| ||The Times discloses an email sent by a police officer in the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit to community groups involved in the region’s Prevent programme that suggests that police forces are monitoring nurseries and children as young as four in their counter-radicalisation efforts. |
According to The Times:
‘…an officer in the West Midlands counter-terrorism unit wrote: “I do hope that you will tell me about persons, of whatever age, you think may have been radicalised or be vulnerable to radicalisation ... Evidence suggests that radicalisation can take place from the age of 4.”’
The paper reports that ‘The police unit confirmed that counter-terrorist officers specially trained in identifying children and young people vulnerable to radicalisation had visited nursery schools.'
‘Arun Kundnani, of the Institute of Race Relations, contacted the officer and said he was told that officers had visited nursery schools.
'Mr Kundnani added: “He did seem to think it was standard. He said it wasn’t just him or his unit that was doing it. He said the indicators were they [children] might draw pictures of bombs and say things like ‘all Christians are bad’ or that they believe in an Islamic state. It seems that nursery teachers in the West Midlands area are being asked to look out for radicalisation. He also said that targeting young children was important because they would be left aware of what was inappropriate to say at school. He felt that it was necessary to cover nurseries as well as primary and secondary schools. He said it was a precaution and that he wasn’t expecting to come back with a list.”’
Andy Hayman, former Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations at Scotland Yard, writing in the same paper defends the police citing the examples of the ringleader of the London bombings, Mohammed Siddique Khan, who was ‘filmed cuddling his six-month-old daughter alongside his two accomplices’. And Ali Beheshti, ‘whose '20-month-old daughter was with him [when protesting outside the Danish embassy], wearing a bonnet emblazoned: “I love al-Qaeda'’ (pictured).
The Times report will do little to allay fears among British Muslims, whatever the assurances given by John Denham at the Prevent national conference this week, that the programme is not about ‘covert surveillance’ or ‘stigmatis[ing] or demonis[ing] Muslim communities’.
It seems bizarre that the police should be targeting toddlers and those of pre-school age using the follies of their parents as justification. As though Ali Beheshti’s daughter would have had any idea of the significance of the hat her father put on her head that day. Or that Mohammed Siddique Khan’s young daughter would have understood the message her father was filming.
Further, the police officer’s remark that being visited by counter terrorism police would leave young children ‘aware of what was inappropriate to say at school’ is nothing short of terrifying. The same remark leveled at youngsters from any other ethnic or faith community would be inconceivable. Little wonder that Kundnani’s report on Prevent, ‘Spooked! How not to prevent violent extremism’, found that its methodology and delivery resulted in Muslims being treated as a ‘suspect community’.
Denham said in his speech this week, ‘Identifying someone at risk in any circumstances is not easy. It is even more complex in this area where the 'risk factors' are still not well understood.
‘So we cannot take that trust for granted - we have to build it.’
How relationships of trust can be built when parents live in fear of their young child being observed for signs of radicalization is impossible to comprehend.
Update: See also BBC News, Nursery visited by counter-terrorism police officer
Update 2: Read the RICU factsheet prepared in response to this story in The Times, here.
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