Friday, 11 December 2009

National Prevent Conference in Birmingham

National Prevent Conference in Birmingham

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The National Prevent Conference was held at the International Conference Centre in Birmingham on Tuesday, the 8th of December, 2009. Speaking to an audience of over 1000 frontline Prevent workers at the International Conference Centre in Birmingham, Communities Secretary John Denham reaffirmed the importance of the Government supported Prevent programme and set out measures to further improve its effectiveness. “Its importance in keeping our country free from terrorism. And its importance in ensuring that our own people – young people in particular – are not drawn into support for or involvement in violent extremism,” said Communities Secretary.

Communities Secretary wanted to address “some of the criticisms, controversies and lack of clarity which have been made of Prevent and which have unnecessarily limited effectiveness. We have to deal with this criticism effectively, honestly and openly, if we want Prevent itself to be fully effective.”

“It has been criticized within some parts of Muslim communities. Criticized by parts of the civil liberties lobby. Criticised by those who say it is supporting the very forces that are part of the problem. Criticised both by those who say it is too soft, and by those who say it is too hard. Of course, criticism itself is never a reason to do something,” said Mr. Denham, M.P.

Mr. Denham said that while Al Qa’ida inspired terrorism is a serious problem which needs to be tackled it must never been seen as the defining issue for British Muslims; or for the Government’s relationship with Muslim communities nationally or locally.

Mr. Denham said, “I know, and you know, that the typical Muslim family – like families across the country – is much more concerned about jobs, housing and education than they are about violent extremism. And for the vast majority of Muslims, as for members of other faiths, their faith is a source of comfort, inspiration and strong values - not a call to violence.”

Mr. Denham made it clear that Prevent cannot work as a Government programme imposed on Muslim communities - they need to feel ownership of the community based parts of Prevent and work as full partners in it.

“We share pride in the progress which has been made in areas like education where British Bangladeshi and British Pakistani pupils have made huge strides. Participation in higher education for Bangladeshi and Pakistani students is higher than the average,” mentioned Communities Secretary and added, “We’re united with the community in standing up to racism and discrimination, with new laws to tackle racial and religious hatred, and are introducing new protection for freedom of religion in the Equalities Bill. And we enabled London to have five fully Sharia compliant banks and shaira compliant financial instruments”.

Welcoming and celebrating the contribution that Muslims make to this society – whether in business or public services, in education or charities, in sport or the arts, Communities Secretary said, “We are ensuring that Muslim voices are heard in Government through groups like the National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group and the Young Muslims Advisory Group. Sadiq Khan has become the first Asian and first Muslim to attend Cabinet. And Mohammad Sarwar is the first Muslim to chair a Select Committee.”

“We work with the community on issues of common concern: continuing low employment rates, particularly among women; the numbers of Pakistani or Bangladeshi children who grow up in poverty and poor housing; and on issues of mutual interest like international development and aid, climate change and poverty around the world.,” said Mr. Denham.

The aim of Prevent is simple. It is to ensure that our fellow citizens do not commit acts of terrorism against Britain or British people. And that we all abide by and respect British counter terrorism laws.

Mr. Denham also made it clear that Prevent has two tasks: “first is to ensure Muslim communities have the resilience to tackle the small minority who would create the space for violent extremism; and are able to not only oppose but actively challenge those who seek to legitimise violence here. This does not mean we believe that Muslim communities are ‘the problem’ or that tolerance or acceptance of violent extremism is widespread. Far from it,” said the Communities Secretary.

“Prevent is not about changing anyone’s views on the international issues and conflicts which concern British Muslims, British Jews and British citizens of all backgrounds. It is not the job of Prevent to demand that everyone agrees with or takes a particular view on the Government’s foreign policy,” explained Mr. Denham and said, “However, Prevent unequivocally says there is no legitimate reason, no matter how passionately you feel, to use concerns about any international issues to justify terrorist activity here. And it challenges directly the small minority who believe that conflict elsewhere justifies violence here.”

