Muslim cops label UK counter terrorism policing 'Islamophobic'
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Counter-terrorism policing in the UK has been labelled Islamophobic by the National Association of Muslim Police (NAMP). And it is now calling for the scrapping of the term 'Islamist' after claiming it unfairly stigmatises Islam.
Alex Gent, Chairman of NAMP, also says Islamophobia remains an issue in wider UK policing. The group cited cases where Muslim officers had been referred to Prevent wrongly by their own colleagues after religious pilgrimages or following conversions to the religion.
NAMP is now publicly calling for an update of policing and counter terrorism terminology, with Islamist replaced by 'anti-western extremism' or something similar. It has also raised concerns about the disproportionate number of Muslims being referred to the counter terrorism programme - with the West Midlands among the highest.
The group says it has previously raised concerns over the use of 'Islamist' and 'Islamism' with police chiefs and politicians, including recently with former Home Secretary Priti Patel. But it has now gone public after no agreement to drop the words.
One former Muslim officer with West Midlands Police told BirminghamLive: "The use of the world Islamist to describe radicalisation or terrorism is feeding into the wrong agenda and is very offensive and insensitive. This was raised in West Midlands Police years ago and it fell on deaf ears.
"Muslims officers and staff within the force internally try to get this message across about the terminology and try to work with the organisation to say 'you need to take this into consideration'.
"West Midlands Police use the term 'Islamist' and it upsets the internal Muslim staff and the wider community. The use of the word in the context of a negative connotation with terrorism is the bit that's upsetting."
Mr Gent said senior police officers and politicians have persisted with the idea that terms like 'Islamist' and 'Islamism' are different from Islamic. But he said: "If it's got the word Islam in it, all people think about when they hear the term Islamist extremism is Islam.
"I said to them, 'You can contextualise it as much as you like, people attach that stigma to it.'
"What we're saying is, you don't see that with any other faiths. In Northern Ireland where you have dissident republicans and loyalists, the Police Service don't stigmatise religions by referring to Catholics and Protestants. The religion is kept separate from the political conflict."
Terrorists with Christian or Far-Right links are often treated differently in terms of language used in western counter terrorism terminology, he added, often being described as 'right-wing extremists'.
"When you look at examples such as Anders Brevit from the Norwegian attack, his manifesto quoted from the Bible, he considered himself a Christian, he referred to the Knights Templar, he used Christian iconography. But he was never labelled as a Christianist extremist and nor should he have been."
"The need for accurate and fair descriptions to terrorist incidents is key. Counter terrorism policing needs to be mindful of the effect this has on the community which is why correct terminology is so important."
Some countries have dropped 'Islamist' from counter terrorism language, he added, including New Zealand after the Christchurch mosque massacre by right-wing extremist Brenton Tarrant.
He said: "After the New Zealand attack in Christchurch, New Zealand police liaised with the Muslim community and when the community raised the term as an issue they dropped the term. Within a few weeks the police actually adopted the term 'faith motivated violent extremism'.
"One of the things we have proposed is 'anti-western extremism' because it is actually describing the ideology that is anti-west."
Armed police patrol outside a mosque in central Christchurch after shootings
During 2020/21 some 4,915 people were referred to Prevent, according to Home Office statistics. Around half were for individuals with a 'mixed, unstable or unclear ideology'.
Twenty two per cent of referrals (1,064) were due to concerns related to Islamist radicalisation concerns, while 25 percent (1,229 referrals) were due to concerns related to extreme right-wing radicalisation.
Yet a higher proportion of suspected right-wing extremists were referred to the most serious 'Channel' level of Prevent which can include surveillance.
For the third year running there were more Channel cases for individuals referred for concerns related to Extreme Right Wing radicalisation (317 cases; 46%) compared to individuals related to Islamist radicalisation (154; 22%).
Mr Gent, speaking during Islamophobia Awareness Month, said: "When it comes to actual cases that go through to the Channel programme, the percentage of so-called Islamism cases was lower than the right-wing cases.
"The 2020/2021 Home Office data showed there were a significant number of Prevent referrals which did not progress therefore suggesting many are likely to be unnecessary."
NAMP is also concerned about instances of wider Islamophobia in UK policing - with examples of Prevent referrals being unfairly raised about Muslim police officers by their own colleagues.
He said: "There have been Prevent referrals made against Muslims within the police service, for example a Muslim officer who has gone to Hajj. He's come back, shaved his head, grown a beard and has offered gifts to colleagues within the office. An inspector had identified this as potentially concerning behaviour and subsequently submitted a Prevent referral.
"Or another incident involving a female officer. She was new to Islam, a white female who started wearing the Hijab (the headscarf) and praying. Her sergeant reacted by questioning who she had been speaking to and implied that she may have been radicalised.
"Quite often the pushback (when challenged about Islamophobia) is that so-called concerning behaviour relates to a change in behaviour. If someone for example was to become practising in another religion such as Christinaity there wouldn't be the automatic assumption that they are being radicalised or hold concerning views.
"If someone all of a sudden changes their behaviour by for example becoming more devout in their faith, it's understandable to note this change however it's an issue if there is an automatic assumption that there is something inherently wrong with a person practising their faith and equating this to extremism.
"The issue always comes back to the language used because whilst we're using the current counter terrorism terminology, subconsciously we're creating a negative stigma and bias towards Islam."
Home Office crime statistics for England and Wales reveal that religious hate crime increased by 37 per cent between March 2021 and March 2022 (from 6,383 to 8,730). Where the perceived religion of the victim was recorded, 42 per cent of all religious hate crimes were targeted against Muslims, accounting for 3,459 of offences.
A spokesperson for Counter Terrorism Policing said: “We are aware of and understand the concerns raised by the National Association of Muslim Police and have already committed to work with them, and the Home Office, in relation to the issues raised.