Are We Losing The War On Home-Grown Terror?

The Prevent anti-extremism programme is threatened by Islamists, Salafists and the Left. Too few Muslims are standing up for it

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Brave stance: Sara Khan, founder of Inspire, a pro-Prevent organisation, provokes rage from her Islamist critics (©Joe McGorty/Inspire)

The good news is that the number of terrorist attacks around the world fell last year for the first time since 2012, partly because Islamic State is being beaten back in Iraq and Syria. The bad news is that this will increase the risk of bloodshed in Europe.

“There will be a terrorist diaspora sometime in the next two to five years like we have never seen before,” warns the FBI Director James Comey. The recent mass slaughter attacks in France and Belgium may be just the start of violence on European streets lasting years.

By 2015, UK terrorism arrests were up 35 per cent from 2010. The police are removing more than 1,000 pieces of terrorist-related content from the internet every week.

The IS menace has also provoked a growing right-wing backlash. British — or as some MPs now prefer — “universal” values of tolerance and equality are under attack from extremists “operating at a pace and scale not seen before”, says the government.

Its programme for reducing both Islamist and neo-Nazi extremism is called Prevent. Foreigners who promote extremism are stopped from entering Britain, while citizens here assessed as being vulnerable to radicalisation are offered help. Some 15 per cent of Prevent interventions now relate to the far Right but since the threat to national security remains overwhelmingly from Muslim extremists, the focus has been on them.

Since Prevent was launched in 2006, an expanding and influential network of Islamic organisations have campaigned relentlessly to have it scrapped — even though they have said they oppose IS. Leading them is Cage, the jihadist prisoner lobby group (Facebook following: 27,035, despite describing the IS cutthroat Jihadi John as having been a “beautiful young man”). Prevent is “destructive”, says Cage. “It harms communities from top to bottom.”

The version of Islam that dominates this anti-Prevent network can be summarised as Salafi-Islamist. While its activists diverge on the extent to which Islam’s religious texts should be literally interpreted (as Salafists argue), both factions harbour a visceral grievance that the West has declared war on Islam. Many oppose gender and sexual equality and support hudood — capital punishment in Islamic countries for adulterers and apostates (Muslims who leave Islam).

Their primary loyalty is to the Ummah — what they see as the global nation of Islam with its supremacist overtones. They believe that a caliphate (properly constituted as distinct from IS’s so-called caliphate) is superior to the nation state, although there is much debate about their preferred kind of caliphate. Overall, what distinguishes this politicised version of Islam (Islamism) from its more orthodox ancient tradition is that it is an ideology. Judged against the most basic of universal human rights, the Salafi-Islamist worldview is reactionary and highly regressive.

While Cage describes itself as a “human rights NGO . . .  working to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror”, its directors are silent on the right to life of Muslims stoned to death for adultery and apostasy in Islamic states — provided conviction is by “due process”. Nonetheless, Cage’s campaigns strike the highest of moral tones: “All our work is evidence-based — and aims to contribute to intellectual change.”

This is not the case. A recent “evidence-based” Cage publication accused Prevent of having “opened up” a mass spying operation on Muslims by “the entire public sector” of 500,000 public servants. Cage even claimed Muslim pupils were being singled out by teachers using Home Office guidance listing 22 radicalisation risk factors for referral to what are called Channel (de-radicalisation) panels.

The guidance is called, in deadly bureaucratic jargon, ERG22+. According to Prevent officers familiar with how ERG22+ is actually deployed, Cage’s allegation is untrue. William Baldet, Prevent co-ordinator in Leicestershire, says ERG22+ is used only by the Channel panels run by the local authority, on which sit representatives of agencies like social services.

Only then is ERG22+ used to help a Channel panel decide if suspects are a) vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism, and b) what support they could be offered, which they are free to refuse. In practice, very few do.

