Lessons must be learned from Finsbury Park attack, government terrorism watchdog warns

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Ministers should take urgent action to tackle Muslim alienation and learn the lessons of the Finsbury Park attack to improve the fight against radicalisation, the government’s terrorism watchdog warned today.

In a new report, Max Hill QC says there have been too many calls for Muslim communities to “do more” to fight extremism without spelling out how to achieve it. 

He says the result can be “further alienation, frustration and perhaps even withdrawal” by many of those whose help is most needed in the country’s attempt to prevent radicalisation.

But he says that despite its failure to engage adequately with Muslims on other occasions, the government’s efforts to support and listen to the views of those affected by the Finsbury Park attack provided a “positive” example which could be followed in future. 

The comments by Mr Hill, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, come in a foreword to a new report on Muslim views following this year’s terror attacks in London and Manchester. 

In it, he suggests that it would be “ideal” if all counter-terrorism legislation could be scrapped with cases dealt with instead using “general criminal laws” – although he accepts that there is no imminent prospect of this happening.

He also says that “urgent” efforts are needed to tackle Muslim concerns about the government’s counter-radicalisation “Prevent” strategy, which has brought accusations of “spying”, and that ministers should be prepared to talk to groups with which they disagree.

Mr Hill’s principal warning, however, is on the “disengagement” of young Muslims which he blames on excessive pressure on mosques and Muslim community groups to denounce terrorist attacks, even when such incidents have no connection with them. He says some feel that they are being wrongly blamed for being “complicit” in attacks as a result.

Young Muslim professionals are also “ceasing to engage with their local mosque” because they fear being “tainted” in what Mr Hill says is a further “unfortunate” trend.

Mr Hill, a former leading terrorism prosecutor, also suggests that misguided exhortations to Muslims “to ‘do more’ to fight terrorism” are proving counterproductive.

He adds: “Many in the Muslims communities are already doing a great deal and if they could be doing ‘more’, no one appears to have made clear what that means. Failure to do so can lead to further alienation, frustration and perhaps even withdrawal for many in spheres where we all need to protect and preserve meaningful engagement. 

“However, I found that the government response to the Finsbury Park attack was singularly highlighted as positive, with calls for similar steps to be replicated in the future.”

On the government’s “Prevent” counter-radicalisation strategy, Mr Hill dismisses claims that it is a “spying” programme, but warns that “community concerns are deep” and will prove “counter-productive” if allowed to “fester”.  Urgent action is needed in response to ensure “the full cooperation of communities in rooting out extremism and detecting nascent plots.”

Today’s report also cites disappointment among Muslims in Finsbury Park that too much attention was paid following the recent attack to Abu Hamza’s previous connection with the mosque with insufficient recognition given to the fact that it was now a “positive pillar” of the community.


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