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Last Updated: Monday, 14 August 2006, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Analysis: Taking on extremists
By Dominic Casciani
Community affairs, BBC News

Worshippers entering the mosque
Mosques: Need support in modernisation, say leaders
As Muslim leaders trooped in and out of the Department for Communities and Local Government, one sentiment became abundantly clear.

A year on from the July 7 bombings - and days after a massive alleged plot to bring down airliners was foiled - the time for talking was over.

Given the wide cast of people holding talks with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, there was also a strong sense that both the government and Muslim leaders have learned some painful lessons on how to combat extremism and the growth of radical Islamism.

Firstly, that government, in speaking to a broader group, recognises it has not always sat down with the right people. Secondly Muslim leaders are returning to Whitehall saying that a year on from initial talks they cannot do this alone and government must step up its work.

A mosque in Leeds
Local level: Help us on jobs and discrimination, say leaders
The 7 July London bombings have been a catalyst for the emergence of a class of new, young, professional British Muslim leaders. But the fact is that none of them can say with any certainty that they are in any position at present to contain radicalisation.

A year on, and in the wake of the latest anti-terrorism raids, many communities feel increasingly under the spotlight, labelled and viewed with suspicion. Many young Muslims feel that for every genuine suspect picked up, there are others being criminalised for having brown skin and a beard.

However, the difference from 12 months ago is that almost all community leaders admit that radicalisation is a big problem - although they remain divided over where it comes from and why it exists.

Extremism taskforces

The key project to come out of the London bombings was the so-called Preventing Extremism Taskforce. A host of community figures gathered in Windsor at the request of the Home Office and came up with 64 recommendations.

The first thing that we need to do as a community is admit there is a problem - It is like being an alcoholic - we need to stand up and say these things and have an open and honest debate
Haras Rafiq, Sufi Muslim Council

These proposals included a scholars roadshow, more work on integration and empowering women and a public inquiry into the bombings.

The proposed road show of leading modern Islamic thinkers has been well received but some see it as only preaching to the converted.

Of the other initiatives, most are "in progress" or "under consideration", say ministers. The call for a public inquiry has been firmly ruled out.

Many Muslims who were involved in the taskforce now believe that unless something is done quickly it will go down in history as a tokenistic exercise. Some of the women involved (and some of those who were not invited) have felt particularly let down.

With much of this work no longer the responsibility of the Home Office, they are pinning their hopes on Ruth Kelly's new team to make a difference at local level. According to some in the four meetings, she started well by asking for concrete proposals, rather than wringing her hands and saying "it's up to you alone".

Top of the shopping list is support for the recently-established Mosques and Imams Advisory Body, a kind of community-run watchdog which aims to turn 1,500 places of prayer into genuine centres of community leadership and support.

This was a key recommendation from the taskforce but its birth was long and difficult.

Communities secretary Ruth Kelly
Ruth Kelly: "Battle for hearts and minds"
The British Muslim Forum, a group backed by 300 mosques mostly in the Midlands and North, has run a number of trial youth workshops on radicalisation and politics. It wants the government to support this kind of grassroots work, said its chairman Khurshid Ahmed.

"I think the government is beginning to give us the tools," said Mr Ahmed.

"We have run successful anti-extremism forums in Dudley, Leicester and Redbridge and we are asking government to roll these out.

"The threat is still external [extremists coming to the UK to recruit] and these people are not close to mainstream communities. But they have influence on young people who are alienated from our society. It's probably a growing number and that is what worries us.

You have young people who perceive that our foreign policy is a war against a religion - anybody knows that if you try to fight a religion it will only get stronger
Muslim community leader

"We need to help mosques to tackle issues of extremism because they [as community centres] are not able to do it."

Some leaders also want the government to help to create a network of imams in British universities that mirrors the Christian chaplaincy service - professional, paid preachers whose livelihood depends on them doing a good job.

But Tahir Abbas of Birmingham University, a leading thinker on radicalisation who played a key role in establishing the Mosques and imams body, said that government had to think much harder about how it was engaging with Muslims, beyond practical help with grassroots initiatives.

"The communities have a responsibility [to combat extremism] but the tools, mechanisms and drivers need to come from government," said Dr Abbas.

"There is a feeling that nothing from the extremism taskforce has been done, other than those things which have been done by the communities themselves.

"We have a scenario where there is a divide between communities and government. On the one hand, communities are frustrated, they are worried about policing. Then the government is saying that 'these are your values and you need to deal them'. Nobody is talking the same language at the moment."

Foreign policy

And it is in the realm of foreign policy that these language barriers appear highest.

Home Secretary John Reid reacted angrily to the open letter from some Muslim leaders over the weekend calling for a rethink on foreign policy.

That in turn has infuriated some of those who signed it. One said he felt "labelled a terrorist traitor to my country for having the gall to exercise my democratic right to speak out".

Around the table in Whitehall, Ms Kelly is said to have batted away talk of foreign policy in order to concentrate on what her community teams can do. But some of those present found this unconvincing.

"If you want to combat extremism - whatever that extremism is - you have to remove the ingredients that feed it and foreign policy is one of them," said one senior Muslim figure.

"We need the government to think about ways that we get young Muslims to feed into the policy process. This is not about ministers accepting what they have to say all the time - it's about Muslims knowing they have listened.

"You have young people who perceive that our foreign policy is a war against a religion. Anybody knows that if you try to fight a religion it will only get stronger."

Muslim leaders arriving at the talks

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