities within them and they can be interpreted in different ways. Someone who feels deprived can latch on to the wrong teachings. Someone with an affluent upbringing can latch on to the wrong teachings. It is those teachings that we need to get addressed and that is where interfaith dialogue was beginning to go. It stalled badly.[115]

A true 'Prevent Agenda' should tackle such distortions with the active involvement of religious leaders. The experience to date is that most Muslim leaders, other than providing occasional lip service, have done little in this direction. They, and their counterparts in other faiths, should actively condemn attempts by zealots to push their views onto others.[116]

79. We acknowledge that CLG has invested a great deal in supporting improved standards in mosques through the work of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board and the Charity Commission's Faith and Social Cohesion Unit, and we fully support this work. There are also positive examples of mosques and religious community leaders taking on this role on their own initiative. During our visit to Birmingham, we met Tassadaq Hussain of Green Lane Mosque, who told us that the mosque had not taken Prevent money as it believed that educating its community about the threat of terrorism was one of the mosque's regular responsibilities. Work of this kind was being done at Green Lanes Mosque long before the Prevent programme. Mr Hussain felt that it was important that the community "owned" the fight against terrorism and, where possible, contributed towards the costs of carrying out this important task.

80. In discussing the role of religion in the radicalisation process, we need to examine in greater depth a point we touched on earlier in this report: the difference between extremism and violent extremism. As Arun Kundnani of the IRR explained, it is important to differentiate between people who express "opinions that some of us are uncomfortable with, but which are legal opinions to hold",[117] with those who take part in, or incite,[118] violent extremism—both of which constitute a criminal offence.

81. A particular worry for many witnesses in this context is having religious orthodoxy mistaken for extremism. Concern was expressed back in 2005 by the Preventing Extremism Together working group on Community Security that, with the then focus on extremism (as opposed to violent extremism) outward signs of traditional religious practice such as "wearing the hijab or growing a beard"[119] could be associated with terrorism. More careful use of language -Preventing Violent Extremism—has helped to clarify this to a certain extent, as the Islamic Society of Britain points out, but other issues still present:

The term 'Violent Extremism' was […] useful in drawing a clear line to separate general extremism from violent, criminal, terrorist acts—we believe this is a crucial distinction to be made across all levels of communication. However, the term did not always succeed in separating general extremist ideas from violent acts, and this is partly the impact of the action word 'prevent'. It resulted in a flawed logic that asked, 'how do you prevent violent extremism?' and answered, 'you go further back and stop extremism, because one (extremism) will lead to the other (violent extremism)'. This is not only flawed logic, it is a dangerous logic in the hands of opportunists.[120]

82. The problem, as many of our witnesses see it, is the lack of definition of these terms. Even though we believe that the CONTEST and Prevent documents demonstrate a good attempt to clarify the issues, our witnesses told us that they still lack adequate definition:

[...] the Prevent strategy documents fail to define emotive and loaded terms such as "violent extremism", "extremism", and "radicalisation". Such failures when coupled with intensive pressure on local authorities to produce results of projects designed to have tackled these concepts, have resulted in these concepts being defined at the whim of individuals within councils, with their biases, prejudices and lack of understanding.[121]

83. We support CLG's work on improving standards in mosques and believe that religious institutions have a very important role in educating communities about the threat of terrorism. However, we believe there has been an excessive concentration on the theological basis of radicalisation in the Prevent programme. Engagement with preventative work should also focus on political and socio-economic challenges. We therefore reiterate our calls for opportunities for greater empowerment and civic engagement with democratic institutions which strengthen Muslims' participation in communities and society as a whole.

84. The role of religion as a risk factor in the radicalisation process needs to be handled with care, acknowledging that religious extremism and violent extremism may not always be linked. We recommend that the Government take steps to clarify its understanding of the terms 'violent extremism', 'extremism', and 'radicalisation'. Holding extreme views is not illegal and Prevent should clearly focus on violent extremism. Extending Prevent interventions to those holding extreme views should only take place where there is a risk that an individual's adherence to an extremist ideology may predispose them to violence. The Government should ensure that this understanding is shared widely across the range of its partners in delivering Prevent-related projects.


