BBC Muslim first, British second

About Muslim First, British Second

Panorama reporter Richard Watson talks about Muslim First, British Second
Since the 7/7 London bomb attacks in 2005 in which 52 people died, combating Islamic extremism has been seen as central to Britain's security.

In an effort to prevent similar attacks happening in the future, the government has focused its counter-terrorism strategy on preventing radicalisation, in order to reduce the supply of terror recruits.

To this end, the government has funded Muslim community projects and entered into a dialogue with Muslim leaders - even those with views seemingly incompatible with the British way of life.

Radical preachers who speak out against democracy, those who spout homophobia and misogyny are tolerated, even courted, so long as they denounce violence.

Divided opinion

In Muslim First, British Second, Panorama takes a closer look at this policy - a policy which has split Britain's counter-terrorism community.

Gaza protest in London
The Gaza protests were illustrative of the divided loyalties some have

And, as the government prepares a major shift in its counter-terrorism strategy, Panorama asks should we continue talking to these radicals, or is it time to isolate them?

Among those to whom reporter Richard Watson speaks is influential preacher Abdurraheem Green whose internet lectures receive hundreds of thousands of hits.

He preaches that "Islam is not compatible with democracy" and that to prevent a wife committing "evil" a husband has the right to "apply some type of physical force... a very light beating" - though he says this should not leave any marks.

But these views have not prevented the Metropolitan Police from seeking his advice recently.

Problem or solution?

Abdurraheem Green himself insists that in spite of his conservative views about life in Britain he is "part of the solution" to extremism because young people listen to him.

"I surely have said some pretty radical things and maybe even written some radical things in the past," he tells Panorama. "But one thing I have been very consistent on is terrorism, participating in terrorist activities, violent revolution - is not something that I have ever thought was part of the religion of Islam."

Nicky Reilly
Bomb attacker Nicky Reilly was radicalised in the UK

However, there are others who argue that influential preachers who persuade youngsters to reject British values only ever make matters worse, putting them on a path that could lead to radicalisation.

MI5 and the police fear that a distorted version of Islam, combined with anger over events like the Gaza conflict, undermine some young Muslims' already fragile loyalty to Britain and fuel extremism.

Sir Norman Bettison, chief constable of West Yorkshire and the most senior British police officer working to prevent radicalisation, tells Panorama that working with local Muslim leaders is vital in the fight against terror:

"Al-Qaeda is a brand. AQ is a virus and what we're trying to do in policing terms is identifying those who would be susceptible to that virus, we can't do it ourselves, we've got to do it with the community," he tells the programme.

"So we're really trying to get upstream in stopping the vulnerable schoolboy of today presenting himself as a martyr in six years time," he adds.

'Trojan horse'

And, as Panorama reports, officials are increasingly concerned about the threat posed by loners and groups not directly connected with al-Qaeda - people like Muslim convert Nicky Reilly, who was jailed for life last month after he launched a failed suicide bomb attack on a restaurant in Devon in May 2008.

Muslims praying in front of policeman
Some have suspicions about the true purpose of community projects

A social misfit, who suffered from Asperger's Syndrome and had a low IQ, he was radicalised while living in Plymouth with his mother.

The internet played a part, but police sources tell Panorama that they believe an extremist in the local community must have held his hand.

Key to undermining the ideology used by extremists to tempt youngsters to their cause and reducing the supply of terror recruits is persuading the Muslim community to volunteer hard-edged intelligence.

But as Richard Watson finds as he travels across Britain, there is a fundamental barrier to this - lack of trust.

Many British Muslims he speaks to feel victimised and spied on, and though proud of their country, have precious little faith in Britain's authorities.

In fact, so great is their mistrust, that some even go so far as to say that the 7/7 bombing were orchestrated by the security forces, or did not even happen.

Fuelling this lack of faith in the authorities is the widespread belief that government-funded Muslim community projects are being used to covertly gather information.

Are the security forces using community projects as Trojan horses, and if so how can the government simultaneously reassure Muslims that they are not under suspicion, while at the same time exploiting all potential intelligence opportunities?

Panorama: Muslin First, British Second is on BBC One on Monday 16 February at 8.30pm.
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Frank Kitman