Thursday, 20 April 2017

Safeguarding the Vulnerable from Extremism

Safeguarding the Vulnerable from Extremism

Dr. Mozammel Haque

On Wednesday, 22 March 2017, a terrorist attack took place in the vicinity of the Palace of Westminster in London. The Kent-born attacker Khalid Masood, 52, whose birth name was Adrian Russell Ajao, killed three people when he drove his car into pedestrians, walking across Westminster Bridge and then after crashing, fatally stabbed PC Keith Palmer outside Parliament before being shot dead by police. Khalid Masood was British-born and had a 20-year record of offending and had a string of convictions, including for assault. The country stayed calm, united and strong.

The British Prime Minister Theresa May said, “We will all move forward together. Never give in to terror. And never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.”

The Home Office in cooperation with the Islamic Cultural Centre, London organised an evening event entitled “Safeguarding the Vulnerable from Extremism” at the Centre on 30th March 2017 to discuss the central theme of which is to protect the new generation from extremism. After conveying condolences to the families of the victims and praying to God the Almighty to safeguard us all from such shocking and terrorist attacks, I have divided this write-up into two sections: First on Safeguarding the Vulnerable from Extremism and second on Horrible Westminster Terror Attack.

In this connection, I would like to acknowledge and express my gratefulness to Dr. Ahmad Al-Dubayan, Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre, who facilitated my attendance to the Evening event and dinner by providing conveyance to and fro the Islamic Cultural Centre, London.

Safeguarding the Vulnerable from Extremism
The evening event entitled “Safeguarding the Vulnerable from Extremism” organised by The Islamic Cultural Centre, London in cooperation with The Home Office, UK ,was held at the Library Conference Hall of the Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC), on Thursday, 30th of March 2017. The evening event was attended by 120 people including community leaders, social activists and heads of Islamic organisations and associations. The event was chaired by Ayaz Zuberi, Head of Public relations at the Islamic Cultural Centre, London.

This evening programme took place in the aftermath of the Westminster Terrorist Attack. Thus the central theme of the evening event was to protect the new generation from extremism. A group of experts, psychologists, social workers, teachers and imams discussed the protection of youth from extremism and violence. Safeguarding the community and eradicating the threat of violence and counteract the extremist narrative prominently dealt with.

There was a team of expert panellists for community question: They were Mariam Hamoudi, Prevent Social Worker, London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea; Dr. Abu-Lisan, Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London in the  Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, Founding Chair of the Chelsea Muslim Community Hub, Governor of an outstanding schools Federation (Fox-Ashbumham); Dr. Abdul-Rasoul Yassiri, Member of the Iraqi Association,  Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Imam Shafi, Imam and Religious Advisor for Her Majesty’s Prison Services (HMPS) and The National Offender Management Services (NOMS).

Welcoming the gatherings
Dr. Ahmad al-Dubayan
The event was started with the recitation from the verses of the Holy Qur’an. After the recitation, Dr. Ahmad al-Dubayan, the Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, welcome the attendees by saying, “It is great privilege for us here to have all of you especially for those who come to the Centre for the first time. I hope there are few only because since for many years I have been trying to attract everybody to come here to the Centre. Insha Allah there is few who are coming for the first time.”

After welcoming the guests and attendees, Dr. al-Dubayan started by thanking the Team from the Home Office who were organising this event. He said, “Thank you so much really for organising this event today and thank those from the Islamic Cultural Centre, to let it happen, to take it place today.” In the beginning, of course, he thanked the “speakers who are going to enrich our mind and knowledge about the information that they are going to give.”

Speaking about the subject or the title of the event, Dr. al-Dubayan said, “The subject of today is really very important – safeguarding. Safeguarding is really a very big title and a very big word covers a lot of things. Safeguarding is very important especially when it comes about ideas, ideology. This is very very important. Because it has relation with religion itself; it has relation to the social life of individuals; it has relation to the system; all of it as a whole in the community or in the society as a whole. So it is a word which has lot of dimensions and has many meaning.”

Referring to what happened last week in Westminster, Dr. al-Dubayan expressed his condolences and prayed for the victims, “We are really passing through a critical time. I hope it will not last for long time. It is critical moment after the awful incident happened last week in Westminster and I have to express my condolences for those who passed away or who are victims of this incident and also prayer for everybody in the society to be safe and to protect us all Insha Allah.”