85. John Denham's December 2009 speech to Prevent front-line workers outlined the Government's rather inconclusive stance towards engagement with Muslim groups:

Prevent must only involve those who are unambiguously opposed to violent extremism against Britain and British people and who uphold British laws. We clearly need to understand the threat from organisations which do not explicitly promote violent extremism in the UK but who, by their use of language and ideology, provide space for such violence. There are organisations which meet the test of opposing violent extremism which, nonetheless, hold views on other social or religious issues, or on international issues, which are controversial within and outside the Muslim communities of this country. There are widely differing views on whether or how to engage with them. These are difficult judgements. I acknowledge that. Ones which need to be considered carefully at local and national level.[122]

86. The majority of our witnesses saw any attempt by Government to advise on 'wrong' or 'right' interpretations of Islam as unwarranted interference, or even "a cynical experiment in social engineering".[123] The Network of Sikh Organisations reflected the majority view in saying

Government and local government are not experts on religion and should avoid the temptation to lead and direct the faith agenda. This leading is currently being done by the deployment of government and local government funding to favoured projects and groups on the basis of questionable criteria. The role of both government and local government should be confined to ensuring all communities are given equitable treatment on the provision of goods and services and that all people of different faiths and cultures respect the norms of civilised society.[124]

The Institute of Race Relations adds that such 'interference' has led to an unhealthy closing of the gap between church and state:

An additional problem arises from the perception that the government is sponsoring Muslim organisations on the basis of theological criteria—for example, holding Sufis to be intrinsically more moderate than Salafis. Such an approach violates the secular separation of 'church' and state, even though such a separation is itself upheld by the government as a marker of 'moderation' which Muslims should aspire to. The use of government funding to promote a 'correct interpretation' of religious texts is fraught with dangers, irrespective of the theological merits of any such interpretation.[125]

87. Much of the evidence agrees that Government has particularly "sought to marginalise those Muslims who are vociferous in their political beliefs and instead embarked on a mission to create, promote and fund groups whose version of Islam is more in tune with the Government's own beliefs".[126] The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation argues that

Promoting 'good Islam' means that the 'other Islam' (or 'bad Islam') is what the West fears most, and it therefore unwittingly promotes al-Qaeda's claim to be the only alternative to Western globalization. The consequent de-legitimization of pro-Western Islamic thinkers has made 'bad Islam' the supposedly authentic one.[127]

88. The non-denominational charity Forward Thinking advised us that "Some communities have become afraid of talking about any issue relating to theology, foreign policy and politics for fear of being accused of promoting the 'wrong ideology'". They add that "This has the knock on effect of driving those who wish to recruit and incite violence to do so underground".[128] It also opens up opportunities for organisations which are willing to 'play along' in order to benefit from Prevent funding:

For Muslim organisations that are able to present themselves as 'moderate', significant financial and symbolic resources are being offered by central and local government. The danger is that the distinction between 'moderate' and 'extremist' is flexible enough to be exploited, either by government, to castigate anyone who is critical of its policies, or by voluntary sector organisations, to access resources.[129]

89. The construction of an 'Islamic experts industry'—groups which are "artificially created, often in collaboration [with Government] to promote favoured ideologies"[130]—is a matter of wide concern. Witnesses identify this 'industry' as a barrier to sound community engagement. Quilliam points out that "Choosing partners on the basis of their claim to represent all members of one group tends to empower only politically active, male, middle-aged members of a diverse population. It also undermines Parliament as a body which represents us all as equal citizens".[131] ISCRI remarks that genuine and trusted local community groups, who can reach and influence those most at risk and the young and vulnerable, are rarely engaged. They argue that

the strategy appears to communicate through a 'values based' approach with the whole Muslim populace as an undifferentiated and stigmatised social grouping (causing resentment); or, it establishes, or is guided by, 'arms length' entities the government itself has created but which in the main have poor local credibility and lack genuine community understanding and relevance.[132]