In other words, ERG22+ is used discreetly, under local authority supervision, with the welfare of the individual at heart. It is not used by half a million public servants as part of a state-sponsored spying operation. Baldet says: “Critics should stick to the facts.”

Cage seems to find that hard. It asserts that Prevent is a “cradle-to-grave police state”. On February 20, 2015, when three teenage girls from Bethnal Green Academy were discovered to have left to join IS, both their parents and the police publicly appealed for them to return before crossing the Turkish border.  “This is not about criminalising people,” said Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command. That same day Cage tweeted: “Incredible. Police telling three girls to come back when they know full well they’ll be locked up.” It was untrue, and the girls did not come back.

The anti-Prevent network of Islamists may feel they are on a sacred mission but to them facts are manifestly not sacred. Last August the Home Affairs Select Committee published a report into countering extremism. The popular Islamist website 5Pillars (so named after the five obligations that Islam commands from a good and observant Muslim) reported that MPs had found as a fact that Prevent “discriminated against Muslims”. Again, untrue. MPs simply quoted one assertion by a member of the Muslim Council of Britain that Prevent had created “discriminatory practices” for pupils. 5Pillars also headlined that the MPs had called Prevent “toxic.” Again, untrue. What MPs actually said was that the Prevent brand had become “toxic” to “some” Muslims, and suggested it be called “Engage” instead.

The number one target for the anti-Prevent Islamists is their fellow Muslims who support Prevent as a way of working for the common good. These Muslims are fully engaged with British society, support gender equality and universal human rights, condemn violence in the name of religion, promote interfaith dialogue and oppose all forms of sectarianism within Islam.

The pro-Prevent organisation that provokes red mist rage from the antis is called Inspire. Sara Khan, 36, is its co-director. Born and brought up in Bradford, she wore the veil in her teens, but removed it because male clerics were using women’s clothing to determine “what women can and cannot do”. This was not a rejection of her faith but of patriarchal “obsession” and “authority”. She remains an observant Muslim. 

Khan’s focus is on women’s rights: when they are advanced, she says, they strike a blow against the extreme ideas that help lead young Muslims to the door of violent extremists. The more the Salafi-Islamist world view is challenged, the greater she believes will be resilience to extreme narratives and the more comfortable Muslims will be with a British Muslim identity.

In September 2014 Khan launched an anti-IS campaign called “Making A Stand” offering help to beleaguered Bangladeshi, Pakistan and Somali mothers in some of Prevent’s 46 priority hard-to-reach areas. Her workshops gave mothers their first chance to share their collective experience of the generational barriers between them and their children: in particular, ideological differences over religion with children seeking a more globalised Islamic identity attracting them to Salafi-Islamist websites, and madrassas teaching a narrow, intolerant understanding of Islam. Ahead of Khan’s visit to Cardiff, leaflets distributed to mosques urged husbands and fathers not to allow women to attend the workshops. The Sun gave the campaign front-page treatment, and Khan wrote an article in which she said: “Islamic State says jihadi brides will be treated as equals. But the reality is they’ve given up the freedoms and women’s rights that Britain offers.”

For a man who says he is “appalled by the criminality of ISIL” the reaction to Khan’s campaign by Dilly Hussain, deputy editor of 5Pillars, was bewildering. Khan’s article was “an apologetic rant filled with liberal rhetoric”, he said.

When another pro-Prevent Muslim organisation, the East London-based Active Change Foundation, led the anti-IS “Not In My Name” campaign, which reached 300 million people, attracted 6.6 million tweets and 885,000 YouTube views, Hussain again vented his spleen. It was a “vicious circus show” smearing the whole of Islam through guilt by association with terrorist attacks.

Prevent is not perfect. How could it be when schools, universities, the NHS, social services and youth offending service have been required by law since 2015 to report expression of opinions that indicate a vulnerability to radicalisation to the Channel de-radicalisation panels? Inevitably, the new law has led to a spike in referrals. Conservative religious practices have occasionally been conflated with extremism and that is clearly distressing for the individuals concerned. The fact that the Channel panels, however, assess that only 20 per cent of referrals merit intervention shows that Prevent’s purpose is safeguarding, not spying. It would surely be perverse to undermine that role.

