There was some surprise when the Government launched its Pathfinder anti-terrorism programme in Birmingham and other major UK cities more than a year ago that a title as blunt as Preventing Violent Terrorism should have been chosen for community-based projects aimed at encouraging younger Muslims to reject Islamic radicalism.
The in-your-face tag proved to be far too judgmental for many law-abiding ordinary Muslims, far removed from any extremist political agenda, who felt already that the security services tended to regard them as potential terrorists regardless of evidence to support their suspicions.
An independent analysis of 11 city council-run Pathfinder projects pulls no punches: “A number of respondents felt imprisoned in their own city because they had to watch their every step, what they uttered, the clothes they wore, the people they associated with and the mosques they attended. Central Government and local authorities must understand the extent of the deep anger and concern among Muslims at grassroots level over the linkage of violent extremism with Islam.”
It is a damning indictment which should be of concern to anyone who truly cares about community cohesion in a city fast heading toward majority ethnic status.
The fear of being singled out, branded and spied upon for no good reason undoubtedly sits uneasily among the Muslim community in Birmingham and is underpinned on every occasion that high-profile and well-publicised police raids on houses in inner city streets take place.
The suspicion is then re-doubled when some of those who were detained are later released without charge.
As annoying as this must be, it is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture. The Pathfinder analysis shows that real progress is being made in a number of vital areas including the de-radicalisation of mosques, bringing Islamic schools into the education mainstream and the empowerment of Muslim women. Crucially, the report makes the point that those most at risk of being lured into terrorism are not young people who already hold extremist views but those who are struggling to make sense of the Muslim faith in a western society and have “disconnected” from their communities.
It is important that the work begun in Birmingham is expanded and strengthened in the second phase of the Pathfinder programme.
But there must also be recognition of, and allowances made for, sensitivities at the heart of the Muslim community.