90. The UK Youth Parliament told us that

overwhelmingly, young people have said that they do not approve of tokenistic youth organisations, especially because they have acknowledged themselves that it does affect young people through their different communities. Why is there a Young Muslim Advisory Group but not a Young Christian Advisory Group? Why is there not a Young Hindu Advisory Group? It seems to me that it is all tied to the one community when the problem is not exactly with that community.[133]

This view was reinforced by PeaceMaker:

There is a clear discrepancy between organisations and communities that are engaging in the Prevent agenda and those that are at-risk. The re-emergence of faith leaders as community representatives will have far-reaching, long-term consequences on disaffected young people who have never nor will ever consider these faith leaders to represent their experiences or interests. As in many other communities, there is a growing gulf in inter-generational relationships within these communities, and the engagement of older traditional faith leaders as representatives of their communities creates a vacuum of representation that makes it easier for extremists to exploit vulnerable young people.[134]

91. The Youth Parliament witnesses criticised the lack of opportunities for truly 'democratic' engagement for young people:

I see that as a criticism of you guys [MPs] because there are not any opportunities for young people from those backgrounds to get involved in events like […] Project Safe Space.[135] We did one conference in Slough and the opinions we got there from the young people were very different from the opinions we got in the north east and the north west of England. They are not given the same opportunities as us because we are going into those communities but we are not getting the funding to continue doing that work, giving those young people youth leadership opportunities and stuff like that.[136]

Arun Kundnani of the Institute of Race Relations backed up this view and stressed that

there does seem to be a strong view amongst a lot of people I have spoken to that a key part of it is a sense of political disempowerment and a sense that the British political system is pointless and does not listen to them. Therefore, violent alternatives become plausible. If that is even a part of the truth, then what youth work used to be more about, which is about empowering young people—particularly people on the margins of society—and giving them a sense of genuine engagement in our society's institutions is going to be incredibly useful as one part of preventing violent extremism. Unfortunately, too much of the way Prevent is thought about now is not about empowerment but about behaviour modification.[137]

92. Dr Paul Thomas added that "I would argue for a broader community cohesion programme, to engage young people in much more democratic debates across ethnic backgrounds. We have got some examples of that, for instance the British Youth Parliament initiative around the Safe Space project and what local and national youth parliament processes are doing where young people from different backgrounds are engaging in very robust debates about foreign policy and national policy, but that is within a multi-ethnic and democratic background".[138] Our witnesses strongly supported recommendations in the UK Youth Parliament Project Safe Space report to "develop a range of new media options that support the Government and police Prevent strategies [along with] a national youth led new media communications strategy".[139] Through this recommendation, the Safe Space delegates felt that Government communication with young people could be improved through more intelligent use of new media such as the internet, online social networking sites and mobile telephones.

93. The evidence therefore starts to suggest that, particularly with regard to young people, a approach to preventing violent extremism which seeks to promote 'legitimate' interpretations of Islam and decry others, may not be the most effective. The need to debate ideas from a range of perspectives, and not drive the more 'radical' voices underground, was a concern in much of the evidence we received.

94. Government interference in theological matters must be avoided. The Government's current approach to engagement with Muslim organisations has given the impression that there are 'good' and 'bad' forms of Islam—some endorsed by the Government, others not. The construction of an "Islamic experts industry", funded and sanctioned by Government, has caused a variety of problems, including a failure to represent the views of the whole Muslim community. The issue of representation is a particular concern for young people. Empowering young people from a variety of backgrounds to take part in open and honest discussion and debate—and facilitating their influence and access to democratic institutions—is key. Initiatives such as Project Safe Space must be pursued, and backed with appropriate funding. Support and funding should also be made available to initiatives which improve communications between young people and Government.