Despite highlighting cases of anti-Muslim prejudice in delivering Prevent, another Muslim charity “Tell Mama” (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) has been censured by Salafi-Islamists.Why? Because while the charity has been critical of Prevent where the evidence supports this, it considers that the pros outweigh the cons. “Many Prevent officers and practitioners work diligently and sensitively in engaging families and individuals to ensure the safety of communities,” Tell Mama says.

The charity has also put its money where its inclusive mouth is by appointing as patrons the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and Richard Benson, former chief executive of the Jewish Community Security Trust, which monitors anti-Semitism. The appointment of an “LGBT activist” and a “pro-Israeli” Jew, opined Dilly Hussain of 5Pillars — both of them “very unpopular amongst many Muslims” — had “made it difficult for Tell Mama to gain the trust of the people they want to protect”.

The appointments also caused Tell Mama to be written off as “phoney” by the anti-Prevent Islamist organisation Mend (Muslim Engagement and Development). Its chief executive Sufyan Gulam Ismail told a Manchester mosque: “We don’t want . . . a pro-Zionist . . . to be recording Islamophobia” and “making all sorts of comments we might not agree with when it comes to homosexuality”.

Ismail later accepted his words “could have been better” chosen. But his knee-jerk reaction suggests that Mend’s high- minded claim to “enhance the active engagement of British Muslim communities in our national life” exclude those who offend against Mend’s own set of “Islamic values”.

Ismail’s rancour is on a hair-trigger. He says Britain has a “300-year-old Israeli lobby”, when Israel has existed for 68 years. After arson destroyed a north London Somali mosque in 2013, Ismail said: “Did you hear one politician condemn it? Did you even hear one politician condemn it?” Actually, yes — several. Visiting the smouldering ruins of the building, Home Office minister James Brokenshire said the attack was “appalling” and the government would stand “against any forms of extremism or any forms of aggression or violence”. Then London mayor Boris Johnson said he was “shocked”, local MP Theresa Villiers said, “This kind of hate crime is despicable,” the Communities Minister Eric Pickles said he was “deeply concerned” about this “disgraceful crime” and local Muslims “have all my sympathies”. In 2014, Finchley United Synagogue hosted the Somalis for an Eid celebration because they were still without a mosque. In 2015 Finchley Reform Synagogue did the same thing, with Sadiq Khan, now mayor of London, and Golders Green MP Mike Freer present.

For their willingness to work with Prevent, Muslim civil society organisations like Inspire have been branded “government stooges”. This is also untrue. Several, including Sara Khan, have been highly critical of the government’s Extremism Bill, describing it as “excessive, draconian, and counter-productive, a violation of civil liberties”. Which it is. Or was. Some of the bill’s most illiberal provisions appear to have been shelved. Most objectionable to Khan was its provision for a kind of ideological Asbo called an Extremist Disruption Order to be served on those deemed to be “extremist” but who had not broken the law. Those served with an EDO were to submit any speech or article for advance vetting by the police. Creating a thought police to protect British values?  There could scarcely be anything less British.

However, to 5Pillars, Sara Khan is a “Muslim apologist . . . a government-friendly desperado” who “parrot(s) whatever the establishment wants them to”. 

According to another popular Salafi-Islamist blogger “Coolness of Hind”, Muslims like Sara Khan are the Islamic equivalent of the Black Power leader Malcom X’s “house Negro” who “loved his master more than the master loved himself” by enforcing his writ against his slaves in the fields. So Khan and her Muslim colleagues are maligned as “house Muslims” and “native informers” colluding with Western Islamophobia — even though they are practising Muslims.

