The Turkish news agency Andelou Agency is reporting that West Midlands Police’s counter-terrorism unit has donated £5,000 to Birmingham Central Mosque to buy 50 transmitters to broadcast the call to prayer, sermons and question-and-answer sessions to people at home or work.
The decision, according to the unit’s Chief Inspector Dale Randle, was made as part of the UK government’s controversial program for tackling violent extremism, Prevent, which was launched after the 7/7 bomb attacks in London.
Though Prevent has been seen as a method for spying on communities, Randle says it is actually a way of building engagement within them – which is why he agreed to fund the transmitters when asked by the mosque.
“In return we are given a little bit of air time, previously we’ve worked with radio stations and purchased airtime and advertising time, and this is a little bit similar,” said Randle. “We can work with the mosque and do some Q&A sessions and talk through some of what we do, and hopefully break down any barriers.”
Muhammad Ali, the mosque administrator, said it has a good relationship with the police. “There are many organizations involved and we have many sponsors, the police is just one of them.”
“We have not told our congregation yet,” admitted Ali.
When told about the program, several mosque attendees told Andelou Agency that they were shocked. One of them, Faisal, said: “It’s a concern to me, why are the police involved in the first place?”
Randall said that suspicion is why his counter-terrorism unit invested in the transmitters.
“If we can help explain why we do things, as best as we can, it sometimes helps communities understand what we do,” he said.
One of the issues they want to talk about is humanitarian aid trips to Syria, after the government revealed its concerns about UK nationals fighting in Syria’s civil war.
“It gives us a good space to talk around Syria, which is a real issue at the moment. Which is certainly having an impact on the local community, regionally and nationally,” said Randall.
Many Birmingham Muslims feel that the police is spying on them. These fears were heightened after it was revealed a few years ago that the police was putting surveillance cameras in Muslim areas of Birmingham which were financed from a counter-terrorism fund.