Closer vigilance of UK Muslims now needed
Scotland Yard commander Mak Chishty, above – Britain’s most senior Muslim police chief – has warned that Islamist propaganda has become so toxic that it is influencing children as young as five.
He said in a Guardian interview that this propaganda should be countered with intensified monitoring to detect the earliest signs of anti-Western sentiment.
Chishty said children aged five had voiced opposition to marking Christmas, branding it as “haram”. He also warned that there was no end in sight to the parade of British Muslims, some 700 so far, being lured from their bedrooms to Syria by Islamic State (Isis) propaganda.
He said there was now a need for “a move into the private space” of Muslims to spot signs that could show the beginning of radicalisation far earlier. These signs include “subtle changes in behaviour”, such as shunning certain shops. He cited the example of the Marks & Spencer chain, which is sometimes mistakenly perceived to be Jewish-owned.
Other signs could be sudden negative attitudes towards alcohol, social occasions and Western clothing. Parents should challenge and understand what caused such changes in behaviour, the police commander said, and seek help, if needs be from the police, if they are worried.
He said Isis propaganda was so powerful he had to be vigilant about his own children.
But some, said the report:
Will argue that his ideas walk a fine line between vigilance in the face of potent extremist propaganda and criminalising thought.
Scotland Yard has recently said police are making nearly an arrest a day as they try to counter a severe Islamist terrorist threat. On Friday, the Met confirmed it is investigating the potential grooming and radicalisation of a 16-year-old east London girl to run away and join her sister in Isis to become a “jihadi bride”.
Police estimate that about half the 700 thought to have gone to Syria to support Isis have since returned to Britain.
Chishty said communities in Britain had to act much earlier:
We need to now be less precious about the private space. This is not about us invading private thoughts, but acknowledging that it is in these private spaces where this [extremism] first germinates. The purpose of private-space intervention is to engage, explore, explain, educate or eradicate. Hate and extremism is not acceptable in our society, and if people cannot be educated, then hate and harmful extremism must be eradicated through all lawful means.
He said that what was new about Isis is the use of social media and the internet to spread its message and urge people lured by it to join the group or stage attacks in their home country.
Asked to define “private space”, Chishty said:
It’s anything from walking down the road, looking at a mobile, to someone in a bedroom surfing the net, to someone in a shisha cafe talking about things.
He said friends and family were best placed to intervene. Questions should be asked, he said, if someone stops shopping at M&S or starts voicing criticism. He said it could be they were just fed up with the store, but alternatively they could have “hatred for that store”. He said the community should “look out for each other”, that Isis was “un-Islamic”, as proven by its barbarity.
He said his message to fellow Muslim parents was:
I am not immunised. If I feel the need to be extra vigilant, then I think you need to feel the need to be extra vigilant.
He said he had heard of cases of children seemingly influenced by Islamist views in stable families in which the parents or guardians had moderate views.
In the example of primary school children defining Christmas as “haram”, he insisted this was “factual” and said that while it may not be a police matter, parents and family needed to ask how children as young as five had come to that view, whether it be from school or their friends. Chishty said:
All the ugly bits of the problem, which are uncomfortable, you have to … deal with them properly, as a state, as a nation, as a community.
He added that Muslim communities had done a lot to fight extremism but, given that there was no end in sight to the struggle and no slowing up in the stream of young people being attracted to extremism, it would need a level of vigilance not seen before. He said that current strategies were not working.
We are in unchartered water … We are facing a risk, a threat which is global, which is powerfully driven by social media, reaching you on your own through your mobile phone.