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Newham imams oppose 'divisive' counter-terrorism strategy

PUBLISHED: 10:30 04 January 2016 | UPDATED: 11:00 04 January 2016

Signatories call on Newham Council for greater transparency outside Old Stratford Town Hall

Signatories call on Newham Council for greater transparency outside Old Stratford Town Hall

Archant

A nationwide strategy to target extremism from an early age is leading to a "breakdown of trust" in the community, religious leaders have claimed.

In an open letter to the council, the 41 signatories, nearly half of them imams, urge for greater transparency in how the authority tackles grass roots extremism with Prevent.

The letter claims the strategy “almost exclusively targets young Muslims for the views they hold on religion or issues such as government or foreign policy”, adding: “Schools and teachers are cast in the role of spies on our young people. This is leading to increasing division and to a breakdown of trust in schools and colleges.”

Sent to Newham Council last month, the statement also refers to a case in Waltham Forest, where school children were asked to complete surveys “designed to provide clues to possible radicalisation”.

Tahir Talati, chair of Newham MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development), said parents in Newham were worried their children would be similarly targeted.

“It creates distrust in the community, it creates a sense of fear. They send their children to school for education, not to be profiled and interrogated.”

The government-funded strategy has existed since 2009, but only since July has it been mandatory for schools. The letter says the lack of consultation between the council and members of the community is “deeply regrettable”.

“Most importantly, we call on the council to urgently discuss the issues with imams and faith leaders; community representatives and organisations; teachers’ unions and parents.”

A council spokeswoman said the strategy was about “supporting individuals to stay safe and within the law” and “does not focus on one religious, ethnic or racial group”.

“This year the government has placed more responsibility on schools to take a lead in this area, so the council supports schools to provide training for teachers and staff, while the police engage with local community organisations.”

Home Office’s security minister John Hayes added: “Prevent is about protecting those who might be vulnerable from the poisonous influence of extremism and stop them being drawn into all forms of terrorism.

“Protecting those who are vulnerable and at risk is a job for all of us.”

Do you think Prevent should be more transparent? Email phoebe.cooke@archant.co.uk

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