95. The Secretary of State made very clear the Government's position about engagement with organisations which actively promote the use of terrorist violence, as he explained to us in oral evidence:

Unambiguous opposition to the use of terrorist violence and the breaking of British laws has to be an absolute on the Prevent programme. Beyond that, there will be people who take very different views, say, to the British Government on international affairs or people who would be labelled as socially conservative that people may have other disagreements with, but the test is are they very unambiguous on their opposition to al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism. That cannot be negotiable, in our view, for the Prevent programme. Beyond that though there would be a wide range of opinion with which you would expect people to engage locally because there will be people who might disagree with some aspect of British foreign policy but who in terms of their own young people and their own community will be absolutely unambiguously opposed to violence and are therefore allies in the key aim which is of preventing crime. […] There is, though, still a crucial issue about funding of organisations that would be beyond the pale as far as we are concerned and we are absolutely clear that cannot be one of the things that is funded by Prevent.[140]

96. Despite this approach, many of our witnesses support the LGA Group's view that there is still a "need for more confidence in engaging with controversial voices at a national level. Government needs to be more confident in its dealings with those with whom it does not agree, especially when they have broad support from within communities or in academic circles".[141] Birmingham City Council adds that

Advice needs to be credible and moderate, though pushing at the boundaries of moderate. Young people listen to those groups/individuals who have been 'over the edge' and come back. The Government has to differentiate about what is the 'credible' element appropriate to—the Government or the audience—and recognise that it should always be the audience.[142]

However, Birmingham also recognises a paradox for central and local government in this respect in that organisations which engage with authorities may lose their credibility in the communities they claim to represent:

The Government should be careful as to whom it openly endorses and engages, as this makes the endorsed group not credible within the community.[143]

97. Evidence from the Arts and Humanities Research Council[144] considers the issue of who is best placed to challenge the ideology of radical groups, and concludes that it may be those who can identify and understand their point of view and retain an element of "street credibility" as described above:

Identifying which community groups are best placed to challenge the behaviours and attitudes of individuals deemed at risk of violent extremism is a key issue. It may be that in some instances, it is important for groups to have knowledge about, and shared experience, backgrounds and credibility of the people vulnerable to or already engaged in violent discourse and action. Such a 'street' approach is invaluable to this form of countering terrorism. Indeed, the street credibility of a community member or group, and their in-depth knowledge of Islamic texts and jurisprudence can be crucial in fighting violent extremism on ideological grounds. Groups who have less credentials, less knowledge or who are not trusted by others of the same faith will be easily defeated in the ideological debate and will be unable to sustain the position of a convincing alternative to extremism.[145]

98. In the 2008 report, Faith in the Nation, the Committee's specialist adviser Dilwar Hussain contended that "[…] if channelled properly and maturely, an aggressive, even radical, form of citizenship is no bad thing for democracy […] it is vital to harness people's energies rather than try to pacify them".[146] Guy Wilkinson of the Church of England also felt it important "that we engage more with [all] those who demonstrate they are looking for integrative and cohesive action",[147] rather than "putting them through an ideological filter".[148] We consider, then, that wide engagement with credible—but non-violent—voices is desirable. The Government has made clear its position on non-engagement with groups which support, or actively promote, the al-Qaeda ideology. However, there is widespread criticism of the Government's failure to engage with more 'radical' voices which do not promote violent extremism. The Government should engage with those who demonstrate a desire to promote greater understanding, cohesion and integration. No organisation—unless proscribed—should be excluded from debate and discussions.

99. The question remains, however, of how—and which—organisations should be more actively encouraged (and possibly funded) to carry out the task of challenging the ideologies of those who either themselves seek to do harm, or risk inspiring others to do so.

