Are new ‘prevent’ courses really helping in the fight against terror?
By ALISON BELLAMY
But are they actually working to spot early signs of terror in our classrooms, including hard to detect on-line grooming?
The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, which became law back in February, now puts a responsibility on schools to help prevent people from being drawn into terrorism, and challenge extremist ideas that support or are shared by terrorist groups – of all kinds – including right-wing groups.
But some claim that recent headline events, especially those involving young people feeling to Syria to join the Islamic State, have led to an increase in Islamophobia, fear and harassment for certain Asian communities – who want more than anything to distance themselves from any links.
A teaching union boss in West Yorkshire has told the Asian Sunday that educators are not here to ‘police potential terrorists’.
But under the new rules, head teachers, staff and governors should be assessing whether any students, at high school and primary level, are at risk of being drawn into terrorism.
Staff are advised during the workshop style courses, that their assessments should be based on the local environment and ask themselves if their pupils likely to be exposed to terrorist ideology, including extremist ideas, beyond the school gates?
There are four key duties for schools: Identify local risks, identify at risk students, and work in partnership with other agencies and to keep children safe online, where much of the radicalisation takes place.
In areas deemed as ‘high-risk’ the courses can last for a full day. In other areas, they can last just a couple of hours.
West Yorkshire teenager Talha Asmal, became the youngest ever suicide bomber, after he died in Syria in June aged just 17.
He was one of four suicide bombers who attacked forces near an oil refinery south of Baiji, by detonating a car packed with explosives – as part of an Islamic State attack – after being groomed online by Isis fanatics, killing 11 people.
He had ‘run away’ from home in Savile Town, in Dewsbury, an area with a high Asian population, just three months earlier.
And in the words of someone who knew him: “He was just a normal lad, one of the crowd. He was happy go lucky. There was absolutely no sign of any terror tendencies, nothing to give any clues of what was to become.”
The family of the teenager say they have been left ‘utterly devastated and heartbroken’ after he reportedly blew himself up in Iraq.
Studying ICT and business at Mirfield Free Grammar School, and before that was a popular pupil at Westborough High School, reports suggest that Talha told his family he would be away for a few days on a trip, but they became concerned when they could not contact him and alerted the police.
Talha lived at the family’s terraced home with his mother Noorjaha, 38, and father Ebrahim, 42, before he left for Syria via Turkey in April, on a Thomas Cook flight with his next-door neighbour and best friend Hassan Munshi.
In a damning statement, released soon after his death was confirmed in June, Talha’s family lashed out after saying his ‘innocence and vulnerability’ had been preyed upon.
They said: “He never harboured any ill will against anybody nor did he ever exhibit any violent, extreme or radical views of any kind. Talha’s tender years and naivety were, it seems however, exploited by persons unknown, who, hiding behind the anonymity of the worldwide web, targeted and befriended Talha and engaged in a process of deliberate and calculated grooming of him.
“Whilst there, it appears that Talha fell under the spell of individuals who continued to prey on his innocence and vulnerability to the point where, if the press reports are accurate, he was ordered to his death by so-called Isis handlers and leaders too cowardly to do their own dirty work.
“We are all naturally utterly devastated and heartbroken by the unspeakable tragedy that now appears to have befallen us.” The family said that Isis did not represent Islam or Muslims ‘in any way, shape or form’.
Isis statements later named ‘Abu Yusuf Al Britani’ – the 17-year-old’s nom de guerre – as one of four suicide bombers. The others were said to be a German, a Kuwaiti and a Palestinian. All four were photographed by Isis standing beside black SUVs.
Hazel Danson, secretary of Kirklees National Union of Teachers, said: “We see the Prevent courses as a safeguarding measure and not as teachers ‘policing’ potential terrorists.
“A minority of young people can be at risk of being ‘groomed’ into becoming involved in all kinds of activities. In recent years there has been a significant rise in Islamophobia after recent incidents which have hit the headlines.
“I feel that as teachers, we have a strong duty to positively reinforce the good and positives that can come out of individual schools, which have a high percentage of ethnic minority pupils.”
She said nationally the NUT has expressed a need for real caution with the introduction of the new courses under law: But here in Kirklees and in some of our areas, there have been very concerning incidents linked to terrorism in recent times and those incidents have had repercussions, not just on individual schools and families, but on the wider community and other schools.
“Here in Kirklees and areas like Dewsbury, the courses being offered to primary and high school staff, are being seen as a safeguarding measure.”
So far, staff from more than 100 schools across the Kirklees area, have attended the course.
Mrs Danson added: “Children are children and explore all sorts of things as they are growing up. We all want to get the right balance to ensure that our young people are confident to explore things, and test out their feelings, without getting dragged into things such as far-right extremism or even terrorism.
“It is becoming vital, I feel, that we should all be championing schools where pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds are achieving brilliant, creative things, which benefit us all in the long run.”
Described as being a ‘sweet-natured, friendly kid’, Talha’s family said the Isis cause was not supported by the Muslim community and have previously said: “The entire family unreservedly condemns and abhors all acts of violence wherever perpetrated.”
Shahid Malik, a former MP for Dewsbury and a friend of the Asmals, described them as “a beautiful, caring, peace-loving and incredibly humble family”.
It is reported that more than 700 people from the UK have officially travelled to support, or fight, for jihadist organisations in Syria or Iraq, with the majority of Brits joining Isis, according to the Metropolitan Police. They say around half of these people have now returned to Britain.
Many are youngsters, who have left without their parents’ knowledge.
Hundreds are still missing,with no clue as to their whereabouts.
Unofficially, experts believe that there could also be many hundreds more people from Britain who have fled, with more than 60 of them women and girls, some as young as 15.
In Bradford alone, the city council’s Safeguarding report for year 2014 stated that there was around 1,080 children who went missing with their families for a variety of reasons. Many are still unaccounted for.
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