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Are Muslims to be prevented from even wanting to help the less fortunate now?

29 JUNE 2021

Islamophobia already assumes Muslims are violent and threatening, but now Prevent is even making people suspicious of Muslim children who want to help the poor. How am I supposed to raise my children in this environment?


On the last Sunday of June—on the holy day of the week for Christians—I was shocked, horrified and, unfortunately at this point, unsurprised to read that a Muslim boy had been referred to the UK government’s flagship counterterrorism strategy for expressing a desire to “give alms to the oppressed”. 


Over the course of decades of experience with the Prevent strategy—which has, ironically for its name, a very high rate of failed referrals—I have heard of many discriminatory referrals of Muslim children that, for any other demographic, would be considered utterly nonsensical. It is clear that the strategy is worsening Islamophobia in the UK and needs urgent reform. 


This report, however, hit particularly close to home. 


Even though prejudicial stereotypes—including those perpetuated in counterextremism strategies—frame Islam as a violent religion, my religion has always taught me to love all beings and do my best to help others. This is one of the reasons why it was such a shock for me to find out that the terrorist attack I survived by pure chance had been carried out by Muslims. Charity and giving to the less fortunate is a key part of Ramadan. I try to instil the same values I was taught growing up in my own young children. 


So, I was horrified to see a child being labelled a would-be terrorist for wanting to give to the oppressed. When asked to imagine what he would do if he suddenly had a lot of money, the boy said he would use it to help others. This is the polar opposite of the racist, false stereotype that frames Muslims as selfish, violent individuals who give no concern for others. This is the true meaning of Islam. The government has widely promoted the expressions of community spirit shown throughout the pandemic. This boy embodies this principle. What else are Muslims supposed to do?


Now, granted, “alms” and “arms” sound similar, but we only mishear words when we assume which word others mean. The teacher should have used their brain and common sense to ask the student for clarity which would have easily and quickly cleared up such a situation.


Thankfully, the police saw that there were no reasonable grounds for this claim whatsoever, but this was nonetheless a very distressing experience that was prompted by the Islamophobia embedded into the education system by the Prevent duty.


According to the article that broke the news, the referral included notes stating that the boy “attends a local mosque” and was worthy of suspicion because of his “non-typical… interest in medieval history, war, siege engines and soldiers”. For any other community in a country as proud of its history—in particular, its military prowess—a child being interested in history would be widely praised. But not a Muslim boy. 


How on earth is attending a mosque noteworthy for a counterextremism referral? In a country that is contending with the loss of ‘traditional’ values, surely a devout boy would be welcomed? Not a devout Muslimboy. This surely implies that every practising Muslim is at risk of being labelled a suspected extremist just by expressing some of view. Prevent advocates will try and deny such stereotypes and referrals, but this has been the case since the start of the strategy in 2005!


As with most legislation that relates to individual liberties in the UK, referring authorities must take account of proportionality and how necessary it is to make the referral compared to any risk presented to the public. In what way was this necessary or proportional? The only human rights criterion it fulfilled was being part of a piece of legislation, which, even then, is extremely vulnerable to contravening human rights requirements


Even though those referred to Prevent must consent and be made aware, in practice this is often not the case. Indeed, this child’s parents were not made aware of the referral until they suddenly found themselves being investigated by the authorities. Legal action on this case is still ongoing, but it is particularly concerning that records are kept on referrals, regardless how baseless they may be, and not expunged as soon as investigations are closed. 


Telling his class that he’d donate to the needy if he became wealthy could result in a record that his teacher thought he was expressing extremist views following him throughout his education and possibly even into his professional life. 


What is apparent now more than ever is that the Prevent strategy needs to be repealed and that the UK is desperately in need of legislative reform. British Muslims are sick of being viewed through a securitisation lens and we are frustrated that our school children are being reported to the police because of people’s underlying racism and Islamophobia. 


We are not second-class citizens. At this point, I’m not sure we could even claim to be treated as well as second-class citizens. If the government and those in charge of counterterrorism are serious about addressing the root causes of extremism, they will repeal Prevent and fundamentally reform the counterterrorism strategy to promote tolerance instead of promoting mutual suspicion, division, and dangerous stereotypes.

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