JAN Trust CEO, Sajda Mughal OBE has spoken out over concern she has about the current counter-terror strategy, Prevent in The Times. Mughal has worked with the programme for over a decade. She is urging the government to take urgent action to commission an independent review of Prevent, in order to “establish its effectiveness and the benchmarks for its success.”
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7/7 survivor Sajda Mughal: Prevent antiterror plan is ‘failing’
A charity director claims the government’s strategy to combat extremism is flawed
A survivor of the London terrorist attacks of July 7, 2005, who gave up her high-flying job to fight extremism, says the government’s counterterrorism strategy is failing.
Sajda Mughal, 36, became director of the Jan Trust charity, which helps Muslim mothers combat radicalisation, after she was caught up in the bombings.
But speaking on the 13th anniversary of the attacks in London yesterday she said the flagship Prevent programme was alienating people. “They haven’t won the hearts and minds of communities. It is viewed with suspicion and mistrust.”
Mughal was travelling to work on a Piccadilly line train when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb, killing 26 people and injuring more than 340.
She said: “Ten seconds after it left King’s Cross there was a boom. It came to a standstill and lights went out. There was thick smoke filling the carriage. I thought, ‘This is it. This is the day that I die.’”
She suffered flashbacks after the attack and needed time off work as head of graduate recruitment at an investment bank. She said she was deeply perturbed that the attacks had been carried out by members of the Muslim community.
The Prevent programme was set up in response to the 7/7 bombings with the aim of preventing radicalisation and providing support for younger people. But Mughal said there urgently needed to be a review to establish its effectiveness and the benchmarks for its success, warning it had become a “toxic brand”.
Mughal’s charity has received about £465,000 of funding for its Web Guardians programme, which helps Muslim mothers tackle online extremism, and for its counter-radicalisation work with children.
Mughal said the terrorist attacks last year, including the Manchester Arena concert bombing that left 22 dead and the London Bridge attacks, which killed eight people, showed the scale of the challenge faced by Prevent. She said it was not working effectively to stop terrorist plots.
“There is too much secrecy and they are using contractors who do not properly understand the communities they are working in,” she said.
She highlighted one case in which Central Bedfordshire council had been forced to pay compensation to a family after two brothers were referred to police because one said he had received a toy gun as a gift.
Mughal, who was made an OBE in 2015 for services to interfaith dialogue, said the appointment in January of Sara Khan as head of the Commission for Countering Extremism was counterproductive. Khan has been criticised by some, including the former Tory chairwoman Baroness Warsi, for acting as a “mouthpiece” of the Home Office.
Mughal said she had raised concerns about Prevent with the Home Office, including at a meeting in February last year in which she spoke out about the lack of community relationships of some of the Prevent co-ordinators.
She was told this year Prevent funding has been withdrawn for her projects, but other Home Office funds may be available for her counterextremism work. Mughal said she felt penalised for being a “critical friend”, adding that she had lost trust and confidence in the Home Office and did not intend to apply for further funding.
The Home Office said Prevent was a successful initiative that worked best when delivered in partnership with local communities, but it was committed to greater transparency. It said Khan had been appointed after a rigorous public appointment process and had no remit on counterterrorism.
Sajda Mughal: The Home Office doesn’t like critical friends like me
The terror attacks of July 7, 2005, were carried out by four young men from my own Muslim community. I find that shocking and incomprehensible to this day.
After I survived the attack, I wanted to understand how and why it had happened. I decided to leave my job in the City and work in my own community.
The Prevent strategy is vital in the fight to combat radicalisation, but it is not delivering. It urgently needs to be independently reviewed.
There are matters that must be kept confidential in any counter-terrorism strategy, but Prevent is shrouded in needless secrecy. This has undermined trust in the communities in which it operates. It is right to say it has become a toxic brand.
Parents have been telling their children not to discuss issues in school, largely involving foreign events and terrorism, because of the mistrust of Prevent.
In one area of London we were told: “If this is a Prevent project, we don’t want it.” Prevent has been creating barriers rather than breaking them down.
Delivering successful projects within communities requires transparency and co-operation. But a Prevent provider working in one community to combat radicalisation is not even told who the other providers are in the same area.
The programme is failing because it is losing the trust of the Muslim community. They just don’t have the confidence to pass on information.
You need to work with communities rather than speak at them and point fingers at them.
I saw myself as a critical friend in the Home Office, but it doesn’t like critical friends. I felt the work of my charity the Jan Trust was penalised because I spoke out. I had been warned after publicly raising concerns that the “drawbridge” could be closed for future funding.
We do need the Prevent strategy, but now more than ever, we need it to work effectively.