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U.K.: Government And Muslims Work To Counter Extremism

British Muslims at prayer (file photo) (AFP) The British government has begun to evaluate proposals from Muslim working groups on how best to counter extremism in the United Kingdom. The seven groups were established after the deadly 7 July suicide terrorist attacks in London, which killed more than 50 people. The attacks were blamed on young British-born Islamic extremists and resulted in a dramatic increase in hate-motivated actions directed at Muslims in the country.

London, 14 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The British government has began studying the findings of an unusual report. Titled "Preventing Extremism Together," it was prepared over the past several months at the government's request by more than 100 volunteers from Britain's Muslim community. The participants included community leaders, scholars, politicians, and teachers.

Members of the task force say their final report reflects intensive consultations with Muslim communities across Britain.

Imam Ibrahim Mogra chairs the Mosque and Community Committee of the Muslim Council of Britain and was a member of one of seven working groups assigned to compile the report.

"By and large, we are pleased that we've been able to engage with our communities and with government," Mogra told RFE/RL. "Now they have received our recommendations. We hope that they will take them seriously and will want to implement them."

The British Home Office says the recommendations in the report should significantly help in countering extremist tendencies. The practical proposals include developing opportunities for young Muslims, including women, to become leaders and active citizens, and the creation of a "tool kit" to be used by mosques, Islamic societies, and parents in Britain to help counter extremist ideas. There could also be a traveling exhibit that would tour non-Muslim schools to fight Islamophobia.

The report also recommends that imams and other mosque officials receive modern training to deal with key issues such as drug abuse and teen pregnancy among Muslim youth.

Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister responsible for counterterrorism, called the working groups "invaluable." She said some of their proposals are already starting to be implemented, while others will be taken forward in partnership with or by Muslim communities themselves.

But results won't be immediate, she warned.

Focus On Education

Bushra Nasir is the headmistress of the Plashet Secondary School in London. She says her working group concentrated on way to use education to counter extremism.

"One of the action points we recommended was maximizing achievement," Nasir said. "Although there are some very successful Muslim young people, there is generally quite a lot of pockets of underachievement. We have to tackle that, because there is obviously then disengagement, and the whole issue of being involved can be quite a factor in sort of alienation of young people."

She also notes a shortage of qualified teachers of religious education, or RE, and says a government drive to recruit and train such instructors is needed. She says they play a crucial role in helping to increase understanding about different faiths.

"The whole issue about education is preparing young people for the future responsibilities as active citizens," Nasir said. "The RE curriculum -- building the self-esteem and knowledge of young people and raising achievement -- all impact on making very strong and knowledgeable citizens who can take part in the democratic processes that are available to them."

Imam Mogra says similar good citizenship recommendations are aimed at mosques and madrasahs.

"We are going to be looking at enhancing the understanding of our country for imams -- mosque leaders -- to get them well versed with the wider society," Mogra told RFE/RL. "We are talking about assisting madrasah classes that are held in the mosques in the evenings to see how we can further improve on the curriculum and the subjects that are taught."

On The Road

Mogra also likes the idea of a "roadshow" that would tour schools around Britain.

"I think it's a wonderful idea to take Islam to parts of our country where the population do not come across Islam and Muslims very often," he said. "It will help them to understand our religion and our culture much better, and thereby assist them to respect the peaceful nature of Islam and its teachings."

Mogra says the groups also put forward political recommendations -- for example, the need for a public inquiry into the government's handling of the terrorist attacks in London, and into the cause-and-effect relationship between British foreign policy and the London bombings.

The final report is also highly critical of parts of the British government's new anti-terrorism legislation, including a plan to compile a list of extremist websites that the working groups say could be used to censor those critical of British foreign policy.

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