Speaking about duties and responsibilities of every people as well as that of the Islamic Cultural Centre, Dr. al-Dubayan mentioned, “We believe the Islamic Cultural Centre touching this subject and talking about educating people empowering people on some meaning and some duties is very very important. It is one of our responsibilities. When it comes about radicalisation or extremism or terror, it is even more important. That’s why we actually welcomed here and hosted many programme about women empowerment, children, youth and many other thing together with Home Office and also with other governmental bodies and non-governmental bodies and civil organizations, NGOS around us in the society.”

Safeguarding is a very big word, it has many dimensions. Elaborating the word and its meaning, Dr. al-Dubayan said, “Safeguarding is a responsibility which comes from many sides; comes from the family; they have some responsibility about this; for young people; they have also responsibility; responsibility from teachers; there is responsibility from imams; there is also responsibility from the Muslim organisations; there are responsibilities from every single institution which is working around the society.”

Speaking about radicalisation, the ICC Director General said, “Those people who are being attracted or have been attracted to such a kind of radicalisation anywhere in the world; I believe, before they cause victims somewhere, they are themselves victims; victim of wrong ideas; victim of wrong interpretations, victim of, may be, hijacking the name of Islam particularly done by other people.”

Another word in the title of the event is vulnerability which is very important. Dr. al-Dubayan mentioned, “Today may be the subject of vulnerability is very very important. There is something like vulnerability assessment in the society to prevent these people not to be themselves of victims of such ideas and such radicalisations. How to do it? This is actually something one of the subjects which really need to be discussed, researched and I am sure our speakers will touch some of it; how to prevent; how to use education to prevent such vulnerability; how to use, for example, the holistic safeguarding, building this way or another around, and, with us here  today, Mr. Ahmed Abdul Ghani he is a social expert in the Islamic Cultural Centre here and he is working actually drafting some ideas about finding a way for vulnerability assessment around the society. How this is to be protected and how this to be put it in the beginning.”

Speaking about people turns to extremism, Dr. al-Dubayan thinks it is a very complicated issue. He said, “This young people who are going that way either in the U.K or any other country; I think the issue is very very complicated; it is not just somebody who listened to a speaker or an imam or a preacher in a mosque or somewhere, or read a book, may be listen to video clipping in the internet and then suddenly within one hour he became radical or extremist. It is more complicated than that.”

Dr. al-Dubayan believes there are many factors working behind. He said, “I believe there are many factors, social factors working behind this. I believe there is lack of education; I believe there is one very important thing that is lack of knowledge of Islam itself; there is a big gap in the knowledge of Islam itself among Muslims themselves. I think Muslims need very basic education about Islam for themselves; also including those who are born as Muslim and  this is actually the reality that what we have.”

Besides those factors, Dr. al-Dubayan also mentioned some other factors. He said, “There is unemployment which is working in many countries in the Middle East; there is lack of human rights also in some areas in the world; which also encourage people to be radical. They think that in this way they can guarantee their rights. All these factors are working together, overlapping together in one society or another to produce what we are having today. The achievement that we try to do together is to do something to unplug this problem, to put it in the right way and to come closer to the young generation to see how we can remedy the problem before it happens. It’s like something precautionary system; taking steps before problem itself happened.”

The ICC Chief mentioned something which experienced from the incident he had seen and from the questions he had heard. He said, “There is a problem of identity; there are some young people they really don’t know what their identity is and those who do not know who they are; they are really very easy prey for the extremists. When someone is angry with everything around him or her; he or she does not think he/she belongs to the society or may be this society is unfair with me; then where I go; okay I don’t know where to go; or I am different from the people around; I am alien to the society; then I will be easy for some people; I will be taken by people who come and tell me listen you don’t belong to the society; you belong to this side; so come to us. This is one of the core things. I hope you can take care of and Ahmad Abdul Ghani is here; he is working on such things, with us and with some outside programme addressing particularly this thing.”

Speaking again the title vulnerability, Dr. Al-Dubayan said, “This readiness to be attracted another way which really something that we should take care of and I think it is our responsibility at the Islamic Cultural Centre, since we are really taking care of not only about religious education or about teaching Islam to those who like to know Islam even though they are not Muslims or to the Muslim who like to have deeper knowledge and also to give protection to really bring people into the society closer to each other to know each other; to actually make the way the path straight for better understanding; better relations, more tolerance, giving chance to people, spreading knowledge because knowledge is very important. Because knowledge brings understanding; but actually ignorance brings misunderstanding.”

