In his countering extremism speech in Birmingham last week, David Cameron called for “strong”, “positive” and “reforming” Muslim voices to be given more prominence to help tackle radicalisation – the “struggle of our generation”.
So it was very apt that an internationally renowned Islamic scholar was in the city at the weekend for a conference aimed to do just that. Ataul Mujeeb Rashed, Imam of The London Mosque, addressed a diverse audience ranging from Midlands mayors to Muslim youth to emphatically condemn terrorism, basing his talk on teachings from the Qur’an and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.
The event, hosted at the Darul Barakaat Mosque in Bordesley Green, also highlighted the positive work being done by Muslims in service to this country through blood donations, sponsored charity runs and selling poppies for the Royal British Legion.
It was a great advert for young Muslims proud of their place in Britain.
But will the Government succeed in winning over those who don’t feel as loyal?
As both a teacher and Muslim, I welcome the promotion of ‘British values’ such as individual liberty, democracy and respect for different faiths. I also support the Prime Minister’s desire for poisonous ideologies to be challenged, as Imam Rashed did so effectively.
But I worry about the direction Prevent appears to be taking, particularly in schools. The last decade has seen a significant shift in the war against terror – from intervention in foreign lands, to intervention in our classrooms. Under the new measures, teachers will be expected to spot signs of “non-violent extremism” – a vast spectrum, covering anything from political dissent to disagreement with same-sex relationships. All are part of a “process of radicalisation” that makes violence the “ultimate destination.”
Forget foreign policy, which the ring leader of the 7/7 bombings and murderers of Lee Rigby cited as the motivation for their acts. According to the Prime Minister, it isn’t Britain’s unconditional support for Israel, or military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, that is responsible for leading young people towards extremism; criticism of these things are.
Education is about providing a platform for every child to share their beliefs as well as ‘beefs’. I teach RE – a subject that provokes important discussions about a host of issues, including sexuality and conflict, enabling pupils to reflect critically and make reasoned judgements – essential for their personal development.
No prejudice or discrimination should ever be tolerated in the classroom. But if, under the new laws, we stifle young people’s freedom to openly express themselves, ask difficult questions and say controversial things (for fear they might be viewed with suspicion), they will do so elsewhere – and that’s not always a good thing.
For some, Prevent is merely an extension to existing safeguarding procedures – my friend and fellow RE teacher Andy Lewis makes a good case for this in his blog – but others have serious concerns about the tone and ambiguity in the Government’s language. And despite the Prime Minister’s assurance that this is “not about spying on Muslim children”, many remain unconvinced.
Mr Cameron’s speech was never going to please everyone, but has made a good number of those he was reaching out to feel even more alienated. As it stands, Prevent will not conquer the “struggle of our generation”, but potentially exacerbate it.