For make no mistake, the Salafi-Islamist anti-Prevent campaign is a major staging post in their demand for recognition as the dominant voice among British Muslims, and in their claims that their politicised version of Islam is “normative” or “orthodox” Islam, and that Muslims like Khan are not really Muslims at all. Hence, their description of her as a “Muslim” in quotation marks, and Coolness of Hind’s dismissal of her faith as “some strange concoction of her version of ‘Islam’ and feminism” and his allegation that she had descended from being a “reasonably grounded Muslim [presumably because Khan once worse a veil] to frankly a confused stooge . . . who has completely lost her way”.

This trolling of Muslims who have “sold out” their faith (deen) is a non-violent form of takfir — the war cry of groups like al-Qaeda and IS to murder Muslims they consider have abandoned a purist version of the Islamic faith. Another female Muslim campaigner for Muslim women’s rights was trolled by 5Pillars’ deputy editor Dilly Hussain as “a stupid liberal cow” with “verbal diarrhoea” because she said on TV that the notion of a caliphate was “totalitarian”. A photograph of her having a drink with friends was “Muslim slutshaming”, she was a “pisshead . . . fat cow . . . a liberal bullshitter” whose “drunken liberal garbage doesn’t count”. Hussain has since told me his Muslim “etiquette was out of order” but his swaggering diatribes reflect a reality: in the battle for British Islam, the Salafi-Islamists are on a roll. A new book by Sara Khan (The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism, co-authored with Tony McMahon, Saqi Books, £14.99) sets out in forensic detail just how much this puritanical and politicised faith is ascendant in Britain thanks to its 24-hour-a-day activism and divisive tactics.

McMahon works for Breakthrough Media, a strategic communications company contracted by the Home Office to help civil society groups develop narratives to counter extremism — grist to the mill of Khan’s detractors that she’s a “government stooge”, despite her book being open about McMahon’s job. The book was also Khan’s idea, so frustrated had she become with the Home Office leaving organisations like Inspire “to be ripped apart by the wolves by their deathly silence in challenging the myths perpetuated by the anti-Prevent lobby.”

5Pillars has nearly 179,000 Facebook followers compared to Inspire’s 6,470. “Good luck!” mocks the triumphalist editor of 5Pillars, Roshan Muhammed Salih, in response to Khan’s efforts to marshal a rival network of Muslim activists to counter their illiberal anti-Western outlook. Yet even 5Pillars’ following is but a fraction of the fans following the doyen preacher and chairman of another leading anti-Prevent organisation, the London based Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA).

The Ampleforth-educated convert Abdur Raheem Green boasts 878,211 “likes” on his Facebook. Should we assume that many “like “Green’s response to a Jew who interrupted one of his Speaker’s Corner rants: “Why don’t you take the Yahoudi [Jew] over there, far away, so his stench doesn’t disturb us, OK?” Or Green’s strictures against Muslims allying with non-Muslims who “will not fail to corrupt you”? Or what Green says about a Muslim state where Jews and Christians would be taxed in order to practise their faiths? Do they also “like” Green’s rationale for the “wisdom” of adulterers needing to suffer a “slow and painful” death by stoning because “the death of two criminals can prevent the death and agony of many innocents”?

Another increasingly influential Salafi-Islamist group is Islam21C, which claims to have been “setting the narrative since 2007”. Over the past decade Islam21C has built up a Facebook following of 225,461 which must have something to do with Britain’s foremost Salafist preacher, Haitham Haddad, being its star turn. His “ultimate aim” is not to build a pluralist society but “to see the word of Allah dominant on the whole globe because justice will never be achieved unless the word of Allah is dominant” with an Islamic republic of Britain as a stepping stone. Haddad urges Muslims to use our “filthy” democratic process to work towards this.

Islam21C’s editor Dr Salman Butt poses a rhetorical question: “So what now? Do we continue for the next ten years keeping to the current scope and capacity? Or do we aim bigger braver higher spanning across Europe and the entire English-speaking world to bring orthodox Islam truly into the mainstream?” Guess what his preference is.

