Andrew Gilligan and Robert Mendick, Telegraph, March 7, 2015
The Government is planning a series of tough new measures to combat the growing threat from Islamist extremists.
A leaked draft of the Home Office’s new counter-extremism strategy, seen by The Telegraph, targets Sharia courts and calls for a ban on radicals working unsupervised with children over fears the young could be brainwashed.
Other measures include a requirement that staff at job centres identify vulnerable claimants who may become targets for radicalisation, after public outrage at people who hate Britain being able to live off the state.
There will also be an introduction of penalties in the benefits system to make people learn English to improve their integration into British society.
The rules on granting citizenship will also be tightened to ensure new residents embrace “British values”.
The crackdown is part of a new “get tough” strategy to deal with the perceived growing threat to the UK from Islamist extremists.
It follows the unmasking of “Jihadi John” as Mohammed Emwazi, a 26-year-old university graduate radicalised in London, and the attacks on Paris in January by a French terrorist cell with links to Britain.
The new report, drawn up by the Home Office with a foreword by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will spearhead a drive to thwart extremists and attempt to prevent the radicalisation of young British Muslims. The Sunday Telegraph has been told that the number of jihadists who have now travelled to Syria to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) has exceeded more than 700.
Of those, about 320 “dangerous” jihadists have now returned to the UK after fighting with Isil, reinforcing the urgent need in Whitehall for a new set of anti-extremist measures.
The new counter-extremism policy targets a much broader problem than just finding and catching terrorists and aims to tackle radical preachers and individuals who try to brainwash others and encourage them to embrace extremist views.
The new approach strengthens Mrs May’s grip on how the Government tackles extremists. Responsibility previously lay with Eric Pickles at the Department for Communities and Local Government.
But his department has attracted criticism within government for being too sympathetic to Islamist groups.
Last year, Mrs May promised to “undermine and eliminate extremism in all its forms”. The Home Office draft document says it is not “primarily” directed at terrorism, but at behaviour which, while “often legal”, is said to cause social division and “very significant damage to our communities”.
Such behaviour includes hate speech by extremist preachers, the activities of some local authorities and plots such as the “Trojan Horse” conspiracy in Birmingham where hardline Muslims pushed out secular head teachers to Islamise non-faith state schools.
Other extremist behaviour targeted under the crackdown is likely to include violence against women, such as female genital mutilation and honour killings.
The strategy’s publication has been delayed for months amid arguments about how strongly worded it should be.
The Sunday Telegraph understands that it will be published before Parliament is dissolved for the general election at the end of the month but could be implemented immediately.
The document says that “in the past, there has been a risk that the Government sends an ambivalent and dangerous message – that it doesn’t really matter if you don’t believe in democracy”.
It adds: “We need to stand up and be more assertive in promoting our values and challenging the extremists who fundamentally oppose them.
“This will include explaining our foreign policy [and] promoting mainstream voices supporting the quiet majority in all communities who oppose extremism.”
Sharia courts and councils, which are used by some Muslims to resolve disputes and have been accused of operating a “parallel system of law”, are one focus of the document.
It says that the Government is “concerned about the way Sharia councils are working in some parts of the country” with “troubling reports that in some areas women have suffered from the way these councils work, either through forced marriage or discriminatory divorce proceedings.”
The strategy calls for an “independent review” into the Sharia courts’ operation and also makes specific reference to the “particularly concerning” Trojan Horse plot, which it says was “not an isolated example of schools where extreme views became prevalent… we have seen evidence of extremist ‘entryism’ where extremists have consciously sought to gain positions of influence to better enable them to promote their own values”.
It says that universities, charities and local councils are especially vulnerable to entryism. It names the London borough of Tower Hamlets as a place where “widespread allegations of extremism, homophobia and anti-Semitism have been allowed to fester without proper challenge” and where the council’s “abuse of taxpayers’ money” and “culture of cronyism” have been reflected in “partisan community politics that was to the detriment of integration and community cohesion”.
Last night details emerged of another example of alleged “entryism”. The Sunday Telegraph can disclose that an extremist who has called for the killing of British troops, Azad Ali, was joined in Parliament by the Labour MPs Yasmin Qureshi, Andy Slaughter and Gerald Kaufman and Sayeeda Warsi, the former Tory communities minister, to launch a “Muslim manifesto” for the general election.
The manifesto, by Mr Ali’s group, Mend, promotes the Islamist agenda of Muslim grievance and victimhood and includes demonstrable lies, such as a claim that the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby led to the murder of a Muslim man, Mohammed Saleem, in Birmingham.
Mr Saleem was actually killed three weeks before the Rigby attack. Mend is the new name for a group, Iengage, which was removed as administrative support to the all-party parliamentary group on Islamophobia for its links to extremism.
Under the new plan, councils will have to “take steps to ensure the safeguarding of children in hitherto unregulated places”, such as supplementary schools and tuition centres. One teacher at the centre of the Trojan Horse scandal has been handed an interim ban but has instead set up a private tuition centre, which nothing currently prevents him from doing. The new document also promises tighter rules on the granting of British citizenship, saying that any applicant will have to “prove adherence to British values and active participation in society”.
Refugees who otherwise qualify for asylum will not be given it if they cross a “carefully defined legal threshold” of extremism or opposition to British values. Instead they will be given a “new form of restrictive leave to remain”.
Even visitors will have to comply, with “British values” made “an integral part of applying for a visa”.
The strategy says that the Government “will introduce the power to refuse or remove licences to sponsor visa applications from any institution in the UK which promotes extremist views or knowingly and without challenge hosts extremist speakers”.
A number of universities, including Emwazi’s alma mater, Westminster, could be caught by this provision, which would seriously affect their income from overseas students. The launch of the Home Office anti-extremism strategy could well now coincide with a Downing Street report into the Muslim Brotherhood due imminently.
The report into the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s most influential Islamist organisation, is expected to denounce the group as the “ideological precursor to terrorism”.
The report is so sensitive it will not be made public in full but a two-page executive summary is due to be published in the next fortnight.