A society of mosques that represents up to 70,000 Muslims has vowed to boycott the government’s anti-terrorism Prevent programme after accusing the policy of being a racist attack on the Islamic community.
The Waltham Forest Council of Mosques made the move in the wake of increasing tensions between the area’s council and the Muslim community.
It is the first time a council of mosques has issued such a boycott and it will be seen as a blow to the government’s attempt to involve religious communities in the fight against radicalisation.
The WFCOM statement was triggered by a motion at a meeting of Waltham Forest council on Thursday endorsing the need for the controversial Prevent programme and an associated programme known as Brit, launched to identify signs of radicalisation in primary school children.
The council of mosques condemned the council for linking the high profile stabbing at Leytonstone tube station this month reportedly by a man shouting “this is for Syria” to the need to implement the Brit programme in schools.
“We endorse the manner in which the police dealt with such an incendiary situation,” says the council of mosques statement. “It provided the community with a sense of reassurance. It is shameful how politics is being manipulated to implement a programme which asks questions such as:
– I believe that my religion is the only correct one: True/False
– God has a purpose for me: True/False
– I would mind if a family of a different race or religion moved next door: True/False.”
The statement goes on to say: “The project itself and Prevent in general is an ill-conceived and flawed policy. It is racist, and overtly targets members of the Muslim faith. This has been demonstrated by organisations who are collecting data on referrals to the [anti-radicalisation] Channel programme … We see the Brit project as another tool being used (like the Prevent strategy) to spy and denigrate the Muslim community and cause distrust. We have no confidence in the Brit project and the Prevent strategy overall.”
At a meeting on Thursday night councillors withdrew the contentious paragraph of the motion which linked the Leytonstone attack with the need to have programmes such as Prevent in schools.
Cllr Chris Robbins, leader of Waltham Forest council, said: “The council motion was about celebrating the borough’s diversity, a sentiment that we can’t understand anyone objecting to. It goes on to thank the community and police for their response to the incident at Leytonstone tube station on 5 December.
“At the council meeting tonight, a paragraph which referred to the need for programmes such as Prevent and our school programme was removed to ensure that no one could use its contents in any way to detract from praise for our community and police. The motion was passed unanimously.
“But no one should take from this any lessening of the council’s commitment to working with everyone in our community and across government to tackle violent extremism … We are confident that residents from all backgrounds and faiths support us in this work.”
Irfan Akhtar, a member of the council of mosques, welcomed the council’s U-turn but insisted that the boycott remained in place.
“Prevent is a toxic brand,” he said. “We are fighting the implementation of Prevent and will not let it into the mosques. We want to work closely with all teachers on safeguarding of children of all faiths and none. We think that Waltham Forest is a testing ground for Prevent programmes and this is a wake-up call that we are not just going to accept Prevent in our community.”