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Muslim Community Wary Of U.K.'s New Strategy To Fight Extremism


Britain's prime minister is taking a lot of heat this week. David Cameron unveiled a new strategy to counter extremism. Here are some highlights. Police would be allowed to shut down extremist mosques. Radical preachers would be barred from posting rhetoric online. And anyone under 18 who's believed to be at risk of traveling abroad to join extremist groups might lose their passports. Muslim groups are angry about this new strategy, and the police also expressed fear that this new plan might chip away at core British values. Here's NPR's Leila Fadel.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Britain's prime minister revealed what he called a strategy at a high school in a town just outside London. It's a place where a family of 12 disappeared only to declare they were in Syria and had joined the self-declared Islamic State. The government's plan is aimed at stopping Britons from joining extremist groups here and abroad. It's also intended to stop radical rhetoric online that is enticing young people into Islamist and other forms of extremism. Now, despite the reference to non-Muslim extremists, many in the Muslim community say the plan is aimed squarely at them. Mohammed Kozbar is the chair of London's prominent Finsbury Park Mosque.

MOHAMMED KOZBAR: This will only squeeze the Muslim community further in corners and feel they are the main target behind it.

FADEL: Kozbar objects to new authority given to police to shut down venues like mosques that are deemed extremist. The government will also investigate all public institutions, including schools and universities, in a hunt for extremists.

KOZBAR: Here we have to question what do we mean by extremism? There is no clear definition for extremism. And the government didn't give us exactly what they mean by that.

FADEL: He says it's creating a culture of fear rather than trust.

KOZBAR: We keep saying we want to engage with the government. We are part of the solution. We are not part of the problem as a community.

FADEL: Instead the strategy, he says, makes British Muslims feel like suspects. And Muslims with information that might be helpful to authorities will be reluctant to speak, worried they'll be labeled as extremists. Even those that largely endorse the policy, like Fiyaz Mughal, the director of the interfaith and anti-extremist group Faith Matters, do so with caveats.

FIYAZ MUGHAL: It's not an easy policy to go down in communities because civil libertarians, members within faith communities like the Muslim community and others, are quite worried about what will happen in terms of the implementation of this policy.

FADEL: Mughal says it's key the government engages and explains the policy because there's so much fear surrounding it. He says it's also important that the government targets Britain's far right wing extremists who've carried out hateful attacks on Muslims as much as it targets extremism in the Muslim community. Even police voiced concern. Greater Manchester's Chief Constable Peter Fahy told the Guardian newspaper that the policy could backfire and undermine British values of free speech, protest and freedom of religion. And there's a danger, he said, that the plan will turn the police force into, quote, "thought police, policing religion." But others say the strategy is long overdue. Chris Phillips is the former head of Britain's National Counter Terrorism Security Office.

CHRIS PHILLIPS: When people are shown to be extremist and have that mindset, I think we need to do something more with them, which may involve locking them up.

FADEL: In Phillips' view, the policy doesn't go far enough. Leila Fadel, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.