Although Prevent has saved many vulnerable young Muslims and nascent neo-Nazis from being sucked into terrorism, the mainstreaming of the Salafi-Islamist narrative that the West hates Islam suggests Prevent will be unable to marginalise it. It is this mainstreaming that the government believe offers a staircase to violent radicalisation.

That is why Prevent is not simply aimed at IS but more widely at the ideology that underpins all violent jihadi groups — the entire Islamist spectrum from IS and al-Qaeda and its offshoots at one end, through to the Taliban, with Hamas at the other end.

While most Salafi-Islamist organisations — including Cage — have made clear their opposition to IS, some of their activists do sympathise with other jihadi groups. Sympathy for motives, of course, is not the same as sympathy for direct actions. But that sympathy comes through in the visceral tone of their anti-Westernism which the government seeks to counter because it believes this offers a route to radicalisation.

That’s why the Islamists never stop insisting that radicalisation has got almost everything to do with Islamophobia, foreign policy and alienation — everything, that is, except their ideology.

So when Omar Hussain, a former supermarket security guard from High Wycombe who now calls himself Abu Saeed Al-Britani, urged fellow British Muslims to “cause terror . . . right in the centre of all that heresy”, his loathing of the West is merely “incidental” to him having joined IS. But if that loathing isn’t ideological, why did he also say: “Why are you still in dar al-kufr? [land of the unbeliever]. Why are you still in the West? What does that filthy despicable country have to offer you? Nothing — here, Allah is offering you Paradise.”

But this doesn’t stop the anti-Prevent mantra that Prevent is based on a government “conveyor belt” theory, flawed because it assumes that someone who develops extreme ideas will graduate to terrorism. Repeated ministerial assurances that “we are clear there is no single path to radicalisation” have not killed off this canard even though the evidence clearly suggests that the ideology is one of those paths.

The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, says that radicalisation is a two-stage process: first comes a grievance, say, racism or foreign policy. Of course the world is full of people with grievances. But they don’t become terrorists unless an ideology “battens onto the grievance” to “provide a language that makes sense of the grievance and that makes sense of the person’s life”.

Yet the notion that ideology is just incidental to radicalisation and that Prevent is not addressing its root causes has spread from the Salafi-Islamists to the political mainstream.

The MP for Bolton South East, Yasmin Qureshi, says she wants Prevent replaced with a “community-led programme that builds resilience for tackling social problems”. No mention of tackling ideology.

Like everyone in the anti-Prevent lobby, Qureshi complains that the government should “engage with community actors and organisations that have grassroots credibility”.

To the MP for Bradford West Naz Shah, Inspire — one of the few organisations that has engaged with local Muslim organisations and countless of women in hard-to-reach Muslim communities — is “one of the two most loathed organisations amongst Muslim communities”. It showed in Shah’s questioning of Sara Khan when she gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on countering extremism.

What exactly has Inspire’s impact been, asked Shah? Significantly more, it seems, than her constituents from the Bradford Council of Mosques, who Shah invited to give evidence — an invitation that backfired.

World-renowned as “community leaders”, the Bradford Council of Mosques explained that if the government wants to defuse suspicion about its counter-extremism strategy, it should “engage” with them. “Engage” about what, exactly? It soon became clear the Council knew next to nothing about extremism within its vast network of 80 mosques, faith schools and other institutions. To the obvious astonishment of MPs, the Council’s senior imam of 19 years said that despite his “extensive contacts”, never once had he encountered views among Bradford’s 129,000 Muslims that were hostile to Britain, or of anyone wanting to be an activist for a proscribed organisation. Not even a whisper from the relatives of the 14 Bradford children who went to Syria in 2015 — and who constitute 90 per cent of the so-called “caliphate cubs”. By contrast, Sara Khan says she is overwhelmed with requests from schools to train teachers how to spot vulnerability to radicalisation, and Muslim parrents concerned about the radicalisation of their children.

