Please Can I Tell You About A Child Who Is Muslim?
by Shohana Khan
He didn’t answer back to his teacher, because his parents taught him the importance of respecting those who you learn from. This respect comes from the tradition of Islam – the child is Muslim.
Can I just tell you about a child? Yes, she doesn’t listen to Beyonce or watch The X Factor but she loves to recite the Quran, avidly reads Enid Blyton and loves helping others. And yes, she is Muslim.
But can I now tell you about the Muslim child who didn’t partake in the taunting, ridiculing, harassing of the overweight child in the playground? He turned away, because to be unkind to another, according to him, was ‘haram’ (forbidden) and he would be sinful.
But as soon as he said that, someone overheard and it wasn’t the bullies who got called to the office immediately, it was him. The talk of being sinful couldn’t be ignored; was it a sign of radicalisation?
Please let me tell you about the Muslim child who was passionate about the children he saw on BBC News 24. They were crying, shoeless, in Gazan rubble. He wanted to send them shoes, T-shirts and a toothbrush each. But as soon as he asked his friends to fill in his sponsorship form, he was called in by his teacher and asked multiple times why he cared so much. He didn’t know what to say, because his answer was so very simple. He just cared – and yes, he was Muslim… But of course, little did he know that Palestine has always been a marker for the radical, with Muslim charities for Palestine smeared with terrorism charges and now even very common boycotting efforts falling under the bracket of radicalisation. His charity to Palestine was possibly a sign of the sprouting of radicalisation. Little did he know.
Please can I tell you about the Muslim girl who started to wear hijab? She wanted to say that she was taking charge of her life, her ambitions. Maybe she would become a doctor, who would save lives. But this was only if the teacher could see that too – and not that she needed to be ‘deradicalised’, instead of being empowered.
I need to please tell you about the Muslim boy who started to pray religiously at lunch time and the teachers needed to make sure they weren’t negligent about terror. So instead of talking to him about his break time activities, the teacher talked to Prevent. And he didn’t even know.
Can I tell you, please can I tell you, that many Muslim children will be singled out by Prevent, their families ripped apart, in the belief that they were on the road to becoming terrorists. But all they wanted to do was be who they believed they should be. Muslims.
*All individuals are fictional, but based on real incidents that have been circulated amongst the Muslim community.
The Prevent strategy was formulated by the Labour Government in the wake of the 7/7 attacks as a means to try to ‘prevent’ acts of violent extremism, by addressing the ideas which led to violent extremism, but never clearly defining what these ideas were. In 2015, the Coalition government passed the Counter Terrorism and Security Act, obliging school teachers and other public sector staff to report signs of extremism and implement the Prevent strategy.
If a child is found to exhibit signs of extremism, teachers or Prevent officers refer them to the Channel programme, where a multi-disciplinary panel decides the intervention needed. This can include having to deal with police and/or social workers. According to APCO, out of the 2653 referrals made to the Channel programme from 2006-13, 78% did not need any assessment or further intervention.
The Prevent Strategy’s definition of ‘extremism and radicalisation’ does not hinge on any legal definition. Prevent training to service providers provides guidance on what could be signs of ‘radicalisation’; these include normative Islamic behaviour, and it is often left open to the subjective views of the service provider as to what constitutes indicators of those deemed to be on a pathway to ‘extremism’.
Currently there is no official record made of incorrect referrals when it comes to Prevent.
A copy of the ‘Counter Extremism’ survey being administered to primary school pupils in London
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A graduate of English, *Shohana Khan writes about issues affecting women in contemporary society and specialises in explaining Islamic values in a modern society, seen in a blog with the Huffington Post. She has written about issues affecting the Muslim community in the UK.
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*former Women’s rep of Hizb ut Tahrir