ASIAN EXPRESS ARTICLE- NO to Govt Agenda- Bolton residents challenge ‘Extremism’ Project

By Majed Iqbal- Questions have arisen across forums throughout Britain post recent raids at a Manchester University campus involving International Pakistani students falsely and also the Forest gate episode where the house of two brothers was raided and ravaged by 40 police officers at 4am in the morning

It transpires the basis of these raids were not solid and nothing has been concluded from the arrests. Many have begun to question government strategy in tackling such issues in the name of protecting people from Terrorism.

ARRESTS

Arrests of five individuals for alleged “terrorism” activities enraged the Bolton Muslim Community late last November. However, recent leaked information about the role of the towns Mosque Council’s involvement in the arrests has sparked off furore.

Shaykh Farroqi, a local Muslim Preacher was arrested under the terrorism act along with 4 other people. The Freedom Bolton Campaign mobilised town residents against the arrests organising an online and paper based petition which saw over three thousand signatures galvanised in under two weeks.

The group wrote on their website “The Muslim community in Bolton have expressed its outrage at the detention of a prominent and well respected Muslim figure by the North West Counter Terrorism Unit. Likewise Muslim scholars throughout the UK familiar with the peaceful character of Asif Farooqui are signing this petition as we speak.”

FEAR

The arrests spread a sense of fear and panic in the 20,000 Bolton Muslim community as to how a peaceful preacher could be involved in ‘Terrorism’; a feeling similar to many raids in the past which have gone terribly wrong for the Police authorities.

The Freedom Bolton Campaign Team highlighted this on their website “The Terrorism act 2000 gives the police the unconditional right to investigate and detain without proof. Since the inauguration of this act, thousands of the arrests have been made not leading to any charges. As with the case of Asif Farooqui, this given power could be seen an exploitation of the public’s fear of terrorism and a stifling of civil liberties”.

SHOCK

The Local preacher was released only to be informed in meetings with local Muslim representatives that Bolton Council of Mosques (BCOM), a representative body of all the mosques in the town were part of the arrest process- a part of their role as recipients of the governments PVE (Prevention for Violent Extremism) funding of which £60,000 has already been given to BCOM.

DIVISIVE FUNDING?

The Preventing Violent Extremism fund launched by former Communities Ministers Ruth Kelly in 2007, followed up by Hazel Blears gave local authorities the power to decide how to allocate cash to projects designed to steer young people away from ‘radicalisation’

“What I want to do is strengthen the mainstream moderate Muslims in this country, who are the overwhelming majority, but also those vulnerable youngsters so they have the ability to say `You are extreme. Your version of my faith is not correct. I don’t want to be part of that”

REJECTION

However, a report released by the think-tank “The New Local Government Network” (NLGN) criticised the flagship £70 million Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) programme launched by the government two years back, citing “It alienates Muslims”.

Community groups across the North West and Yorkshire refused to join the Government-funded scheme to prevent violent Islamic extremism because it would be admitting that ‘extremism’ is an exclusively Muslim issue.

MOSQUE COUNCIL MEMBERS RESIGN

The debate surrounding PVE and the role of Muslim communities, in this case the Council of Mosques in Bolton has been challenged leading to resignations from two of its leaders.

Local community leaders challenged the PVE agenda dictated by the government to the Body raising questions on its role and its independence after being accused of spying on local Muslims whom they may deem as being ‘extremist’

Many in the community feel that loose and un-defined terms like ‘extremist’ cast the net so wide that anyone can fall into it and be in trouble.

GOVERNMENT AGENDA

The “Contest Two” strategy released late last year by the Government states that British Muslims would be considered ‘extremist’ if they advocated non-participation in UK elections, called for the creation of a caliphate, promoted Sharia for the Muslim world and argued that homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of God.

Additionally, extremist views would include supporting armed resistance by Palestinians against Israel as seen in last January’s Gaza conflict – and a failure to condemn the killing of British service personnel in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Imparting these views has meant finding suitable partners and groups to import these ideas on a local level. Active steps were therefore made to contact Mosques, Women’s organisations, Youth groups, Imams and community leaders to promote the program.

CONTEST TWO CONTESTED

A former Rochdale based organisation fell into difficulty when it refused to participate in the Councils project funded by PVE money.

Rochdale Centre for Diversity’s Chief Executive, Mohammad Naeem, said “RCD has had to take issue with the Council over the last eighteen months about its application of the government’s Preventing Violent Extremism policy and related funding”.

RCD’s Chief Executive, Mohammad Naeem “This standpoint alongside many other organisations in Rochdale led to the funds being used to ‘donate’ computers to mosques to ‘further education’ and successfully ticking a box that extremism was an issue in Rochdale”.

Reading Muslim Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) Crisis, a pressure group set up by local Muslims against PVE state on their website

“The PVE work relies on a number of volatile terms such as ‘extremism’, ‘violent extremism’ and ‘radicalisation. These terms are undefined but have been used by members of the Government to demonise the Muslim community by equating Islamic values such as the desire for Muslim unity in and adherence to Sharia law with ‘extremism’ or ‘violent extremism’.

CAMPAIGN CONTINUES

Bolton Muslims are now continuing to pressurise groups and organistaions to remain free from government interference as many feel that no other faith group has had such concentrated efforts to force a particular set of stringent ideals for everyone to conform to.

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