Imams, priests, rabbis and other religious figures will have to enrol in a ‘national register of faith leaders’ and undergo vetting.
Imams, priests, rabbis and other religious figures will have to enrol in a “national register of faith leaders” and be subject to government-specified training and security checks in the Home Office’s latest action on extremism.
The highly controversial proposal appears in a leaked draft of the Government’s new counter-extremism strategy, seen by The Telegraph, which goes substantially further than previous versions of the document.
The strategy, due to be published this autumn, says that Whitehall will “require all faiths to maintain a national register of faith leaders” and the Government will “set out the minimum level of training and checks” faith leaders must have to join the new register.
Registration will be compulsory for all faith leaders who wish to work with the public sector, including universities, the document says. In practice, most faith leaders have some dealings with the public sector and the requirement will cover the great majority.
The move marks a significant deepening of the state’s involvement in religion and is likely to be resisted by many religious representatives.
Maulana Shah Raza, an imam who is a founding member of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (Minab), a self-regulatory body designed to promote best practice, warned the Government “not to meddle in religious affairs or to expand the state’s involvement in deciding on religious and theological issues”.
He said: “The Government needs to concentrate on ensuring that safeguards are in place to protect the public and treating all faith communities equally.”
Minab was launched with ministerial support under the last Labour government, but relations with Whitehall have cooled after the group refused to sever ties with extremist mosques and imams.
The new crackdown has emerged the week after the Government announced that it had killed two British Isil fighters in a drone strike.
It is believed Reyaad Khan, 21, from Cardiff, the main target of the drone attack, was radicalised at the Welsh city’s al-Manar mosque, which has hosted a series of extremist preachers, including Muhammad Mustafa al-Muqri, an al-Qaeda ally and former leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
Until 2013 the mosque’s in-house preacher, Ali Hammuda, who believes that music is a “sickness,” was allowed into Cathays High School, one of the schools attended by Khan, to run lunchtime sessions with students, teaching among other things that music and “free-mixing” between men and women were “not permitted in Islam”.
Another extremist preacher closely linked with a terrorist, Usman Ali, who taught one of the men who killed soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, was appointed chaplain at the area’s local hospital and was also on the management committee of a community centre. He was only sacked from his NHS role after an undercover reporter filmed him inviting a guest speaker who praised the Taliban.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church said it had not been consulted on the proposals. Other senior Catholic sources said any plan for state supervision of priests would be “firmly resisted”.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has said that the fight against Islamist extremism is the “struggle of our generation” and has to be won for the same reasons that Nazism was defeated. The leaked strategy is also sharply critical of the police and local councils for their failure to tackle scandals exposed by this and other newspapers, including the Trojan Horse plot to take over state schools in Birmingham, extremism and corruption in Tower Hamlets, and the child grooming scandal in Rotherham.
“The police response to Rotherham and Trojan Horse was hindered by a poor understanding of isolated communities and a fear of being seen as racist. This is not acceptable,” the document states. “We will therefore ensure that the police have a better understanding of extremist behaviour.”
The strategy states that local people will be given a new “extremism community trigger” – a right to “demand action where they feel the police and Crown Prosecution Service are not investigating and prosecuting people who have committed hate crime and other extremism-related offences”.
Under the “trigger,” the police would be forced to review the case and respond formally in writing.
The document says the Government will also set out a new “framework for intervention” when local councils “fail” to tackle extremism.
n a policy change stemming directly from Trojan Horse, which was largely led by hardline Muslim school governors, the document says that Whitehall “will compel schools, including academies, to have at least one governor or trustee with no familial or business ties to the school, and who lives outside the catchment area”.
More than a year after the official report into the scandal, by the former police chief Peter Clarke, only one person has been banned from becoming a governor and only one member of staff at the schools has been sacked. Other teachers accused of involvement in the plot have been reinstated, despite still being under interim orders banning them from the profession.
As revealed by The Telegraph in March, the extremism strategy also includes measures to remove benefits from people who do not learn English, review sharia courts, ban radicals from working unsupervised with children and use Jobcentre staff to identify potential extremists.
The strategy, which was supposed to be published in spring this year, has been delayed for months amid deep concern in some parts of government and most of the counter-extremism community about its most radical measure, to ban individuals whose behaviour “falls below the thresholds in counter-terrorism legislation” but which “undermines British values”.
Mr Cameron has said: “For far too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens that as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. This Government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach.”
n May, Haras Rafiq, director of the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, described this proposal as “Orwellian and totalitarian,” saying it would “play into the hands” of extremists. He added: “It is very noticeable that the main Islamist groups are not really up in arms about this. They want it, because it will feed the narrative of grievance and victimhood they love. They will be able to use it to say, ‘look, we told you so’.”
The document defines extremism as “the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs,” or as calling for the death of members of the British Armed Forces.
It also names a number of specific groups – including the Association of Muslim Schools, which has close links to a number of the Trojan Horse plotters. Significantly, it describes the Muslim Brotherhood, a loose global Islamist network, as an “extremist movement”. A Government review into the Brotherhood, completed months ago, has still not been published.