100. Along with many other witnesses, the National Association of Muslim Police suggested that

There needs to be less reliance on individuals advising at a national level and closer working directly with local authorities. Each area across the UK is very different in its makeup, structures and relationships and will therefore require localised solutions. We would like the Government to be much more open to varying approaches—and this includes the allocation of resources.[149]

101. The need for locally tailored Prevent programmes has been strongly encouraged by Government and this is something that we support. However, many witnesses felt that it was difficult for local authorities and their partners to be responsible for deeming organisations 'appropriate' to challenge extremist or terrorist ideology—a difficulty confirmed by the LGA witnesses' responses to questions on this point in oral evidence.[150] Reflecting the views of many witnesses, the Quilliam Foundation observed that

Many civil servants working both in national and local government lack the necessary advice and expertise to properly understand the complex ideological and theological issues surrounding extremism and therefore to properly support the Prevent programme. Assessing whether a group or speaker propagates dangerous ideas should be carried out centrally by people with experience, expertise and the executive power to transparently and accountably disrupt extremist groups' gatherings.[151]

102. In response to these difficulties, JUST recommends a much greater role for Third Sector organisations in facilitating the interface between government and communities:

It is not the business of government to speak to the right people—it is the business of government to develop equitable, fair and anti-discriminatory policies and practice. The interface between communities and government should be facilitated by the statutory and Third sector. The loss of race equality officers within local authorities and the lack of sustained funding to grassroots and BME Third sector organisations have effectively stripped away a critical layer of communications between government and communities.[152]

The Mayor of London suggests that a central body of expertise is required, to assist local authorities' understanding of the nature and aims of various groups:

This is one area where there needs to be greater centralisation, with the creation of a due diligence unit at the heart of government which is able to advise and inform local authorities about how best to proceed with difficult issues. The reason for this is that it can be a daunting task to build the requisite knowledge and expertise to understand the ever changing carousel of radical leaders and their front groups.[153]

103. Charles Farr of OSCT explained that

What this Government has tried to do is to accept that challenging the ideology needs to happen, but to encourage other organisations to be doing that challenging for themselves and sometimes, but not always, providing them with the funding to enable them to better do so. That is where I think the solution to this lies. I would only add that [...]this is not a UK issue, it is an international issue [...] and therefore, this has to be an international effort with other governments and international organisations and international community organisations.[154]

104. The recent findings of the First International Conference on Radicalisation and Political Violence held by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation echo Charles Farr in suggesting that the following approach is required:

The international community—NGOs, governments and regional entities such as the EU—should assist capacity-building in strategic and tactical performance by indigenous actors in nonviolent struggles for rights, democracy, and freedom from domination. These nonviolent action-takers should be told: We will give you the knowledge and the tools you need, but we will not interfere in your choice of ideology or political goals. This effort should include the establishment of a new international funding source for the support of nonviolent resistance, free of the taint or suspicion of any government's interests or politics.[155]

The report adds

Media and educational institutions should be enjoined to raise the visibility and teach the 'counter narrative' of effective nonviolent struggle everywhere. Widely held misconceptions—that nonviolent action is about making peace rather than defeating oppressors, or that resistance is always quelled with repression—have to be reversed. Young people must be shown that the pay-offs for involvement in violent groups—belonging to an urgent cause, becoming a warrior—are also provided by civil resistance. The stunning record of nonviolent movements on every continent in winning rights and liberating peoples must become common knowledge.[156]

This acknowledgment of the role of the media echoes Charles Farr's observation that

It is really important that violent extremist networks are not unchallenged on the net itself. It is sometimes easy to get the impression they are the only thing that is out there and we need to correct that impression. We want to do that by encouraging other organisations to operate on the net too. I hope that is partly what organisations might use government funding to do.[157]

105. Government has already made attempts to facilitate theological debate at arm's length from Government through, for example, CLG funding organisations such as the Radical Middle Way, which describes itself as "a revolutionary grassroots initiative aimed at articulating a relevant mainstream understanding of Islam that is dynamic, proactive and relevant to young British Muslims." CLG has also led on effective capacity building work to improve standards in mosques, thus improving their capacity and status as community leaders—work which we fully support. RICU has also held an important role in delivering strategic communications to help build communities' resilience, empowering them to stand up to and reject extremism; exposing the weaknesses of violent extremist ideologies and brands; and supporting credible alternatives to violent extremism using communications. Witnesses suggested that all three of these initiatives have been successful, but needed to be built upon.

