British Muslims turn to US embassy for radicalisation advice

A lack of genuine engagement means some British Muslim community groups would rather talk to US embassy officials than the Home Office about efforts to counter extremism, they tell Channel 4 News. The Somali community groups, including the London Somali …

A lack of genuine engagement means some British Muslim community groups would rather talk to US embassy officials than the Home Office about efforts to counter extremism, they tell Channel 4 News.

The Somali community groups, including the London Somali Youth Forum, say that the Home Office is “not taking seriously” their concerns on radicalisation.

Some of the groups have become so frustrated that they are now meeting with officials from the US embassy for advice and support on British problems, rather than with the British government.

The news comes as Home Secretary Theresa May attends an international summit at the White House on countering violent extremism.

Disengagement
At a community centre in North London, youth leaders told Channel 4 News that they now find it impossible to deal with the Home Office, blaming a top down, surveillance focused approach that avoids the wider issues.

“The government needs to take our arguments seriously, they need to come and listen to us. I think all of us here can agree that there has been some disengagement,” says Mohamed Aden, chair of the London Somali Youth Forum.

Some of these community groups are meeting regularly not with the Home Office but with US embassy officials in London. Mohamed Ibrahim of the London Somali Youth Forum said: “the US embassy is more forthcoming in discussing issues in a wider context while we feel the Home Office seems to feel not engaged.”

In a letter to local government, the London Somali Youth Forum outlined how the Home Office’s strategy had been “counter productive to our national security”.

It says that the Home Office’s decision to not partner with community groups for a British summit on counter-extremism “shows the serious gulf between young Muslims and the Home Office.”

The Anti Tribalism Movement, a Somali anti-discrimination charity, expressed concerns last year in a letter to its members about the poor level of engagement of the Home Office, and its resistance to community led initiatives, and said that “we are frustrated to see young people losing their lives for worthless causes.”

The Home Office said: “We fundamentally revised the Prevent strategy in June 2011 to ensure it challenges terrorist ideology, supports people who are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism and works with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation.

“Through this programme we have worked with more than a hundred organisations and providers, allowing us to deliver more than 180 local projects across the country, including many within the Somali community.”

Ka Joog
With a large Muslim population, Minneapolis is seen as a testing ground by US authorities for preventing radicalisation.

The White House-endorsed Muslim community group Ka Joog, which means “Stay Away” in Somali, is leading the battle against Islamists, and was today presented at the White House summit on countering violent extremism.

Youth leaders in Minneapolis told Channel 4 News they are being allowed to lead the way in terms of developing programs to remove children from paths that lead to negative influences and that make them susceptible to radicalisation.

Ka Joog’s approach is to start small and intervene early.

At one of the groups’ after-school programs, spoken-word poetry has emerged as a method to discuss and establish young people’s identity as Muslim and American.

Building trust
Mohamed Farah, executive director at Ka Joog, says: “When we talk about radicalisation it’s not about someone just waking up the next morning and going to join ISIS or Al Qaeda, for us it’s looking in-depth at the real issue… the lack of education, the lack of employment, the lack of guidance or mentorship.

“All of these things lead up to isolation.”

But some civil rights organisation fear that the government-endorsed programmes will be used by law enforcement as cover to monitor the community and to gather intelligence.

Jaylani Hussein, director at the Minnesota branch of the Council on American-Islamic relations, says: “We believe that trust needs to be established. We believe that our community wants to work with the government, but not under another program that divides the community and opens a Trojan horse that expands the surveillance of all the kids and all the activities that are happening.”

However, Andrew Luger, the U.S Attorney for Minnesota, is in charge of prosecutions in the state and he has become a vocal supporter of Ka Joog’s approach.

He says: “I think that in order to build trust and in order to really learn what the needs are from a community you have to spend time in the community. You’ve got to be sincere about it, and you’ve got to be focused on it.

“And then you’ve got to just listen.”