A Muslim primary school in South London has hosted an event which provided a platform for proponents of the government’s controversial Prevent strategy, including a speaker who previously worked at the “Islamophobic” think tank the Henry Jackson Society.
Iqra Primary School in Clapham held the event last night which they promoted as a “Community Question Time on Prevent/Islamophobia.” The meeting, which was organised by Faiths Together in Lambeth, was open to parents, carers and community members. Around 40 people attended.
The school’s headteacher, Humaira Saleem, hosted the event but all the speakers were representatives from the controversial state-run Prevent programme which has been accused of demonising Muslims and gagging freedom of speech.
Mrs Saleem did not promote the Prevent strategy herself but rather introduced the speakers and asked several questions in the hopes of “raising the community’s concerns” about Prevent. In her opening speech, she said that the purpose of the event was to “open a channel of dialogue” because it is “not good to talk about issues that upset us if we do nothing about it.”
However, Iqra Primary School clearly endorses Prevent on its website, even offering links to promotional Prevent literature.
One of the keynote speakers was Rupert Sutton, a former fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a right-wing think tank that has itself been accused of Islamophobia. He is now Prevent Programme Manager for Lambeth Council.
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Sutton said: “Thanks to the headteacher for helping us organise this event, and allowing us to come in here and speak to people has been so useful in supporting the work that we do.
“For me one of the key things that has come out is this idea of how do we find out more about what’s being done to challenge Islamophobia? And how do we make that the central issue in Lambeth? So I just wanted to quickly say following the work we have conducted over the last year or so, Lydia, my Prevent Education Officer, and I were able to feed our findings into our planning for this year.”
He continued: “So our projects in schools this year very much focus on challenging stereotyping, understanding the media’s use of fake news and understanding what to do if you see information that is correct.”
Sutton also said work would continue in the area with a focus on young children.
“We are going to be doing further projects in this borough which aim to identify the similarities between gang recruitment and terror recruitment to give the people an idea that actually these are the same type of vulnerable young people that are being targeted.”
The Prevent Strategy is part of the government’s official counter-terrorism strategy, which it claims is working to stop citizens from becoming radicalised and supporting terrorism. It is statutory for schools to implement it and for teachers to look out for the “signs of radicalisation” in students. But many Muslim organisations, as well as non-Muslim academics, professionals and human rights campaigners, say Prevent unfairly targets the Muslim community.
In particular, they claim that Prevent has had a chilling effect on freedom of speech in schools and universities where Muslim students feel intimidated about speaking about certain political or societal issues for fear of being reported to a counter terrorism officer. The National Union of Teachers has also condemned Prevent, with delegates to its conferences saying it has turned teachers into spies monitoring students.
During the meeting Sutton was challenged about his past, and specifically accusations about his working relationship with Douglas Murray who is regularly accused of Islamophobia. Sutton made it clear that he no longer works as a research fellow for the HJS but did acknowledge that they have been accused of Islamophobia.
“I mean, (yes) it has,” said Sutton. “But it did also host an event today on how British Muslim women can better access support for the workplace and society.”
When challenged further about his reputation and that of his former colleague Douglas Murray, Sutton added: “I don’t work for Murray any more. We worked for the same organisation, but that doesn’t mean we share all the same views.”
One of the founders of the HJS, Matthew Jamison, has said it is “a far-right, deeply anti-Muslim racist organisation … utilized as a propaganda outfit to smear other cultures, religions and ethnic groups”.
Its Associate Director Douglas Murray has said that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board;” “all immigration from Muslim countries should be stopped;” and “the attitude towards Muslim schools should be exceptional… if any Muslim academies are allowed to exist, they should be funded entirely privately, with no taxpayer assistance and should be subject to uniquely strict regulation and inspection. If such conditions are considered unbearable, then Muslims will have to try their luck in other countries.”
Prevent and Islamophobia
The event, which lasted just over two and a half hours, began with back-to-back speeches followed by a lengthy Q & A session during which attendees got the chance to question the panellists about Prevent and Islamophobia.
Other speakers included Abu Ahmed, Head of Counter-Terrorism Communications and Engagement at the UK Home Office; and also in attendance was Lydia Nixon, the Schools Prevent Officer at Lambeth Council.
All of the panel were pro-Prevent, spending much of the meeting promoting their work. They stressed to parents that Prevent takes the concerns of the Muslim community seriously and is working with social media platforms and the media to tackle “irresponsible reporting.”
During one speech, financial backing for the controversial Muslim hate monitoring charity Tell MAMA was mentioned. Tell MAMA has been criticised from within the Muslim community for its links with Zionists and liberal figures who have criticised normative Islamic concepts.
Muslims needing to better integrate into society was also a theme of the evening with speakers saying “integration is a bedrock of society,” and “a lot of ills in society” that take place are due to a “lack of integration.”
During the question and answer segment, many questions and concerns were raised by the majority Muslim audience about Islamophobia and how Prevent was going to protect Muslims better.
One concerned Muslim asked how to make it easier for Muslims to report hate crimes. To which the panel responded that Tell MAMA did promote contact information for Muslim victims, including on social media.
Following the event, 5Pillars contacted Iqra Primary School asking them how they could justify holding a pro Prevent event given the community’s concerns about the programme. So far we have not received a response.
However, a community member and supporter of the school who attended the meeting (who did not want to be named) contacted 5Pillars and said that the fact that the school hosted the event did not mean that it endorses Prevent. Rather, it was an opportunity to challenge and raise concerns about Prevent to local officials, which is what happened.