Dr. Al-Dubayan said, “We can defeat all these things, stereotypes from both sides only when we pave the way open the door for more knowledge for other people; knowledge about our society; knowledge about regulations of the society and really putting our hands together to work together.”

Dr. Al Dubayan further explained how the Centre is working with some social and trained experts such as our Advisor, Ahmad Abd El- Ghani, to develop a vision of a proactive, peaceful vision on the prevention of extremism; from assessing risk-factors and taking care of youth's vulnerability to extremism before.

Dr. Al-Dubayan concluded his lecture after thanking all those who prepared this event; all those who are present and those who come today to listen to these remarkable speakers to get benefit from them.

Mr. Ayaz Zuberi
Mr. Ayaz Zuberi, Head of Public Relations at the Centre and panel Chairman of the evening welcomed the panellists and gave a brief induction of the format of the evening. Mr. Zuberi brought attention to the audience the attack which took place at Westminster on 22nd March 2017 and conveyed the Centre’s condolences to the families affected by the attack and prayed to God, The Almighty, to safeguard us all from such shocking terrorist attacks and thanked the police and emergency services for their swift response in keeping our country safe and protected.

Mr. Zuberi also informed the participants that Dr AL Dubayan and the Islamic Cultural Centre had a meeting with the Home Secretary, Mayor of London and Faith Leaders to show solidarity and community cohesion amongst all.

Mr. Zuberi also mentioned how post Westminster attack the issue of safeguarding plays a potent role in many youth related organisations in the UK. Mr. Zuberi also informed the participants of the following statistics:
* 13 UK Terror attacks have been prevented since March 2013
* At any given moment, there are 500 live investigations that are taking place
* The current threat level for international terrorism in the UK is SEVERE

Ms. Mariam Hamoudi
Ms. Marian Hamoudi, Prevent Social worker (supporting families) talked about the local delivery of the prevent strategy. She informed the participants that she has been working in the PREVENT programme for 2 years in her capacity as a social worker engaging in women’s issues. Ms. Hamoudi stressed on the importance of reducing risk factors relating to extremism which may include bullying in schools through mechanisms and ways she can give advice and consult with youth and the younger generation. Ms Hamoudi also gave an informative talk on the role of the PREVENT unit in approaching and safeguarding the vulnerable from Far-right extremism.

Dr. Mustafa Abu-Lisan
Dr. Mustafa Abu-Lisan, Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, Governor of an Outstanding Schools Federation for 12 years and as a chairman of a wonderful charity and as a founding member of the Chelsea Muslim Community Hub. He discussed the prominence of outreach programmes with schools, religious centres and local community by the PREVENT unit as a mechanism of educating wider-fabric community as tactic in counteracting extremism.

He advised people to be inside and put your views forward. Dr. Abu-Lisan said, “Those people who have the misconception about PREVENT they have it because they are not there. It is much better to be inside and put your view forward; rather than criticise while you are outside. Because inside you can put your views and get your answers; you get your answers from very high sources from the Home Office.”

Dr. Abu-Lisan spoke on education. He said, “Prevent in education is extremely important.” He said, “I found PREVENT is nothing more than an extension to the safeguarding and child protection policy, like we try to protect them from bullying, from alcohol, from drugs, from anti-social behaviour. We protect them from extremism and radicalisation and genital mutilation and we also try to teach them about the important shared values, the family values, I call them, the freedom to express yourself, respect for the law, democracy, freedom of the individual, the freedom to practice your religion whatever it is.”

Dr. Abu-Lisan also said, “It is very important that we realise that PREVENT is nothing more than an extension of child protection policy. Nothing more. In Madrasahs, or supplementary schools, when we teach Arabic, teach Qur’an we applied the principles of child protection and safeguarding; and we also teach them about PREVENT. And we are lucky now that we have people from the PREVENT group who come and visit the centres and talk to the teachers and train them.”

Dr. Abu-Lisan also mentioned that observation is very positive; we noticed that the parents are very happy because their children are given extra protection and we found that the children were also very happy. 

Dr. Abu-Lisan is a founder of the Chelsea Muslim Community Hub which promotes tolerance, integration and peace and provides a haven for Muslim families to socialise and celebrate family values that protect young people from drugs, alcohol and antisocial behaviour. Dr Abu-Lisan throughout his address connected his experience and its importance of promoting community cohesion and interconnected to reduce the threat of extremism. 