106. CLG-funded work undertaken by Cambridge University's Centre of Islamic Studies in 2009 provides a model for the way forward.[158] This study was undertaken by 26 Muslim scholars, academics and activists representing a diverse spectrum of views from Muslim communities in the UK. Although the project was supported by funding from CLG, the final selection of participants and the identification of items for discussion were the sole responsibility of the University of Cambridge, the Project Steering Group and the participants themselves. Over a nine month period, the participants took part in discussions about what it means to live as a Muslim in modern Britain. The report covers a wide range of issues including secularism, democracy, Shariah law, human rights and citizenship. The resulting report presents the group's conclusions and aims to act as the basis for a wider discussion with other Muslim leaders and communities around the UK. In time, it is hoped that the process will lead to the development of a virtual "House of Wisdom",[159] providing space for discussion among both Muslims and non-Muslims on how Islam should function in modern Britain and contribute to wider society. This is precisely the kind of exercise—self-managed and independent of Government—which will retain credibility in the Muslim community.

107. However, these initiatives do not necessarily help with the day-to-day challenges facing local authorities and their partners in deciding who to commission to undertake counter-narrative style work and how to tackle the myths and misperceptions propagated by extremists of all kinds. Nahid Majid and our specialist adviser Alveena Malik, Convenor and Deputy Convenor respectively of the 2005 Preventing Extremism Together Working Group on supporting regional and local initiatives and community actions, therefore strongly urged the Government and the Committee to "revisit the recommendation [in Our Shared Future, Commission on Integration and Cohesion, 2006] for a central Rebuttal Unit [...] being established to tackle extremist myths effectively and with facts".[160]

108. In terms of Government and local authorities partnering and funding organisations to undertake Prevent work aimed at resisting the ideology of violent extremism, more subtle criteria need to be applied than those applied to engagement. Many local authorities lack the skills and expertise to identify those organisations which are best placed to challenge the al-Qaeda narrative. This problem is exacerbated by the possible risk that any organisation endorsed by Government or local authorities—however 'radical'—stands to lose its credibility once 'approved' by the authorities. Notwithstanding the excellent practice in some local authority areas, it should not be left to local authorities to decide which local organisations should or should not be engaged with—or funded—through Prevent for counter-narrative work. The Government should investigate how more independent and academic initiatives that support public and community bodies to resist the ideology and politics of violent extremists and terrorists can be developed. Part of the work of such initiatives should be the challenging of violent extremist networks on the internet, which featured powerfully in the evidence submitted to us.

109. We recommend that the Government fund more initiatives along the lines of the recent study hosted by the University of Cambridge. Such self-managing and independent initiatives provide space for thorough debate—and possibly criticism—of Government policy and practice, making them credible to the widest possible audience.

110. We also recommend that the Government revisit the recommendation in Our Shared Future, (Commission on Integration and Cohesion, 2006) for a central Rebuttal Unit which can assist local authorities on a day to day basis in tackling all extremist myths (not just those relating to Muslim communities), effectively and with facts. This would be in addition to, or an extension of, the work currently undertaken by RICU. Whereas RICU's focus is predominantly national, this unit would work closely with local authorities and focus on local issues. We recommend that such a unit be led by an agency external to Government.

