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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 April 2007, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Moves to marginalise extremists
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News home affairs

A mosque dome
Mosques: Government to support leadership strategy
The government is planning to intervene in some mosques to support Muslims who want to marginalise extremists.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly has announced a new role for the Charity Commission, strengthening its task of overseeing religious institutions.

A 600,000 faith unit within the commission will help Muslims strengthen governance and leadership in mosques.

But Britain's first Muslim peer, Labour Lord Ahmed, criticised the measures as a "rehash" of existing policy.

Desire and commitment

In a speech on Thursday, Ruth Kelly said: "I do not under-estimate the difficulties we face or the scale of this challenge.

"But I know from my conversations with Muslim communities up and down the country that the desire and commitment to tackle extremism is there.

"Success will hinge on forging a new alliance against violent extremism. We need to reach out and give greater support to the overwhelming majority who are disgusted by terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam."

Ruth Kelly meeting Muslim leaders on 14 August
Ruth Kelly: Meeting more Muslim groups

The Charity Commission's new Faith & Social Cohesion Unit aims to encourage registration, strengthen the governance and accountability of religious institutions, focusing at first on mosques.

Some commentators have previously attacked the regulator, accusing it of acting too slowly on reports of extremism. The body was however a key player in the removal of the radical cleric Abu Hamza from Finsbury Park Mosque. Hamza was jailed for seven years in 2006 for soliciting to murder.

Ms Kelly's department has changed government strategy by launching talks with a broader range of Muslim groups.

Access for women

But at the same time the largest body, the Muslim Council of Britain, has received less attention, leading to claims that ministers are talking only to those prepared to agree with government.

Lord Ahmed also criticised the measures which include strengthening leadership at mosques, improving access for women and citizenship lessons in schools and madrassas.

It was never suggested during the Troubles in Northern Ireland that state regulation of Catholic churches would have ended IRA activities
Andrew Stunnell
Lib Dems

"I am not so sure this is going to work," he said.

"The real issue is to find out the reasons behind extremism and radicalisation."

In a related move, the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said specialist prosecutors are beginning to work with police officers to improve how they target extremist preachers.

The strategy is part of the government's attempts to develop a plan to prevent extremism, a key plank of counter-terrorism policy.

'No quick fixes'

For the Liberal Democrats, Andrew Stunnell described the measures as a "disastrous mix of good intentions and poor analysis" saying the government should be tackling deprivation which allowed extremism to breed.

"It was never suggested during the Troubles in Northern Ireland that state regulation of Catholic churches would have ended IRA activities," he said.

Shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve welcomed the involvement of the Charity Commission, but on the new measures he said "we have heard it all before".

"The government needs to realise that this is a long-term project with no quick fixes. We have had enough rhetoric now we need action," he added.

New research commissioned by the government links radicalisation of young Muslims with a failure of traditional mosque leadership.

The study, written by a Muslim academic, pinpoints a conveyor belt towards extremism which starts with identity crises during teenager years.

These problems are then easily compounded by discrimination, lack of opportunity and the poor quality of religious leadership in some traditional mosques.

The research warns the government that extremist groups successfully recruit by exploiting a combination of alienation and religious illiteracy among youths. It names proscribed group Al Muhajiroun as one of the groups having been most successful as targeting students.

But at the same time, the report predicts that a positive British-Islam voice can emerge to defeat extremists, if there is investment in religious leadership.




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