Muslim youth group criticises 'toxic' Prevent strategy

By Joe Lepper

| 07 June 2017

The leader of youth group that works with young Muslims has criticised the government's Prevent anti-radicalisation strategy, claiming it is considered such a "toxic" brand among young people that his organisation avoids involvement with it.

British Muslim Youth has said the government's Prevent initiative is "toxic" among young Muslims. Picture: Arlen Connelly

Muhbeen Hussain, founder of British Muslim Youth, told CYP Now that the majority of young British Muslims his organisation works with want nothing to do with the strategy, as they are concerned it is too focused on linking Islam with extremism.

Prevent, which was introduced after the 2005 London bombings to identify and work with those at risk of radicalisation, uses a range of measures to challenge extremism.

These include supporting people through the Channel process, which can result in them being mentored, encouraged into diversionary activities such as sport, or signposted to mainstream services such as education, employment or housing.

Prevent also works with and supports community groups, faith groups and social enterprise projects that provide services and support to vulnerable people.

This includes providing funding to help them with their work, but Hussain told CYP Now he is reluctant to apply for money from the initiative because young Muslim people are unlikely to engage with anything connected to Prevent.

"One of the reasons we haven't been involved [with Prevent] is that young British Muslims find it very toxic and for that reason we cannot take funding and be part of it," Hussain said.

"The majority of young British Muslims think that. Part of that is through the implementation where religion is linked with extremism."

Labour's general election manifesto, contains a pledge to review Prevent, specifically its potential to alienate communities, while the Liberal Democrats have pledged to scrap the strategy.

Hussain backs an overhaul, with young British Muslims being given a greater role in how it is developed, perhaps through formal positions on strategy committees.

"I'm more in favour of reviewing it and making changes. It needs genuine engagement with young people," Hussain said.

"Prevent only works when you engage with young people. Let's listen to them and ask what their grievances are. Let them have the say."

Last month Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said in a general election TV debate that young people are more vulnerable to extremism as a result of cuts to youth servicces in recent years, because there are fewer youth workers engaging with them. 

Hussain said: "In the last few years we have had huge cuts to youth services, so where young people used to be in youth centres they are now being alienated in their bedrooms and on the internet. That is why radicalisation is able to connect with them easily online.

"When young people are with other like minded young people they can have a sense of Britishness and society. But when they are just on their Xbox, Facebook or YouTube, not speaking to people, these radical preachers find them online and indoctrinate them. Without the support of their peers it becomes difficult to counter that."

British Muslim Youth, which was founded in 2013 to counter radicalisation following the murder of Lee Rigby, is looking to set up a network of 100 local activists to engage with young people and counter extremist views.

This would give the group, which currently works with young people in Sheffield, Rotherham, Blackburn, Birmingham and London, a wider reach across the UK.

"What we want to do is create a group of young activists that can be involved in social circles and speak about radicalisation. This is so that young people can hear positive challenges from their peers so that when they go on the internet they won't be so easily groomed or influenced," said Hussain.

Earlier this week former chief crown prosecutor for North-West England Nazir Afzal called for youth groups to be more involved in supporting efforts to counter radicalisaton, singling out British Muslim Youth as a key organisation.

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