The East London Mosque — which also sees itself as “community leader” for a significant section of the capital’s 1.3 million Muslims — does not seem to have its finger on the pulse either. “We are a bit surprised that the government has not engaged an institution like ours,” lamented the ELM’s chairman. It would have “made a very valuable contribution”. Really? Like its Bradford counterparts, the ELM told MPs they had no knowledge of radicalisation. Nor could it even clarify the ideology of its imams, or so it said.

The other organisation “most loathed” amongst Muslim communities, according to Naz Shah, is the counter- extremist think tank the Quilliam Foundation. Again, why? Its senior research director is Dr Usama Hasan, a physicist, theological scholar, fluent in English, Urdu and Arabic (he memorised the entire Koran by the age of 11) and a once-radical Salafist. However, after the 7/7 bombings he discarded Salafism to campaign against extremism and joined Quilliam, which also supports Prevent. That has earned Hasan the contempt of the forever fulminating blogger Coolness of Hind, who dismisses his scholarly fellow Muslim as a “devolved reformist”. I take that to mean it’s not Hasan’s progressive version of Islam that makes him a “reformer”; rather it is Salafism that qualifies as “reformed” Islam because its literalist reading of religious texts has become so “mainstream”, as indeed it has. It is the traitorous Hasan who has “devolved” from this — i.e. he has abandoned the true faith.

Even elements of the secular “progressive” hard Left have sided with reactionary Salafi-Islamists in their quest for control of Islam in Britain.

For a glimpse into this Kafkaesque world, we need to head to Bath University where professor of sociology David Miller seems to believe that the real reactionaries are not the Salafi-Islamists but their Muslim opponents like Sara Khan and Usama Hasan, who are, of course, the real progressives.

Miller, a staunch defender of Cage, has even wagged an angry finger at a former jihadists turned progressive on what does, and does not, constitute Islamophobia.

Adam Deen, once a member of Al Muhajiroun, now works for Quilliam. Last April he delivered a lecture at Bath on the difference between Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry. Like Sara Khan, in support of Prevent Deen trains teachers how to avoid discriminating against Muslim children through misreading conservative Islamic practices as signs of extremism.

Deen sought to explain how the Left has fallen into a trap laid by the Islamists over “Islamophobia”. While violent attacks on individual Muslims were clear evidence of anti-Muslim bigotry, Islamophobia had been steadily broadened to cover any criticism of religious theology, including and especially Islamist theology. Since Islamism is an ideology, it should be open to debate with the same latitude as any political debate.

Witnesses say some lecturers called Deen “racist”. Deen says Professor Miller heckled him “incessantly”, shouting, “Why do you support the racist Prevent strategy . . . you’re funded by the Islamophobic industry.”

In what must rank as one of the world’s weirdest alliances, Islamism’s reactionary Right and the secular “progressive” hard Left have conjured the oppressed into the “oppressor” and the oppressor into the “oppressed”. Supported by non-Muslim feminists and Corbynite activists from the National Union of Students, some campus Islamic Societies (ISocs) have tried to ban speakers like the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and Usama Hasan. Why? Because they are now seen as fuelling Islamophobia — as is Sara Khan. She says: “A white middle-class feminist once stood up and called me an ‘Islamophobe’ for daring to condemn Muslim extremist preachers who don’t give a shit about women’s rights. Where’s the feminist sisterhood in that? Down the pan.”

Last month in Glasgow, academics from Edinburgh and Newcastle universities were due to share a platform with Cage at a “landmark summit” organised by a Muslim women’s centre “to examine the scale of prejudice” faced by Scottish Muslims.  Given Cage’s equivocation on the stoning to death of adulterous women in Islamic countries, what contribution it can credibly make to women’s rights is unclear. 

