Muslims targeted for supporting counter-extremism initiatives – new report
Liberal Muslims working on counter-terrorism and counter-extremism are routinely subjected to abuse and intimidation, a new Civitas study shows.
Some have been forced to move home and install CCTV, such is the scale of harassment they have received for supporting initiatives designed to weed out extremists and bring communities together.
In one case, the Iranian state became involved in subjecting a community mosque to extreme pressure and intimidation. In another, a small community nursery was forced to return a valuable stream of government funding after coming under pressure for engaging with counter-extremism initiatives.
The report features case studies and testimony from counter-extremism practitioners who describe how the abuse has affected their social circles after they have been accused of spying on their community or accepting money from the security services for their views on extremism.
The findings illustrate how efforts to tackle extremism and terrorism are being undermined by severe peer pressure on those prepared to help.
Tactics include online campaigns of abuse and shunning, led by Islamist extremists and often amplified by far-left activists. Muslims working on initiatives such as Prevent are frequently labelled with abusive terms such as ‘Uncle Tom’ or ‘native informant’ or are accused of ‘betraying the Muslim community’.
In some cases, they had been forced to abandon lifelong friendships and seen romantic relationships suffer as a result.
The report is authored by Civitas research fellow Liam Duffy, who interviewed a wide range of figures in Muslim communities who have faced harassment and intimidation. He called for more support to be offered those who cooperate with initiatives:
‘The support of Muslims is essential to the success of counter-extremism initiatives. But those who cooperate are too often made to pay a price for doing so, facing online campaigns of abuse, reputational smears and sometimes even the threat of physical harm.
‘The psychological impact of this abuse is clear. We need to do a better job of protecting and supporting Muslims and Muslim community groups working on this sensitive agenda. If we don’t, then fewer and fewer people will come forward to support this important work.’
Fiyaz Mughal, Founder and Director of Faith Matters, commented in the report:
‘These groups pose a serious threat not only to public discourse, but to the peaceful and law-abiding Muslims they try to intimidate into silence.’
Former Labour Councillor and founder of the Social Action and Research Foundation (SARF), Amina Lone, said:
‘The tactics used to silence anyone who dares to question, critique or reject political Islam include harassment, stalking on social media and highlighting your views to undermine or “expose” you to audiences, online bullying, personal threats, abuse of loved ones, pressure applied to older men within your circles including husbands, fathers and brothers.’
The report’s recommendations include:-
- Strengthening support for community groups from local councillors and MPs;
- Introducing a ‘Distress Call’ mechanism for those coming under attack, allowing likeminded groups or individuals who are willing to publicly defend allies;
- Social media and media training to help groups and individuals to fend off attacks in the press and online;
- Better awareness among policymakers and authorities of the diversity within the UK’s Muslim population;
- Better engagement of the private sector in Prevent and counter-extremism initiatives.
Liam Duffy said:
‘There is a deliberate attempt to undermine the standing and credibility of certain individuals in the eyes of British Muslims, which in turn undermines counter-terrorism, counter-extremism and integration efforts. The framing of those Muslims working on these issues as somehow betraying their communities
haemorrhages support for vital government programmes.
‘Efforts to counter extremism and terrorism will be ultimately unsuccessful without the support and engagement of Muslim communities. It is therefore essential that there is greater awareness of the social, and sometimes physical, price that Muslims working on these agendas are being forced to pay by Islamists and their political allies and enablers.
‘At its heart, the campaign against Muslims participating in initiatives designed to curb extremism and radicalisation are symptomatic of a broader struggle over control of the narrative of Islam and being Muslim in Western democracies.’
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