Dr. Abdul-Rasoul Yassiri
Dr. Abdul-Rasoul Yassiri is a Member of the Iraqi Association and Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He highlighted in his speech several physiological factors affecting extremism. Within his talk, Dr Yasiri commented that there wasn’t a strong correlation between suffering from mental illness and extremist behaviour. Statistics shown that many extremist behaviour attacks were conducted by individuals who do not work with others. These peoples are commonly referred to as lone wolfs.

Dr Yasiri also pondered over in his talk how and what makes a person vulnerable towards acts of terrorism. Steps can include the following:

* Identifying vulnerable adults who are particularly at risk
* recognising risk from different sources and in different situations and recognising abusive behaviour from other service users, colleagues and family members
* working within best practice as specified in contracts

Imam Sheikh Shafi Chowdhury
Sheikh Shafi Chowdhury is the Imam for Her Majesty’s Prison Services (HMPS)  and The National Offender Management Service (NOMS). Sheikh Chowdhury presented to the audience his experience working within HM Prison Muslim Chaplaincy where he found education was a prominent tool as a method of safeguarding and protecting vulnerable adults and youth offenders. Imam Shafi highlighted that changes in demur of prisoners was a problem facing Muslim Chaplaincy and through creating better theological understanding and increasing methods of communications will help people integrate more in society and significantly reduce threats of extremist nature.

Speeches were followed by half an hour Q & A (Question & Answer) session with the audience and Dr Al Dubayan concluded by thanking all for their attendance and participation within the event and was delighted to see such engagement and enthusiasm during the evening. Dr. Al Dubayan paid tribute to the Trustees of the Centre for their invaluable support in the activities of the Centre and thanked the UK Home Office for their collaboration in the event and finally thanked his colleagues in the Islamic Cultural Centre for their hard work and diligence in preparation of the event.

Forum Feedback and Data Analysis:
During the end of the forum, evaluation forms were distributed to all attendees and data was tabled and allowed for collection & analysis of results which gave way to areas of improvements. This section of the report focuses on providing an insight of how the attendees felt about the event and how the comments which were relayed to administration of the Centre was responded to appropriately.

The participants of the event were asked a series of question in terms of how they felt towards the event with the first question that was answered being “Has this event improved your awareness of Islam and Civic Responsibility” and the results can be seen below:

Question “Has this event improved your awareness of the risks posed by extremism?”

No. of Responses
Greatly Improved
Good Improvement
Moderate Improvement
Small Improvement 
No Improvement

It can be deduced from the results that attendees had their awareness of the risks posed by extremism improved overall throughout the event with however 15% of participants having little or no improvements. Participants were then asked two comparative questions before and after the event:

Question: How important do you consider safeguarding vulnerable individuals from extremism to be  Before and After the event:

Very Important
Slightly Important

How confident were you about efforts to safeguard and protect vulnerable individuals from extremism Before and After the event?

No Confidence

How did you feel about the event overall?

No. of Responses
Very Positive
Very Negative

 Evaluation & Recommendations from Results:
The Results displayed in the Data Analysis shows that overall an improvement from before the event to after the event in the following sectors:
* Advocating for creating awareness of the risks posed by extremism 
* Promoting The community responsibilities of all in the Community
* Enduring efforts to reduce extremism through safeguarding vulnerable

The results also indicate a high satisfaction rate in the participants’ attitude towards the event itself which help promote a positive atmosphere in the event itself.

General Comments and Suggestions:
* Most participants relayed to the Centre in the additional comments section that they much enjoyed the discussions and found it most informative.
* There were many feedback indicating that the audience valued the wealth of knowledge and experience shared by the panellists
* Comments were made about the questions and answers sessions where the audience felt that questions were answered very well and queries responded to appropriately, given the short time frame for the questions.  

Areas to improve on in future events:
* Adopt initiatives and programmes to engage with youth with society with community cohesion events
* Include more women in events and promote initiatives to promote women and to inspire women in the community
* Allocate longer time frame for question and answer sessions to respond to as many queries as possible during the event.
* Include more case study analysis of extremism in the session to allow the audience to further engage with the topic and apprehend it better.

I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Mr. Mohamed Omar, Secretary of the Director General of the Islamic Cultural Centre, London, in the preparation part of the report on the Evening event; especially the Data Analysis, Evaluation & Recommendations, and Comments and Suggestions. .

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