The rollout of the government’s Prevent strategy, which places a legal requirement for childcare providers, schools and universities to challenge violent extremism, has left many families in the area of North London that I represent fearful of the implications.
At an Eid Party in a local children’s centre, I heard anxiety from parents about young children saying things that might be misinterpreted. And while I’ve met local head teachers and school staff who are incorporating Prevent sensitively within their established safeguarding practice, one local teacher asked: “If I meet a family on an anti-war demo and they are photographed by a dodgy banner, do I report it?”
In response to a widely reported incident that saw a Muslim pupil at an Islington school questioned about links to ISIS after using the word ‘eco-terrorism’ in a French conversation class, I moved a motion at Islington Council, where I am the sole opposition to Labour.
I wanted to reflect widespread concern amongst communities, faith groups, educators and lawyers about the implications for free speech, human rights and community cohesion.
My motion committed the council to ensuring that extremism is challenged collaboratively, not driven underground.
It called on the council to praise the many community and faith groups working to improve community cohesion and prevent violent extremism. It also asked the council to work with trade unions, universities and faith groups to lobby the government to change parts of the anti-terror programme that damage community cohesion.
I know that Islington faith communities, along with staff, governors and parents at our schools, colleges and children’s centres, are doing amazing work promoting community cohesion and challenging extremism. In particular, Finsbury Park Mosque is an excellent local example of a faith community leading the way.
That’s why I’m so glad that my fellow Islington councillors worked with me to get my motion passed – I believe it’s the first of its kind in any borough in the country – so we can move on from the troubling ‘eco-terrorism’ incident and create an anti-extremism policy built upon community engagement and common sense.