“Second, Prevent should not and must not stigmatise or demonise Muslim communities.
It is important that local Muslim communities do not feel that are being singled out if other forms of extremism are a threat in the area,” said the Communities Secretary. .

But Mr. Denham made it clear that “The threat from Al Qa’ida inspired terrorism remains the greatest threat – in terms of number of plots and the ambitions for death and destruction that are expressed. But Government and our whole society must oppose extremism wherever it exists.”

Mr. Denham also mentioned, “We are already working across Government to tackle hate crime, including that from far-right extremism. We are supporting areas where we know far-right organisations are mobilising. Through the Home Office led ‘Channel’ programme and the new Connecting Communities programme, we are tackling head on the issues – real and perceived – which if left neglected can prove fertile territory for extremism and those who would divide our communities.”.

Communities Secretary also made it clear: “any area facing far right or racist extremist problems which divide communities should have a strategy for addressing those problems. And those areas should be resourced for that work.”

“Perhaps the most important concern, and one which has received a lot of recent publicity, is so-called information gathering. The fear that by joining a Prevent activity, the organisers or the participants are opening themselves up to covert surveillance, intelligence gathering and the collection of files on the Muslim communities,” mentioned Communities Secretary.

Speaking at the International Conference Centre in Birmingham, Mr Denham said: “The success of Prevent depends on its effectiveness through public support and consent. To be more even effective it is important that we are as open, transparent and clear about the aims and work of Prevent to support local authorities in making what can be very sensitive judgements and to make sure that those whose support we need most have the trust and confidence they need to be partners in this work. “

“In many ways, community cohesion - building a strong society with shared values and a strong sense of shared identity - is a broader and more ambitious aim involving every part of every community equally, not just Muslim communities.

“Prevent needs to remain focussed on preventing crime. There are aspects of Prevent that would never be included in a cohesion strategy. But there will clearly be circumstances, for example, involving young people in building stronger communities and establishing their rights as British citizens, where well designed projects can deliver.”

As well as being clear that Prevent is a crime prevention programme that needs to be more transparent, other measures Mr Denham announced at the conference include:

encouraging local authorities to move away from using labels and language which are creating unnecessary obstacles to participation by Muslim communities; and
Providing more support for frontline Prevent workers through Government offices, direct- support when needed and sharing best practice and resources from within Muslim communities to tackle theological and ideological issues.

He stressed that Prevent will remain focussed on the particular challenge of Al- Qaida inspired violence, but local authorities and the police should use the new funding announced today, as well as the Connecting Communities programme and mainstream resources to ensure other forms of extremism are addressed.

Mr Denham acknowledged that the development of local Prevent strategies, aiming to ensure fellow citizens do not commit acts of violence against Britain or British people overseas and abide by British anti-terrorist laws, are complex and involve making difficult judgements about the activities and organisations to be supported. He stressed that Prevent strategies must be designed and delivered locally but he promised more support and guidance over the coming year.

Communities Minister Shahid Malik said, “After visiting projects around the country, the Communities Secretary and I have been engaged in open and honest dialogue. Where criticism has been constructive, we’ve been willing to listen as this is key to improving the effectiveness of Prevent. Communities must have ownership, including Muslims, as equal partners in standing up to all forms of extremism.”

Mr. Denham said, “I want to be very clear. We must have complete openness and transparency. There should not be any information gathering or information sharing about the community aspects of Prevent work which cannot be openly acknowledged with all members of the partnership and the wider community. It is important to have robust information sharing processes which help to prevent criminal activity by vulnerable individuals.”

Before the Conference, the Communities Secretary John Denham and Communities Minister Shahid Malik made a press briefing at the Communities and Local Government office on Monday, the 7th of December, 2009, where the Communities Secretary briefed the Muslim Press about the Prevent Programme.

No comments: