In a speech to the UK Security Expo in London on Wednesday, Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, called for a new conversation on counter-terrorism between the government and Muslim communities.
In his speech, Khan said that Muslims are ready to work with all partners to challenge terrorism.
He said Muslims have been at the forefront of reporting suspicious activity and taking the poison out of the message of terrorists. But he identified the major stumbling blocks for deeper cooperation, chief amongst these being the government’s Prevent strategy.
“Prevent is stopping the government and its agencies from engaging, as equal citizens, with all sections of the Muslim community, the majority of whom want to cooperate in challenging terrorism,” he said.
“Prevent needlessly holds the UK’s counter-terror strategy hostage — between those Muslims wanting to help and those fervent ideologues of Prevent who are not even willing to countenance an independent review of the strategy.”
The MCB chief also identified challenges for the Muslim community to overcome.
“The allure of extremism is found outside the mosque and on the fringes of society. Clearly a handful of young people refuse to see the legitimacy of mosques, which is why they turn to agents of hate. In this regard there are problems in our community. Of generational empathy, of identity, and of some young people not being able to relate to the world around them.
“We need to strengthen our mosques, enable our Imams, our youth leaders and others, giving them the tools and know-how to relate to young people with safe spaces to engage openly and without fear on issues such as foreign policy.
“We Muslims must also face up to the mental health challenge, which is taboo in some of our communities. We cannot ignore the fact that a significant proportion of those prone to terrorist sympathies are known to have mental health and psychological problems, a problem not just limited to white extremist lone wolves. ”
Khan also critcised the media for its reporting on Muslims.
“Hate breeds hate, as does fear which we must guard against. As such, we must also speak of the role of the media whose over-the-top reporting of terrorist acts inadvertently glamorises the actions of terrorists, and provides an added attraction.
“Gone hopefully are case studies from as recently as 2014 where mainstream broadcasters would fall over themselves to report on the latest video released by Daesh, thus amplifying their message and notifying potential viewers of the latest snuff video for violent terrorism.
“The acts of violence perpetrated by these terrorists are designed to cause the most shock, configured to sow fear and mistrust in our communities. We must deny them this objective, but the media is at risk of inadvertently assisting in this aim. The imperative to inform must not be translated to giving such extremists a platform…
“While I am not calling for state control of the media in this regard, I am appealing to media editors to exercise more responsibility in this regard, just as I am calling editors and producers to exercise more responsibility when reporting on Muslims generally.”
Finally, Khan criticised the government for not engaging properly with the Muslim community, including the MCB.
“As I mentioned last year, government engagement with Muslim communities takes place only through the prism of security and only with those who provide an echo chamber in support of the government’s Prevent strategy.
“We at the Muslim Council of Britain have already stated very clearly that, as an independent, democratic organisation, we will continue to critique Prevent, but are ever ready to engage with government to improve policy to keep us safe.”