What explains the mainstreaming of reactionary Islamists by supposedly enlightened secular British academics? To spare the reader the pain of unpacking Professor Miller’s rationale, in a sentence it is this: progressive non-Islamist Muslim activists like Sara Khan, Adam Deen and Usama Hasan are collaborating with one of the world’s most repressive states, whose counter-terrorism strategy is — in his words — “at the forefront of ensuring that Muslims are collectively pushed to the edge of public life having been dragged to the Right” by “elements of neo-conservative and Zionist movements”. Get it?

MPs have now decided that the Prevent “brand” has become “toxic”. The toxins were infused back in 2009 after Prevent, still in its infancy, was called the “biggest spying operation in Britain in modern times” by Shami Chakrabarti, today the Corbyn-ennobled Shadow Attorney General. It was an “affront to civil liberties”, she said.

Sustained infusions of toxins provided by the Salafi-Islamists have now been reinforced by the senior Labour politician Andy Burnham. The once aspirant Prime Minister is campaigning to be Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Appearing recently alongside the anti-Prevent organisation Mend, Burnham said: “The Prevent duty to report extremist behaviour is today’s equivalent of internment in Northern Ireland.” Eh? The 11 per cent of Greater Manchester’s electorate that is Muslim presumably now has visions of armoured cars, tanks and guns coming for them, just as they came for 2,000 Irish men and women detained without trial behind barbed wire between 1971 and 1975.

So “toxic” have anti-Prevent activists succeeded in making the brand that the programme needs an independent review, says the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation David Anderson. He is right.

But we should be clear about one thing. Anderson’s recommendation is not because he thinks Prevent is either a spying operation or an affront to civil liberties. He has emphasised he does not. He also says he has “no reason to believe Prevent is not well-motivated” and is “sure” that fears that Islam is being targeted “are exaggerated”. 

Rather, there is now a major crisis of perception, not substance, of a government strategy aimed at building resilience against an alien ideology that is steadily eroding the cohesive fabric of this country and its security.

Ministers and leaders of Britain’s many different Muslim communities — whoever they really are — need to address this urgently instead of leaving it to the small band of front-line Muslim activists like Sara Khan who have done more than anyone to expose the shallow hysteria of Prevent’s detractors — and who get abused and threatened for doing so.

Since going to press, the Guardian has reported that the MCB plans to establish an alternative to the government’s Prevent programme.

The following day, the MCB’s assistant Secretary General elaborated in the Guardian, saying Prevent was failing because it is “widely perceived to be a toxic brand.”

This in turn was followed by criticism of the MCB by Cage and other Salafi-Islamists demanding an end to any kind of Prevent programme.

Now the MCB’s Secretary General, Harun Khan, has denied it plans to “create an alternative to Prevent or rebrand it” — despite his assistant not denying this in his follow up Guardian article.

The MCB has not, however, resiled from its plan to offer a “grass roots led response to the challenge of terrorism” which it acknowledges is “real.”

What this “grass roots response” might amount to in practice is unclear.

The Guardian was told that panels of “community leaders” and other supporters will be involved.

If so that would amount to an alternative to Prevent with Muslims considered by the MCB scheme to be at risk of radicalisation referred to their panels, rather than the official Channel Panels operated under Prevent.

Criteria for referral to Channel Panels is a calibrated process in which an individual is assessed for a) engagement with a group, cause or ideology; b) intention to cause harm; and c) ability to cause harm. Each of these criteria is assessed by reference to 22 factors. Support is offered to the individual tailored to the outcome of this assessment.

What would be the MCB’s criteria for referral to its panels?

Presumably, very different from the government’s criteria, since the MCB doesn’t agree with the government’s definition of extremism in the first place.

In 2014, the MCB said the government had conflated extremism with “conservative Muslim practices” after an inquiry had found evidence of bigotry amongst Muslim staff in some Birmingham schools towards gays, other faiths, gender, and hostility to the armed forces.

The MCB says Prevent is now “seen” by “Muslim communities” as a “top down government-led effort to create a more palatable version of Islam.”