85   HM Government, Pursue, Prevent, Protect, Prepare: The United Kingdom's Strategy for Countering International Terrorism, March 2009, para 0.13. Back

86   Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan Back

87   HM Government, Pursue, Prevent, Protect, Prepare: The United Kingdom's Strategy for Countering International Terrorism, March 2009, para 5.23. Back

88   Ibid., para 5.24. Back

89   HM Government, Delivering the Prevent Strategy: An updated guide for local partners, August 2009, para 1.9. Back

90   Ev 151 Back

91   Ev 185 Back

92   Ev 114 Back

93   Ev 120 Back

94   Ev 121 Back

95   Ev 126 Back

96   Q 103 Back

97   Q 81 Back

98   Q 30 Back

99   Q 97 Back

100   Q 81 Back

101   Qq 396-97 Back

102   Ev 121 Back

103   Faith in the Nation: Religion, identity and the public realm in Britain today, Institute for Public Policy Research, 2008, p 41. Back

104   Q 69 Back

105   Ev 149 Back

106   Ev 117 Back

107   Iqbal Wahhab is a restaurateur in London who also chairs the DWP's Ethnic Minority Advisory Group and sits on the board of The Prince of Wales's charity Mosaic which focuses on British Muslims. For Mosaic he leads a project on Muslim prisoners. Back

108   Ev 90 Back

109   Ev 113 Back

110   Q 396 Back

111   Ev 125 Back

112   Ev 89 Back

113   Ev 120 Back

114   Q 64 Back

115   Q 80 Back

116   Ev 89 Back

117   Q 290 Back

118   The Terrorism Act 2006 makes it a criminal offence to encourage terrorism by directly or indirectly inciting or encouraging others to commit acts of terrorism. This includes an offence of "glorification" of terror-people who "praise or celebrate" terrorism in a way that may encourage others to commit a terrorist act. The maximum penalty is seven years' imprisonment.  Back

119   Preventing Extremism Together, Working Group Report, August-October 2005, available at, p 83. Back

120   Ev 195 Back

121   Ev 91 Back

122   The Rt Hon John Denham MP, Speech at the National Prevent Conference, Birmingham, 8 December 2009. Back

123   Ev 91 Back

124   Ev 89 Back

125   Ev 102 Back

126   Ev 94 Back

127   Perspectives on radicalisation and Political Violence: Papers from the First International Conference on Radicalisation and Political Violence, The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, 2008, p 13. Back

128   Ev 180 Back

129   Ev 102 Back

130   Ev 168 [National Muslim Women's Advisory Group] Back

131   Ev 121 Back

132   Ev 114 Back

133   Q 264 Back

134   Ev 136 Back

135   Project Safe Space is a national initiative implemented and delivered by young people from the UK Youth Parliament in partnership with other regional and local youth organisations. As a part of Project Safe Space, nine regional youth-led conferences on terrorism and violent extremism and its effect on young people were held between 2007-9. These conferences-or 'safe spaces'-were open to any young person from any community to discuss concerns and views about terrorism, violent extremism, youth leadership and working with the police. Adults supported the delivery of the conferences but all formats, presentations, podcasts, drama and facilitation of workshops was designed, agreed and delivered by young people. A national report on the findings from the project was published by young people in July 2009. Back

136   Q 276 Back

137   Q 306 Back

138   Q 118 Back

139   Project Safe Space National Report, UK Youth Parliament, July 2009, p 37. Back

140   Qq 343, 345 Back

141   Ev 149 Back

142   Ev 140 Back

143   IbidBack

144   The AHRC supports research in areas including traditional humanities subjects, such as religion, history, modern languages and English literature, to the creative and performing arts. The AHRC funds research and postgraduate study within the UK's higher education institutions. Back

145   Ev 134 Back

146   Faith in the Nation: Religion, identity and the public realm in Britain today, Institute for Public Policy Research, 2008, p 42-3. Back

147   Q 87 Back

148   Ibid.  Back

149   Ev 146 Back

150   Q167 Back

151   Ev 120 Back

152   Ev 184 Back

153   Ev 200 Back

154   Q 391 Back

155   Perspectives on radicalisation and Political Violence: Papers from the First International Conference on Radicalisation and Political Violence, The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, 2008, p 36. Back

156   IbidBack

157   Q 405 Back

158   Contextualising Islam in Britain: Exploratory Perspectives, Cambridge University, October 2009. Back

159   Ibid., p 20. Back

160   Ev 212 Back

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